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.
It’s a Simple Plan – Make Great Beer
We made our way along the Southern Reach Section of the DiscoverNEPA Brewer’s Loop and, as most do, we ventured into quaint, iconic Jim Thorpe, and that’s where we found Bright Path Brewing.
An early summer breeze drew us southward on PA 115. We opted to forgo the turnpike for a sunnier, greener trot into the Pocono Mountains. That most famous town of Jim Thorpe was our heading, and the old General’s trail would be our modest, winding conveyance.
Summer was off to a fine start. And, as many in NEPA and beyond are wont to do on a perfect, blue sky Wednesday, we loaded up the ol’ Jeep and directed it toward the mountains. In short time, our lungs, purged of recirculated office air, began to swell with clean breaths of pine and roadside flora. We raced along bloated, fuzzy bumble bees dutifully bobbing from cornflower to red clover. A strange electricity pulsed from the warming asphalt and the resonant flutter of dragonfly wings. And we welcomed it. We absorbed it through our senses, through our pores. As workdays go, this one was better than most.
It was a short trip. We were in Jim Thorpe before we knew it. As usual, even midweek, the Broadway shops bustled with happy visitors. We could hear rafters splashing and laughing on the Lehigh and that famous train whistle echoing through the tight valley. But, this time, and maybe for the first time, downtown was not our end destination. No, we stopped about a mile north of all that action. We stopped at a hillside perch on PA 903 that placed us near eye level elevation with the rounded mountaintops across the valley. Here, we could watch the road plunge toward the river and S-turn through the scenic town. Our view leapt from church steeple to the pointed tops of pines to the ornate peaks of old coal-money mansions.
We could see it all from this vantage point, and though only a mile away – theoretically, one could make the walk into town, if one was so inclined – it was quiet. It was simultaneously a part of it all and not. It was outside of the traffic, the parking, the tourists palming sunblock onto the shins of feisty children, the shuffle of sneakers on the gravel railroad bed, the familiar sights and sounds of beautiful Jim Thorpe in the summer.
Why? Because there’s something new here on the hill – something exciting. It’s a place that offers a simple escape from work or weekend chores or whatever it is you’re typically in need of escape from. It comes in the form of a comfy stool, an elbow pressed onto a polished bar top, a chunky, dimpled liter glass of cold beer, a conversation, an oddly, always agreeable playlist and no pretension, no televisions, none of that unnecessary noise of life. The place is called Bright Path Brewing.
Let’s pop in for a liter, shall we?
Looks like somebody’s serious about beer.
Bright Path’s brewhouse is the sort of place a pair of young, overworked, undervalued, corporate office zombies might dream about. In fact, I’d bet good money on the existence of some corporate legal pads existing somewhere with crude blueprints undoubtedly sketched during a soul-crushing Monday morning meeting. Or, maybe it’s the type of place cooked up by a couple of guys who’d spent a few good years toiling in the heat and stink of young beer at various craft brewhouses along the northeast. You know, the old dream between friends. One of those “Why don’t we just do this on our own?” kind of dreams.
Yeah. It’s all of the above.
The design is meticulous — a cavernous, tunnel-like space thrice-divided by creation, production and consumption. The brewhouse makes up the creation/production side. As for consumption – we’ll come around to that in a bit.
The work of making beer exists on some slice of the ether between chaos and order. There’s the clink of boots on a steel catwalk, the hiss of steam valves, the hot bready, malty funk, hoses snaking about, one person turning and checking dials at a frantic pace. And there’s the calming glow of daylight streaking across shiny steel bellies, angular pipework leading the eye to all manner of aesthetically pleasing lines and connections. Under study, there’s an obvious flow to the process and a perceivable telepathy between the hands and minds at work. It resounds with a faint grunt on one end of the room and is answered with a nod on the other. Between them, the wrangling of only a few ingredients, water, heat, time and science ensues. Some call it the magic of beer.
There’s a bar. There are stools. And there’s beer.
It’s simple, but that’s kind of the whole idea. Geometrically speaking, the taproom at Bright Path Brewing is an open, angular space. The long, L-shaped bar extends the length of the room, running parallel to a line of biergarten tables and benches. A lengthy elbow bar with stools flanks the opposite wall. The unpolished, communal aesthetic entreats a general easiness about the whole operation. The expansive features accompanied by a corrugated steel ceiling elongate the room. The eye, upon entry, is drawn almost in a dolly zoom toward a singular point of focus – a line of ten authentic side pull taps.
There’s little flash. The taproom, in many ways mimics a utility barn or shop building you may find along an old rural road in the Poconos. Rusted and sun-bleached metal roofing clads the bar and runs up the central wall. The painted concrete floor welcomes boot skids and scuff marks. Iron pipes and elbow fittings hold every piece of it together. Colors are muted. Distractions are minimal to nonexistent. There’s room, however, to sit, to stand, to gather with a group, to overhear interesting conversations, to join in. The space, in many respects, is open to interpretation. It’s simply welcoming to the color of laughter, conversation, music and community.
Large, rectangular windows on each side of the room frame a unique juxtaposition. On one side, natural light floods in from south facing windows. The electric green of the thick Pocono wilderness is drawn in by the room’s inviting tones – a reminder, just in case you needed it, that you are in the mountains. On the opposing wall, similarly massive windows peer into the brewhouse. The view reveals polished metal surfaces reflecting fluorescent light, knobs, dials and hand tools. It’s the labor of the very beer you’re drinking on display. And there you are where these worlds intersect at the nexus of work and play – a good place to be.
Stripped-down, simple, unadorned beer.
Upon first scan, the tap list at Bright Path Brewing welcomes a partially inquisitive and occasionally perplexed, “Huh!” Not one of the ten beers reaches over 5% ABV. No, it’s not necessarily a statement against the cloudy, hazy, hoppy beers that have come to recently dominate the industry. It’s about drinkability. These brewers make the beer that they like to drink. They remain doggedly true to style, true to flavor and most importantly true to process. There’s little room for complication. No one’s juice bombing or milkshaking anything here.
What you get at Bright Path is a strong lineup of straightforward session ales and lagers. They dance delicately along the flavor spectrum for sure. But what’s craft beer if not an artful expression of subtlety? These guys have it down to a science. And, for what it’s worth, you just won’t find too many taprooms bold enough to throw four different lagers on the board. That’s gotta’ count for something.
And that’s precisely where we started. Up first, Bright Path’s Helles Lager. This gorgeously-pale German classic offered a slightly sweet malt profile balanced perfectly with floral hop notes and a nearly imperceptible bitterness. Then, we moved a bit south, geographically speaking, to their beautiful, amber-hued Vienna Lager. And it delivered that familiar bready body along with a toasted malty sweetness and subtle notes of caramel.
The Keller Pils rounded out our tour of the European classics. It poured bright gold with a feint unfiltered haze. A delicate grassy aroma mingled with light citrus notes before swimming in a mix of slightly toasted bread and almost honey sweet maltiness. Finally, we closed out our lager tour with a summer classic – the Mexican Lager with Lime. About 40 pounds of lime and zest add a refreshing citrus compliment to this crisp, light summer cruiser.
Next, we ventured down the ale menu. The journey began with the American Standard Pale Ale. This brilliantly clean and hoppy ale drank smooth and delivered a bright citrus punch. We followed with McGowan’s Cream Ale. Up front, that familiar grapefruit aroma danced alongside a silky smooth and mild body to finish with little dose of malt.
Bright Path’s foray into the haze craze came in the form of their Switchback Session Hazy IPA. Settle down haze bois. This cloudy, golden beauty offers a masterclass in restraint. There’s that coveted juiciness and those familiar hops. It displays weaving notes of tropical stone fruit and citrus. And, at only 5%, it’s easily crushable. The Hefeweizen brought it all to an end. Bright Path’s take on this classic delivered the ripe banana sweetness and subtle clove spiciness in a lightly cloudy, golden pour.
Quick note: many of these beers are also available in sixers to go.
All told, the journey through the tap list at Bright Path Brewing is one of intricacy and focus. The palate is tested on the fine lineation of flavor and how a practiced hand can guide and shape it through variation and careful manipulation. It’s about beer for beer’s sake and drinking it slowly in fat, dimpled liter mugs. So, we did.
We Stopped by Bright Path Brewing on a near-perfect Wednesday in late June. NEPA had just cracked open a great big can of summer. The river ran heavy. The town, the trees, the people were electrified by the sun. And our new Brewer’s Loop friends poured generously their beer and their stories. And we drank it all up.
Next time you’re in Jim Thorpe, make your way up the hill a bit and check this place out.
Helles Lager – German Style Lager – Delicately pale and refreshing with a distinct bready sweetness – 4.2% ABV
Vienna Lager – Vienna Style Lager – Clean, amber toastiness with a sweet malt finish – 4.5% ABV
Keller Pils – German Style Kellerbier – Unfiltered, beautifully pale and a perfectly balanced malt/hop profile – 4% ABV