Growing up in the small town of Bradford, Pennsylvania, craft beer was never really a thing. Going into pure Kevin Arnold Wonder Years mode and trying to recollect, I don’t think we even had a way of classifying a beer as “good” back in my formative years. Usually it was labeled as ‘the beer I swiped out of dad’s fridge’ or ‘the beer Tony’s brother got for us.’ Whatever it was, we were gonna drink it.
If I really think hard, I’m pretty sure my back-in-the-day best definition of “good beers” were George Killian’s Irish Red and the occasional Breckenridge Avalanche that I got my hands on two, maybe three times thanks to my late uncle.
It wasn’t until I broke free from small town living and immersed myself in small ‘big’ town life in Pittsburgh that craft beer and I crossed paths. Over time, my appreciation for the product, the brewing process, the struggle craft brewers undertake when embarking on that fateful mission to put beer in our bellies, and the overall quality of what I was drinking weren’t simply ‘a thing,’ but rather ‘the way.’ This beer blog you’ve stumbled upon, a mobile beer app, and a collection of people I’m happy to call friends, allies, confidants, business partners, and drinking buddies are all a product of this wonderful thing we simply define as “craft beer.”
So as my appreciation for craft beer grew, so did my annoyance with the lack thereof with every trip back home. Maybe I was thinking too far ahead, but I always wondered when the bars I used to frequent so regularly would start carrying the brews I craved. When was this “revolution” of craft beer growth going to hit the homeland? Not so much from the perspective of “give me something good to drink when I’m home,” but more so from the standpoint of “people in small towns need good beer, too, dammit.”
My questions were answered this past weekend when, home on Labor Day Weekend as I am every year for my Dad’s fantasy football league draft, I heard about Four Mile Brewing now being open just over the New York border in the town of Olean. This probably won’t resonate with anyone who grew up in a big city, but anyone who grew up in Bradford knows we all had Olean on a pedestal when we were younger. They had a mall with more than four stores, a movie theater, and a Taco Bell. It was totally worth the 20-minute trek.
And now, 17 years removed from having any intention whatsoever of making a ‘run for the border,’ craft beer has drawn me back to Olean like a moth to a flame.
Four Mile Brewing is the first brewery in Olean in over 70 years! In 1907, the Olean Brewing Company was founded on the corner of Green & Barry Street and supplied Olean with beer. Unfortunately, Prohibition reared its ugly head and forced Olean Brewing to cease operations a mere 13 years later. Now, after nearly 100 years of the same building serving multiple purposes (most recently a lumber house), things have come full circle, and a brewery supplying Olean with fine craft beers is back where it belongs!
My surroundings were nothing short of familiar as we first walked in the door. High tables with stools, a bar with various taps, a brewhouse visible through windows in a secondary seating area, and the aroma of hand-crafted brew were all present as my mind quickly drew parallels to many of the Pittsburgh breweries in which I’ve pulled up a stool. It was a little bit of my new life in the Steel City meshing seamlessly with the life I left behind.
As with any new brewery visit, a flight was my first order of business. A tap list predominantly focused on hop-forward options made my hop-forward brain perform small jumps of joy. However, for those less-inclined to consume a hoppy offering, a very easy-drinking Pale Wheat is on the docket, as well as Four Mile’s Pre-Prohibition Cream Ale. You could also enjoy a Porter or (if you got there before me as I was told it had just kicked) a Mango Wheat.
My flight consisted of an amber rye, Green Street IPA, Allegheny IPA, and Black IPA. My breakdowns below are ranked from my least favorite to favorite:
– The Amber Rye | Fresh! Was told it was just tapped that day. It was well-balanced with a just a smidge more hop character shining through. On a personal level, I gravitate more towards the bitterness. But this was a very clean, sessionable beer that I recommend to anyone…especially those transitioning from macro to craft beers.
– The Green Street IPA | Very straight-forward IPA. Tipping the scales at 5.5% ABV, you could nearly classify this as a Session IPA. Then again, I’m not sure what session of mine doesn’t include an IPA, so to hell with semantics. The beer is very light-bodied, not overly bitter, and contains a Pacific Northwest hop blend (just in case you were wondering). If you like IPAs, you won’t be disappointed ordering this one.
– Black IPA | It was between this and the next beer I’ll talk about for #1 in my short list. In fact, this 6.9% ABV little number registered enough to get the 1A nod. Roasty on the front end, bitter on the back with a resemblance to a coffee stout. I definitely got slight hints of coffee and even a bit of cocoa, but the back end pineyness was what really sold it for me. The elements of a stout, porter, and IPA were all present in this beer, but nothing leaning too far to any one side. Delicious!
– Allegheny IPA | Dear citrusy hops, would you like to go steady? XOXO, Jason. This beer is Four Mile’s flagship, and the first sip will deliver the message as to why this one’s a moneymaker. Notes of citrus fruits peck you on the nose and a well-balanced, malty backbone finish this offering up in style. At 7.2% ABV, Allegheny and I could get in some big trouble as this IPA went down incredibly easy. Looking back, I wish I had grabbed a growler of this to go.
Oh, we had to dive into the South Olean Nachos, too. Good Lord. I’ll just leave this here…
Beer aside, what made me the most happy being at Four Mile can be summed up in one word: progress. My family and I sat and enjoyed our beers and each other’s company. But what hit home, probably more so for me than anyone else at the table, was seeing craft beer find its footing in the smaller parts of the world. You hear a lot about market growth and, living in Pittsburgh, I came in when craft beer was a small but rising force and am currently living in an absolute renaissance of local craft beer. But to see a group of brewers discovering an unmet need in unchartered waters and taking steps towards delivering something new, innovative, and high-quality…that’s inspiring.
Hats off to everyone at Four Mile Brewing and keep doing what you’re doing!
If you find yourself in the small town of Olean, be sure Four Mile Brewing is on your list of places to grab a pint and a bite. They’re doing great things to prove craft beer doesn’t just belong in big markets. It belongs everywhere.