The Axemann Brewery
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.