Coal Tipple Brewery tips its glass to county’s mining history

Michael Bradwell

The menu on the wall of Coal Tipple Brewery makes it clear where the inspiration came from for Washington County’s first microbrewery.

Under a heading of “Run of Mine,” a term for the output of a coal mine, are four brews named to commemorate the county’s mining history: Nippy Tipple Ale, Longwall IPA, Fossil Fuel Stout, and Pump Jack Spiced Ale.

The brews and the name of the place are also a tribute to several members of the Kramer family who worked in the county’s mining industry.

And the output of Coal Tipple, owned by Chris and Dawn Kramer, will expand shortly.

Coming soon will be the highly hopped Dead Canary IPA, as well as a Go Devil Red Ale, whose name is drawn from early days of the natural gas industry, when shallow wells dotted the local landscape. It relates to when workers would open up a new well by dropping a charge of dynamite down the hole.

“You’d drop the charge in and run like the devil,” Chris said.

Chris said his connection to the coal industry runs deep.

“My whole family worked in a strip mine” at one time or another, he said, “and I actually worked in a coal tipple.” He explained that the tipple is where a coal’s mode of transportation changes.

Coal Tipple Brewery itself also represents a change, or more accurately, an addition of beermaking to a third-generation family business on Steubenville Pike that includes Kramer’s Greenhouse, started in 1945, and since 2009, a winery featuring mostly fruit-based wines under the Raccoon Creek Winery label.

Brewing inspiration

It was a hike in the Adirondack Mountains a few years ago that first got Chris and Dawn thinking about microbreweries.

Along a trail they hiked several times during their visit, they passed a small microbrewery.

The first couple of times they passed it, the place was closed.

But then, at 10 a.m. on a weekday, Chris said, the brewery was open “and you couldn’t get into the place.”

Chris said Dawn liked the rustic look of the place, and commented “that this is what our winery should look like.”

A year after their mountain hike, the couple was on another vacation, this time at a beach, when Dawn read an article about the process of evolving a home brewing hobby into a microbrewery that moved them closer to the idea of starting one.

The couple decided that if they were going to explore the idea further that Chris should check out an existing microbrewery.

He spent a week volunteering at Boxcar Brewing, a West Chester microbrewery, whose owner had written the article that Dawn had read.

“I found it was really hard work,” Chris said. “At the end of the day, you were really tired, but there was free beer.”

As the Kramers’ business plan evolved, Chris noted that his good friend, Dayne Crowley, a hydrogeologist who had been making beer at home for some time, was tapped to be brewmaster.

“Winemaking is a little forgiving, but beermaking isn’t,” Chris said, adding that his friend’s scientific background is necessary for meeting the more exacting standards of crafting beer.

Coal Tipple is also ramping up slowly. Chris showed a brewing area in the basement that is in the process of enabling the brewery to move from one-barrel batches to seven barrels.

The brewery will feature a total of six beers, with four on tap at any time, but the brewing area is large enough to go to 10-barrel batches as demand grows, Chris said.

There’s a good chance that will happen, as Coal Tipple is the first microbrewery to appear in Washington County. Its location, on the edge of Hillman State Park and not far from Raccoon State Park, is also expected to be a draw for cyclists, hikers and campers.

When he and Dawn opened the brewery a month ago, “No one else was doing it out here between Pittsburgh and Steubenville, Ohio,” Chris said.

That could change soon though, as what will become the county’s second microbrewery, Rusty Gold Brewery, opens in Canonsburg sometime in January, according to owner E.J. Kleckner. And last week, owners of Washington Winery/A&M Wine and Beer Supplies and Upper Crust Italian Bistro, as well as homebrewer and co-owner Patrick Buckley, confirmed they’ll open a 15-barrel microbrewery in Washington next summer.

But for now, Coal Tipple is enjoying a following all to itself.

“It’s surprising how far people will drive,” Chris said, noting that an early indicator of success is the sale of take-home units of the brews.

“We’re selling a lot of growlers, and I’m pleasantly surprised by that.”

He added that the business also has diversification on its side, with the greenhouse still the primary business, selling bedding and vegetable plants in the spring and fall.

And besides the wine and beer made on the premises, the business sells both winemaking and beermaking kits and related supplies, as well as a number of gift items.

Coal Tipple is also a beneficiary of recent changes to Pennsylvania’s law governing wine and beer sales, with a license that covers both type of beverages.

“We can sell any alcohol made in Pennsylvania now,” Chris said. “We were able to put everything under the same license.”

Coal Tipple Brewery, 1905 Steubenville Pike, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Telephone is 724-899-3344.