Craft Brew Review: Zuckfoltzfus Brewing Co.

zuck1One of the nicest side effects of the craft beer movement is that the bar experience in America has also changed with the increased variety and quality of beers. As consumers show a renewed interest in a higher quality malted beverage so too are they showing an increased desire for better food. Gone are the days where the local watering hole was a smokey den filled with disgruntled, blue collared workers drowning their sorrows in watery libations. These bars were often replaced by a much more modern twist on the typical bar, the gastropub.

Mike has been following Mt. Joy’s new gastropub and microbrewery, Zuckfoltzfus Brewing Co. This new pub and eatery is located in downtown Mt. Joy and is focusing on a classier yet hometown craft beer and fine food patron. Mike had been eager to try their food and drink ever since he purchased a classy and rather unique growler from them not long after opening. Do to legal issues with their Mt. Joy neighbors they weren’t serving beer at the time and Mike decided that he needed to go back. This past weekend we saddled up and made the trip to their Market Street pub.

I will let Mike offer his own thought about the experience but I wanted to take a bit of time to review what I thought of Zuckfoltzfus Brewing Co from Saturday night. As it is a fledgling business and a virtual unknown to the greater Lancaster area the concern is that the public at large may not know it exists or whether it is worth the trip. I’m hoping to help answer some questions one might have before making that decision.

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The Good

The thing I enjoyed the most about my trip was the atmosphere. The first impression is always the most important when attempting to encourage an enthusiastic and loyal customer base and I thought Zuckfoltzfus Brewing Co did a fantastic job of that. Their location was close to the main strip of Mt Joy, the building is basically a refurbished home that gives off a cozy, inviting atmosphere. The decor was a mix that was a sense of hipster Pennsylvania Dutch. From the rocking chairs on the front porch, to the draft list on tiny clipboards with a blackboard surface, to their pint glasses that felt almost like reclaimed beer bottles the vibe was that of painfully hip, crafty farmhouse. Even the wall paper had a popular faux retro upper-crust design to it.

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In short when walking into the bar and then back to the dinning room was that while it was a smaller location with seating for only a small handful of people that they had placed some thought into the tiny details that define and set apart a new business venture.

Unfortunately it cannot all be good.

The Bad

The menu seemed to be impressive at first blush. There was the typical fine meats and cheeses that are requisite of any menu with charcuterie on the menu. They also had a variety of interesting dishes to try. I ended up having the “pork three ways” dish which offered well prepared pork in three different styles a top a bed of sauerkraut. The regularly update Facebook with upcoming dishes that will be on their ever-changing, ever alternating menu.

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Great sounded dishes like:
* Apple Spice Hummus with Warm Pita
* Short Rib Macaroni and Cheese
* Roasted Pumpkin and Pearl Barley Risotto
* Beer Marshmallows with Chocolate

I don’t know what a Beer Marshmallow is but it certainly sounds delicious.

While I thoroughly enjoyed my varied porks and sauerkraut some of the other dishes our party ordered sort of missed the mark. A friend ordered a butternut squash soup and found it lacking. It was obviously reheated in a microwave as there was an outer shell of warm soup surrounding a cold core. It was also decided that it desperately needed a good addition of salt to enhance the flavor a bit. The pretzels were crafted with love and care of spent grains and well they were exceedingly dense as a lighter, appetizer choice.

This may seem like harsh criticism but the reality is that adding a little salt and making sure your soups are blisteringly hot are minor critiques. Things that can be easily fixed for a virgin kitchen who is constantly changing their menu. While my experience with their pork seemed to be better than my compatriots choices in meals I would still venture back to their dining room to try a few of their more tantalizing and unique concoctions.

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Where I think Zuckfoltzfus stumbled most as a new gastropub and brewery was their beer. While the food may be delicious if you are going to be making and selling your own beer it had best be delicious. Man cannot live on fine meats and cheeses alone, he is going to eventually need beer.

While I didn’t have the fortitude to sample all the available beers I did have what I felt was a fair sampling of them. I sampled the War Eagle Ditzy Blonde Ale, the Woodshed Red, and their Whiny Sarah APA.

I found the Woodshed Red to be an adequate beer. I felt that while it had an malty, flavor that it lacked really feeling or tasting like a red. This is most likely as it was an Irish Red Ale and not a more typical plain Red APA or IPA that I am usually drawn to.

The Whiny Sarah APA was a disastrous enigma. It was described as being hoppier than a traditional APA, almost to IPA category but I found it to be lacking in any significant bitterness at all. I believe the intended hop signature was a sort of off flavor that seemed to overpower an otherwise fine tasting beverage. There was a flavor beneath the beer that came out after the first taste that eventually overtook the flavor of the beer. That is exactly how most strongly hopped beers work I tend to think that were the hops at work but their flavor was not the typical hoppy bitterness. It was something much, much worse.

I ended the night with the War Eagle Ditzy Blonde Ale which was a revelation compared to the Whiny Sarah. I found it to have a delightful and surprising level of complexity for the average blonde. While it wasn’t a transformative experience within the greater scope of all craft beer it did encourage me that despite the unfortunate choices I had before it that Zuckfoltzfus has a potentially grand brewer in their employ.

There is certainly a sort of undefinable nature of a home-brew that in many ways separates the amateurs from the professionals. I have tasted established breweries whose beer tasted like they just stepped out of the garage. I’ve had home-brews that tasted like they were the latest creation from a top tier brewery. Zuckfoltzfus is moving from the home-brew into the professional domain. The War Eagle Ditzy Blonde gives me faith that very quickly they will be producing good beers, perhaps even great beers.

Currently though, I would have had a second and third of the blonde but given what I tasted of the rest of their offerings I wouldn’t be rushing back for more beers.

The Conclusion

Once turned on to the vibrant life and extensive body of work of the late, great Michael Jackson I found myself immediately spellbound by his ability to expounded at length the merits of even the mediocre of breweries. I think that all criticism should be constructive rather than destructive and while Mike and I may lambast the likes of AB InBev or MillerCoors this based on more their desire to maximize profits at the expense of their product rather than a reflexive disdain for those at the top.

Zuckfoltzfus is a new enterprise that is finding their feet in a very crowded market place. They reported on their Facebook page that they had a record-breaking week last week so we can all celebrate that they are doing well and growing despite the minor aches and pains of a fledgling brewery.

While personally I was not a rabid fan of their beers as an amateur home brewer I understand the difficulties of providing a plethora of choice to customers while maintaining a high level of quality as well as a sane sleep schedule. While Mike and I have both noticed that their focus seems to be more on their food than on their beer (which is a perfectly fine direction to go) I do believe their beer to be adequately professional in quality and taste. I have not enjoyed most of the beers I have tasted from SlyFox (and I have had a lot) but I know there is a segment of the craft beer market that finds them to be exceptionally delicious.

I think Zuckfoltzfus is worth checking out, especially if you are in the Mt. Joy area. If I lived in town I don’t think it would be my favorite watering hole but I know that I will be checking in periodically to see how they are doing. With titillating menu options like those above how is a food enthusiast supposed to stay away?