Bethlehem’s Harvest Festival

Saturday was the 4th annual Harvest Festival, Bethlehem’s smaller cousin to Musikfest and the Celtic Classic.  I had never been to Harvest Festival before, but it was a fantastic way to spend a free afternoon.  Main Street in the downtown shopping district was shut down for vendor and pedestrian traffic.  The main draw of the event is the beer and soup tastings.

A “passport” for the event was $20 if bought before Harvest Festival or $25 if purchased onsite.  Now, after browsing around the website briefly and checking out the stand I apparently got the wrong impression of exactly what the passport offers.  My only qualm about the entire event was regarding the passport process.  The passport was $25 which I had thought included the beer tasting and the soup tasting.  When I bought my passport I saw a sign for soup tickets for $1 each.  I figured that if you wanted to buy seperate tickets to just taste the soup that’s what they were doing.  When you bought a passport you were given a 4oz tasting glass for the beer and a paper “passport” that had 10 punches on it meaning you could taste 10 different beers at the event.  The soup tasting was extra and you had to purchase tickets seperate from the passport.  So basically you paid 62 cents an ounce, or $7.50 for a beer at the event which extremely expensive in my books.  In the future I would suggest adding more punches and including the soup tasting in the passport program at a minimum if they’re still going to charge the same price.  I honestly was surprised at how many people were ponying up the money for the passport after I realized just what it had entailed.Anyways, on to the food and beer!  The biggest attraction at the event by far was the Lehigh Valley Home Brewing tent who were serving their homemade beers for the masses.  They had a huge variety of different beers in mini-kegs to dish out to the huge line that formed.  They were serving five different beers at a time and when one ran out they tapped a different keg.  Now, despite my initial rant about the amount of punches per beer, I began talking to a few of the home brew members and was inquiring about some of the different beers I saw that were going to be tapped later on in the day and they were more than happy to fill my glass with a few free samples without punching my passport.

One of the beers, a double bourbon vanilla imperial porter, was absolutely delicious.  Sweet aromas of whiskey, vanilla, allspice on top of a frothy, tan head gave this beer an awesome presentation.  The beer itself was black with slight carbonation that was non-existant in your mouth.  This was easily one of the most interesting beers presented at the Harvest Festival.  The other very interesting beer that stuck out to me was a Black Pepper Porter made by Mike Lessa of the LV Homebrewers.  In describing it he said he waited until after fermentation to add the black peppercorns so that the alcohol would draw more flavor from the pepper.  I must say, it most certainly did.  Again another beer that poured dark black is both smelled and tasted of black pepper.  It was very strong in flavor and definitely must be taken in small doses.  It paired great with the Sharangarry squash soup…more on that later.

Scholl Orchards was there selling fresh fruits and apple cider.  I regretfully didn’t have any of their cider since I already eyed up two other stands for cider.  The Brew Works was dolling out their Pumpkin Ale which was fairly good, but the cask special raisin pumpkin they tapped on Thursday night was a bit tastier.  The Pumpkin Ale clocks in at 5.2% ABV and is on sale throughout the season at both the Bethlehem and Allentown Brew Works.  Tastefully Simple was showing off some of their products with samplings.  I tried two things in particular that were absolutely delicious…the bayou bourbon sauce and the strawberry fruit spread on top of angel’s food cake.

The historic Sun Inn was also open for self-guided tours which basically consisted of walking around to three rooms and reading some information.  Nothing too exciting there, however outside they had a booth set up with apple fritters, apple dumplings, and other goodies.  I got there around noon and immediately bought and apple dumpling because I hadn’t had breakfast.  It was taken straight from a warmer, doused in caramel sauce, and handed to me.  Heavenly.

Magic Hat brewery was also there showcasing some of their brews.  They had six different offerings, including their Roxy Rolles seasonal which was hoppy and spicy, a perfect seasonal brew.  And again, the fine gentleman at this station merely waved me off when I offered to have my passport punched.  Moving along, I stopped at Barbi Caters 2 U to have a cup of warm apple cider.  It was alright, nothing special.  They most likely just picked up some cider from a store and warmed it.  Next up was the offerings from the Hotel Bethlehem.  They were sampling a harvest apple soup with leeks and another cider.  The apple soup seemed as though it was either missing something or the leek was imparting an odd flavor on the soup. Either way, it was good in concept but needed something a bit more to make it a good dish.  The apple cider, however, was absolutely excellent.  Created with fresh apples and spiced with star anise, cinnamon, and brown sugar.  It was smooth and spicy, one of the best apple ciders I’ve had in recent years.  For only $2 for a large cup of it you couldn’t go wrong.

Some other stuff that was going on along the streets were performances from various artists, a historical brewing setup, pumpkin painting for kids, a few artists from around the area (including the whimsical art of T. Shanley), and food from a lot of different places.  The Heavenly Hedgehog was dishing out brocolli soup, Starfish Brasserie was sampling a crab soup, and two that I tried were the Day After Thanksgiving Day Soup from Apollo Grille and a Sharangarry squash soup with a lamb based scotch broth from Granny McCarthy’s Tea Room at Donegal Square.  The Day After Thanksgiving Day Soup was pretty delicious, including green beans, corn, and other things you’d expect.  The only part that was unappetizing was a piece of stuffing added to the mix which was hard and difficult to chew even after soaking in the stew.  The squash soup from Granny McCarthy’s Tea Room was easily the winner of the soups at the festival.  Divine in its golden, ever-so-slightly chunky texture with a rich buttery taste, the soup went very well with the previously mentioned Black Pepper Porter.

To summarize, Harvest Festival was a perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.  The combination of seasonal ales, tasty soups, and apple cider made me realize that fall indeed is my favorite season.  As I mentioned, the only downfall was the price for a beer passport and the seperate soup tickets at $1 each, but otherwise the festival is a quintessential segway into the cooler fall months.








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