This is the story of two people who met on Craig’s List.
No, it’s not what you’re thinking. Although it does involve alcohol.
Andrew Knechel & Sean Tracy
One Christmas a few years ago, Sean Tracy, owner of Bucks County Timbercraft, a barn restorer and builder, was given a small, home copper still by his employees. After making some pretty good home spirits, reading up, and attending some workshops, he wanted to go bigger. He found a space in a light industrial park just north of Plumsteadville to set up his new distillery but needed another business willing to share the rent.
Enter Andrew Knechel, a brewer looking for a place to start his brewery. Knechel was advertising on Craig’s List and Tracy saw the listing. A match made in heaven! Thus was the first brewery and distillery under the same roof—in Pennsylvania and perhaps even the country—born.
It didn’t happen that quickly, however. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board kept turning down their applications to operate. After almost a year, they turned to State Representative Marguerite Quinn for some help. Within a month, the application was approved. What was the hold-up? The state didn’t know what to do with a distillery and brewery in the same building, at the same address (which they never deigned to explain). So Tracy and Knechel took two different addresses—31A and 31B Appletree Lane—and built an 8 foot wall to separate the two businesses. Finally in January 2014, Bucks County Brewery opened its doors and started selling its brews. Hewn Spirits, Tracy’s distillery, offered its first spirits in March in its tasting room.
But these are two different stories, with two very different kinds of beverages. We’ll start with Bucks County Brewery first, and explore Hewn Spirits next week.
It’s a pleasant summer evening—the kind we’ve been lucky to have most of the summer—and people are hanging out, drinking beer and mixed cocktails, munching away at picnic tables and listening to good music. It’s Food Truck Friday at the Bucks County Brewery and Hewn Spirits, an event that has gathered steam through the summer as word has spread beyond just the locals. Every Friday, a different food truck comes to serve their fare: Bonjour Creperie, MOO, Sum Pig, and Guerrilla Ultima have all parked there, along with local musicians, John Richards, John Creidler and others.
On tap in the modest tasting room of Bucks County Brewery, you’ll find six or more ales, all available for sampling. Behind the taps, you’ll find Knechel, or very likely, his wife, Bev. Bev’s the one responsible for all this. She introduced Knechel to craft beer seven years ago and said, simply, “You could do that.” She was right. Perhaps she couldn’t have foreseen just how well he could do it.
“A lot of people commented on just how good the beer was, especially for a new beer,” says Knechel, 47, a soft-spoken man, with a warm smile and kind eyes. For years, he made his own beer at home, even grew his own barley and hops. Then, in 2010, he decided to spend two months interning at the Harvest Moon Brewery in New Brunswick, learning everything from milling to packaging. After developing his own recipes for six years, and brewing them hundreds of times, he decided to scale up and start his own commercial brewery.
The Lambertville native spends his days as the Director of IT for a local New Jersey school district. But his evenings and weekends belong to beer. As he explains the ingredients and processes he uses to make his beers, it’s clear he enjoys the creativity and the possibilities. He likes the science of brewing too. “That, and the process, controls the quality,” he says.
You won’t find lagers at the Bucks County Brewery. Knechel wants to return to the traditions before Prohibition, when beer was local and unique. “Beer used to be flavorful,” he points out, “But after Prohibition, commercial breweries were just putting out lagers and lighter beers.”
This bias doesn’t seem to be hurting business. The beers served on tap go from light to dark, starting with a Hefeweizen, a mild German wheat beer that goes down easy on a hot day. Saison Du Lever Du Soleil, a French farmhouse ale with honey and a touch of Jalapeno pepper at the end, is another customer favorite. Farmhouse ales were traditionally made with whatever was in season, Knechel explains, and not “ultra-filtered.”
But talk about porters! Knechel has perfected the Barley Nectar Porter, the second beer he ever made and one of his favorites. He makes his own vanilla extract for the beer, using Madagascar vanilla beans soaked in whisky from Hewn Spirits. If you are lucky, they may also have the Orange Chocolate Porter, started first with orange and finished with dark chocolate nibs. As for you IPA fans, there is always a malty and hoppy one waiting for you on tap, like the East Coast Double Amber IPA, with a 9.2% ABV.
But Knechel’s personal favorites will appear this fall. The Crab-a-loupe, an English ale, starts with fermented crabapples from Solebury Orchards and cantaloupe from nearby Blooming Glen Farm. The apple lends astringency to the mix, offsetting some of the sugar in the melon.
The Smoked Butternut Squash Porter was a big hit at last year’s Yardley Beerfest, especially among other brewers. To make this, Knechel first smokes the squash over apple wood, then pecan wood. He adds it to the porter as it is boiling and ages the finished beer in whisky barrels. Because he doesn’t carbonate this beer, it can take up to two months of bottle conditioning until it is ready. Don’t miss this one; it only comes once a year.
Because it only takes 2 weeks from “grain-to-glass” to make beer, you can be very seasonal, Knechel says, and you can have a lot of fun, making new recipes and perfecting old ones. Since opening at the end of last January (during one of the worst winters on record), Knechel has made 20-25 different types of beer, and plans to be up to 30-40 by the end of the year. What that means for you, the beer drinker, is that there will always be something interesting to try when you visit.
And this is just the beginning. You will soon see Bucks County Brewery beers at local restaurants and venues. But, hey, it’s more fun to go to the brewery on a beautiful Friday evening, buy a pint and get a good, freshly made dinner at one of the food trucks. It’s a sweet way to begin the weekend.
Tasting Room Hours:
Friday 3 PM to 10 PM
Saturday 1 PM to 10 PM
You can sample the beers, and buy a pint or growler too.
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