Trail Mix: Western PA trails paired with PA beers

Everyone likes a good trail mix, right? No, I’m not talking about the stuff with too many raisins and not enough M&Ms. I’m, of course, referring to the mix of beers you pack for a day spent hiking on the trail. With infinite options for craft beer, it may be overwhelming for people to choose what beer(s) to take on their hike. After all, this is a big commitment. Why not try to tailor your beer to the trail you’re hiking? You’ve heard of beer and food pairings; – why not try a beer and trail pairing? How does one go about pairing two things that are seemingly unrelated? I believe it is simple. I have four Pennsylvania beers, four Western Pennsylvania trails, and four pairing approaches that may help change the way you look at packing a cooler for your next outing.

TRAIL  Buttermilk Falls New Florence, Pennsylvania
BEER  Victory Summer – Love Ale

Located just a mile and half off U.S. Route 22, Buttermilk Falls is Indiana County’s best- kept secret. Due to poor signage, you may miss the entrance on your first pass. But, once you finally locate the park, you’ll be happy you made the trip. A scenic drive down a dusty, dirt road leads you to the Buttermilk Falls Natural Area. Upon arrival, the constant sound of rushing water is the only indicator that a 45’ waterfall is close. Follow the gravel trail through the vibrant- green forest, and the crash of water meeting rock gets louder and louder with every step. In no time, you’ve stumbled upon an impressive and beautiful waterfall and cliffs that plummet almost five stories below.

A stroll through a secret forest, the breathtaking view of the waterfall, and the soothing sounds of water flowing make this spot pretty romantic. Perhaps you and your summer infatuation will choose this spot to hike. What better beer to pair with Buttermilk Falls than Summer Love by Victory? Summer Love is crisp and refreshing, just like the cool mist hitting your face as you are inevitably coaxed into taking cute selfies under the falls. This beer, with its low 5.2% abv, is a great session beer, and one that will definitely quench your thirst while relaxing at the water’s edge. With citrus flavors on your tongue and the sun peeking through the trees, you wish this feeling would never end. But, just like true summer love, it isn’t meant to last. Sadly, this Victory beer is seasonal, and only meant to be enjoyed in the summer months.

TRAIL  Blue Knob All Seasons Resort, Blue Knob, Pennsylvania
BEER  Rusty Rail – Fog Monster NE-IPA

Two hours east of Downtown Pittsburgh, Blue Knob All Seasons Resort sits perched high above the rolling hills of the Allegheny Mountains. At 3120’, Blue Knob is the second highest point in Pennsylvania, and claims the title of, “Highest Skiable Mountain in Pennsylvania.” In winter, Blue Knob provides a haven for skiers and snowboarders with 34 trails, ranging from beginner, to double -black diamond. In summer, the mountain comes alive with vibrant shades of green. Trails covered in feet of snow only months before, now provide the perfect backdrop for an afternoon hike.

At first, thinking of a beer to pair with Blue Knob’s resort was a difficult task. Unsure of how I might approach this undertaking, I looked to the sky for inspiration. A cloudy Pennsylvania day. What would be more appropriate than a cloudy IPA? A stop at my local craft beer plug, and I purchased the perfect beer. Rusty Rail Brewing Company’s Fog Monster could not have been a better choice for a trek along Blue Knob’s summit. This New England style IPA was as hazy as the Vermont-esque valleys that sit at the foot of Blue Knob’s impressive slopes. Raw and unfiltered, Fog Monster fits in perfectly with the steep, rocky slopes. With flavors of citrus and grapefruit, this beer is still a refreshing choice on the trail. But, just as Blue Knob boasts its highest skiable mountain status, this beer boasts the highest abv. on the list, coming in at 6.8%.

TRAIL  Lost Turkey, Blue Knob State Park, Pennsylvania
BEER  East End – Pedal Pale Ale

The third trail on the list lies only a mile down the road from Blue Knob All Seasons Resort. Lost Turkey intersects through the heart of Blue Knob State Park, and at 26 miles in length, Lost Turkey remains a challenging and rewarding hike. But, a trail mix is not only for those traveling on foot. Equestrians frequent this narrow, winding trail. However, my view of the trail was enjoyed behind the bars of an aluminum horse.

Lost turkey provides cyclists some of the most demanding and exhilarating single-track riding in Pennsylvania. Only one beer would be appropriate for a day of trail maintenance, or an afternoon of slashing turns on your mountain bike. East End Brewing’s Pedal Pale Ale was brewed with the cyclist in mind. This easy- drinking pale ale weighing in at 5.4% abv. was meant to punctuate a long day of calf-busting climbs and white-knuckle descents. The piney notes of the pale ale pair well with the dense, coniferous forests that ensconce the trail. Make sure to enjoy responsibly. Lost Turkey acquired its name for a reason.

TRAIL  Grandview Ave, Mount Washington, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
BEER  Penn Brewery – Kaiser Pilsner

Our final hiking spot brings us right to the zenith of Pittsburgh, Mount Washington. There are a number of trails near Mount Washington that lead to some spectacular views of the city, but none compare to the view from Grandview Avenue. Stroll along the sidewalk or ride the incline. Either way, you’re going to end up with spectacular pictures for your Instagram page.

Only a beer from “Pittsburgh’s Microbrewery” can be paired with the view that Mount Washington provides. I am, of course, referring to Penn Brewery. Penn Brewery which has roots that spread as far into the past as Pittsburgh’s skyline. Built upon the grounds of three breweries that date as far back as 1848, Penn Brewery can claim to represent the beer of old and the beer of new. Started in 1986, Penn Brewery has seen Pittsburgh’s decline and resurgence, first hand. Mount Washington’s view captures the Pittsburgh of past, present, and future, just as Penn Brewery captures the beer of the past (traditional German-style beers), present (IPAs), and future (???).

A traditional German-styled beer with a contemporary twist is called for on this hike. The Kaiser Pilsner will fit the bill. This brew is light and crisp, perfect for a long hike up Mount Washington. Not lacking in character like some other pilsners, Kaiser Pilsner hits the tongue with the perfect balance of malt and hop. With the lowest abv. at 4.5%, the Kaiser Pilsner is sure to find its way into my trail mix as a session beer.

There you have it. Four different attempts at picking the right beer for the right trail. There is no right or wrong choice in making a trail mix. As I’ve shown, you can pair a beer with an emotion of a trail, the weather the day of your hike, or an activity you enjoy. Just don’t forget to balance out your trail mix with plenty of H2O.

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