Hop’in Around: Historic watering hole reborn

By on April 3, 2019

What was once the Historic Blue Star bar is now home to Rieker Bottle Works, a beer carryout specializing in hard to find and unusual craft beers, imports, and malt-based slushees. (Photos by Michael Upton)

If you’re a Gen Xer (like me), or a late Boomer, you might remember the Historic Blue Star, at 602 W. King St., Lancaster as one of the most prominent dive bars in the area. I say “dive” as a term of endearment, because the circa-1873 building has seen its fair share of merriment over the years — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The ugliest might have been its teetering on the precipice of demise in 2008 after the former home to F. A. Rieker Brewing Company’s Western Market Hotel went on the open market without a liquor license after the right to dispense booze was revoked by the state. That was more than a decade ago, and beer is once again flowing in the historic building. It’s a little different this time around.
The new entity, Rieker Bottle Works, is more than a bottle shop. It’s a combination quick stop for a big buzz and a place to get lost in if you’re a fan of independent brews. With over 300 “craft beer selections” and 12 taps to fill Crowlers and growlers, any beer fan can find a special item appealing to them.

Cold beer is downstairs where bands used to set up in this former, historic dive bar.

There were a lot of beers that piqued my interest and I chose two representing a brewing trend that seems to have grown legs: lactose-incorporated beers. Lactose beers (other than the longstanding milk stouts) popped up on my radar a couple years ago when I got to sample Tired Hands* Brewing Company’s Milkshake IPA (I think it was strawberry) at a beer fest. Tired Hands brewer Jean Broillet IV is considered the creator of the now recognized milkshake beer style.

Simplified, lactose is put into beer to add body and an unfermentable sweetness; it can be a wonder or a horror to work with. Brewing, after all, is science.

If those old tiles could talk! The former Blue Star is now Rieker Bottle Works and holds a vast selection of unique brews.

You can’t belly-up to the bar at Rieker. State law allows visitors two samples of draft beers, but you can’t buy a pint here and hang out. Everything is to go (especially the malt-based slushees). So, I grabbed a Crowler filled with Soft Swerve (7.5 ABV), a milkshake IPA from Captain Lawrence Brewing Company of Elmsford, N.Y. This beer of summer fun is brewed with pineapple, coconut, and vanilla and is probably best enjoyed at the beach. For comparison I grabbed a can of Stillwater Artisanal’s The Cloud (7.0 ABV), an IPA with oats and lactose, which is described as an “intelligent, soft, and fluffy” beer.

Rieker Bottle Works fills Crowlers and growlers from a dozen taps. Beer writer Michael C. Upton picked up a Crowler of Soft Swerve, a milkshake IPA from Captain Lawrence Brewing Company of Elmsford, NY to compare with a can of Stillwater Artisanal’s The Cloud. Poured is a beer for his wife, Mel, the Tahoe Deep Imperial IPA from Knee Deep Brewing Co.

For my wife, the consummate IPA fan, I picked up a can of Tahoe Deep (8.5 ABV) from Knee Deep Brewing Co. of Auburn, Calif. Tahoe Deep is as traditional as they come when discussing west coast imperial IPAs. It is brewed with Centennial, Cascade, and CTZ hops and smells like a bouquet of fresh flowers. It’s only a bit juicy but does exhibit tropical fruit next to the expected resinous pine finish.
All three of these beers are something I haven’t seen before locally. Of course, Rieker has an extensive selection of local beer, too. Get in and check it out, and learn more at riekerbottleworks.com. Cheers and thanks for reading!

*Up next, Hop’in Around visits Ardmore to check out Tired Hands Fermentaria.

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

The back of the former Western Market Hotel, now Rieker Bottle Works, as seen from Crystal Park the space once occupied by Lancaster’s F. A. Rieker Brewing Company.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *