Monthly Archives: August 2014

Columbia Kettle Works


Very difficult to believe that it has been four years since I completed the Pennsylvania 40 Day 40 Craft Brewery Tour. Guess I am just never going to get around to writing that book. It will be on my gravestone as one of my great life’s accomplishments. Ph.D, Rugby Player, 40/40 Tour.

Back then four years ago, Lancaster County was a weak sister on the Craft Beer scene here in Pa. Now, she is bitchin’ (in a great way). Lancaster City is booming, besides the still dumb and unethical cops, goofy self-congratulatory (he really likes himself, it is obvious) bow-tied mayor, and some small city provincialism. Lest the reader think that my observations are unfair about the authorities in Lancaster City, let us just say I have had several issues where I personally experienced incompetence and even dishonest behavior from bottom to top of both the police department and the Mayor’s office where I was a completely honest party. There are consequences when those in power dismiss legitimate grievances and attempts for redress. Neither party (the police and mayor) were minimally ethical and competent.        

Lancaster is no Philly but it does not have to be. I can get to town in 12 minutes, always find free parking after 6, and then head back to the ‘burbs after the night is over. Many craft beer menus and venues.

Although I did get a parking ticket the other day for not getting my car off the street when the grimy asphalt  was being cleaned. “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. Do this, don’t do that, everywhere a sign.” That is a long-lost lyric from some 70’s song. Felt like I should have turned in my Metro-Philly bred card. Rookie mistake. Twenty bucks down the sewer of city government. A bit stiff of a fine but not much I could do. Can’t fight city hall. Even a piker city hall.

I live in the western part of the county, officially in postal Columbia. Not the town but general vicinity. Within whiffing distance. Talk about a near miss, Columbia almost became the Capitol of the United States of America. If so, where I live now–a non-descript townhouse of lower middle class citizens–would probably be the setting for one of those non-descript Federal buildings that populate the D.C. landscape like bureaucratic behemoths. Instead, Columbia is a beat-up river town with a depleted manufacturing base and the working poor. It is a proud community but one that has seen better days. It is holding on, by an arthritic grip.

The Lancaster City newspaper recently wrote an in-depth piece about the past, present, and future of Columbia. The article touted the Columbia Kettle Works as perhaps a positive harbinger of things to come to the downtown. When you are the only new thing downtown, it is easy to be numero uno. Like those inbred Christian schools with three kids per grade, so being the Valedictorian or Salutatorian isn’t exactly a Darwinian race to the top of the intellectual food chain.

It is a long shot because the problems of Columbia are much deeper than a skin itch. They are structural in the bones and reflect the loss of manufacturing and craft in the United States. Pennsylvania is pock-marked with small towns that used to be vibrant. Local industries, or an industry, that paid decent wages so individuals and families could have a good life. Now, the Wal-Marts and convenience stores crush the middle. One end, the  ravenous merciless monster. On the other end, the weed-dwelling scavenger picking the bones for leftover meat, selling junk food/drink like a crack-dealer, ciggies, gas, and lottery tickets. Pennsylvania promotes the state lottery out of this dystopian trap. Roll the dice. Gambling going to save Pennsylvania? Righto! Wal-Mart’s recent initiative to invest in American manufacturing might be a case of too little too late. The country is in a coma and Wal-Mart and other big retailers have almost killed the mind, spirit, and body. Time will tell if we can bounce back.

Neither will craft brewing but it is legitimate fighting back with skill.

Here are the plusses of craft brewing:

– Better product, support local craft brewers keeping money in the community and not given to some corporate death-star sucking the life out of an area, cool venues (a lot of historic buildings, factories). Etc., Etc., Etc.

As far as I can tell, there are no downsides to craft brewing besides some people getting too big for their britches. Success has a way of breeding arrogance and some craft breweries are starting to develop that flavor. You can now stay in a Dogfish Hotel for a crazy amount of money ($ 250 plus a night in Lewes, Delaware) like Disneyworld. Really? Are you going to have little Dogfish Caps like Mouse Ears too? How about a mascot? And a trolley? And incessant tunes in the background with the “It is a Dogfish world after all.” Sorry Sam C., it is starting to look self-aggrandizing. Rocky with a manicure and perhaps a pedicure. The price just sounds pretentious. “Oh, I stayed in the Dogfish Motel. Aren’t I just the coolest dude?”  I will not be staying there unless the 90 Minute IPA comes out of the showerhead. I will still visit the brewpub in Rehoboth for sure.

Yet, for all of the success of craft brewing, here is one glaring problem behind the golden hues. Most of the equipment (i.e manufacturing) is not made in the U.S. We can make all of the beer we want yet until the process reaches into the hardware side of things, we are not geared to move forward literally.


Gearing is a good way to look at progress. As a community rebuilds, the various components mesh with one another and create momentum. In the end, there is still a lot of analogue in the world. Until we are Avatars in The Matrix, our connection to the physical world–even if accessed and mediated digitally–are boots on the ground. Try to eat your phone.  Or drink your Beer App.

I almost cried when I found out where the Columbia Kettle Works Stainless Steel tanks were made:


Ah, where else but that historical hotbed of brewing art and science: China. Most industrial strength and sized brewing equipment is manufactured in Germany or Italy from what I have discovered. Although these tanks are hardly like what Troeg’s or Victory have just recently had installed in major multi-million dollar upgrades, which came from Germany, these tanks are not trifling. They are good sized and will pump out a lot of product.

I get that the owners of Columbia Kettle Works need to cut cost as new entrepreneurs. It is hard, hard, work getting to profitability and frankly for many years, new businesses are fortunate even to just break even. Obama’s comment that “You didn’t build this” was half-correct but also half wrong. As one who doesn’t look like has ever worked in the private sector except for perhaps a throw-away teen job that financed his Pot habit, Obama has been tending the public trough for a long time. He is a smart dude, successful, analytical. Too Liberal and victim-oriented for my palate and he doesn’t have the air of a man who has ever had to carry an enterprise from start to finish based almost solely on his own effort. His being selected President was an attempt by the American electorate to escape the Republicans and Neo-Cons apparent insatiable hunger for war. Community organizing? That sounds like what the mafia does to collect its dues in a merchant district, just a governmental shakedown instead. I want my check!

True enough that these brewing tanks couldn’t even been bought from an American manufacturing company. Kettle Works by China…maybe should be Kettle Woks?

Another dark secret of American manufacturing. A lot of the machinery in our manufacturing is not made in America. So, Made in America is often only true in a physical placement sense. Until we have American machines being worked by American citizens on American soil, we are skirting the truth. Lower the tax rates for businesses, cut out all of the loopholes that allow corporations to discharge everything as business expenses–fancy dinners, fines wines, luxurious lodgings, etc. No one should be fooled by the self-indulgency behind the façade.

All of this ranting (but true) has got me thirsty. Here is their Coffee Stout:


I am usually not a big fan off coffee stouts because I don’t drink caffeine after 12 noon, even if it is encased in a tasty brew of both coffee and beer. But, I made an exception because I didn’t have to get to bed  early for work the next day, so I could pine late into the night. This beer was expert. Great taste. Two great tastes that go great together. The founders of Columbia Kettle Works are good friends who have worked together at some technology or engineering company for years. Their quantitative qualities comes out in their beers in their clean execution, simply décor, minimal menu designed for efficiency (not trying to be a gastropub which makes things much more complicated), and just general well-run vibe. It looks like every staff member have jobs to do, even if they are not getting paid, so the place hums along like a hive of worker beer bees.

The place has been a busy beehive when I have visited both times:


The crowd looks like a combo of townies and suburbanites. Or what they call in West Virginia, the creekers and the hillers. Just heard that yesterday on some discussion about a book about Ronald Reagan that he was both the hard-luck kid and hero, from both side of the tracks–when beginning decidedly on the wrong side. The California sunny kid, Teflon President, who told entitled American teens in the 1960’s to stop acting like a bunch of long-haired miscreants but did it in such a non-Nixonian manner that many of them voted for him as they returned from their drug and sex addled senses 15 years down the road when they too were parents pursuing the American Dream gone darker.

Reagan’s Alzheimer’s apparently manifested itself with him screaming that the team needed him in the locker room. A Gipper Pep talk. Never underestimate the encouraging words of another. We like to think words don’t matter and only actions count, forgetting somehow that words are actions in and of themselves.

Final Pic, just like it:


I love the life being symbolized coming out of a beer keg. It is a nice, thoughtful, and clever touch. May the Columbia Keg itself grow into new life.