North Country Brewing in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania
Some breweries are worth making a road trip to visit. North Country Brewing, a brew pub in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, is worth the trek.
When my parents first told me they were taking us to a surprise restaurant an hour away I was scared. I have my rotation of must eat restaurants when I visit home. Unplanned substitutions are just not welcome – especially when they’re an hour away. Didn’t they know I just drove eight hours to visit them? I love you Mom and Dad, but…
Then they showed me the glossy brochure and I was convinced that North Country Brewing was worth the trip. I find that glossy brochures are much more truthful than the Internet, and this one teased of a farm-to-fork restaurant with beers brewed from local sources. And, my favorite part – wait for it – some meats are even brewery-to-fork. That’s right, the brewery sends spent grains to local farmers for feed to not only reduce brewery waste but to also produce true brewery to fork beef. Oh those happy, drunken cows! Buddha must be delighted (that line’s gonna land me hate mail)!
If North Country Brewing looks like a page torn out of a history book, that’s probably because it is.
The building itself has been in some form of use since 1805. The original owners, the Uber family (no relation to Uber Car (I’m fairly sure, but their services could be used by quenched patrons)), held deed until the mid-1990s. During their long legacy, the building served as an inn, a bar, a cabinet maker, a coffin maker, a funeral home, and a furniture store. Many relics of the original structure can be found in North Country Brewing as reclaimed wood for the reconstruction efforts that began in 1998 when Jodi and Bob McCafferty fell in love with the building and turned it into a brewery. What they couldn’t repurpose from the existing structure, the McCafferty’s recycled from local hardware stores.
I visited North Country Brewing during the height of the summer heat in July. One step inside the heavy, creaky front door made me want for a visit in the midst of a cold winter. The medium stained wood that covered nearly every square inch of the old building’s interior brought in a warmth and quaintness I have yet to find in any brewery or tavern. I could imagine the bar filled with locals in the 1800s discussing politics and the upcoming farm season. There was a charm that made me wish I was a local dropping in on any given night for conversation with good friends or with an intriguing book for a pint or three.
Arrive early, because North Country Brewing is the hit of the town.
We arrived at 5:00 on a Saturday night to over an hour wait for a table. I can’t imagine how this place handles the crowds when school’s in session with thirsty college students during the colder months as summer patrons enjoy an ample, sundrenched patio to absorb some of the overflow from the two story restaurant.
No worries on the wait though, as a college town, Slippery Rock has plenty to see and do. We meandered the tree lined streets window shopping and popping into a local winery for a taste until our table was ready. Or, you could just belly up to the bar for a pint until your name is called.
Enjoy true farm-to-fork food.
The menu boasts food that is locally sourced from the surrounding farm community. From the chicken to the beef to the bison to the herbs and vegetables, much of what you eat was probably grown or raised in a field passed on the drive into town. The menu ranges from typical pub fare like fried calamari and chicken wings, to the creative like frog legs, elk sausage, and bison burgers.
I had my taste-buds set on a brewery-to-fork burger from the time I read the glossy brochure. Could I really taste the difference? Mrs. G. had her heart set on the special – elk sausage. Alas, the problem with a restaurant as popular as North Country Brewing is that items available in limited quantities sell out fast, even to those customers who arrive at 5:00 for dinner. (I suspect that some of the inventory went out the door through the take-out menu.)
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Alas, I ordered the Roasted Garlic Burger with buffalo meat and a side of hand-cut fries for $13.99. The ground buffalo patty was topped with roasted garlic, grilled onions and mushrooms, horseradish sauce, and Swiss cheese. The toppings and sauce added a texture and flavor I’ve never had with a burger before. The garlic was smoothly present but not in your face as the roasting process eliminates the sharp edge found in raw garlic. The sharpness was instead added through the spicy, creamy horseradish sauce and Swiss cheese. Finally the grilled mushrooms added a chew and wildness that made this burger truly unique and delicious (there’s nothing like the texture and flavor from local mushrooms). The toppings were so alive and so good that I was sad the buffalo meat was wasted. I could have saved a few bucks and just opted for the Angus version. My scale was happier with the leaner meat though.
North Country, Brewing produces some of the most creative beers I’ve encountered, and produces them well.
Regular readers of The Wandering Gourmand may recall my review of Cigar City Brewery. I completely admired the creativity of the brewer. However, I found most of the more creative selections to be a novelty and nothing I would enjoy a pint of. Not at North Country Brewing. Their creativity carried through well in the execution. There wasn’t a single beer in my six-pack sampler that I wouldn’t drink by the pint.
I started the evening with a sampler and ended it with a glass of High Wire IPA:
- Station 33 Firehouse Red – This was one of the lighter reds that I have sipped. And after the “blow me off my stool” red from Rust Belt Brewery tried just days before, I was hard to impress. The Firehouse seemed watered down in comparison with only slight toastiness and maltiness. I also detected a funky aftertaste that didn’t sit well. Was this just a bad choice or an indication of what to expect?
- McCleod’s Ewe Scottish Ale – North Country Brewing redeemed! So many Scottish ales today are bourbon-aged, barrel-aged, age-aged that we’ve forgotten what a Scottish ale actually should taste like. This is what it should taste like. A mild ale with decent enough level of malt and a dry finish that leaves you wanting for more.
- Paleo IPA – Normally I save anything hop forward until the end of my tasting, but it was a warm evening and I was craving something hoppy. I was disappointed. Much like the Firehouse, I found the Paleo IPA to watered-down. There were nice floral hops present, but not enough for an IPA.
- Stone House Stout – Be careful naming anything Stone in the craft beer world. Consumers expect the greatness delivered by Stone Brewing. Stone House brought that greatness with huge coffee notes. The stout was brewed with oatmeal giving the beer and a smooth and creamy finish. By far the best beer thus far!
- Lavender Abbey Dubbel – Sweet Jesus thank you for this beer! This is where that creativity I mentioned earlier is executed. I ordered the Lavender Abbey expecting a novelty. I could have sipped this all night. The floral lavender adds a unique aroma and finish on top of an already complex style.
- Cask Stout – Each day North Country offers a unique beer poured from the hand pump and served at 55 degrees in true British fashion. I sampled the stout. There were big coffee and black pepper notes in an otherwise smooth beer.
- High Wire IPA – A perfect ending to the evening with a strong IPA to help put me out for the drive home (The Queen was our D.D.). North Country redeemed themselves from the Paleo IPA experience with 7.6% IPA that’s brewed with oatmeal and served on nitro to enhance the richness of the oatmeal. The High Wire has the right balance of citrus and piney hops with a finish that is both creamy and chewy. What a fantastically creative IPA!
North Country Brewing may not be located in a major metropolitan area, but it is close enough to several. If you hail from Pittsburgh, Youngstown, or Erie, do yourself the favor and make the trek out to Slippery Rock and visit North Country Brewing. The farm-to-fork food or fresh beer are sure to please from a craft brewery that’s been around since before craft beer was cool!