Archive for the ‘Food & Beverage’ Category

Pennsylvania Buy Fresh, Buy Local has an excellent website that allows you to tap into a wealth of local retailers, farmers markets and  restaurants that sell Pennsylvania grown products. 

They also feature a great blog that has everyday information on eating healthy, shopping smart and staying abreast of developments in Pennsylvania.

I’ve read a lot of blogs, websites, and magazines and this one deserves strong consideration for the top of the heap. 

It will take you all of 5 minutes to find a retailer within 10 miles selling locally grown food.

Website Link


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The pretzel has popularized in Germany in the 12th century and made its way to America with emigration.  The German emigrants largely settled in Pennsylvania, giving birth to an industry that is still thriving today.  Americans consume $500M of pretzels each year, with Pennsylvania being the source of 80% of these goodies.  Pennsylvanians are also credited with consuming 12 times more pretzels than others in the U.S.  If I’m interpreting this right – we make and consume all of the pretzels in the U.S.

There are dozens on pretzel factories in southeastern Pennsylvania, including all of the brands we know and love.  However, the best tasting hard pretzel is the Unique Pretzel Split.  Unique Pretzels is based in Reading and the result of 16 generations of evolution - originating in the late 1800’s, later forming into the Unique Pretzel company in 1921, and finally being a product that can be found on the shelves of Pennsylvania retailers.

I’m going to say this again because it is unequivocally true – Unique Pretzels are the best hard pretzels in the country, which puts them high in the running for best worldwide.  You won’t truly understand that until you purchase a bag.  I highly recommend them and recently picked-up 10 cases at the Reading bakery where they are made of them because I couldn’t find them at my local grocer.

Fortunately, they do ship pretzels and they can be found on store shelves in southeastern PA – but, distribution is spotty across New Jersey, New York and the western part of the state.  However, you should call to inquire, because there are specialty stores around that do carry the Splits.  You’ll want to purchase the “dark splits” – they’re the ones that are simply amazing.

UPDATE:  For people that are sensitive to wheat, Unique Pretzels also makes pretzels made from sprouted wheat.  Once the wheat grain is sprouted, it becomes a vegetable and is easier to digest.

Company Website

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In the spirit of covering alcohol – Pittsburgh’s Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka deserves attention.  Boyd & Blair, like Bluecoat Gin, is one of two craft distillery “start-ups” that have filled a long void  in Pennsylvania’s history.  It has been decades since alcohol has been distilled in Pennsylvania…its conservative roots are still felt throughout the state.   You may recall that the Quakers didn’t believe alcohol should be consumed and were heavy backers of the temperance movement.  Pennsylvania’s LCB hasn’t helped the process – but, times are changing and the state is even encouraging such ventures.

Boyd & Blair is a product of Pennsylvania Pure, a company formed in 2008 by Prentiss Orr and Barry Young.  Mr. Orr was a former VP at the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and Young a CEO at several companies.  They could have coasted until retirement, but they wanted to do something a little more hands-on…perhaps, even agrarian in a way.  One of the cornerstones of Boyd & Blair is that it’s made from locally grown potatoes (which seems logical given Pennsylvania’s agricultural prowess) and they can produce their vodka themselves (which, they do).  The fact that the make their vodka from potatoes doesn’t feel unusual, but apparently – there are only 3 potato-based vodka’s on shelves in Pennsylvania.  Boyd & Blair claims 1 of the 3 spots, the other two are distilled Poland.  I suppose it’s probably coincidence that Pittsburgh was largely built on the backs of immigrant Poles working in steel mills.

Boyd & Blair can be purchased at many locations throughout the state for under $30.  It is largely a Pennsylvania vodka, but you can find it in major cities such as New York, Chicago and others.  It makes an exceptional gift because of its uniqueness, price point – and alcohol is a perfect gift for colleagues, friends and fathers.

You can follow the day-to-day at Pennsylvania pure on Twitter as they distill Boyd & Blair…link

Also visit their website

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If you ever travel to Pottsville – a town tucked in the mountains within the coal region of Pennsylvania, you will become an advocate for Yuengling – America’s most potable Lager (in my opinion).  It’s great that it’s the country’s oldest brewery and that they use high quality water perculating through the mountains, but much more importantly….you will realize that it’s a large region that collectively would really appreciate your business.  You also see that Yuengling is an underdog, they aren’t sleek, hip, or flashy and they’re not endowed with a marketing budget of envy.  Basically, they’re a family-owned business that wouldn’t exist today if it weren’t for the seriously blue-collar customers (and employees) who spent days and nights in coal mines and steel mills.  While this sounds like stuff of lore, it isn’t.  Beer making may be a hip pursuit in parts of the country that have fine tasting microbrews – but, it wasn’t and isn’t in Pottsville , not in the slightest.

Yuengling is still considered very small when you compare to industry bohemoths like Anheuser-Busch Inbev, SABMiller, and Molson Coors – who, colleectively, make-up 80% of the market in the U.S.  Yuengling, on the other hand, produces 1-2 million barrells of beer a year to earn a 0.6% market share in the U.S….tiny compared to the several billion produced by Anheuser-Bush (50% market share, 30,000 employees, $16B in revenue).   The interesting sidebar here is that Anhueser-Bush, Miller and Coors were all acquired by foreign conglomerates over the last few years.  What this means is that the real money earned by these companies is going abroad, rather than to St. Louis, Milwaukee and Golden, Co.  This leaves Pabst, Sam Adams and Yuenling vying for the #1 American beer company.  Pabst and Sam Adams were both ahead of Yuenling last year.  Pabst is in fact contract brewed by SABMiller – meaning, it’s more of a label than a beer company.  Sam Adams is nationally and internationally distributed and had a small lead on Yuengling, who will likely pass Sam Adams this year or next in volume.

Yuengling will soon by America’s #1 brewer and it’s a Pennsylvania company.  Although, this may feel insignificant – those guys who work in the coal mines and steel mills might feel a bit differently.

Next time your in the Pennsylvania area – go into your local bar and order a “lager” – you shouldn’t be overly surprised that with no questions ask, you get served a cool pint of Yuengling lager.



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kutzsodaIn the world of Coke and Pepsi – small, craft soda and drink manufacturers haven’t stood a chance and they went out of business in droves throughout the 1900’s.  That began to change when consumers started looking for healthier and better tasting options in the 1990’s.  Companies like Snapple (now owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group), Izzy’s and Nantucket Nectar broke the Pepsi & Coke market and proved that there were consumers who preferred “alternative” options.  Shelf space for alternative brands is still at a premium and the road is as steep as ever for local drink manufacturers, but their is hope.

Kutztown Soda has witnessed this rise, fall and rise again of niche soda manufacturers.  They’ve been in business since 1851 and claim to be one of the Reading areas longest continually operating businesses.  Kutztown Soda offers a variety of traditional soda flavors, such as Birch Beer, Sarsaparilla, Ginger, and Root Beer….all made from pure cane sugar…apparently, a much healthier alternative to corn syrup (see labels of major soda brands).  You can purchase the soda online or find it at a local store via a link on their website.  Don’t go looking for them in your major grocery store chains – Coke and Pepsi still control the vast majority of that shelf-space.

Company Website

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Musselman’s was started by (none other than) the Musselman family in Biglerviller, Pa…the heart of Pennsylvania’s apple growing region.  John Musselman started the company by purchasing the Biglerville Canning Company, but quickly expanded over the next 13 years to meet demand from Worldwar I.  At the time, quality canned goods were in high demand to feed the nation and hungry soldiers abroad.  mm

In 1928, Musselman’s expanded to preserves and started including Apple Butter and Jellies.  Musselman’s would soon evolve into one of the country’s leading producers of apple sauce.

In 1984, Musselman’s was purchased by a cooperative of growers from the Musselman family.  The cooperative is made -up of Pennsylvania apple growers as well as growers down the Appalachians and in the mid-west.  The cooperative’s vision is to provide a better quality product by being involved with the entire process – from production to selling to consumers, while providing for the 600 family’s who own the company.  Knouse Foods also owns the Lucky Leaf brand, Apple Time and Speas Farm – all available in your local grocery store.  Over 80% of Knouse’s production (5 facilities) is based in Pennsylvania.

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Pennsylvania produces more confectionary products that any state in the country – while a large amount of  this comes out of Hershey, Pa – you will be pleasantly surprised that there are other well-known chocolatiers calling Pennsylvania home.  One of these well-known’s is Gertrude Hawk – based in Dunmore, Pa – a suburb on Scranton.  You’ve likely seen their store fronts in one of your local malls or purchased one of their chocolate bars from a local fundraising effort.

Gertrude Hawk has been manufacturing chocolate in Pennsylvania since the Great Depression.  The company was started by Gertrude Hawk, who began producing chocolates out of her kitchen to help support her family.  Gertrude had developed an affinity an gertrudehawkunderstanding of how to make chocolate years before when she had worked at a candy shop at the age of 12.  Gertrude had quit school after her father died to help earn money to support her mother and her who suffered from a heart ailment.  Gertrude married at the age of 19 and raised two sons, Elmer and Richard. 

Elmer later returned from World War II after being kept as a prisioner-of-war for a year and a half.  He took his pay that he earned and invested it into his mother’s business.  At the time, the company was earning less than $3,000 a year in revenues, but it helped the Hawk family make ends meet. 

Gertrude Hawk Chocolates bumped (a lot of bumps) along for many years before some of its partnerships with local churches and organizations to use the chocolate for fundraising purposes began yielding results.  In 1959, Gertrude Hawk Chocolates was grossing $120k/year, which was a substantial milestone in transitioning to the enterprise that it is today.

In 1992, Elmer retired from day-to-day operations and his son David, who had been working at the company since graduating from Penn State.  David later turned the reigns over to Bill Aubrery and the two now run the company.

Today – Gertrude Hawk has over $90 million in revenues – has over 75 stores across the mid-Atlantic and employees over 1,000 hard-working American’s – most of them fellow Pennsylvanians.

Check out their company website to order chocolate or find a store near you.

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Perhaps, this lousy economy has me thinking of ways to drown my sorrows.  I got so excited that I found a Pennsylvania made spirit in Bluecoat American Dry Gin that I ran out and bought a bottle and quickly made up a martini.  Perhaps,  I could have waiting until after lunch ;)  bc2

I jest…mostly anyway.  The truth is – Bluecoat Gin is hardly the stuff you drown your sorrows in.  It is well-recognized as one of the top handcrafted, small batch gins in the country.  Bluecoat Gin is distilled 5 times with the usual juniper berries, but also with a special blend of citrus peels to give it extra zest.  It has won quite a few tasting contests in the United States and Europe – beating out well-knowns like Beefeater, Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire.  The results haven’t gone unnoticed – Bluecoat has received a lot of attention since it rolled out of the distillery in 2006 – they’ve been featured in dozens of magazines, including Forbes Life, GQ, Wine & Spirits Magazine, Imbibe Magazine and many others.  Even the Dutch would be proud.

Bluecoat American Dry Gin was the brainchild of Rob Cassell – a Philadelphia area resident who was inspired by the success of local brewers and wineries.  His thought was rather natural – why the hell aren’t their any distilleries in Philadelphia.  Eureka!  Cassell enrolled in a distilling school in Scotland and went through the groundbreaking process of applying for a Pennsylvania distilling license.  Being the first distillery since prohibition – there weren’t many state employees left who had experience issuing such a license.  Cassell partnered with some friends and launched Philadelphia Distilling in 2005.

Bluecoat is distributed at quite a few liquor stores – but, check out their store locatorto find one in your area.  You would expect to pay about $26 for a “fifth”.  The $26 goes to a good cause – Bluecoat is the first craft distiller to open in Pennsylvania since prohibition – let’s make sure that it’s not also the first to close.

Company Website - Ordering Information Online

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Twizzlers was originally a product of Y&S Confectionary dating way back to 1845.  The company merged with several others and became the National Licorice company in 1902 and then was renamed back to Y&S in 1968 – finally, they were acquired by Hershey’s in 1968.  Twizzlers were not a traditional Hershey product for many years.  They are based out of Lancaster and have made those chewy treats dating back to prior to the Civil War.  Perhaps, Gettysburg was rife with AWOL soldiers off on midnight runs to get the Candy. 

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Peeps – the marshmellowly, soft, chewy candy that Americans associate with Easter as much as the Easter Bunny is produced by Bethlehem’s own Just Born.  Just Born acquired the original producer of Peeps, Lancaster based Rodda Candy Company, in 1953.  Today – Just Born produces over 1 billion Peeps per year and sells the product in 50 countries – worth close to $50 million in sales to Just Born.  The company also produces the movie theatre favorite – Mike and Ikes as well as Hot Tamales.  The Bethlehem company employees 560 employees.  The company just announced

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Asher’s Chocolate was started by a Canadian/Scottish immigrant in Center City Philadelphia in 1892.  The company located to the historic Germantown section and expanded their product line to include jams, jellies, ice cream, and a number of other treats.  Today – Ashers Chocolates is still being run by the Asher family – it has a warehouse in Montgomeryville and a 125,000 sq. ft. manufacturing and executive office facility in Souderton.  Despite the relocation – the company still takes a van to Germantown every day to pick-up some of the employees that still live in the historic area and were part of the early days of the company.  Ashers also purchased another chocolate factory in Lewistown, Pa – a town sitting between State College and Harrisburg on the Juniata River.  Ashers is currently the oldest, continuously operated, family own candy company in the world.  Link to company website.

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TastyKake is well-known in at least half of the State as the ultimate Pennsylvania company.  The company is as synomous with Philadelphia as cheesesteaks and pretzels.  TastyKake – known for its sweet, frosted cakes – was established in 1914.  The founder sold 280 cakes on his first day of business and over 3,000 in the first week.  At the end of the year, he had sold close to 3 million.  Today, the company grosses close to $250 millon a year selling favorities such as Kreamies, KoffeeKakes, KandyKakes, Krimpets, and Cupcakes.  By any standard, TastyKakes are tasty, which fits there age old jingle – “no one bakes a cake as tasty as a TastyKake.”  Decades of  Philadelphians agree – Marvin Harrison of the Indianapolis Colts is claimed to receive a shipment of the cakes once a week.  Although, he probably exercises enough to wear of the extra calories.  Company Website.

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Chaddsford Winery, Pennsylvania’s largest and most acclaimed vineyard, is nestled in the picturesque Brandywine Valley in the outer reaches of the Philadelphia suburbs.  The winery produces European style wines – specializing in dry whites, including a decent Pinot Grigio.  Many of their wines place highly at international wine competitions.  Last year, the 2002 Merican received a silver metal at the 2007 San Francisco International Wine Competition and the 2005 Pinot Noir, Barrel Select received a bronze metal.  The 2005 Merlot was also well received at the various competitions.  The winery is well worth visiting – it is a come-one, come-all type of outfit, with tastings between 12 and 6 every day.  The best time to visit is during the Summer Nights Under The Stars – a Friday night wine and music concert that runs all summer and is well worth the trip. 

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Since 1918, A-Treat Sodas has been making its original recipe for Pennsylvanians to enjoy.  The company was started by Joe Egizio, who expanded his traditional neighbor fountain soda shop to include bottled sodas.  The company is based in Allentown and carries over 16 different flavors.  The sodas are made from essential oils and is one of the few soda companies using cane sugar rather than less expensive high-fructose corn syrup.  That’s right – A-Treat uses the raw ingredients that it originally did in 1918 – the birch beer is still made with real birch tree extract.  The company is a pure Pennsylvania company with distribution mainly throughout the State and some distribution in Maryland, New Jersey, and sunny Bermuda.

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Pennsylvanians love small companies who produce quality, hand-crafted products and Troegs is just one of those places.  The added benefit is that the product is beer – so, we’re biased.  Harrisburg, Pa based Troegs is one of the breweries that sprouted up during the microbrewery boom in the 1990’s and has continue to expand ever since.  Troegs was started in 1997 by the Trogner brothers (Chris and John) who were enamoured with the craft and quit their day jobs to go off on their own.  You have to admire their gumption.  Troegs distributes their product in a 3 hr radius from Harrisburg because of freshness concerns – just far enough to cover every corner of the State.  If you want a weekend job – they have a beer tasting greeter position open.   Also – try there Mad Elf Holiday Ale – it has a 11% ABV – almost enough for the Government to start asking questions.  Tours are free on Saturday if you swing by at 2pm.  check out their website to find out where you can buy the beer Company Website – also, the have a fun interview on Good Morning America that you should watch.

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I was reading the latest edition of Forbes Life magazine…browsing through exotic, mainly European products, that I couldn’t possibly afford.  I was admiring a $10,000 oak table and a gallery of Chris Craft style wooden boats and…behold, on Page 50 to be precise, there was an article featuring Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown.  The article was talking about “cold beers you could love,” something I could both appreciate and afford.  True-to-form, most were European, but what caught my eye was that Victory’s Prima Pils was proudly displayed front and center.  Pretty neat considering this is a internationally distributed magazine.  This isnt’t the first time this particular beer garnered international attention, the Prima Pils was also ranked the top worldwide lager in 2005 (July issue) by Men’s Journal and has received the Grand Champion ratings in the U.S. Beer Tasting Championship 2002-2005.  Whoa – pretty good for a local brewery.  Victory Brewing Company was started in 1996 and quickly expanded after receiving the type of attention normally relegated for old world beers you’ve never seen on tap before.  The company could be missed if you’re driving a bit too fast through Downingtown – but, they brew close to 35,000 barrels a year and distribute all over the country.  Victory is a great place to stop by and grab some food and drinks – their brew hall is wide open and has a warm ambiance – a great place to enjoy a pint of beer and to caulk out grand plans on the back of a napkin.  Take a moment to browse their website to see where you can find their beer.  Company Website.

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Newtown, PA based Healthy Beverage Company burst on the scene in 2003 when it launched its SteaZ branded green-tea – steaz2organic “sodas”.  The outfit prides itself on being certified as a “fair trade” company.  Many of the ingredients are from the jungles of South America – Ceylon green tea, Guayaki yerba mate extract, Sambazon acai juice and guarana extract.  They also use natural cane sugar instead of processed sugars like corn syrup.  Although the product sounds niche, there have been tremendous success stories of healthy sodas going big.  Izzys of Colorado has been a absolute hit and is now distributed virtually everywhere.  Izzys claim to fame is that there product is only fruit juice mixed with carbonated water – far healthier than a Coke.  SteaZ has a long way to go before they get that big – but they are hoping to hit $14M in revenue this year – up from $6M last year.  That’s great news – the company is a great Pennsylvanian company with the beverage being made at the Lion Brewery Inc., in Wilkes-Barre and the rest of operations out of a 220 year old brick building in Newtown.  The product is available in healthy food stores, including Wegmans, Whole Foods and our local favorite…ACME.  – check out their store locator to find out where you can buy it.

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