Critics' Corner

Gettysburg Brewing Company & Pub, Gettysburg, PA

By Tony Plank, Elkins Park, PA

Gettysburg Brewing Company and Pub (GBC) is not just a brewpub: it's an attitude. An attitude that disdains bigness and embraces quality. The exceptional beers and relaxing atmosphere at GBC are carefully crafted by the owners, Dave Baker and his wife Gail. GBC is a small place, even by brewpub standards. Dave and Gail somehow manage to operate the 600 barrels per year brewery and restaurant with only the occasional help from seasonal employees. Donít let the size fool you. When you leave GBC, you will believe Gail when she tells you "Small is good."

GBC is a British-style pub which almost exclusively brews British style ales. All of Daveís brews are cask-conditioned, unfiltered and made with uncompromising quality. GBCís regular varieties include Gettysburg Golden Ale, Wheatfield Wheat, Amberham Linclon Amber Ale, Buffordís Brown Ale, North and South (Black and Tan), Picketís Porter, Hap Baker Imperial Stout and the brewmasterís choice Devilís Den Red Ale. One might describe the Devilís Den Red Ale as bold and hoppy or the Picketís Porter as malty and robust, but, if you love beer you will simply call the Bakerís brew "awesome."

GBC focuses on great beer, but other features help create a special brewpub experience. GBCís civil war era building sits on York Street adjacent to Gettysburgís picturesque downtown square. Though history may seem to surround you everywhere when you visit Gettysburg, a few historical items are missing at GBC: smoking and table service. You will not miss the table service at this non-smokerís oasis; the pizza is worth the trip to the counter.

The desire to create "a place where we would want to go" made the difficult decision to go smokeless somewhat easier. The Bakers believe that clean air is a big part of their success in creating a great atmosphere and according to Gail, they "are pleased by the number of GBC customers that bring their children."

Crafting the right atmosphere was also behind their decision to reject table service. Dave did not want to "feel like we have to push people out the door in order to turn tables over." "We want people to be able to come in and stay as long as they want." You will want to stay a while to properly experience GBC.

Though the Bakers were reluctant restaurateurs, the food is excellent and well matched to the beer. "We really didnít want to get in to the food business" according to Dave, "but Pennsylvania law requires it." Reluctant or not, Gail prepares great food to accompany Daveís ale. The short but delicious menu consists of mouth-watering "gourmet" pizza made with GBC ale crust, appetizers such as fiery chicken tenders seasoned with old bay and a variety of sandwiches.

A special treat at GBC is that customers sit right in the middle of the brewery. There are no glass walls. Curious patrons can lean over and watch the CO2 bubble out of the fermenters into five-gallon water buckets. Daveís initial plan was "to be able to brew while the restaurant is open and to interact with customers while I brew." Unfortunately, keeping up with growing demand has been a challenge and time has not permitted brewing during serving hours.

Growth has been steady since GBC first opened their doors. While their business is somewhat seasonal as a result of being located in a tourist town, GBC enjoys a steady stream of regular local business. Enough business, in fact, that shortly after opening the Bakers had to expand their capacity to three times what their initial brewery equipment would produce. Since the Bakers focus on quality rather than barrels per year, any future changes will be slow and deliberate. According to Dave, "If I served you that beer, and you didnít like it, it wouldnít matter how tall my conditioning tanks were." Up to this point, quality has been easy to control because the Bakers have done almost everything themselves. No plumbers or electricians were employed to convert the garish video store into the inviting tavern that opened its doors in August of 1996. Gail even made the curtains.

The passion that drives the Bakers to take on every aspect of the business is perhaps a reaction to years of oppression in corporate bureaucracy. Dave is a former electrical engineer with a big name outfit in Gettysburg, and Gail was a materials analyst with another area firm. "We just couldnít take it anymore" according to Dave. Abandoning corporate life, the Bakers have put "everything they have" into what started as a home brew hobby. Dave spent years learning the craft through industry rags and home-brew clubs. Turning the hobby into a business just seemed natural. "We wanted to make a statement that you donít have to spend five million dollars on a brewpub to make good beer." The budget was considerably tighter than your typical modern brewpub. According to Dave "we had to do everything ourselves or we would have busted our budget."

The sign above the bar reading "No! We do not serve lite beer!" masks the Bakerís nervousness in risking it all on a brewpub in a county whose number one beer has been Coors Lite. Fortunately, the Bakers have succeeded in hitting their business targets and GBC should be around for years to come. Real ale lovers and non-smokers will especially appreciate this great addition to the Pennsylvania beer scene. If you are looking for a unique brewpub experience and are getting tired of the big budget clones sporting tall conditioning tanks, a pilgrimage to GBC is a must.

Gettysburg Brewing Company & Pub is located at 15 York Street ("Just off the square") in the heart of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. GBC is currently open 11am-11pm, Wednesday through Sunday, but they expect to expand their hours for the summer tourist season.