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Where the River Meets the Mountain


Centrally located along the 125-mile Susquehanna Stretch of the DiscoverNEPA Brewer’s Loop, sits Five Mountain Brewing Company.

As Route 11 spills toward Luzerne County’s western overbite, riding a dagger’s edge between river and rock, the Susquehanna cracks south like a bullwhip in slow-motion. And the road follows. Both yielding right of way to the great Appalachian folds of the southern Wyoming Valley. Here, forces beyond measurable time and pressure meet in Mother Nature’s schoolyard. It’s mostly just a little pushin’ and shovin’, though, nonetheless, mildly entertaining in some grand entropic perspective.

In between, a hardy people laid out their village like a corner pocket on a billiard table. Sure, the river’s licked this town several times over, but it’s never been enough. And, of course, coal had come and gone – stuffing whatever spoils remained into its steamer trunk before dodging out. Today, the occasional freight train stretches through on the other side of the river. These days, though, there’s little need for stopping.



That’s not to say this town’s lost its magic. Occasionally, a still morning fog holds tightly to the glassy surface of the river. The yawning sun pokes through, dancing in diamonds on the muddy shore. As the celestial mist releases its grip, the waking patch town comes into clear view. It’s a place of curious geographical character. Five round-top mountains corral the town in the shape of a giant’s boot heel stamped into the bedrock. The neighborly configuration of streets and structures reveals that all-too-familiar coal town footprint. And the scarred hills inspire a deeper imaginative leap from dusty faced breaker boys to mule plows and, further, to buck-skinned huntresses tracking along stream beds.

Though the landscape tends to minimize human existence in that prehistoric sense, this little town claims a unique history of resilience. Time and again, these good, gritty people have met the rising river. They’ve outlived the devastating, careless greed of industry. They’ve remained nearly invisible to chummy politicians looking to up their hero score during local tragedies. And they never let any of that bring them down. These people carry on. They brush off the mud and black diamond dust. Of course, a little grime remains. Somewhere, under the fingernails and in the cuticles of the memory, miners with black damp breath, farmers with hands of cracked rawhide, fishermen with river water for blood direct them forward. Despite a world progressing at break-neck speed around them, they stay honest. They stay true.



The town is called Shickshinny. It’s quaint. It’s still got a little of that small, river village mystique. And it’s got craft beer – fresh, and brewed with a heap of homegrown resiliency and renegade spirit. It’s the kind of place you get when you slap together a big dream, a ton of hard work, a little DIY attitude and an unquenchable admiration for beer. Welcome to Five Mountain Brewing Company.

Let’s go have a taste, shall we?


The Brewery



A delicate dance of order and chaos.

The brewhouse at Five Mountain Brewing occupies a side room roughly the size of a mini storage locker. The sunken, concrete floor bears a weary path from end to end. The step in the entry is rounded like a river stone – the brewer’s monotony, on display. Fermentation tanks jam elbows with the brew kettle to make room along the wall. Hand tools lie in repose — in that classic “if I put them away, I’ll never find them” manner. Hoses weave under and over and through. It all contributes to some remarkably artistic mockery of the meticulously labeled control panel and polished pressure gauges.



Here in the brewhouse, the mildly chaotic and creative aligns with the orderly and analytic to reveal the tedious balance of a brewer’s mind. Somewhere along the cerebral divide, a unique connection is made. Where this bridge crosses from right brain to left, a necessary focus meets a drive to create. The result is beer. Muses and mysterious hieroglyphs graffiti the bridge’s stout girders. Names, ideas, perhaps fleeting, inconsequential communications born in a flash exist now in this space and time forever. There’s Mifflesipper, Fanny Packer, Crocks with Socks and Jefe the Wise. All, in their own brief instant, starring in some magic show of swirling heat, sweat and science. Their stories are told pint after pint, from head to heel intoned with the easy, measured voice of their creator.

Alright, let’s get into that taproom and see what all this fancy fuss is about.


The Taproom



Simple. Adorned only with echoes of laughter.

The taproom at Five Mountain Brewing is indeed small, though not in a desperate sense. The room mixes a bit of post-industrial vibe with a refreshing “what you see is what you get” spirit. Natural light electrifies the space from two large front-facing windows. It illuminates what remains of the shine on the weary concrete floor and ripples through the hills and valleys of the corrugated steel wainscoting. Warehouse lights overhead offer a glass veneer to the glossy finish on the solid slab bar top.

Overall, the taproom makes a very distinct statement of utilitarianism. Aside from a bit of merch and some local art, the walls are pleasantly devoid of mawkish Pier 1 nonsense. Five Mountain’s taproom delivers a simple dose of honesty. Material distractions are few. Genuine human interaction is encouraged – precisely and without proposition.



Five Mountain Brewing offers up the promise of fresh, delicious beer without strings. You’re not required to buy into some notion of “coolness,” or discuss, at length the virtues of every sip. Sit down. Relax. Drown a bad day, or, at least look back on it through the fat end of a pint glass and laugh. That’s pretty much where this taproom begins and ends – with good people and their love for beer.

OMG… are we finally gonna’ talk about beer?


The Beer



Sometimes, you gotta’ make your own.

Much of the focus here at Five Mountain Brewing is on the beer and getting it right. Little fuss is made over aesthetics, or sustaining some manufactured personality. They line up a stable of spot-on, flavorful beers, and they do it consistently. Sure, the brewer will riff on old classics, and tweak tried and true styles, but that never gets in the way.

The chalkboard offers up a typical menu of craft staples. From an IPA program with a welcome and distinct variability to barrel aged porters and a damn-near-perfect Hefeweizen, each entry pays direct homage to a true, blue collar brewing style.



Our beer tour began with Five Mountain’s signature NEIPA entry – Mifflesipper. A local favorite, I’m told. The golden-hued, hazy beauty brought a lot of tropical to the party and finished only slightly hoppy. It delivers a lovely summer cruise-ability, though I certainly wouldn’t turn one down in the middle of a blizzard. We moved on from there to a few lighter variations. Crocs with Socks is a clean, copper tinted pale ale that frontloads the citrus and kicks back with slight spice. You’ll want to be careful with this one. Next up, Fanny Packer. This dangerously crushable pub ale offers a perfectly light bitterness alongside a more sweet, malty aroma. I dare say, this one might even paint a smile on the Queen Mum.

We continued on to Five Mountain’s darker side with a few more (pint-sized) “samples”. The Shinny Stout came up first. This gorgeously black oatmeal stout poured like wine and pushed a backdraft of chocolate and coffee into the air. And it went down smoother than caramel. We followed that up with a quick pull from their secret stash of bottle-only vanilla maple bourbon barrel-aged porter – Downhill in Neutral. This beer comes as close to perfection as you can get. The bourbon invites you into the glass. The subtle vanilla lingers throughout, carrying from note to note. Toasted hazelnut comes to the fore in the body and descends into a distinct maple stickiness. And the finish is bitter and warm, but reserved. It was, in a word, humbling. And it’s wholly deserving of its limited availability status.



We stopped by Five Mountain Brewing way back in early March. It was, for the most part, a typical late winter/early spring day in NEPA. An ever-present grey pervaded the mind and soul. The river ran high. The rain fell cold. And the only thing that could have possibly brought the spirit around was a cold beer in a cozy room. Fortunately, we found precisely that. Go check em’ out.


Must Try:

Mifflesipper – Slightly cloudy, slightly hoppy, deliciously juicy and tropical – 6.9% ABV

Jefe the Wise – Delightfully golden and crisp with distinct notes of banana bread – 5.5% ABV

Downhill in Neutral Bourbon Barrel Aged Vanilla Maple Porter – I may only be some amateur who writes about beer on the internet, but this is one of the most perfect beers I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. Do yourself a favor and seek this one out – 9%ABV

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Five Mountain Brewing Company
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Brian Johnson