Central Pennsylvania brewmasters might have drawn some inspiration from a catchy song: Beer is liquid bread and it’s good for you.
Today, one in five active licenses in Pennsylvania for malted beverage manufacturing resides in four midstate counties, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
Lancaster County leads the pack with 14 licenses, while Cumberland, Dauphin and York counties account for another 12.
The fact there are nearly 130 active brewery licenses in the commonwealth — more than double the total 10 years ago — also could be the result of what is going on nationwide with a surge of new craft breweries, industry professionals said.
“Across the region, it’s probably pretty unique,” said Ed Yashinsky, brewery manager at Derry Township-based Tröegs Brewing Co., which got its start 17 years ago in Harrisburg and is now one of the largest craft breweries in the country. “But in Colorado, California, Oregon, what we’re probably seeing here is what happened in those states over time.”
So, why is Central Pennsylvania such a hotbed for breweries?
Yashinsky and others, including Jess Horn, craft brand manager for Susquehanna Township-based Wilsbach Distributors Inc., cite the culture in Pennsylvania and the midstate’s proximity to Philadelphia, one of the strongest beer markets on the East Coast.
“Lancaster County is butting up against the urban sprawl of Philadelphia,” said Horn, who also has seen a huge influx of breweries from outside Pennsylvania looking to tap into this market.
Organizers of local beer festivals, which also have expanded in number, have seen steady increases in their brewery participants.
The Harrisburg Brewers Fest, which marked 10 years in June, drew 57 breweries this year. Dauphin County Brew Fest, which will be held for the second time in a few weeks, had 13 last year. The brewery total is currently at 16, said Michelle Hornberger, assistant program director for Dauphin County Parks and Recreation.
Wilsbach represented about 18 breweries at the Harrisburg event, Horn said. Last year, it had nine at the event, which typically draws around 50 breweries, organizers said.