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.
A Small Dose of Aloha Never Hurt Anybody
Somewhere among the southern hills breaking across The Susquehanna Stretch section of the DiscoverNEPA Brewer’s Loop we came upon Lanahu Ales.
It was just a short run, though hardly devoid of wonder. We zipped across Wilkes-Barre, and as the route bent sharply out of the valley, we mounted Solomon Gap. This ancient glacial scar marks a natural point of ingress and egress between the Wyoming and Lehigh Valleys. It’s also the straightest shot from the valley floor to the top of the mountain.
The village of Mountain Top rests squarely on the division between two of NEPA’s major watershed drainage basins. If you pulled back your view, you might even imagine the town nestled in the crater of some miniature, bizarro-world Mauna Loa. Streams find their way through gaps and fissures. Like lava flows, they shed away from the town – drawing crooked paths down the mountain sides to the rivers below. Roads replace the many jagged scars of industry. The everyday economy of life tumbles down and back up in cycles. It wakes and sleeps. It seems to breathe.
There’s a special movement to things here. It’s like an energy pulsing from the mountain to the streams to the flow of traffic and industry and commerce. They’re all drawn to and from this place at equal measure. Everything, in a way, appears balanced. Geographically, it kind of makes sense. One cannot stop the mind, however, from turning toward other-worldly phenomena. And, right then, as human interpretation begins to erupt form our squishy brains… Plumeria!
We found ourselves drawn toward the lingering perfume of the exotic flora – toward the center of town. It was a bit odd since Plumeria certainly aren’t natural to the region. And it was also March. Nonetheless, it lured us in like Yogi Bear on the trail of a “pic-a-nic” basket. We followed it until we heard a bit of slack-key guitar in the distance. If I wasn’t mistaken, these were, in fact, island vibes.
Soon, the bone numbing chill of an early March morning, the frost-bitten, leaf-less trees, the fact that it was Monday and we were working – none of it mattered. What had been pulling us in this direction all morning wasn’t simply the scent of exotic flowers, or laid-back island music, or even the promise of cold, brewery-fresh beers. It was something more universal – more tuned to the soul and the heart. No. We had been possessed by the Aloha Spirit, and we uncovered its source at a little brewery called Lanahu Ales.
Let’s go take a tour and see if we can’t knock a few down, shall we?
Bells, whistles, sweat, science and all that good stuff.
The brewhouse at Lanahu Ales leaves very little to the imagination. And that’s precisely the point. Don’t get it wrong, though. This place is less about “look at my shiny toys” and more about letting you lose yourself in the wonder. It’s an art piece, in a sense – framed so elegantly against the depth of the room. A deservedly scrupulous gaze, perhaps the duration of a slow pint, offers, among the inherent grace of finely machined things, the rarest of looks at the ephemeral ghost of creation.
A full wall of windows at the entry drags the mid-day sun across the concrete floor. It distorts in crosshatch the contorted steel bulk of pipework, knobs and barrels. Digital displays welcome a layman’s guess at their utility. Hoses drape and creep almost organically over and through the chrome angularity. Light draws the eye over every tube, every bend and every dial meant for turning.
Somewhere in the meticulous chaos, a narrative emerges. It’s told in the bready funk of a young beer steaming away. You can see it in the anxious tool cart and the thin, receding puddles escaping toward the floor drain. The tale is familiar in theme – passion meets determination meets the hard-headed and the willful. It starts with love. There is war. Then love again and so on. The ending, sometimes near perfect, other times not so, always delivers on that ever-infuriating promise – to start again.
In craft beer, perfection is a fool’s game. For most brewers, consistency is the noble pursuit – to make something worthy of repeating with precision. It takes a bit of the scientist, a touch of the artist, some cowboy and, occasionally, an invocation of the great guiding spirits for a little divine intervention. And here at Lanahu’s beautiful brewhouse, they’ve got all of that going on.
Let’s go have a look at this taproom.
Changing the game.
A certain aesthetic comes to mind when you hear the words “Hawaiian-themed.” You might envision 60s-styled tiki bars with thatched roofs, totem mugs and all manner of surf kitsch. Elvis typically makes an appearance alongside some blue abomination of a cocktail. Well, forget all that. Lanahu Ales has rewritten the script when it comes to embodying the laid back, low-key spirit of the islands.
The spacious taproom delivers a vibe that’s streamlined and simple and, at the same time, elegant and welcoming. The room’s modern and minimal décor offers an invitation for human warmth and conversation. White walls and tilework radiate natural sunlight. Reflective surfaces throughout project vivid swirls of color. The angular gridwork of the front window frames casts a playful geometry of shadows. Soft gray accents and subdued art deco prints disrupt the taproom’s clean white canvas. The whole scheme serves to highlight the vibrant shock of natural greenery in sprawling palms and delicate miniature bonsai.
The star of the show in the Lanahu Ales taproom is undoubtedly the tap wall. To date, the brewery is the region’s only self-serve brewpub. They operate an impressive Pour My Beer system that features ten taps and a fully digital, customer-specific delivery. The tap system allows patrons the freedom of self-service, pour control, instant variety and, perhaps best of all, no waiting at the end of the bar or flagging down busy servers. The design also allows for glass sterilization between pours and crowler and growler fills.
Lanahu translates to coal. It’s an homage to the brewer’s driving passions – the island life and NEPA’s hard coal heritage. The good folks at Lanahu Ales have managed to capture both unique sentiments with a refreshing honesty. If you asked me, I’d venture a guess that the idea behind this place, the design and the innovative tap system is to create a sense of family. They want you to feel like you’re home gathering with friends, pouring your own beer.
For I have seen beer heaven and it is juicy (and a bit hazy).
It’s no secret. At Lanahu Ales, the juicy New England IPA dominates the tap list. They offer at least five different versions of the popular style at any given time. And, while the trademark of the style is that juicy, tropical flavor and often creamy texture, Lanahu’s brewmaster offers a master class in subtle differentiation. And that seems like the best place to start.
Our day began with Lanahu’s lineup of juicy, insanely cruise-able NEIPAs. Up first, one of the brewery’s superstars, Mikilima “Glove” No Fit. This hefty imperial/double NEIPA weighs in at 7.48% ABV. The brewer offers it an ode to industry pals, Breaker Brewing’s popular OJ Simcoe. Tweaked a bit with the addition of blood orange puree, this beer delivers on all those sweet citrus notes. Next, we tried 8-oh-8, a gorgeously hazy DDH NEIPA with a golden sunset hue. This one pulled back on the citrus just enough to allow a melon/mango character to take center stage. Hana Buttah Haze was another heavy hitter at 7.2%. It offered a cloudy, velvety hop intensity coupled with citrus and stone fruit. Other notables in the realm of Juicy IPAs included: Pia Samoa and Hena Ono.
On the clearer, less cloudy and juicy side of things, Lanahu also lines up a respectable slate of lagers, stouts and sours. The Pilsner offering, Poko Ono was a clean, clear testament to the brewer’s mastery over process. The sweet, malty backdrop played brilliantly off the crisp, subtly hopped finish. Lanahu Lager proved an easy drinker at 5.25%. This clear, straw-colored pint opened with bready sweetness and closed with a mellow spiciness.
Finally, we brought it back around to the ales. Hoku Oli, Lanahu’s signature Oatmeal Stout, struck a fine balance between the slightest bitterness and chocolatey sweetness. The smooth drinker also provided a pleasantly delicious nutty aroma with background hints of roasted coffee. We then made the leap across the spectrum to Piolo Different Lilikoi, a delightful fruited sour. Passion fruit shines through on this light, tart and slightly sweet cruiser. If you’re thinking poolside beer, this is the one.
In all, Lanahu’s tap list features a rotating cast of fresh beers for every palate. Each pour displays the brewer’s impressive range and a dogged determination to produce consistent, high-quality craft beers. The brewery also partners with local restaurants and food trucks to offer a steady variety of dining options.
We discovered the aloha spirit at Lanahu Ales back in early March. Our new friends poured generously and spoke freely of their love for beer and NEPA and all things Hawaii. We set out that morning in search of something bright and easy and fun. We found all of that and more at this amazing, little brewery in Mountain Top. Go check em’ out.
Mikilima “Glove” No Fit – Sweet, hazy, delightfully tropical with a smooth creaminess – 7.48% ABV
Piolo Different-Lilikoi – Refreshingly tart with a backdrop of sweet passion fruit – 5.6% ABV
Poko Ono – Clear, fresh, malty sweet with hints of mango – a true island-style pilsner – 6.3% ABV