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.
Just About As Easy As It Gets
Just as the Endless Pocono Run Section of the DiscoverNEPA Brewer’s Loop forgoes city for mountain, we find ourselves at Curran Brewing Company.
Here in NEPA, summer often tails off rather quietly. It’s usually a dull affair – our brains wired to accept some form of approaching monotony like school or worse like a few months to go with only 4 remaining hours of PTO. Literal chills up the spine. Perhaps it’s September’s fault. Of all the months, it seems perpetually the least exceptional. Half the month is not-quite-summer and the other half — just not-quite-fall. It was right around mid-month when we made that tough decision to get back out on the Brewer’s Loop. Summer had all but exhausted us. And autumn was threatening to do the same – we get a little crazy for foliage and pumpkins and Halloween. For us, good old September, that often non-descript, middle child of a month was a welcome space between.
I don’t know why these things always seem to happen on a Wednesday, but it was a sunny one nonetheless. We had heard of a little family-run brewery in rural Madison Township. They’d been in the local craft beer game since 2016, but only recently expanded to include a taproom. On the map, it’s maybe halfway between Scranton and Lake Wallenpaupack. It’s the kind of place where they say, “Here’s my number in case you get lost.” And that right there was where we were sold.
We set out under blue skies. A quiet memory of summer whispered on the breeze as we barreled eastward into the Pocono Mountains. We made every effort to avoid the highway – trading expediency for a neon green horizon and dancing cornflowers. The road lashed around sweeping turns, hugging scrubs of tall oak and pine. Sunny wheat grass meadows sprawled out suspending winged bugs in some gelatinous, time-defiant ether between ground and sky. It was a window-down kind of day – one that just about single-handedly redeemed the entire month of September. And just before succumbing to collective road hypnosis, we saw that unmistakable three-leaf clover welcoming us to Curran Brewing Company.
Let’s pop in for a quick one, shall we?
It’s the Occam’s Razor approach to beer.
You won’t necessarily find that overtly “typical” brewhouse at Curran Brewing Company. Yeah, you got all the standard working parts. There’s piping and coils of tubing and almost too many switches and valves and gauges. You’ve got the industrial-sized, U.S. Government soup kettle-turned brew kettle. Wait…
It’s a purely home-built system. And, for anyone with an interest in beer (beyond ritual consumption) it’s a thing of beauty. Since starting with a bit of home brewing nearly a decade ago, the brewers, both mechanical engineers by trade, have pieced together a fully customized, 3.5-barrel brew system. From the aforementioned soup kettle to a unique, gravity-fed cooling system, the small metal barn-turned brewhouse operates almost directly as an extension of the brewers’/ engineers’ minds. Throughout the room, PVC connections, hasty welds and makeshift solutions that just kind of stuck make up a historical pictograph of modern brewery headaches and their surprisingly simple solutions.
The creative space at Curran Brewing reveals an impressive duality. One, a brewer’s mind, full of the magical and infinite possibility of beer. It’s the part that welcomes the chaos of creation and the swirling maelstrom of ideas, tastes and witty beer names. The other, an engineer’s mind, incessantly scanning for problems to fix and analyzing systems for efficiency. Here, these two acuities meet and court and dance and out of it all incredibly tasty beers are born. Now, let’s go find a place to drink em’.
It’s like if you dreamed up the perfect place to enjoy a beer.
The road back to Curran Brewing’s taproom meanders a bit through the family’s 66-acre farm. A trip of sprightly goats greets you on the way in. There’s little to signify you’re entering a craft brewery – no old barrels, no cleverly self-indulgent signage. It’s literally just a quiet farm on a rolling green hillside. But there’s certainly a Field of Dreams vibe going on here. No, we’re not talking about seeing baseball ghosts or, in this case, long-dead legendary craft brewers like Norvis Templeton (not actually a brewer — just made that up). Stop Googling. No. This place is more about reconnecting with an easier you – a happier, more content you. You know, the one that doesn’t allow work to pollute the weekend; the one who enjoys the long, quiet drive more than the destination. That’s who you’ll find here.
There’s still a bar. It’s a small one at the center of it all, connected directly to the brewhouse. It’ll seat about five or six. Communal seating spreads out under open pavilions on each end. It’s arranged to encourage conversation and perhaps a little roaming. There’s little to stop you from taking your beer and stretching your legs by the lake or playing a little cornhole. The idea behind the whole place is that you’ve come home from a long time away. And regardless of the reason for, or the duration of your absence, you’ll always find a warm, happy smile to greet you and a cold beer to help you get settled.
It starts with clean, spring-fed mountain water – just like a beer commercial.
There’s a lot riding on the beer here at Curran Brewing. They fill these tables every weekend. Enthusiastic craft beer seekers show up, their families often in tow, sometimes, even, tailed by the family dog. Crowds file in from Scranton and points south. They draw from the famous Pocono’s Lake Region. A good few come from across those nearby New York/New Jersey borders. On motorcycles. In topless Jeeps. Minivans maybe. They’re taking to the rolling green hillsides, the long, meandering roads and those cross-state speedways looking for something easy – a little peace, maybe some music, and, of course, good, cold beer. You’ve got to produce something that honors the effort. And that’s precisely the approach I’m picking up on here.
If there’s any praying that goes on in a small-system brewhouse, it’s to the gods of consistency. Even a pair of engineers with all their planning and mathing must submit to the cruel variability of nature. Perhaps that’s the heart of it all. Maybe that’s the inexplicable draw of craft beer – its proximal relationship to the subjective chaos of the natural world. That beer you’re sippin’ – it’s good and it’s cold. It’s got something just right about it. Two men, armed with centuries of knowledge, clean, simple ingredients and a Dionysian prayer did battle with the universe in that small barn/brewhouse. And that golden nectar so sweetly tickling your tastebuds, it may as well have spilled from their veins.
Man, you gotta’ love local craft beer!
The tap list at Curran Brewing features anywhere from six to eight beers on a given weekend. And they’re always gracious enough to host a few local guest taps. We were fortunate to try five of their incredible beers. Well, it was four and a seltzer. And if you pay any attention, you know how I feel about seltzers.
We kicked things off with one of their staples, Curran Pale Ale. It comes in light at 5.5%. Their American take on the English classic delivered an easy citrus hop intro and rode out on a smooth, malty finish. The Curran IPA brought a little funk to the party with a familiar bite of Cascade and Centennial citrus hoppiness. This slightly off-white, west coast beauty weighed in at 6.2% and closed out with lingering grapefruit and pine notes.
Next up, their gorgeously dark, yet surprisingly light-bodied Hardly Know Her Porter. At 4.9%, it was the lightest offering on the slate. As porters go, however, this one is certainly lot lacking for anything. Right up front, it sings with notes of caramel and toffee and finished with a lingering. roasted, smokey smoothness. Finally, we got to the one that started it all – Curran’s famous Maggie’s Tail English Ale. This caramel-hued classic initially draws you in with a subtle malt sweetness and then tails off into a slightly fruity aroma and delicately balanced hop profile. And at just over 7%, this one can easily sneak up on you if you’re not careful.
As for the seltzer, it was fine. What can I say? This is a beer blog. Curran Brewing makes a good, bubbly, crisp seltzer. And they even offer several flavor squirt things. So, there you go. There’s seltzer. If that’s what you’re into.
Aside from the incredible beers, Curran Brewing also offers local wines. Their weekend schedules regularly feature live music and a rotating fleet of popular food trucks. Of course, they also encourage a BYOF (bring your own food) policy.
We stopped by Curran Brewing Company on a painted Wednesday. A warm mountain breeze skimmed across the green farm from the lake, carrying a swirl of grass and wildflower. By all accounts, we were still calling it summer. Though the sweeping landscape views and the cloudless blue skies would no doubt be just as kind to an October evening. Our good hosts poured effortlessly their story and even more so their beer. And somehow, in this quiet place we found it curious how laughter seems a bit more genuine and long pauses more welcome. If you haven’t been, make sure to check this place out. You’ll be happier for it.
Curran Pale Ale – American Pale Ale – Light and Easy on the hops with a soft bready, malty backbone. — 5.5% ABV
Hardly Know Her Porter – Porter – Surprisingly light with strong, roasted caramel malt flavor right up front. — 4.9% ABV
Maggie’s Tail English Ale – Classic English Ale – Robust and slightly sweet with delicate hop character. 7.1% ABV