My partner in beer got it in his head that a brewery trip was in order. When the calling comes, and it comes for all of us (sometimes a few times a week), it can’t be denied. It also so happened that my ever so kindly wife gave me a weekend on my own to do as I will. Her canonization to sainthood should be coming through any day now.
This expedition would take us an hour and a half from the horse-powered breweries of Lancaster to the quaint Forest & Main Brewery, nestled between the residential and retail buildings on Main Street of Ambler, PA.
The exterior of Forest & Main is as humble and inviting as its beers. The brewpub is just a small house tucked back off the street with a hay strewn stretch of yard leading up to a porch draped with hop bines. (I’ve noticed that some like to pop a few ripe cones in their beer, but I’d probably ask first). A perfect place to rock away a few daylight hours with a pint in hand. Not today though, with a blustery cold October wind urging us inside.
The front door opens directly to a T-junction. A hallway shoots straight back to the kitchens and place to deposit your beer once your body’s done with it. To your right, a cozy, living room-sized parlor of tables and chairs ready for the brunch and dinner grazers to wander in. To your left, an equally cozy barroom comprised of a few shallow shelf and stool combos along the walls, a dart board, and a heft slab of wood at the far end.
We waited a few minutes for a spirited group of ladies to finish up their beers and bellied up ourselves. At six seats, it’s a bar built for having a quick pint or flight, but not really a place to waste a couple hours, though nothing’s stopping you. The ambiance was underlined with a whirling dervish of jazz playing lightly in the background.
Heavy accents of wood, plaster and the clomping floorboards of an old European boarding house provided the proper atmosphere for the traditional styles Forest & Main features from across the pond. They almost exclusively brew traditional British, Belgian, and German styles, and today is no different. A gander at the single page menu reveals farm-to-table options that sound appealing, but we weren’t here for the empty calories of food.
We came to sample and sample we did. Clearing the board was an easy and desirable task, plus we got the added bonus of grabbing a bottle of Dochtor Seizoen. I’ll be reviewing that one shortly, but what follows is some of what we had on premise and a few thoughts on each. Keep in mind, this is a snapshot of five beers from over 90 to their name, so my experience is a focused one. That said, I’m of the mind that a brewery can and should be judged by its output on any given day.
Dry Hops: Cascade, Saaz.
My Thoughts: Grass indeed. There is a lemon meringue aroma with grass and a slight funk. The mouth tastes light, crisp grain, fruity and floral citrus, and a bready body. The finish is dry with bitter grass lingering after the party. Nice sessionable Saison.
My Thoughts: A creamy, glass-coating, pale yellow IPL. It has the aroma of toasty, semi-dank hops and pear. The intenser aroma belies the lite body and delicate lactose and grain flavors, citra hops, and dry fin. The thicker body and spike of hoppy citrus makes this a lovely beer and one of the more successful IPLs I’ve had.
Yeast: A foraged yeast culture
My Thoughts: Crisp in the mouth, this peppery and clove Saison butts up against the border of a Wit. The bubblegum Belgian yeast gives some personality, but it’s a little bland on the palate.
Smoke: Smoked hops instead of grain
My Thoughts: I spoke with a staff member (possibly a brewer?) about the unique smoke profile on this one. Instead of the grain, the hops are smoked, which provides a familiar, yet slightly displaced savory campfire wood flavor. The smoke is still front and center, but the malt body is untouched. It creates a familiar meaty Lebanon Bologna aspect, but with a herbal edge and clean grain sweetness underneath.
My Thoughts: The only thing that would make this more of a British mild pub beer would be soccer balls floating in it. It’s a spot on ESB, so your enjoyment of it will depend on your feelings towards the style. Doesn’t get my blood flowing, though I’ve yet to find an ESB that does.
Forest & Main offers Ambler an homey space to sample some traditional European styles with an American edge. While Space Grass and Rainbow Crow made the biggest impression, nothing really hit home for me as an essential beer. Even so, the emphasis on sessionable AND flavorful beers gives F&M an identity worth exploring first-hand.
I should also mention that not all their beers are subdued affairs. My experience with a bottle of Saison á L’Ancienne, F&M’s boldy flavored Saison with a huge sour, acidic bite, left me reeling and eager to sample more. The Dochtor Seizoen I picked up is being saved for a special occasion and I don’t think it will disappoint.
All in all, it was a nice hour or so at a relatively young brew house with a ton of potential. Given the distance, I’m not sure how often I’ll get there, maybe one or twice a year depending on bottle releases, but I can see why the staff at Tired Hands recommends people stop in and how Forest & Main’s Palomino could be awarded Philly Mag’s best beer in Philly.