Tradition is the fabric that binds most communities, especially small ones, together. It is the assurance that, no matter the storms, our roots are firmly planted. However, without change, tradition somehow doesn’t mean as much. We can get so focused on protecting our roots that we forget to grow, the very reason for our roots at all. And at Saxony Hills, Brewmaster Mike Mills understands the importance of keeping the roots sturdy and the branches tall.
Starting even with the name, Saxony Hills springs from tradition. According to Mike, the brewery gets its namesake from “a state in Eastern Germany known as Saxony, or Sachsen. The state has a town in it called Altenburg, meaning ‘old town’ which is where many of the East Perry County natives originally came from. They are said to have chosen this area because of how much it reminded them of their native country.”
The brewery itself embraces its (more recent) history. Built in 1980, the building was once Citizen’s Electric. The tap room and brewhouse are located in what used to be the company warehouse. Even though they have made it their own, there are still subtle nods to this past, including keeping the old loading bay door and a collection of old signs, which ties it all nicely together.
The beers also beckon to their birthplace’s ancestry. Mike says he wants to bring some old-world German beer styles back to a predominately German community. (And he would certainly be the one that could do it. Mike has been homebrewing since age 21 and professionally brewing since age 23, even attending the World Brewing Academy’s Siebel Institute. He tells me he has also sampled his fair share of early brand craft beers in his younger adventures of following the band Phish coast to coast.) However, Mike also says he doesn’t want to limit the creative spectrum and wants to evolve and grow with his styles. His favorite beer currently on tap is the Sweet Georgia’s Brown, which is a brown saison with peaches and aged in oak chips that were soaked in Hemman Winery’s apricot wine. Mike says of Sweet Georgia’s, “I love how refreshing the peach brown Saison is and, at 4.4%, you can afford to have more than just a couple and not feel like you need a V8.” This beer is my favorite as well and also has a solid foundation in history. “Saison means ‘season’ in French. This is a style of beer that was brewed by the seasonal workers throughout the winter months to not only give them something to do, but it was also used as a big part of the workers pay and diet as a result.”
(I don’t blame them- much of my wages end up in beer anyway!)
Why so much emphasis on history and tradition? Mike says it isn’t just Saxony Hills, but all those in the craft beer world that hold that in their core values, and with good reason. “The beers we craft brewers are creating have a story to tell that is centuries old in most cases. We really aren’t the new kids on the playground, we are the wise young ones who listened to- and appreciated- the lessons of the old timers’ understanding of why beer was the way it was, and we not only remake it, but we remake it with modern equipment, ingredients, and unbridled creativity, as well as a better scientific understanding of how and why we do what we do.”
Mike does add that there is something to be said for bringing traditions into the modern era to make them your own, however. “What makes crafting traditional styles of beer in a modern day setting so great is that we can take different aspects to create different beers to suit different people’s preferences. There is a craft beer out there for every beer drinker willing to try something new and I think that is one thing that keeps me passionate about the craft beer industry: it is an evolving creative outlet that draws inspiration from many other art forms, which makes it not only boundlessly creative, but also accessible to anybody who appreciates thinking outside of the status quo.”
The beverages aren’t the only area that Mike applies this thinking to. The Saxony Hills menu is one that is ever-evolving and always pleasing. In similar fashion to the brewing styles, Chef Riley also puts his version of a modern twist on classic dishes. While everything I tasted was exceptional, the Bavarian Nachos were my favorite, as well as one of the better fusion dishes I’ve ever experienced. Topped with smoked sausage, sauerkraut, green onions, tomatoes, beer cheese, and a bit of Brewhouse mustard, this dish is a work of culinary art. Even the mustard, which made me a little hesitant, fit perfectly into the dish, allowing for a complex flavor profile. And the pretzel bread pudding with stout sauce for dessert had me (happily) raving for days.
Roots are the foundation on which any strong tree grows, but that isn’t necessarily the way of the craft beer enthusiast. We grow like hops. Like vines, we must keep with forward motion, keeping our faces towards the sun and constantly growing. Never forgetting where we come from but knowing we can only take it along and we cannot stay on the ground forever. Because, like hops, there are many types but, by working together and for something more than ourselves, we can become the very fibers of history and the flower into which it blooms.
“I feel we’re all on our own journey to create something unique and pleasing…it is a joy and an honor to be a part of defibrillating the heart of local beer and what it represents in a community.”
To find out more about Saxony Hills, visit: