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Somewhere in here I have a draft post with a dramatic headline about how many breweries you can expect to open within the year — some I’ve already written about, like Tattered Flag and Harty Brewing, but the number keeps growing.
I’ve been hearing about Highway Manor Brewing for a few months now, though one-man-show Johnnie Compton has been brewing at his space in Lower Allen Township since September. We finally had time to meet this week and chat about what he’s doing.
First I must temper your expectations — a taproom won’t be open until summer, likely, though plans include a rustic farmhouse-style tasting room plus outdoor space and –possibly– pour-your-own from his selection of four beers (you’d pay by the ounce), along with simple cheese boards for pairing.
I know. I’m excited about it too. Especially since this is so close to home base for me.
Johnnie’s been brewing for something close to 15 years. For much of this time, he’s just been doing it for himself, and after a chance meeting and bar-closing experience with Tom Peters, the owner of Monk’s Cafe, many years ago, he was introduced to the world of sours, gueuzes and saisons — Belgian-style beers known for funk and often, wild yeast strains.
In fact, Johnnie’s been self-inoculating for so long he’s essentially developed his own yeast strain — and thanks to support of family and friends — is now brewing beer on a larger scale. This month, he’ll be installing an 11-barrel brewing system, which will allow him to fill his stash of oak barrels, where these beers will age before being bottled and kegged.
Due to connections in New York City and Philadelphia — where beer drinkers have been exposed to this funky style brew for much longer — Highway Manor has been focusing first on events in Philadelphia (his first was a sour beer tasting earlier this month).
However, Johnnie promises me he’d like to participate in Harrisburg Beer Week, including partnering with local chefs for beer pairing or tasting events.
Highway Manor will offer four flagship beers to start.
»» Now is a good time for you to read this primer on wild ales that I wrote with help from Terry Hawbaker at Pizza Boy Brewing and Intangible Ales.
If you’re not familiar with dry, tart fruit beers, these will surprise you.
Mr Strawberry and Mr Blueberry are made with 50 lb of whole fruit in each batch. The fruit’s natural sugars are fermented away thanks to the handywork of Highway Manor’s house sour yeast, spending about 60 days in the barrel with the whole fruit. While the samples I tasted weren’t yet carbonated, the beers were bright yet delicate, lightly fruity yet fully dry.
Highway Manor’s Taste My Place is a Barrel Aged Golden Sour, also made with the Highway Manor sour yeast strain cultivated from Johnnie’s home in Perry County, a historic mansion dating back to 1840. This one “ages until ready,” and Johnnie said the first batch aged for about 100 days.
The SayJohn Saison Series also utilizes a house saison yeast before being aged about 45 days in a barrel. It’s pleasantly dry and lightly hopped.
As you’ll read here, blending is a large component in the creation of these beer styles. However, like Hawbaker’s “fluke” of Permasmile, Johnnie said the first few bottles of his to be released will not be blended because they were so good as is.