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Here & Now Brewing Company

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.

Straddling the Realms of Past and Future

 

Out on the scenic and sometimes rugged Endless Pocono Run section of the DiscoverNEPA Brewer’s Loop, we came across Here & Now Brewing Company.

A long winter and the thought of it all possibly carrying on for yet another month had us itching to get back on the Brewer’s Loop. We set out on what started as a semi-sunny Tuesday in late February. A good stretch of road lay ahead, but the weather seemed fair and our minds were ripe for a bit of witless wandering.

As we mounted Route 6 due east out of Scranton, a looming gray quiet enveloped the Moosic Mountain ridge tops. Soon, a picturesque squall thickened to a slurry on the surface. How swiftly a morning’s mood can change. Minds tuned out of conversations and onto the slick road. Travel slowed. Collectively, the highway’s variant travelers acquiesced to a shared purpose. We fell in line – equidistant, wheels unified and churning — pickup, long hauler, sedan and SUV alike. And in the fresh, slippery slush that morning, we ate a mountain for breakfast.

The whipping snow tapered off once we hopped over Rix’s Gap. And with our tires gaining purchase on some level road, our little convoy dispersed. The farewell was bittersweet and perhaps secret, but not without its own madeleine. And, for the ensuing 15 miles or so, the sight of our little line of cars pulling together over that hill triggered a schoolboy’s recollection of NEPA’s legendary Gravity Railroad.

 

 

Nearly two centuries ago, this particular pathway to the eastern edge of the Pocono Mountains became America’s anthracite highway. That ingenious Gravity Line pulled rail cars loaded with Wyoming and Lackawanna Valley coal over the unforgiving mountains. Stationary steam engines hissed and tugged the cars via steel cable along the 16-mile stretch of Pocono jungle. Gravity and man-powered brakes made up the rest of the labor. For a good seventy years, the line hauled ton after ton of coal from Carbondale to Honesdale – the launch point of the famous Delaware and Hudson Canal. And, from there, it was smooth sailing onto the Hudson River and eventually New York City.

This movement of industrial fuel sparked America’s rapid growth during the 19th and 20th centuries. Much of the northeast began to urbanize. Cities of steel and stone rose toward the sky. These soon famous cities, however, were merely an end result. The real industrial revolution was happening beyond – in mill towns and patch towns, in stops along the Gravity Railroad and the D&H Canal. People followed the work. They settled communities, built schools and churches, and plotted town grids still in use to this day. They tended farms and kept shops. Little by little, beyond the major economic centers, America’s small town, and, in a sense, its great promise, was being realized.

 

 

Honesdale was one such town. In fact, it was the lynchpin in the network transporting coal from Northeastern PA to the coastal cities. Anthracite came in from the west on the Gravity line and left via slow barge on the D&H Canal. The work here was good. The men tended the line and coal cars and harvested the well-timbered hills. Children walked the mule teams on the canal. It was simple. Routine. Successful. And it showed in Main Street’s multi-storied Italianate buildings, grand Second Empire estates and Gothic church spires. All told, the tiny mountain town, made something of itself in the hard coal era.

Much of this still exists in Honesdale. Yeah, the railroad pushed the Gravity line and canal into obsolescence. And soon, the automobile and the highway returned the favor. But Honesdale is still there – with a little less dirt and a little more pavement. Main Street’s changed a bit (as Main Streets do), but the bones have held. And so, too, have the people. They refused the alluring and all-too-frequent call to modernize, or shift toward the tourist.

 

 

Instead, Honesdale looked, again, to entrepreneurs. It looked for those unafraid of a little cracked and crumbling plaster – those who saw the past not as some delicate vase to lock away and protect, but as clay to be molded and reshaped. The town welcomed visionaries with a mind for reimagining the spaces where communities meet. And they showed up. They opened coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques and tattoo parlors. They’ve created spaces where old converses with new, where one generation finds common ground with another.

And, perhaps most importantly, they’re making beer. Since 2017, Here & Now Brewing Company has celebrated the spirit of Honesdale with a unique mixture of progressive vision and historical consciousness. Hell, even the walls in this Main Street brewpub speak in some multi-layered, multi-generational dialect. And this journey through the snow, over the mountain, into the wilderness, through a bit of history – it brought us here to be a part of that conversation.

Let’s have a tour and knock down a pint or two, shall we?

 

The Brewery

 

 

Everything but the monkey bars.

The brewhouse at Here & Now Brewing is a cavernous space. It’s unique in that respect, compared to most stops on the Brewer’s Loop. What we’ve come to find, however, is that most brew spaces, regardless of size or location, tend to reflect the brewer’s mind. Some, take shape naturally as a baker’s kitchen, a scientist’s lab, or even an artist’s studio. This reason alone is why we always encourage taking the time for a brewhouse tour, when available, of course (though it never hurts to ask).

There’s a refreshing, unapologetic novelty to the places where local, craft beer is made. At Here & Now, the secret sauce is juxtaposition – a thoughtful, or perhaps accidental balance of all things. Sometimes, it all just kind of falls that way. The brewery team here is old and young, intrepid yet measured, head in the clouds, feet on the ground. And the incredible space where they do their work – a playground of creation within a one-room schoolhouse.

 

 

An honesty resonates through the scattering of hand tools and scribbled notes. Daylight skims off the street and through the glass roll up door. It crawls across the steel paunches of brew tanks and vibrates over the requisite dampness of the concrete floor. Sturdy, meticulous pipework draws the eye into a brief fit of curiosity. You trace them into tangles – chasing down their points of connection. And, for a moment, you’ve startled awake the sleeping 9-year-old in your mind.

Scaffolds laden with hoses, buckets and beakers resemble some forbidden toy chest. Steel tanks with skinny legs become barrel-chested robots, or mechanical dinosaurs. And behind them, the floor drops – a secret space! No – just fermentation tanks and a few gauges and shiny knobs. And…we’re back. The room is square again. The acrid, vegetal funk of a young beer steaming away, one that no true child could appreciate, lures us back into our prescribed maturity.

 

 

We didn’t notice the brewery’s logo at first, despite its prominence on the brewhouse wall. And it wasn’t until then that we fully understood the experience. Logos so rarely capture a brewery’s ethos. And, this one, somewhat crudely drawn, at first might seem an afterthought. It’s not. In fact, it’s damn near perfect in its depiction of chaos and creation – the immeasurable ingredients of craft beer.

This brew team has it figured out. Somehow, they manage so delicately a balanced interplay between two worlds. Whimsy is applied scientifically. Play informs work. They’re long in the tooth, but young at heart. It’s winter outside, but always summer inside. And that’s what shines through in every pint.

 

The Taproom

 

 

Like a Hidden Pictures page from Highlights Magazine

From the brewhouse, we stomped our way up the back stairs, through the cozy kitchen and into the taproom. Again, we found ourselves slacklining between two planes of existence. In one realm, our heels knock along the finished floor of an old Five & Dime. In the other, an African Pronghorn, aloof, though dutifully adhering to CDC guidelines, follows us with consternation as we approach the horseshoe bar.

The room, low lit by the orange glow of Edison bulbs, dolly zooms toward the daylight sun pouring through a glass-paneled door. Front to back, it’s a sizeable taproom. A mish mash of high tops and standard tables fills the open dining space. At the front, when the weather allows, it all spills out onto Main Street via roll up door. The space continues onto an adorable sidewalk porch just big enough for a table or two.

 

 

Undoubtedly, the focal point of the room is the bar. Again, this place and their complex dualities. The structure itself reveals a mix of utility and elegance. It’s hardy enough to scuff your boots against, yet delicate and polished. The whole scene is backed by a massive shelf display borne of reclaimed floor joists. It’s adorned with kitsch, volumes of classic bar books, maybe some taxidermy and chaos. And, just before you’re thrown into a childhood memory of I Spy, overhead light catches intricate rows of glassware, distracting the wandering, playful eye.

When the sun rolls through searching out its dark corners, the place glows with a warmth, sandwiched between the authentic, white tin ceiling and the original maple floor. The eyes refuse rest in a place like this. In one corner, tiny, wire sculpture men scale crags in the red brick wall. Plaster walls half-demolished serve as canvas. It’s crumbled and broken in spots, but it holds steady to the old brick like some subtle, generational handshake. Every turn reveals some cosmic agreement between Here & Now’s artistic bent and the old building’s honest architecture.

 

 

The taproom at Here & Now, in a sense, is Honesdale under a microscope. It’s an examination of the connection between the town’s blue-collar genetics and its inclusive progressivism. From brick to board, it displays both a respect for the past and an invitation to imagine its future. You can get lost here with all this going on around you – in a simple conversation, over a cold beer. And I think that’s the point.

Now, about that beer…

 

The Beer

 

 

Local. Seasonal. Whimsical.

Here & Now’s approach to beer, like the rest of this place, is a study in the inherent dichotomy of craft beer. That is, it strives to thread that needle somewhere between maintaining uniqueness and a friendly, approachable appeal. This, given the fickle nature of beer trends and tastes, is no walk in the park.

They pull it off though. Their tap list offers up a wide range of easy drinkers, true staples and a bit of experimentation. What matters here, though, is just how they accomplish this delicate balance. In a word – simplicity. Brew Master and team, first and foremost, follow the rules. They do it with precision and an overwhelming respect for what makes a good beer great – mastery over process.

 

 

We started with a pair of house favorites. White Light, White Heat weighs in a little heavy for a Saison at 6.3 %. But this perfectly carbonated beauty was clean, citrus-tipped with a bit of spice and gone before we knew it. Next up was another Saison and likely the day’s winner – Le Dale. At 4.6%, this little ale was spot on. It was somewhat unpolished, yet clean, delicately tart and subtly floral.

Here and Now also dishes out an impressive Pale Ale and IPA program. On the light end, Smile, Honey is a slightly sweet blood orange pale brewed with honey. Next, we poured Irresistible Crush from the can. It’s of a similar profile as Smile, only this one skews hoppy and packs in a delightful grapefruit kiss. From there we moved on to their lone NEIPA – “Happy Face.” Easy drinking just doesn’t get any easier than this. We got an artful balance of sweet ripened stone fruit along with that swift resinous IPA kick.

 

 

The tap list also ventures into the dark side with a duo of Black IPAs, or Cascadians, for the purists. Night Orchestra, at just above 6%, opened with citrus and then curiously dipped into undertones of caramel. We were also fortunate enough to steal a half pint of Scutters from the conditioning tank. This gorgeously dark pour brought a faint roasted quality along with a light, but lingering piney bitterness.

Finally, we sampled the brewer’s COVID special (or anti-COVID special, I guess), Good Riddance. This was part of Here & Now’s annual Barley Wine series. The sweet, but not too sweet behemoth rang in at 10.1%. It delivered everywhere a good Barley Wine should. There was an immediate caramel – toffee sweetness wrapped in a familiar bready warmth. And, of course, it finished with that throat-warming tickle of alcohol.

They cover the spectrum at Here & Now. From light to dark, clear to cloudy, sweet to bitter – the tap list and can selection offer a world of variety. And when you find your favorite, take it home in a growler or a 4-pack.

Side note: Here & Now also offers an inspiring craft cocktail menu, but this is a beer blog and I’m legally obligated to only talk about beer. I think.

Wait, should we eat before we go?

 

The Food

 

 

More local. More seasonal. More… um, friggin’ delicious!

All along, we’re talking, tasting beers, admiring the aesthetic, and I’m secretly watching Chef Ben through the tiny kitchen window. It doesn’t matter where I am, or what I’m doing, or even how important it is, the unmistakable aroma of French Fries will always steal my attention.

During our visit, the kitchen team was hard at work. Little did they know, it doesn’t take much to impress us. Nonetheless, they crushed all expectations. And, leave it to Here & Now to bring together a charming, rustic aesthetic, creative and delicious craft beer and gourmet caliber pub dishes.

 

 

Pizza is not just pizza in this place. And, I would dare say it even measures up to those self-imposed NEPA pizza standards. First, they hooked us up with two gorgeous pies. One — a classic pepperoni with a red sauce that somehow nailed every note of tangy and sweet. The other was actually a salad on a pizza. That’s the only way I could describe it. And it was ridiculously good. Toppings, cheese and sauce aside, what made these pizzas so special was the crust. Here’s the secret: their dough is made using spent grain from the brewing process.

 

 

Alongside the incredible pizzas, we also shared a dozen of their famous Buff-A-Cue Wings. These perfectly crispy (that’s not just me being hyperbolic) beauties were tossed in a secret recipe, slightly sweet and tangy sauce. They came paired with a house-made, creamy blue cheese dressing. They’re not your average chicken wing. In fact, (pretend I’m whispering), they might just be THE reason to visit.

Then came the fries. Yeah, the ones that got my attention earlier. They were not just normal, golden, crispy and crunchy fries. No. These stupidly amazing, little, hand-cut, beautiful, double fried nuggets from potato heaven were tossed in duck fat. There was also a tasty Sherry aioli for dipping, but, honestly, I may have just vacuumed these up cartoon-style. It was a blur. My recollection of the whole “French Fry” portion of this trip is a little foggy.

 

 

Oh… they also forced us to eat a gooey, chocolatey, homemade, spent grain brownie. And it was covered in warm caramel sauce. And I hated everyone involved in bringing this thing into existence, but it was quite good.

 

That’s Asst. Brewer, Summer. She likes beer and drawing.

 

Our journey to Here & Now Brewing Company started out with gray skies and snow. It concluded with refreshing mid-day sunshine and a slight hint of spring in the breeze. In between, our new friends poured generously their beer, their hearts and their wonderful stories. We drank them up with childlike enthusiasm and left this place happier than we arrived – parting only with the burden of a promise to return.

Find your way to Honesdale and check this place out.

 

Must Try:

Le Dale Saison –Sweet, clean and fruity with a wheat-y backdrop – a damn-near perfect beer – 4.6% ABV

“Happy Face” – NEIPA –Beautifully cloudy, tropical but not too sweet, velvety but still tastes like beer – 6.3% ABV

Scutters – Black IPA – Gorgeously dark, distinct line between slightly sweeter toffee notes in the backbone and resinous, piney hop punch — 6.2 % ABV

Also — all of the food

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