For around 10 years, if you wanted to travel to Old Forge Brewing Co. from Lancaster, you had to head north and drive for two hours before reaching its home in Danville. Now you can drive across the Susquehanna River and visit its new taproom in downtown York.
Opened in 2008 by the husband-and-wife team of Maria and Damien Malfara, the brewery had its beginnings like so many others, with a passion for homebrew.
Another thread that weaves the creative drive that inspires the Malfaras into the collective tapestry with so many others in the craft beer industry is a focus on local community and the value of craftsmanship.
Just this month, Old Forge Brewing Co. in York partnered with the York Town Craft Guild as its featured brewery as participants learned how to create clay gargoyles while experiencing various beers through a presentation and sampling. Old Forge’s general manager, Matthew Fisher, talked about three different beers as artist Kristin Kest guided the group in forming their own grotesque to ward off evil.
The first thing I noticed when entering the taproom was the intricate and bold ironwork separating the left and right sides of the dining area from the Market Street entrance. Blacksmith and metalworker Nick Ireys was commissioned to create this elaborate work that highlights the main ingredients in beer, and it’s a masterpiece to behold. The ability of Ireys to combine such earthen strength with flowing and delicate whimsy takes the art of blacksmithing far beyond mere function.
Old Forge Brewing Co.’s space takes up the corner of Market Street and Beaver Street, across from Holy Hound Taproom and next to Timeline Arcade, making it an all-day destination for the whole family because Old Forge is a kid-friendly taproom. The littlest ones in your hungry clan are likely to enjoy the kids menu at Old Forge, with options like grilled cheese on Martin’s potato bread, soft pretzel sticks, macaroni and cheese, and chicken fingers.
There are tables along the length of the taproom with bench-style seating on wide sills bordering windows that illuminate the space with little need for artificial lighting during the daytime. These sizable windows are glorious and run the entire length of the taproom, and stained glass separates the windows from the ceiling along the perimeter. Alternative rock from the ’90s was flowing through the space, and my girl and I were jamming to the Pixies while my boy found his own delight with a Beastie Boys track.
Old Forge’s menu offers a variety of options, some of which I can’t wait to return and try: bacon twists, bacon cheeseburger fries, spicy beef tip salad, fried green tomato BLT, blackened ahi tacos and mushroom ravioli.
I opted for the dill and havarti burger that came topped with a golden sunny side up egg, green goddess dressing and greens. My side was hush puppies served with honey butter. While I always appreciate local restaurants having a farm-to-table approach, I've certainly had local beef burgers that were forgettable.
Not so with the burger at Old Forge Brewing Co.
The kitchen elevated that piece of ground meat to the heavens with some kind of magical burger seasoning. It was juicy, tender and the bun wasn’t too overstuffed with extras that I couldn't eat it. The creamy havarti and fresh sprigs of dill complemented the goddess dressing, and while I'll probably choose the house-made chips next time for my side because the hush puppies were just too much to eat alongside a burger, they were perfectly fried and would make for an excellent appetizer to share with others.
A side note: Dill is an underappreciated herb.
I tried three beers and also was impressed with the craftsmanship shown there, as well as noting that glasses were clean and without unintended nucleation points. It seems to me that attention to detail is second nature to the Old Forge family.
Old Forge beer
Paradise Pils was my first, It’s often a style I’ll start with when sampling the wares of a new-to-me brewery. This 4.5% alcohol by volume Pilsner had brilliant clarity and the color was a pale, straw gold. Soft floral and spicy hops met with grainy and graham cracker malt that also had a faintly nutty quality. It finished crisply and cleanly, making it one supremely drinkable beer.
The No Socks India pale ale arrived caramel-amber and with slight haze in the glass. Loads of pine, pith and sticky, dank, jammy notes brought a bitter balance to a dry, malty body. The higher ABV of 8% was well-hidden, and it paired nicely with my burger.
My final beer was an 8.5% Belgian-style blonde ale fermented with both yeast and lactobacillus, then set to age 18 months with Brettanomyces claussenii in oak. Its name was Time and Patience, appropriate considering the lengthy labor of love it was from start to finish. It poured honey gold and smelled of tart Granny Smith apples, wood and light, earthy funk. The flavor provided complexity with pear, apple, straw, tart berries and floral notes all wrapped up in oak dryness, though there was a softness that kept the ending round. This one was an absolute delight.
Contact Amber DeGrace with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and find her on Twitter at @amberdegrace.