By Jason Jugenheimer & The Flight Crew
NEW CASTLE, Pa. – It was almost fitting that we traveled east of New Castle, Pa., to Ben Franklin’s Tap Room & Grille on a stormy evening, although we left our kites and keys at home.
Like its namesake though, Ben Franklin’s has been inventing and re-inventing itself since opening in 2016. This massive building, owned by the Jacobs family, began as a humble bottle shop that quickly developed a local following.
It’s a beautiful “beer barn” with a nice industrial feel. Corrugated steel walls open ventilation that’s mixed with rustic wood and makes this a cozy place. There are two bars with 30 taps to serve patrons of the restaurant and two large patios with additional outdoor seating.
“It’s in the middle of nowhere but 10 minutes from everything,” is how Dan Jacobs describes it. “We sit on Route 422 and are just minutes away from routes 79 and 376.” The site of Ben Franklin lies in close proximity to New Castle, Slippery Rock, Grove City and several other towns in western Pennsylvania.
The original vision of Ben’s was a humble six-pack and bottle shop, stocking 1,500-plus beers. It developed a good following, including Ben Franklin’s local “Norm,” Reed Kissick. He started to hang out at the bottle shop, never left, continuing to grace the bar after the family moved away from the bottle game. “Good, people, good food and good spirits is why I keep coming back to Ben’s. You always know someone to talk to,” Kissick says.
Three years ago the Jacobs opened the kitchen and in January they sold their last individual bottles. Now they focus on streamlining their operations, continuing to pump out delicious food and explore new ways to improve their menu.
“Anytime we hire anyone in kitchen, we ask them what they love to make and eat. If it’s good we want to have in on our menu,” Matt Jacobs says.
Their philosophy must be paying off.
“We did better in 2020 than in 2019,” Dan Jacobs says. “Even at 25% indoor capacity, outdoor capacity was 100% and we were able to accommodate.”
The outdoor space meant full parking lots when restaurants were allowed to reopen. Their outdoor space was even able to accommodate some local schools with functions.
We had some amazing sandwiches on our visit and the beer was a nice mix of western Pennsylvania beers, regional giants and enough others to please any palate.
Here’s a little more about the beers we liked best:
North Country Brewing Benny’s Blonde Ale (4.9% ABV)
Joe Sanfilippo – I love it when locals keep it local. Ben Franklins and North Country Brewing teamed up for this one. You know you have a great relationship with a brewery if the owners brew something for your restaurant. Benny’s Blonde Ale is just that.
This easy-to-drink blonde ale, which is sometimes known as the gateway to craft beer, is a perfect beer for someone making the jump from domestics to craft.
This pairs well with just about everything on the menu. But I recommend the fish sandwich. It pours a beautiful golden color with a nice white head to top it off.
There isn’t a lot on the nose. But that’s not a knock. It just prepares you for a clean crisp taste on the palate. This is definitely a good one to try on your visit to Ben Franklin’s.
Victory Brewing Heavy Drop Sour New England IPA (7.2% ABV)
Brian Long – V is Victory on this one for sure. Whoever said, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” must not believe a sour and IPA work together because this interesting and flavorful craft does just that. The crazy combination of these two beers styles makes for an outrageously flavorful brew. On first sip you get hit with fair amount of sour that seamlessly transitions into a citrusy dark IPA. Just when you think that’s it … Wrong!
The finish is unique for how it starts off. Surprisingly, this sour darkness finishes with a refreshingly light taste, with subtle hints of fruit on the back end. I will be searching out some more of these for sure!
Four Seasons Brewing Company and Pub Session IPA (4.0 4% ABV)
Jason Jugenheimer – Session IPAs are some of my favorite styles to drink in the summer. They tend to be simpler and allow you to enjoy the showcased hop and malt profiles.
This one is no exception. It pours a clear golden color with hints of citrus fruits on the nose, which carries through into the flavor profile. A nice slightly bitter finish from the hops rounds this beer out nicely and gives you a nice grilling season IPA.
North Country Brewery This is My Spot Ya Jagoff (4.1% ABV)
Roger Gillespie – The brewers at Slippery Rock’s North Country teamed up with YaJagoff! Media to create a brew for the Yinzers around the Iron City and beyond. “By divine Providence,” which uses two row malts and corn, they gave Yinz a light refreshing lager. So wave those Terrible Towels. Crank up some Donnie Iris and enjoy a few Jagoffs with your friends.
Helltown Brewing Mischievous Brown Ale (5.5% ABV)
Dave Shively – Mischievous Brown Ale from Helltown Brewing Co. in Mount Pleasant, Pa., was by far my favorite beer on the menu this evening.
This traditional southern English-style brown ale poured out a dark chestnut brown color and was both sweet and creamy, with light toffee and chocolate notes in its profile.
Mount Pleasant holds a place in my heart because my late mother was born and reared in this small borough just southeast of Pittsburgh. Now a return trip will definitely include a visit to the tasting room of the brewery there.
Recommended Flight Pattern: Pull up a stool at Ben Franklin’s Tap Room and have a pint.
Pictured: There are two bars with 30 taps inside the “Beer Barn” that features an industrial motif.