Union Barrel Works

Oh, what to do?

It was mid-afternoon on one of these sweltering Pennsylvania days. Days that feel like you have just gotten out of the shower when you step outside. It is steamy, it is hot, your boxers are all sticking to your pants and all. I am not one who likes to drink beer typically during the day. It is kind of peaking too early. Afterward, I either want to go to sleep at 5:30 pm or think about drinking some more. Neither option generally pleases me. And it being hot and humid does little to motivate me to imbibe.

Yet, with 40/40 calling for completion, I was in need of another notch on the wall. If this bad boy is going to get done, I am going to have to drink some brews when I can, and sometimes it is going to be before nighttime falls. So, far no morning beers and eggs platter. Who knows, I will perhaps get increasingly desperate as time continues on to do what it takes.

Since I was over a barrel so to speak,  I drove on up to Reamstown, Pennsylvania to Union Barrel Works. I was pleased to see the following which was portentous of good fortune out in the parking lot:

Rather than me being over a barrel, the barrel was over me!  Being over a barrel by the way, is more ominous that it sounds. I was like what is the big deal? Put me over a barrel, I could care less. Then I read this on the linked website:

“This is an American phrase and first appeared in the mid-20th century. It is supposed that it alludes to the actual situation of being draped over a barrel, either to empty the lungs of someone who has been close to drowning, or to give a flogging. Either way, the position of helplessness and in being under someone else’s control is what is being referred to.”

Drowning or flogging? Is there no third option?  

Yet with the barrel hovering in the sky as a  friendly omen, I was emboldened to enter the Union Barrel Works with confidence. When I entered, the place was pretty much deserted except for a couple of tables of what appeared to be retirees. The lunch crowd had headed back to work and all that were left were me and some old folks in the part of the day that is after lunch and before dinner. And, baby, I ain’t so young anymore either.

The place reeked of antiquity. Since Reamstown is close to Reading, it seemed over 95% of the signage and pictures had something to do with the town of Reading, particularly the defunct Reading Brewery. Just another one of those small regional breweries that got stomped flat, like a aluminum beer can, by the boot of the big bully brewing boys in the 1970’s. So while the body of Reading Brewery has died and is buried, its spirit lives on at UBW. See this sign, one that had been hip and its heyday but now looks ancient, like some cave drawing:

For modern people?

Adding to the museum-like quality of the brewhouse–its aged clientele, the signs, the old building that used to be a place to make barrels, was the Sirius station playing hits from the 1970’s. Some 1970’s songs make me nauseous, and I was getting a little trapped in a time warp and wanted to fast forward. Then the brews came, and like a cool splash of water to my face, I came to and felt better.

Here is the line-up of brews.   I liked most of the beers but did not love them. The Belgian was non-banging in my amateurish opinion (and that is all it is). The brewmaster certainly has his own style of making beers flavor-wise. Plus, he tends to go in the lager direction rather than ales which is unusual for a microbrewery for several reasons (lagers take longer to ferment and as such, require more storage space too while fermenting–less turnover in stock–and it needs to be in a cool environment). Ales are quick to brew, quick to keg, quick to drink. From keg to consumer…quick. The ale microbrewery can see a shortage coming due to an unexpected spikage in consumption, and have ale brews to serve in a week or two, whereas the lagers take weeks and weeks. So, I admire UBW for going left when most other microbrewers go right.

I started to connect to the vibe of the nostalgic locale when a Simon and Garfunkel tune came over the speaker. Then, Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” Maybe the 1970’s weren’t all bad after all. The last beer sampler on the tray line-up was the Wobbly Bob Doppel Bock batting clean-up. It is an absolute all-star. It hit my tastebuds out of the park like Babe Ruth did to a baseball. Even my shorts felt a little cooler.

The Doppleganger of the sad past of Reading Breweries demise in the 1970’s has been replaced by a new generation of brewer who arose out of the rust and wreckage. As Neil Young sings,

“Heart Of Gold”

I want to live, I want to give
I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.
It’s these expressions I never give
That keep me searching for a heart of gold
And I’m getting old.
Keeps me searching
for a heart of gold and I’m getting old.

I’ve been to Hollywood, I’ve been to Redwood
I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold
I’ve been in my mind, it’s such a fine line
That keeps me searching for a heart of gold, and I’m getting old.

Sometimes old is good. Congrats to UBW for mining the past. May your barrels be golden and your future bright.


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