Bar owners, festival organizers and brewers help me keep up with York's beer scene - something that's grown exponentially in the past few years. But it's still a small slice of the larger entertainment scene.
Other reporters, including Evan Benn, have beer for a beat. In 2009, the York County native landed a features job at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. After the paper had an opening for a beer columnist, he began writing about beer where it's king.
For Benn, who's also a food writer, it was an adjustment. At Northwestern University, he drank the cheap stuff that most other college kids did. Later, he started to pair dinners with wine.
In Missouri, he quickly learned the religion of brew. German immigrants introduced their lagering
technique to the area during the mid-to-late-1800s. Prohibition pinched out smaller breweries but paved the way for Anheuser-Busch, which still wears the U.S. beer crown.
St. Louis folks still drink Bud because their grandfathers worked in the brewery. But Benn said that after the Belgium company In Bev bought Anheuser-Busch in 2008, loyalties started to change. It was acceptable to try craft brews, and many breweries sprang up.
Benn said there are now about 22 craft breweries within a two-hour radius of the downtown area. It's a good time to be a beer reporter.
"We have a ton of talented homebrewers," Benn said. "They are engineers and chemists (and) enjoy the process. It never gets boring."
But it's also a good time to be a beer lover. Benn said many other cities - large and small - are undergoing similar craft beer booms. He has seen one in York while traveling home to visit his folks.
So, on Sunday, he'll hang out at Mudhook Brewing Co. to talk beer and food with locals. The York Jewish Community Center reached out to Benn to host a beer-related event last spring. Schedules finally aligned on the first full day of Hanukkah.
As someone who's covered the local scene, I was eager to get tips and compare beer notes with Benn.
"Beer's two biggest enemies are light and oxygen," Benn said. Cans protect the brew more than bottles.
More craft brewers, such as 21st Amendment in California, are putting their beer into cans. The challenge, Benn added, is to overcome the stigma that beer in cans is inferior. But, he said, it might make the transition to craft beer easier for people who like brands already sold in cans.
People who are into the farm-to-table movement are also trying to get their beer closer to home, Benn said.
"I think chefs are a huge part of the beer renaissance," he added. Before, brews were relegated to the back page of the menu.
Now, chefs and diners are realizing that beer - like wine - is a versatile beverage that pairs well with food. He has seen a rise in events that combine his beats - food and beer. The same has been true in York, which has seen beer dinners and chocolate-and-beer tastings.
Even though St. Louis is a big beer town, Benn still longs for York's distribution territory, which includes Dogfish Head, Victory Brewing Co. and Troegs Brewing Co. He knows he's home when he can order a Lager - Yuengling's signature brew.
"You're so close to Philly, which is one of the best U.S. beer cities," Benn added.
For a long time, Pennsylvania's liquor laws meant customers could only buy craft beer - mostly by the case - at distributors or bottle shops. The cost and inconvenience made it hard for craft beer enthusiasts to sample several different brews.
Now that local grocery stores can apply for restaurant liquor licenses, consumers are able to buy six-packs in some stores. That makes it easier to experiment and try different brands, Benn added.
Back to basics
Trends in beer right now, Benn said, include barrel-aged beer, which is stored in bourbon barrels and picks up oak and vanilla tones. Sour beer - brewed with non-harmful organisms to manipulate the carbohydrates - has also become popular.
Fewer brewers are producing beers with high alcohol content and crazy ingredients, Benn said. More are going with classic beer styles and are making their products and packaging tell a story.
Facing a wall with many beer options can be intimidating for customers, Benn said. More bars and breweries are offering samplers and tasting sessions to introduce folks to different types of beer.
"I think wine is often thought of as a high-brow beverage," Benn said. "I don't think beer should be that way."
PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 717-771-2051 or email email@example.com.
If you go
Enjoy food, beer and discussions about both 1 p.m. Sunday at Mudhook Brewing Co., 34 N. Cherry Lane, York. Even Benn, who grew up in York County and writes about food and beer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, will be on hand to chat with visitors. Advance registration is $5 and can be purchased at the York Jewish Community Center, 2000 Hollywood Drive, York Township, or by phone at 717-843-0918. Registration at the door will be $7. Mudhook will be selling food and drinks from its menu during the event.
Last month, Gunpowder Falls Brewing opened its doors in Shrewbury Township. The craft brewery currently serves two types of beers through its brewery pub tasting room, said Martin Virga, owner of the business. Eventually, the menu will grow to include four main beers with seasonal selections, he said.
New Year's Eve festivities are back on in York, but First Pint has been cancelled. Read more details here.