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Lancaster breweries have earned a reputation for delicious craft beer. Outsiders are surprised to find so many breweries in an area with a population of just over 500,000. Three downtown Lancaster breweries recently won medals at the World Beer Cup.

American Craft Beer Week runs from Monday, May 16 to Sunday, May 22. All around the country, craft beer lovers will raise a glass in a nation-wide toast at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 19.

With so much great beer on tap, celebrating American Craft Beer Week is a snap. Here's a round-up of top-notch Lancaster breweries where you can grab a pint to celebrate craft beer.

Wacker Brewing Co.

Wacker Brewing Co. has a lot to celebrate this week. First up,  from 6 to 10 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18, Fine Living Lancaster is celebrating their 10-year anniversary. The magazine partnered with Wacker to offer Anniversary Ale, a limited-release, Belgian pale ale. James Bollinger, Wacker's business development manager, says the first 50 people who order Anniversary Ale will receive their drink for free. They're also giving away other prizes like tee shirts, gift certificates and pint glasses.

Then on Saturday, May 21, Wacker Brewing is celebrating the one-year anniversary of their Little Dutch Taproom. The all-day celebration will include a specially-released beer, which is their traditional maibock, a German lager that's sweeter, with a stronger malt flavor. Bollinger says, "It's a good summer beer."

Lancaster Brewing Co.

Lancaster Brewing Co. won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup for their Jump Seat Black Lager. This week, they tapped a brand new beer, the Blue Trail Lemon Blueberry Shandy. Blue Trail's citrusy flavor is complemented with a just a hint of berries. Part of the sales of Blue Trail will benefit Susquehanna Service Dogs. Stop in for happy hour between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., through Friday, and be sure to check out their $5 restaurant specials.

Spring House Brewing Co.

Spring House Brewing Co. has several beers on tap this week, including Kerplunk! Imperial Chocolate Stout, which earned Spring House a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup. Another yummy Spring House beer is The Astounding She-Monster Mango IPA; the sweetness from the mango balances the mild bitterness of the hops. Both of these beers are available at both Spring House locations. The Taproom on King St. is perfect for people-watching, either through the front window or seated at a table outside. The Hazel Street location, which houses the brewery, has a gorgeous interior, with exposed brick and wood beams.

Iron Hill Brewery

American Craft Beer Week coincides nicely with National Burger Month, which Iron Hill is celebrating all month long. Each day in May, Iron Hill is featuring a different burger, including the Sweet and Smoky Blue Burger on May 19. Pair this burger, that's covered in blue cheese, caramelized onions, 1000 island dressing, applewood bacon and arugula, with Iron Hill's robust Pig Iron Porter, for the nationwide toast at 8 p.m.

Iron Hill took home a World Beer Cup gold medal for its Bedotter, a Belgian tripel, that's smooth with a distinct malt taste, but weighs in at 9% ABV.

Mad Chef Craft Brewing

Mad Chef's beers belie the fact that the Lancaster brewery is a newcomer. Residing in a small plaza in East Petersburg, Mad Chef offers a simple setting for its upscale menu and delicious beer. Their F-18 IPA is hoppy and flavorful, while their Johnnie Doe pale ale is superbly drinkable and refreshing.

Mad Chef also sells a lot of branded merchandise, including a nifty mini-growler, that holds 32 oz. instead of 64 oz. I purchased one because I'm the only beer drinker in my family, so a regular-sized growler means I have to chug all that beer myself, or wind up pouring it down the drain. (The horror!) The mini-growler solved my dilemma.

Further Afield

These five Lancaster breweries are closest to downtown Lancaster. If you're willing to drive a bit, you can visit JoBoy's Brew Pub in Lititz; Saint Boniface in Ephrata; Columbia Kettle Works in Columbia; and Adamstown's Stoudts Brewing Co., which won a World Beer Cup gold medal for its Mai Bock, a German-style lager.

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