As part of our DiscoverNEPA Brewer’s Loop Series, we’re hitting the road – yes, all 390-plus miles of it. We’ll be taking brewery tours, sampling stouts, lagers and IPAs, and tasting taproom grub all over Northeastern Pennsylvania. Follow along as we bring you a firsthand look inside the region’s exploding craft beer scene, and let you know how, when and where you can experience it for yourself.
Originality, Innovation and a Weird Bear with Antlers
Sitting pretty on the green Pocono hilltops at the northern tip of the Southern Reach section of the DiscoverNEPA Brewer’s Loop, you’ll happen upon Barley Creek Brewing Company.
There’s a point where the Pocono Mountains seem to roll out wavelike toward the eastern border. It happens just before I-80 entertains a brief southerly deviation picking up the Stroudsburgs on its way into Jersey and the jigsaw of congestion emanating from Lower Manhattan. Here, in Tannersville, all of the major roadways leading to or from braid together bottlenecking local, tourist and traveler alike. Whether by design or the futility of men’s tools against bedrock, this confluence has fittingly lent its natural majesty to endeavors more suited to economy.
Regardless of destination or heading, if you’ve traveled through the Pocono Mountains, you’ve met this patch of vitality among the hills and trees. Dense forests peel back leaving just enough room for two-way roads, shops and restaurants. Seasonal traffic bleeds in from everywhere but here – to ski, to stay, to shop. They’ve carved out for themselves a hefty slice of that weekend getaway pie.
Indeed, the Pocono Mountains, collectively, have mastered the art of reinvention. From backyard of the metropolitan northeast to honeymoon capital of the world to family-friendly, four season staycation, they’ve always come through. And when they do, you can bet they’re bringing a sizeable corner of that tri-state tourism market. The region’s decades of success are a soup of survival instinct, innovation, marketing savvy and dogged persistence. Put plainly, the good people of the Pocono Mountains put in the work. And they do it year after year after year. For Pete’s sake, someone get these folks a beer.
Enter Barley Creek Brewing Company. This first-of-its-kind craft brewpub, in a way, presents a microcosm of the Poconos experience. Break the mold (and all the rules). Succeed. Do it all over again. Repeat.
We had a chat with Barley Creek’s proprietor, creator, originator and resident publican, Trip Ruvane. He spun a classic yarn and poured rather generously. We listened intently and yada, yada, yada…
Let’s go take a tour and drink some beers, shall we?
If you build it, they will come… and drink all your beer.
Barley Creek Brewing Company rests on a somewhat peninsular perch. A scant grouping of grandfatherly pines – towering, skinny, still imposing – break the road. The famous (or infamous) Sullivan Trail caroms northward into the dense interior Pocono Mountains. Camelback Road, winds west toward ski slopes and waterslides. At that breakwater point, between these asphalt streams, a broad-shouldered barn rises incrementally — Its green gable claiming prominence on approach. A trio of fermentation tanks lined up like eager pups at the ground level window invites your attention. Yes, those lighted golden steel bellies are full of delicious beer.
A brief brewhouse tour at Barley Creek offers a peek inside this Wonka-esque world of libation. Tangles of brewer’s hoses crawl up the torsos of polished steel tanks. Efforts to trace their origins offer an exercise in futility. The smooth angularity of shiny piping distracts and relieves taxed eyes. Busy gauges, dials and levers welcome a long-buried adolescent wonder. Soon, it’s work. Soon, beer is more than just a clever name, or a sexy label. Hands tired over it. Creative agency was spent in volumes. This brief jaunt through the brew process at Barley Creek brings a welcomed appreciation to every sip.
The tour, like most, has its flourishes. In the brewhouse just beyond the bar, however, there’s a truly unique, working exhibit of craft beer history. Just behind the door, almost out of sight, a traditional, Peter Austin designed brick brew kettle steams away. The towering kettle features a pleasing symmetry of stretcher and soldier brick with a copper stovepipe hat. The sight of this beauty provokes an unclaimed dream — a stroll along an old English garden wall on the way to the pub. And the beers it boils throw back to the bold infancy of microbrewing. If they had nothing else, this homage to the old ways makes this brewery trip a worthy endeavor. Fortunately, for you, that’s not the case. There’s more… so much more.
I don’t quite know if it’s a barn or a ski loft, but it sure smells an awful lot like fresh beer.
Calling the bar and dining space at Barley Creek a taproom doesn’t exactly feel honest. It’s certainly expansive and maybe a bit overwhelming at first. As with many establishments of similar size, however, it shrinks around you with every pint.
A tunnel of natural light illuminates the cavernous room from massive, opposing gable windows. It wraps itself comfortably around the exposed post and beam construction. Here, the gaze can’t help but linger. And that’s alright. For what good is exceptional carpentry if not to lose yourself counting treenails, knots and beautifully joined bracketry?
As the eye falls, the room spreads out in every direction. Cozy booths and tables and little nooks with benches atop portly quarter kegs dot the expanse. A knee wall corrals the roomy three-sided central bar. High tops capture overflow on the periphery. They’ve taken every measure to ensure a seat during even the happiest of happy hours.
Light washes into the extended dining space revealing more stunning woodwork. A wall of glass overhead doors connects the interior to the splendor of the Poconos outside. And, here, you’ll find their famous, illuminated Onyx Bar. This more intimate elbow rest offers a quieter space for catching a game (or grabbing a breakfast cocktail). Whether you’re in for just a taste, or planning a sit down, you’ll have a heck of a time trying to do it uncomfortably.
Over two decades of trial, trial, trial and error and, well, more trial…
Since opening in 1995, Barley Creek has seen change sweep over the landscape of the Pocono Mountains. No change, however, could compare to the explosion of craft beer in Northeastern Pennsylvania since then. And this little microbrewery earned its stripes in the trenches. At the time, craft beer connoisseurs were few and far between. Dialing in on varied tastes was an art unto itself. Today, simply staying current with brewing trends is an unfavorable economic endeavor for most small brewers. For the crew at Barley Creek though, there has always been and only ever will be one secret. Brew it well. Keep it cold. And have a hell of a time doing it. That, my thirsty friends, is how you stay alive.
Of course, it always helps to have a lineup of delicious, handcrafted beers on hand. They keep 18 beers on tap at all times. There are thirteen brews from the home team, and five select guest taps.
On this particular day, the brewers lead off with three superb renditions of the classic IPA. The flagship, Rescue IPA wakes the palate with sharp hop flavor, slight pine resin and grapefruit. They crank up the sweetness a bit with Citrabellum, a dry-hopped double IPA. You’ll still get that pine aromatic, but the sweet citrus takes over quickly with a dangerously creamy feel. And then there’s the Super Hop Triple IPA. This one is, quite simply, a bell ringer. But it does it with style and sophistication. The sweetness tends to lift out of the typical citrus realm and venture into notes of caramelized fruit peels and ripe pineapple.
They also do a bit of lagering here at Barley Creek. A trio of distinctly smooth lagers holds the middle ground on the draft list. The signature High Tide Lager is pure, golden and light. Winterfest Amber brings a little more spice, and the Angler Black dips into that roasted malt territory. All, of course, are easily drinkable and pair well with a day on the slopes.
Finally, we ventured to the end of the spectrum with the hefty Full Stack Imperial Stout. This bold, inky black beauty sings with notes of bitter coffee, dark chocolate and slight maple sweetness. It’s a perfect open or close beer. Just be careful. It’ll sneak up on you.
All of Barley Creek’s beers are also available in kegs, growlers, crowlers and select cans.
It’s not always all about the beer, you know?
Sure, you can show up just for the beer, but eventually, you’ll give in. Barley Creek’s kitchen is conspicuously situated so that every dish is run directly past the bar. Avert your eyes. Tell yourself, “I’m only here for a few beers.” It doesn’t matter. Soon, you’re following that monstrous pile of Big Pocono Nachos all the way to their table.
Barley Creek offers classic pub fare with brick oven pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and a kid’s menu. You can also choose from a selection of fire grilled steaks and BBQ right off the backyard smoker. No matter the craving, you can feed it from their incredibly varied menu. And most dishes are prepared with beer in mind.
If you’re an early riser, they got you covered. The Morning Toast, Barley Creek’s popular breakfast/brunch program offers a wide selection of early morning favorites. Whether you like it sweet, savory, or you’re just a simple eggs and bacon type, the menu features almost endless options. Enjoy classic or custom benedicts and omelets, sweet or savory crepes, sandwiches and griddle specialties. You’ll even find quite a few healthy options, like avocado toast and smoothies. And, of course, no breakfast would be complete without coffee. They get it roasted fresh from Electric City Roasting Co. in Scranton.
Then again, if it’s one of THOSE mornings, you can always delight in a signature morning cocktail.
But Wait, There’s More!
Now all we need is a little craft whiskey…
That’s right. Barley Creek is also running a 50-gallon Hillbilly Still. Relax, it’s all on the up and up. Currently, they are cranking out whiskey, spiced rum, vodka and a line of canned cocktails. You can also pick up flavored vodkas, like raspberry, orange and vanilla. And you’d be remiss to leave without trying their white whiskey flavored moonshines. They are currently available in coffee, maple and lemonade varieties.
In the warmer months, Barley Creek Brewing Company spills out onto a wide-open patio. Dine and drink under umbrellas, at the covered bar or near a cozy fire pit. You can even put together a game of wiffle ball at the Pint Size Park. The expansive outdoor space also includes corn hole, bocce ball, ping pong, foosball and other yard games.
And if you can’t make it to the brewery, don’t fret. Stop by the Barley Creek Tasting Room & Pub at The Crossings. This brand new, expansive space offers a relaxed atmosphere, a full menu, fresh Barley Creek beers, spirits and even local wines. You can also grab beer and spirits to go, shop for brewery-themed gifts, and kill time playing a few games.
We recently stopped by the brewery for a few beers, a tour and a chat. Take a look.
Rescue IPA – Bitter citrus, slightly resinous, intense and clean, classic American IPA – 6.2%
Citrabellum Double IPA – Creamy, aromatic, full frontal sweet citrus, slight bitter bite – 8.2%
Heck of a Hard Cider – Light, dry, reminiscent of sparkling wine or champagne — 6.1%