The Wilds Are BrewingOct 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Lilace Mellin Guignard
Whether you’ve gone on a beercation (a vacation planned around breweries) or not, you’re probably aware that breweries can help define a place. Small, independent, craft breweries can help revitalize a downtown, contribute to a culture centered around shared values, and provide an economic boost. This year, members of an informal collaboration throughout the thirteen-county PA Wilds region went a big step further and created a beer aimed at promoting the whole region—The Wilds Are Calling, a Hazy IPA with juicy citrus and light tropical aromatics.
Nestled in the region’s southeast corner in Williamsport—population under 30,000 and the Wilds’ biggest city—is New Trail Brewing Co. Wanting to find a way to give back to their home where they work and play, owner and brewer Mike LaRosa and marketing director Don Rieck contacted the nonprofit PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc., about their idea for a drinkable postcard promoting the Wilds. Communications director Britt Madera loved their idea: get as many craft brewers as possible in the region to come together to produce one beer.
On May 18, 2023, the eighteen breweries that signed on to the project met at New Trail. “We all came together here in Williamsport with the team from the Wilds, and had a great brew day,” Don says. “We met brewers from up to three hours away, shared beers, stories, and advice, and by the end of the day our yeast was fermenting away on it. When it was finished, we coordinated with our wholesale partners to deliver kegs and cans to the breweries themselves and a few bars and retailers. The goal was to say to the consumer ‘if you want to try this...then you need to come up here and experience what we have to offer.’”
That resulting can of beer carries the logos of all participating breweries and the PA Wilds logo. The name plays off of a quote from American preservationist and outdoor enthusiast John Muir: “The mountains are calling and I must go.”
Britt explains, “The beer label’s design inspires residents and visitors to think about the PA Wilds as a place of adventure, a place that they are called to explore. It’s also just a really delicious beer!
“In fact,” she continues, “I was recently asked to speak on behalf of the PA Wilds Center and give a presentation during the Penn State Extension Master Watershed Stewards’ retreat. The theme was ‘A Taste of the Wilds’ and featured a tasting of four beers in the PA Wilds region. The attendees were asked to anonymously rank the beers and choose a favorite, and The Wilds Are Calling came out on top!” They brewed ninety barrels and raised $2,509.40 for the Wilds.
This collaboration isn’t the first time New Trail, which brewed their first beer in 2018, has made an extra effort to give back to the region. Mike, from the Philly area, recalls the first time he drove into Williamsport on Route 15 and stopped at the overlook. “I could see for miles,” he recalls, “and thought, ‘It’s beautiful here.’” He grew up helping his father, a home brewer, then studied environmental studies, business, and sociology at Albright College. He knew he wanted to work in a business that could make a positive impact environmentally.
In July, 2021, New Trail started their state park series, which donates $1 per case sold to the named park through the nonprofit Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation. Altogether, the ten parks so far, including Cherry Springs and World’s End, have received just under $12,000. Most of these beers are one-offs—when they’re gone, that’s it. But Hyner View, brewed in April, 2022, to help plant native trees at that park, became the basis of the Replenish IPA Project. Replenish, a West Coast IPA, is a perennial beer that raises funds to plant native trees. In almost a year they’ve donated $50,000. Don says, “If we don’t give back and take care of the area, who will? We have the platform to bring awareness to this beautiful swath of wilderness and drive tourism.”
New Trail is the largest brewery in the PA Wilds—in 2022 it was the ninety-seventh largest craft brewery in the nation based on volume. They’ll brew about 50,000 barrels in 2023. An hour north, and also an eastern gateway to the Wilds, is Yorkholo Brewing Co. in Mansfield. A nanobrewery, owner and brewer Jarrod York produces only 100 to 150 barrels a year. He enjoyed the day in Williamsport when “everyone brought beer to share and shoot the shit. New Trail did the heavy lifting.” The Wilds Are Calling sold well in his place, a lovingly renovated brick building on Main Street that is also a restaurant. Jarrod likes the creative freedom that being so small gives him. The freedom to go wild, literally, as he has with his PA Wilds ale series. The beers, different every time, are farmhouse style fermented with native yeast. These sour beers (see the cover story for more on sours) sit in a coolship, a brewing pan, open to the air, gathering wild bacteria and yeast. Then Jarrod transfers it to a tank, adds a primary yeast, and finishes in a used oak barrel.
“A production brewery is never going to brew some of the weird styles I like,” he laughs. He uses local ingredients as much as possible, including Cascade hops he grows for his 1890s IPA. “An IPA is like a Marvel movie,” Jarrod says. “A mixed fermentation sour beer is an indie film.” He names his beers for local places, events, and people, and one of the favorites is the Pine Creek Raspberry Wheat. “Expect something different every time,” he says. “Different hops, different yeast, different malt base...playing around with stuff is the whole reason to be a brewer.”
Will they brew The Wilds Are Calling again next year? Probably, but there’s no reason to wait for it. Almost anywhere you are playing or staying in the Wilds is near a craft brewery. Look up any in the collaboration and taste the fun.
Additional participating breweries are: Bald Birds Brewing Co. of Jersey Shore, Bent Run Brewing Co. of Warren, Boom City Brewing Co. of Williamsport, Boxcar Brew Works of DuBois, Bradford Brew Station of Bradford, Bullfrog Brewery of Williamsport, Clarion River Brewing Company of Clarion, Floating Feathers Brewing Co. of Mill Hall, John Ryan Brewery of Williamsport, Lost In The Wilds Brewing of Shippenville, Mechanistic Brewing Co. of Clarion, Riepstine’s Pub & Brewery of Williamsport, Robinhood Brewing Co. of Bellefonte, Rosko’s Brew House of Williamsport, Therapy Brewing of Montoursville, and Wicked Warren’s of Warren.