REVIEW: Gift Horse Brewing Company

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Opening a brewery takes time.

From finding the right location to the piles of paperwork to attain the proper license, it seems like a series of never-ending hurdles to finally mash in your first brew.

No one probably knows this better than the crew at the recently opened Gift Horse Brewing Co. in York, Pa.

gift horse brewing co.

Gift Horse’s opening has been talked about and rumored many times over. They’ve been on the festival circuit for a while and have even collected their fair share of hardware.

[Ed. note: To give you an idea of how long they’ve been working on this, Gift Horse provided beer for the Women in Beer Panel during the first Harrisburg Beer Week in 2015.]

However, head brewer, Jason Snyder, said the time has helped get Gift Horse to where they are now.

“It would have hurt us if we hadn’t done so many festivals and tasting events,” said Snyder. “It’s given me a lot longer to work on our recipes and bend the ears of other breweries, and it also gave us a great chance to build a grassroots following before we even opened.”

Gift Horse officially opened their doors in late August to the applause of the local beer community.

The beer

Gift Horse isn’t tied down to just a few styles. While I was there they had everything from your standard American IPA to a Vanilla Pumpkin Porter.

“I like to make my beer very accessible,” said Snyder. “I always want some who’s not too familiar with craft beer to be able to find something they like on the tap list.”

One look at the tap list, you can see exactly what he’s talking about.

Gift Horse has about six staple beers they try to keep on at all times or their “starting line-up.” If you’ve sampled their beer at an event, there’s a good chance you’ve checked one of those in already.

Beyond that, Gift Horse also offers a wide range of seasonal beers and one-offs.

Citrawheat – This was Gift Horse’s day one beer. It won the “Highest Rated Beer” at Yorktoberfest in 2014. It’s refreshing and approachable with a zip of citrus.

Cease and Resist DIPA – Flavors of candied citrus, earthy undertones, and a sweet hint of malt make this 8.2% DIPA easy to drink.

C.R.E.A.M. Ale – Light and balanced and brewed true to style with just a hint of vanilla at the end.

West Coast Blonde – Blonde Ales can be bland and repetitive. This one is not. Cascade and Centennial hops provide notes of grapefruit and pine to this easy-drinking beer.

Downtown Brown Ale – This deliciously balanced beer offers up flavors of chocolate, roasted malt, and toffee. Not many breweries make brown ales; I’m glad Gift Horse does.

Black Jack Apple Stout – You’ve heard of dry-hopping, well how about apple-hopping? Snyder “apple-hopped” this beer with 100 pounds of apples to give this stout a slight tang in the finish.

Vanilla Pumpkin Porter – I’m not usually one for pumpkin beers unless you can tame the spice. This beer does precisely that. The traditional pumpkin spices play a secondary role to the vanilla and base porter beer.

While Snyder is the brewmaster, he is joined in the brewhouse by Josh Jacobs, Gift Horse’s cellarman.

In addition to the beer, Gift Horse also makes and kegs cocktails using local spirits from Bald Hills Farm Distillery and wine from Waltz Vineyards.

Food + Space

Gift Horse currently offers a menu of snacks and paninis made in-house to pair with their beers.

The signature dish is their Horseshoe Charcuterie. It features a horseshoe-shaped pretzel made special for them by York City Pretzel Company, which surrounds a series of meats, cheeses, and fruit.

Gift Horse sits in a central location in the heart of York city.

They are steps away from The Strand Capital Theatre and right across the street from Rockfish Public House and The Left Bank.

Gift Horse purchased the building two years ago and had to completely gut the entire place to outfit it for their brewery and taproom.

During the renovations, the owners did all they could to blend a modern feel but still keep the tradition of the more than 100-year-old building intact.

With a large bar, table seating, and outdoor space, Gift Horse has plenty of seating options for any party size.

If you sit at the bar be sure to look down at the authentic railroad track footrest and the railroad spike hooks under the bar.

Their taps sit in front of the exterior brick wall, which they resurfaced during the build-out. The walls are lined with pallet wood, and Edison bulb lights hang throughout the building.

It is a warm and inviting space to enjoy local craft beer.

The story

Gift Horse got their start in a very appropriate way, over a few beers between friends.

Snyder and his business partner, Casey Brenner, were sampling local York beers at a Christmas party when Brenner mentioned he might want to get into the brewing business.

“For me, a light bulb went off, and I blurted out that I homebrewed,” said Snyder. “We continued to talk about it over a few beers, and he gave me some money to brew a few beers to try.”

Snyder took the beer to Brenner, and he liked it so much that he said he wanted to finance the research and development of a brewery.

After that, Snyder started to brew with a purpose and wanted to make Yorktoberfest in 2014 their first event. From there they participated in numerous festivals, and, according to their numbers, in three years of touring they brewed 1,250 gallons of beer and poured more than 40,000 samples.

A name with meaning

Gift Horse’s name has several different meanings to the brewers and owners of the brewery.

One name has to do with where Snyder started brewing.

“All of my initial brewing was done at my in-law’s horse farm, so a lot of the early names were all about horse puns,” said Snyder. “But in the end, I liked the phrase don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

If you’re not familiar with the saying or aren’t sure, here’s a little schoolin’.

You can tell how old a horse is by looking at its teeth because they don’t stop growing. Hence the saying, you’re looking a little long in the tooth when people are getting old.

From there, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” refers to if someone gives you a gift, don’t look too far into it, and just take it.

“This was more than just a name that rolled off the tongue, which it did,” said Snyder. “It speaks to how I met my business partner, and how grateful I am for the opportunity for a living. To have this opportunity is really a Gift Horse.”

Gift Horse Brewing Co. is open 4-10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 4-11 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday-Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

James Werner
Author: James Werner

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