Wine, Brews & Spirits in our Backyard
For one hot minute, my family were winemakers. We never had the cool winery with that always-there smell of some great vintage wafting through the air, or the barrels stacked while the tannins did their magic. It was just a bumper crop of blackberries in our back yard, a corking machine from Amazon, some undying curiosity about the art of winemaking, and a whole lot of heart.
Our hobby didn't last very long. We found that the wine, much like our young kids, demanded time and energy at the most unlikely times, and we discovered that wine tasted infinitely better when we didn't have to make it ourselves. But I digress.
The main thing I took away from our 'basement hobby' was how personal and heart-filled the craft of making wine, beers and spirits truly is. Long before the drink is in your glass, the soil has been rolled between someone's fingers, the fruit or grain has been tasted, tested, examined. The sunny days and rainy days are counted and tracked with a fervor that's been passed down through the ages. At every step of the way, the process is intensely human, the end product lovingly created by people doing their life's work very well.
Right here in our back yard, there are Makers creating wines, spirits, cider and beer. While you can pick up their wares from local stores (or have them shipped to you), I encourage you to take the time to stop in and visit. Because the stories of how these drinks came to be will make them taste even better.
Seven Mountains Wine Cellars
324 Decker Valley Road, Spring Mills; sevenmountainswinecellars.com; 814-364-1000
Seven Mountains deftly combines award-winning wines with a full calendar of campfire nights, comedy nights and live music. They hold the title for winning the Pennsylvania Governor's Cup in both grape and fruit wines, an unprecendented achievement in a single competition.
Their wine cellar is easy to access from Route 322 (a treat for lasting through the traffic on the Seven Mountains), and they have a wine bar in Boalsburg as well as a sister location in Reedsville and wine selections at CastleRigg in Carlisle.
Check their calendar for events — their summer finds combine the best in lazy summer evenings with their tantalizing vintages.
When you go: Try the Vidal Ice that was just awarded double gold at the 2019 Farm show, and also winner of the 2019 Governor’s Cup. It's made from grapes that were permitted to freeze on the vine. This full-flavored wine has wonderful honey and apricot-like aromas and flavors.
Hungry Run Wine & Spirits
10042 US Hwy. 522 S., Lewistown; hungryrunwineandspirits.com; 717-242-0444
A passion project from a group of central Pennsylvania locals, Hungry Run Wine & Spirits is creating inventive drinks for your next get-together. They've recently moved from The Barn in Lemont, but you can find them in not one, but two tasting experiences in the Lewistown area.
Just off of 322 in Reedsville, their upscale tasting room at Squire Brown's features seating and space for you to bring your own food, relax and enjoy a glass of wine or spirits. There are even local beers on tap!
Their retail shop, just opened in November, is located near Walmart in Lewistown and offers their full line of wines and spirits in a convenient pickup spot.
Four of their wines won awards at the 2019 Farm Show this year. They specialize in sweet wines — with finds like Strawberry Watermelon and Pineapple Passion — but they also excel in their dry offerings, including the one-of-a-kind Crimson Smoke.
"To create Crimson Smoke, the wine is put through a very unique oaking process to give it a soft, sultry, smoky flavor," says winemaker Steve Flood. "Each time we rack the wine, we change the oak, starting with a heavy toasted French oak and finishing with a light American oak. By utilizing these two different varieties, you’re able to get a deep smoky flavor from the French, married along with the soft vanilla caramel from the American."
Hungry Run also distills their own vodka, carbon-filtered and crystal clear, the basis for their line of twelve flavored vodkas.
You can find them at local spring and summer festivals, including Uncork the Alleghenies at the Blair County Convention Center on March 16. (You can find a full list of festivals on their website.)
When you go: Check out their Red Raspberry, two time winner at the Farm Show. With red raspberries blended with concord grapes, the result is desserty perfect. Pairs well with winter weekends and anything chocolate.
Otto's Pub and Brewery
2235 N Atherton St., State College; ottospubandbrewery.com; 814-867-6886
In 2002, Otto's Pub and Brewery was the very first craft brewery to open in State College. For the past seventeen years, they've been wooing fans with their popular ales and lagers. Their success comes from their committment to quality and consistency, and from the amazing people in the community who have supported them every step of the way.
When you walk into Otto's, you can see artifacts of Pennsylvania brewing hanging on the walls and displayed throughout the restaurant. They are proud to be a part of that history, and
the resurgence that has made PA one of the top craft beer producers in the country. They also pride themselves on being a family-friendly environment.
Otto's taps are always full with both year-round and seasonal brews. Some of their newest includes the Green Weenie IPA, and the ever-popular Jolly Roger Imperial Stout. Their creative Cork & Cage Series bottle-conditioned ales are available in-house only and excellent for sharing.
Otto's recently started switching from bottles to cans, so folks can enjoy Otto's in a lighter, more convenient and more easily recyclable package! Their yearly St. Patrick's Day event is coming up on March 17th. Both Otto's and Barrel 21 will be open all day, with live music, food and drink specials and special merchandise for the event. More spring seasonal specials will be unveiled soon, with features like Maibock Lager and Hefeweizen. Not long from now, it will be outdoor patio season!
When you go: Check out newcomer Cherry Wheat Ale, which fans of their popular Apricot Wheat will love!
Barrel 21 Distillery and Dining
2255 N Atherton St., State College; barrel21distillery.com; 814-308-9522
Barrel 21 distills its craft spirits from raw grains such as rye and malted barley, using a still manufactured in Stuttgart, Germany by Carl Artisan Stills. Many of the ingredients for their spirits are sourced from Pennsylvania farms. In addition to their on-site distillery, they offer a full restaurant experience for dinner, lunch and Sunday Brunch. They are also a unique event venue and can accommodate small or large groups for meetings, luncheons or celebratory dinners.
Barrel 21 is a great venue for all kinds of events. Their nightly live music features a wide variety of genres, and holidays like Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day showcase entertainment unique to those days. Their menus and weekly dinner features utilize locally-sourced ingredients, and new spirits will be released soon, like their Navy Strength Rum! Keep an eye on their Facebook page and website for the latest news and releases.
Their cocktail menu changes seasonally, and their mixologists love creating new cocktails to feature, so there is always something different to try when you visit! They always offer barrel aged cocktails, like the Manhattan and Negroni, which are kept in oak barrels behind the bar and poured directly into your glass. Guests can explore their house-distilled spirits more thorougly by visiting their Tasting & Sales Room, where they can participate in tastings and take home recipe cards with the bottled spirits or gifts they purchase.
When you go: Make time for a tour of the distillery. It costs just $5 and features a coupon for $5 off any product. Call 814-308-9522 for details.