Scranton’s Newest Micro brewery
Cooper’s Family Brewing
Just before the Endless Pocono Run Section of the DiscoverNEPA Brewer’s Loop bends eastward, we popped into an old Electric City classic for a look at Cooper’s Family Brewing.
It was a not-so-summery Wednesday in August. A pale gray spread out over the Wyoming Valley — not your ideal conditions for stalking down wooded trails for photos of wildflowers, or drone flights over cool, black lakes and electric green landscapes. It was, though (like a lot of days), a perfect day to film beer, and to talk about beer, and to sneak a little taste or two of beer.
We had heard of a new brewhouse in Scranton. Well, it was kind of new. This little brewhouse sort of sprouted up inside an old familiar place. Its idea, planted many, many years ago had remained dormant as decades rolled by. The restaurant industry, like a changing tide, just never seemed to offer the right opportunity to spin this otherwise simple idea – Hey, let’s make our own beer! – into something real. Time, that ever-finite resource in the hospitality biz, always seemed to drop the curtain. And when you’re running one of Scranton’s most iconic landmark restaurants, changing the game, even just a bit, is a risky proposition.
Ok, fine, I’ve perhaps misjudged my talent for mystery writing. You guessed it. The place in question is, indeed, Cooper’s Seafood House. Yes. The massive, bright red and white lighthouse, the giant rooftop octopus, the legendary Capt. Morgan on the sidewalk signaling, “Good times inside, me hearties” or whatever.
Long before starting up their own in-house brewery, Coopers was a major player in the local craft beer scene. For some time, the popular restaurant festooned with its signature mish mash of nautical-themed décor, local history, Hollywood kitsch, and just about every conceivable piece of nostalgia you could imagine, was one of a handful of places bringing in those hard-to-find beers. Before it was popular, they had a “Beer Club.” They were tapping firkins and filling growlers. Craft beer was a world they knew well. And it just made sense to someday do it themselves. Cooper’s, however, is a steamship, and it’s been running the same course for over 70 years.
Enter one enterprising family member with a mind for science, an impressive craft beer palate, a handlebar mustache and a penchant for turning ships. Also enter what we’ll just stick to calling “the global weirdness of the early 2020s.” And Cooper’s finally found their opportunity. Soon, they were carving out a little space in the cavernous basement for an experimental 2-barrel system. And by May of 2022, the first batch of beers started pumping through the taps at the legendary family restaurant.
They call themselves Cooper’s Family Brewing. We know this place and so do you. We know the food and the jolly atmosphere. And what better reason to return than to try out their brand-new, hand-crafted beers.
Let’s pop in to this joint and down a few, shall we?
Fresh from the quiet, mustachioed scientist in the basement.
The brewhouse at Cooper’s Family Brewing isn’t exactly open for tours. It’s in the basement – below the steam of the ever-churning kitchen, beyond a non-descript door leading from the polished bar and clinking-fork symphony of the dining room. As we descended into the labyrinthian underbelly, our ears muffled to the squeak of servers’ shoes, to the lunch hour laughter and the barking cooks. The sound of the street became a distant memory. Scranton, buzzing at mid-day above us, was soon a foreign, unvisited shore. The world on mute.
In the back, in a lighted cave, the quiet brew master does his work. He’s young, energetic, basking in the light of an entire glossy-eyed generation. He seems to find a rhythm in the steady electronic hum of the machinery around him. Bright white, sterile walls, fluorescent light dripping over the shiny, round heads of steel barrels, air locks bubbling away transform the space into a mini science lab. There is control here. Things existed outside this room in a state of flux and chemical chaos and, upon entering, found themselves succumbing to a sense of order. And, yet again, we stand as witness to the inconceivable duality of the brewer’s mind – the miracle conversation between the spheres of the brain, the idea and the work, the sweat, the science and the golden liqueur of the gods.
It’s ok. Just focus on the beer.., wait is that a vintage At-At? Still in the box?
Let’s approach this for those who’ve never been to Cooper’s. It’s a bit dark and cozy. The lighting fights a losing battle against the dark, stained wood finishes on the floors, the walls, the tables and the bars. Despite the obvious nautical theme, there’s a maritime creakiness to the whole show of it. You might imagine the room listing, or the overhead lamps swaying, or the sound of the Atlantic knocking rhythmically at the side boards. You’re in the belly of a ship set for sail to some unknown shore. But it’s one of those happy, old Hollywood ships with jolly pirates spilling grog, enjoying the merriment of a moment free from the chores on the overhead deck.
As you leave the main bar and dining space, that’s where all things kind of spin out into some Willy Wonka dream land. Life-size cutouts greet you at every turn – Norm from Cheers, Angela from The Office. Hollywood memorabilia, local news clippings, toy sets from a forgotten time line the corridors and corner pockets. There are photos and nostalgia. There are memories of what seems like a cross-section of someone’s lifetime. And I guess seventy-plus years in business is essentially a whole human lifetime.
Sure, the taproom and dining spaces at Cooper’s are chaotic. They’re a bit scattered and may drive the typical “Type As” a little mad, but this is a family. It goes beyond bonds of blood. And, after some time, what you start to appreciate here is that this is a whole lifetime of good days, memories with friends, stories among coworkers, simple things that made someone smile. They’re pieces of someone’s life that they decided to share with you. And you’re more than welcome to kick back with a beer and take it all in.
You just can’t go wrong with the classics.
The approach to beer here at Cooper’s Family Brewing is keep it simple, and, for the most part, keep it European. Clean, classic ales and lagers from old world recipes make up the short tap list. There’s little room for high ABV hazies or knock-you-off-your-stool IPAs. For the young brew master here, beer is more about tradition and occasionally bringing something new to it.
Of the twenty-six beer taps at the main bar (yes, mind you this is a popular local restaurant), six belong to Cooper’s Family Brewing. It’s a “baby steps” kind of thing. And, while there aren’t seven variations of IPA and five similarly chocolatey porters, the limits of the lighter brew system allow for a more poignant attention to detail and a meticulous scrutiny behind every beer that makes it to the tap.
And, since there were only six, naturally, we tried them all.
We began in our usual favorite place to start, the pilsner. They call it Cooper’s Dr. Jen’s Prescription Pilsner. Initially, this one was created to benefit Dr. Jen’s Hope Foundation. It’s simple and clean like a pilsner should be with grassy notes and a bit of citrus before that familiar bready toastiness.
From there, we kept it on the lighter side and moved on to Cooper’s Edward the Octopus ESB. Its visual similarity to a classic red ale did not go unnoticed. A distinct hoppy bitterness jumped right out in front only to be balanced out by a slightly fruity sweetness. It was all held up by a strong malty spine. At 4.7%, this one proved a dangerous cruiser.
Next, we took on Cooper’s The Old Man and the Beer, a German-style Altbier. It poured a gorgeous, wood-toned amber with a tanned head. It screamed classic German lager with an initial malt sweetness coupled with a crisp bready body, but it was soon reined in by that familiar pale ale hoppiness. All the way, it morphed through an ever-changing fruit profile.
We followed that up with Cooper’s Big White Wilma, a Belgian-style Witbier. She came out of the tap bright, effervescent and beautifully golden and cloudy. On the nose, this classic delivered that soft, slightly spiced breadiness. There were light notes of citrus and an almost imperceptible malt finish.
Of course, we had to give the old American IPA a try. It’s called Cooper’s Ze Joosinator, and, at 8.1%, it’s the heaviest hitter in the lineup. This imperial IPA starts off bold and to the point. A strong stone fruit sweetness crowds the opening. Then that building hop profile sneaks in to balance it all out. Overall, it’s nearly perfectly balanced — not overly sweet and not overly bitter. Just take your time with these.
Finally, we ventured to the dark side with Cooper’s Pauly Want a Porter. As English porters go, this one treaded on the lighter side. There was a distinct smoke quality to the nose and a heavy-handed spice profile that struck a balance between the typical chocolatey, caramel flavor and a more nuanced play on the bitter elements.
By the end, our stop at Cooper’s Family Brewing inside the iconic Cooper’s Seafood House left us wanting just a little more. And maybe that’s the point. Keep it small. Make it only available here at this place. And while you’re at it, make it so good that you’d dream of pairing it with fresh shucked oysters or Cajun catfish and hushpuppies.
Old Man and the Beer – Altbier – Crisp lager maltiness paired with a slight pale ale bitterness — 5.5% ABV
Edward the Octopus – English ESB – Light bodied, perfectly balanced between sweet, fruity and bitter — 4.7% ABV
Big White Wilma – Witbier – Smooth and cloudy with refreshing spice notes on top of soft, sweet bready character — 5.5%
About the Writer
Jonathan was born and raised in NEPA. He enjoys writing about local beer, local food, fishing and hiking. He especially keeps an eye out for unique people, places and things throughout the region.
About the Photographer
Originally from Williamsport, Courtney is a 2019 Marywood grad. She enjoys discovering the often-overlooked beauty of NEPA, making clean Jeeps dirty, and cuddling with her chunky cat, Marley.
About the Videographer
Ryan has been telling stories through film for years. He graduated from Wilkes University in 2013 with a degree in Communication Studies. He’s been collecting movie ticket stubs for over a decade and never refuses a good cup of coffee.