Next to the trickling Logan Branch creek and nestled into the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the Axemann Brewery is finding its own niche in a region with many successful breweries. Far from the Bavarian beer gardens that inspired it, Rod Stahl, the current owner and visionary behind the idea, brews beers trying to perfect the taste of traditional German Styles while carrying on the iron working traditions of the area. Blue Stripe, their flagship beer, is what sets them apart. It is a German Style Kolsch intended to be crisp, clear, and refreshing. Rod starts telling the story of Axemann by describing the people and history of Bellefonte.
Rod gives a brief history of Bellefonte which was first settled in 1795 by a primarily German population. Elegant Victorian style homes followed soon after, and in 1890 the Garman Opera House opened. These deep German roots can still be seen in the town today through the countless breweries and restaurants that dot the rolling hills. They were hard working people who carried on many of the traditions of their homeland. The heritage of the area makes Bellefonte a perfect place for Rod to experiment with different styles and perfect his craft of German beers.
Bellefonte, like many other Pennsylvania towns, is a historical iron working town which makes an old manufacturing building the perfect place for the Axemann Brewery to pay homage to the region's past. Rod keeps these traditions alive through the décor as well as the names of the beer he brews. There are old metal ingots, initially forged in Bellefonte, embedded into the sprawling bar. Mann axes, which have been forged in nearby Lewistown, serve as the door handles and give a hint to the name. Much of the outside of the building still reflects its old manufacturing past and it is situated next to an industrial park. While this may seem like an odd place for a brewery, the area has been rejuvenated and is now a great place to spend an afternoon. Their distinct beer names such as the Hop Alloy IPA and the Auger Vienna Lager ensure that visitors remember that they are currently sitting in a once bustling manufacturing space. By reinvigorating an old dying space, the history of Bellefonte can be presented and preserved in a way like never before.
Rod originally started homebrewing because of a love of beer, which is crucial, but he loved cooking as well. He has always been a fan of German styles of beer and thought that many of the American versions did not give the originals justice. His goal was to create what he thought the beers should be, so he started brewing in his first location: the Stahl barn milk house. He teamed up with Stephen Hirlinger and the brewing began. With attention to detail and quality being of the upmost importance, they soon were brewing some fantastic beers. Their Blue Stripe Kolsch, a style originating in Cologne, Germany, stood out from the rest and Rod knew that he was on to something.
After 6 years of brewing in the milk house, Rod decided to make the jump into commercial brewing and started his journey to look for the perfect location. After two years of searching he decided that the old manufacturing buildings would be ideal because of their historical significance and size. Construction began soon after and, after a few delays, everything went smoothly. Rod was very pleased with the outcome and the brewery currently houses a 30-barrel brewing system with 30 and 60 barrel fermenters on site. They also have the ability to can and keg, giving customers the option to drink in or take out. The space has been refitted with 2 bars, several tables, as well as a restaurant named the Blonde Bistro completing the total renovation.
The twisty roads connecting State College, Bellefonte, Howard, and other local towns are stunning in the fall making the journey to Axemann Brewery feel like a trip out of a fairytale. It gives the sense that you are traveling through the German countryside with cozy towns and beautiful farms lining the two-lane roads. The final stretch along Axemann Road could be considered the best part with mountains shooting up from both sides of the road that follows a bubbling creek.
Upon arrival, I was surprised by the sheer size of the brewery, but the building has not lost its rustic industrial feel on the outside. As you enter, it is immediately apparent that Rob takes his brewing very seriously. The brewing room is viewable from almost every direction. Also, the brewery’s interior is massive with exposed steel and industrial piping running down the length of its ceilings. The concrete floors are finished in an almost sparkling epoxy that stays true to its roots while reflecting light giving the brewery an airy and open feel. The tables match the industrial theme but are inviting and provide both intimate seating for two and more open seating for large groups. The bar downstairs is massive with metal inlays and a view right into where the beer is made.
While the downstairs is open and inviting, the upstairs may be the best part. There is another (much smaller) bar on one side of the room, but it is just as functional at the first. While there is plenty of seating inside with views of the mountains, outdoor space is the place to fully take in the scenery. The patio is full of wooden tables with room for up to 6 guests with umbrellas, lights, and most importantly for the fall, heat lamps. You can hear the creek as it flows past and the view of the hills is incredible. If you can pull your eyes away from the beautiful scenery, there is also a viewing deck into the brewing room. The stainless-steel fermenters and brew tanks are connected by hundreds of feet of piping ensuring the supply of beer is endless.
Back downstairs and past the larger bar, the décor changes to a more familiar Central Pennsylvanian venue. It is a more rustic, cabin-like feel with deer mounted to the walls and a nature scene with two bears. There are also rocks surrounding many of the support beams with plants and trees making it feel as if the outdoors is inside. It is a great place to cozy up with friends and enjoy some of Axemann’s delicious seasonal brews.
This is the part that everyone has been waiting for; the taste test. Rod and his crew now offer a total of 9 distinct beers that appeal to the craft beer enthusiast to non-beer-drinkers alike. Beers can be purchased in 0.3, 0.5, and 1 liter pours along with flights. In the flight the customer can choose 5 beers off their menu and are given 5 ounce pours of each. In my trip to the brewery, I chose a flight containing 3 of their German specialties; the Auger Vienna Lager, Blue Stripe Kolsch, and the Pilatus Pilsner, along with their Hazy Daisy Hazy IPA and the seasonal Oktoberfest. I highly recommend trying the beers this way to get a full experience of what Axemann has to offer.
I was thoroughly impressed by all of the beers, but the Blue Stripe Kolsch, Hazy Daisy IPA, and Oktoberfest were definitely the standouts. The Blue Stripe was light and easy to drink with less carbonation that the pilsner which appealed to me. It was not bitter at all and very smooth. The Oktoberfest was much darker with an almost amber hue and a caramelly sweetness. The finish was slightly hoppy but not overbearing. It was the perfect beer for my fall afternoon. My favorite of the day was the Hazy Daisy IPA, but I must include I am slightly biased because it is my favorite style of beer. Even though I have tried and enjoyed many hazy IPAs, this one surprised me. It was viscous and fruity to the point of it almost tasting like orange juice. Many people say that they do not like IPA’s but I would challenge them to try this one. Overall, the beers were fantastic and I would recommend every one that I tried.
Rod is very passionate about not only his brewery, but Bellefonte and its history as a whole. The quality of the beer here is unmatched in the area and he nails every style on the menu. He is also a very experienced and talented brewer because of his homebrewing past. Not many people can make so many quality beers this early on in a brewery’s lifetime. Rods respect for the area is made obvious by the names of his beers and the industrial décor of the space. He is doing a great job keeping the history of Bellefonte while reusing a space that was no longer needed. I highly recommend taking the trip to Axemann to try some of their fantastic beers and potentially meet the man himself. It is well worth the trip.
If you are interested in trying other breweries around the area as well as Axemann, I would recommend Otto’s, Happy Valley Brewing Company, and Robin Hood Brewing Co. All of these breweries are within 45 minutes from the Nature Inn and provide different takes on many of the styles found at Axemann. A whole weekend can be spent dedicated to trying some of Centre Counties best beers and experiencing parts of its varied past. The next time you have a free weekend, definitely check out the Axemann Brewery and all the wonderful drinks it has to offer!
Written by Joe Hassett
Edited by Griffin Relford