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'Tasting Ticket' Offers Chance to Sample Homegrown Beer, Wine & Spirits

by on March 27, 2015 6:00 AM

If your tastebuds might enjoy something a little different, then the Central PA Tasting Trail might put you on the road to an enjoyable experience.

The tasting trail will offer a "tasting ticket" that will take you to 11 different Centre County craft breweries, wineries and distilleries that make their own beer, wine and liquor. It opens on April 1, and the celebration of local talent runs all month long.

More and more people are developing a "taste" for alcoholic beverages that don't flow from a factory.

"I think in general there's been a renaissance and it's centered around local foods, local craft beers and local wines -- as opposed to factory wine," says Elwin Stewart, the owner of Happy Valley Vineyard & Winery. "Smaller wineries, I think they're very unique. They're like boutique, with different flavors and tastes."

The number of craft breweries is soaring in Pennsylvania. According to the Brewers Association website there were 88 craft breweries in the state back in 2011. By 2013 there were 108.

Pennsylvania breweries produced 1,788,556 barrels of craft beer in 2013, which ranks second nationally.

The National Association of American Wineries says Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the country when it comes to wine production. Vineyards in the state produced 10,278,722 gallons of wine last year.

The tasting ticket got started when area business owners asked the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau  to get involved.

CPCVB Executive Director Betsey Howell says trying to help those businesses promote themselves was a natural fit. She says the tasting ticket will be be advertised through social media and on VisitPA.com, the state tourism website

The tasting ticket works like this: you buy a "ticket" for $20. The ticket is good from April 1 until April 30, so you'll have a whole month to visit the various businesses and sample their offerings.

"You get your ticket stamped and once you get it stamped at all of the locations then you're name is entered in a drawing," says Howell.

Prizes in that drawing include free overnight stays at area hotels and bed & breakfasts, concert tickets, gift cards, dinner and drink deals.

Several stops on the tasting ticket are close by.

That includes Otto's Pub & Brewery, located at 2235 N. Atherton St., in Patton Township.

"You're going to get a free tasting glass," says Neil Tomnay, Otto's merchandise manager. "I think people like the idea of doing things on their own or trying something that's basically homemade. These are Charlie's recipes that he's tweaked over the past 13 years."

Charlie Schnable is head brewer and co-owner of Otto's. Roger Garthwaite is the other co-owner.

Garthwaite got the ball rolling when he approached the other business owners. "We want to all come together because we're all in Centre County and we thought it would be a good idea if people could have a map to go to all these different places and try all the different things that we make here and other businesses make," says Tomnay.

"We usually have 10 to 12 draft beers that we've made in-house," he adds, explaining that Otto's always has an interesting selection. "We've made everything from stouts to lagers to porters and IPA's. We pretty much have it all. People love them."

Happy Valley Vineyard & Winery  owner Elwin Stewart was born to run a winery. As a Penn State scientist, Stewart specialized in plant pathology-- specifically grape vine trunk diseases -- so he knows how to keep his plants in great shape. "Taking care of vines is like nurturing your children," he says. "The love and care you put into it comes back to you to reward you." 

At his winery, visitors select the wines they want to sample. "We serve them the wine and explain to them about the wine, where it comes from, how we make it," he says.

Stewart, now retired from Penn State, has been in the wine business for a long time. His ten acre vineyard was planted in 1999 and the winery opened for business in 2010. Stewart stores his wine in oak casks, which he points to as a sign of quality. "We produce about 80,000 pounds of grapes every year."

Stewart has been involved with the tasting ticket since the idea first came up. "People who own wineries, breweries and distilleries came together ... and it kind of evolved," he explains. "My goal simply is to be kind and gracious to people who come out here on that tour and serve them wine. That's what we do. Nothing else. I'm not playing the banjo or the harmonica or anything else. I just serve wine. I make wine."

Another stop is in College Township at the Happy Valley Brewing Company, 137 Elmwood Street. It's a newer business, housed in a converted barn, and has only been open for about a year.

General manager Jamie Ryan says "The experience here is about being casual and being relaxed and trying to sample your beers and flavors. Our menu is the same way. We try to guide people through it like they were guests in our house."

Happy Valley Brewing Company's head brewer, Josh Davie, keeps busy producing craft beers with original names. There's a pale ale called Tailgater, a black IPA named Bongo Fury and an amber ale dubbed Headknocker, to name but a few.

A sampler is available with small glasses of six different beers at a cost of $12. "Our staff is trained to guide [visitors] through and answer questions about specific beers," says Ryan, noting that some people already know quite a bit about craft brews. "Other folks are used to saying, 'I'd like a Corona or I'd like a Bud Lite, I like a Yuengling Lager,' so from there we're able to steer them in different directions and help find a taste."

Click HERE to see all a map featuring all of the stops on The Central PA Tasting Trail.

Tasting tickets can be purchased at Robin Hood Brewing Co./Home D, Bellefonte and State College; Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks; Happy Valley Brewing Co.; Otto's Pub & Brewery/Keewaydin Cider Mill; Big Spring Spirits; Good Intent Cider; Happy Valley Vineyard & Winery; Mt. Nittany Vineyard & Winery; Seven Mountains Wine Cellars or at the Centre County/Penn State Visitor's Center.

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Steve Bauer was the Managing Editor of StateCollege.com. Steve and his wife Trina are longtime area residents. They reside in State College along with a wacky Golden Retriever named Izzy.
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