Category Archives: Libations & Food

Three Guys & A Beer’d Brewing

Matt and Johnny, Hard At Work in the Brewery.
Matt and Johnny, Hard At Work in the Brewery.

Once upon a time, when Old King Coal ruled the lands of northeastern Pennsylvania, dozens of small breweries supplied ample amounts of beer to the workers of the realm. Historians can bicker about the actual effects the Volstead Act had on the demise of local brewing. A number of Lackawanna County breweries ceased operations long before Prohibition became the law of the land in 1920. Once beer became legal again in 1933, only a handful of breweries started up again in the county, most of which were in Scranton but none called the Pioneer City home.

The beer business in America became dominated by large brewing companies following World War II and remained almost unchallenged through the 1960s and 70s. Eventually the last of the commercial breweries in the county locked their doors too, and until four years ago, local brewing was dead.

As small craft-breweries began to emerge in southern Pennsylvania and the surrounding states during the 1990s, the demand for something other than what was being made by the big breweries grew. Eventually the sentiments towards microbrewing that had already been established in other regions took root in Northeastern PA and the climate was finally right for a local brewery to open shop.

Endless Summer Ale
Endless Summer Ale

Beer Buddies

“We really just wanted to open up a beer deli at first,” said Matt Zuk, the main brewer and one of the four founders of Three Guys and a Beer’d. He and fellow partner, Dave Oakley, both from Greenfield, began home brewing over ten years ago simply because “…it was hard to get good beer.”

Dave’s cousin, Johnny Waering (aka The Beer’d) was another beer aficionado.

“I had to travel to find beer I liked,” he remarked, “I started reading about beer and started reviewing beer on line years before I started brewing with Dave and Matt and John Bronson, our other partner. We thought that having a place where we could sell good beer would be cool but after thinking about it we knew we could sell what we were making…and here we are.”

It took five years for the hobby brewers to make the transition to professionals. Once they received their license, liquor laws prevented Matt from continuing to work in the culinary field, so he got into construction work to make ends meet. Nowadays he spends most of his time at the brewery.

Johnny too split his time between the brewery and his day job with the water company until things got to the point where beer became the thing that was going to take him forward. Dave and John still hold down their old jobs but put in a lot of time at the brewery too. Work, however, is never in short supply and even with Dave and Johnny on board full time, they were still struggling to get things accomplished.

“The good thing about being an owner is you get to work half days,” Matt said chuckling, “just pick five days when you can be here for twelve hours at a time and there’s your five half-days.”

Johnny, who is in charge of sales and distribution, was on the road five or six days a week delivering beer personally as well as trying to open up new markets. Their original business plan called for them to be in ten bars in Lackawanna County, a month after the first kegs left the brewery they were in 30 bars in three counties. Things picked up rapidly, Johnny recounted, and this year they were able to get picked up by LT Verrastro distribution. Three Guys and Beer’d is now available in 400 outlets and eight counties!

“Getting picked up by a distributor is big for us,” Johnny said, “It takes a lot of work off our plate and allows us to get to events and meet with the people selling and drinking our beer. We always like to represent the company when we can.”

Chewhoppa India Pale Ale
Chewhoppa India Pale Ale

Home Town Focus

A personal approach to the beer business is found throughout the overall philosophy of the company. It’s evident in many of the beers’ names such as “Wheat the People”- a nod to the notion that craft brewing is about more than putting a dollar in the company till at the end of the day; “Loyalty Shaving Cream Ale”- a tribute to the eponymous barber shop in town; and Carbond’Alien—brewed to commemorate the 1974 UFO incident.

Opening the brewery in Carbondale was important to the foursome as well. Other places in nearby communities were looked at prior to the start of operations, but things just kept pointing them back to Carbondale. Being all from the area, this meant a lot to the foursome and the local focus has paid off.

“The community response has been amazing,” Johnny stated, “they’re happy to see local guys doing something like this. Even small bars in town with only a few taps are carrying our beer. We have the brewery open every Saturday for people to come in to fill their growlers (half-gallon glass jugs) and we see the same people come in week after week.”

Booming Business

Growler fill-ups aren’t the only thing people are buying. Recently the state gave them a license to sell pints right at the brewery as well, so when open, the public can come in and sample some suds one glass at a time if they choose.

During their first year they made 96 barrels; 150 the following year; and 250 last year. An upgrade from a one-and-a-half barrel-at-a-time brewing system to one that can produces seven-at-a-time means this year’s final tally should be somewhere around 1400 barrels when all is said and done.

While a lot of the beer ends up in kegs or sixtils, plenty ends up getting bottled and the demand for that has increased as well. Currently 12oz bottles are filled two and a time, but just waiting for the final touches to be added is a new six-bottle filler, constructed locally as well, that will boost case production.

The added distribution and the direct-to-public sales means that production is up and will soon outgrow the small set-up located in the Carbondale Technology Transfer Center, a business incubator located on Enterprise Drive. In a year, they’ll hopefully be moving into bigger digs.

“The area is growing and we’re hoping by next year to move into the old Fell School,” Johnny announced, “We have a thousand square feet here and if things go as planned we’ll have six thousand. It means a lot of room for production and a proper tap room for tasting and fill-ups.”

Expansion will almost undoubtedly mean additional employment as well. In addition to at least one person needed to help with prep work and another two to assist with the brewing, Johnny also hopes others will be needed in sales and in the tap room.

The Vitals

There’s currently four beers available year-round. In addition to the aforementioned three, Ladder Dive Rye India Pale Ale is also a 12-month offering. Seasonal brews include Malarkey Irish Red; Endless Summer Beer ESB; Soul Patch Pumpkin Ale; De-Icer Winter Amber Ale; and Augustus Chocolate Porter. Ten other beers make up the Clean Shaven Series. These are experimental recipes or styles made expressly for a specific client. Clean Shaven #6, for example, is an Oyster Stout available only at Coopers Seafood in Scranton.

Availability varies all around the area, but there’s no shortage of places to buy by the case, six-pack, or on tap. Growlers and pints are available every Saturday from 2-9pm at the brewery, 10 Enterprise Drive. A brand-new half-gallon growler will set you back $8 plus $10 to fill it with a regular beer or $12 for a seasonal or specialty brew. Also available are a wide variety of shirts, hats, and other beer gear. Check them out online at 3guysandabeerd.com; give them a call at 570-250-BREW; or stop by on a Saturday.

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Brews & More Hit Bethel Woods

Dana Ball & Ben Brotman of Catskill Brewing

Dana Ball & Ben Brotman of Catskill Brewing

Bethel NY—For the second straight year some of New York State’s best brewers descended on the Bethel Woods for the annual Craft Beer Festival. Saturday’s dreary morning weather broke just in time for the noon start and for the next four hours thousands sampled some of the Empire State’s finest potables.

One big shift from the inaugural festival was the presence of more brewery representatives. Nearly half of the people pulling the taps last year were Bethel Woods employees. Not so this time around. While the venue did press a few of its folks into service, by and large most of the ladies and gentlemen serving up the suds were brewery employees, if not the brewers themselves.

To beer lovers like myself, getting to ask questions and get the facts from those who know best is invaluable. Hearing directly from the makers what they hoped to achieve with a certain recipe will make a connoisseur put a little more thought into what they are experiencing when they take a sip. Sometimes there’s a good backstory to the beer’s name. One brewer once told me they developed a recipe for a popular beer totally by accident. Beer is more than beer, it’s a culture.

Two fine individulas I had the chance to chat with are Ben Brotman and Dana Ball from The Catskill Brewery just a hop, skip, and a jump away in Livingston Manor. Like almost everyone who opens up a brewery when asked why they started brewing, Ball replied, “We wanted better beer.”

Quality brew being one thing, but like most in the craft beer biz, the owners and brewers also hope their products can help the local economy and their areas overall. Brotman and Ball have a long way to go. Catskill just started tapping 10 weeks ago, but with even just the four beers that they brought to the festival, they could make an impact on Sullivan County in a very short time.

Topping that list were “The Local” a 6.4% India Pale Ale. This fresh-hopped ale uses 70lbs of locally grown Chinook and Cascade hops, picked and into the kettle within hours, to produce a flavorful drink that is surprisingly light in body for an IPA. Another IPA from Catskill is the 5.7% Floodwatch. It’s blend of  Simcoe and Sorachi Ace hops give it a nice floral-citrusy scent and flavor. The Ball Lightning Pilsner is crisp and refreshing while the Nightshine Black Lager has a stronger, maltier taste. Both come in at 5.5%.

Livingston Manor is just over an hour from Honesdale. I think we’ll be visiting them in an upcoming edition of “Bill’s Beer Corner.”

Further up the road is Awestruck Ciders in Walton. Surprise, surprise. The best thing that crossed my lips all day was a cider. Now, for those of you who say cider is a woosie drink, keep this in mind. Cider was the preferred day-to-day drink of the American colonists. In 1775 they waged war against the greatest military power in the world. They drank cider for breakfast. So, considering New York’s ties to the Revolution, it’s no doubt that cider should be a staple in these parts. (OK..NY is also #2 in US Apple production, so maybe that has something to do with it as well.) Regardless though, chances are the early frontiersmen weren’t drinking anything close to what Awestruck is producing.

When I first sipped the Hibiscus Ginger cider I was, well…Awestruck. The ginger is not overpowering. The hibiscus adds some light floral notes, but it blends well with the crisp apple flavor. It’s got a snappy taste but is very refreshing and was a welcome distraction after I’d already sampled a dozen beers. It woke up my taste buds for sure and after one sample, I wanted another. Cidery partner Patricia Wilcox was happy to oblige, but then pointed out the “6.8% ABV” printed on the bottle. That’s the thing about cider, it can be immensely dangerous. Unlike high octane beers where the alcohol starts to make itself present rather rapidly, good cider lacks that, thus making it all the more potent. Wilcox hopes to have some distribution in Sullivan Co. soon. At $9.99 for a 750ml magnum, one definitely will get their dollars’ worth with this beverage.

Some of the vendors that were at the Harvest Festival weekends in September also made a reprise appearance at the Craft Beer Festival. Two of my favorites, Buddhapesto and Cheeky Monkey were there offering up their wonderful delectables, as was Maya’s Jams, with whom I bartered a souvenir glass filled with Catskill Ball Lightning for a jar of Plum and Star Anise jam.

I also spied other local breweries, namely Callicoon Brewing Company and Roscoe Beer Company, who were there in force serving up Sullivan Co. beer to the masses. Jim Wilson had his flagship Brown Cow Porter, dark but yet light on the malt; and Phil Valone (and friends) were pulling a few different varieties of Roscoe, including Trout Town Brown and Rainbow Red.

Wrapping up the most notable things I had were Athens NY’s Crossroads Brewing Company’s Outrage IPA. Packed with Simcoe hops it rings in at 7%ABV and is, in their words “assertive.” Also grabbing my attention was Chester’s Rushing Duck Brewery with their oh-so-sweet Honey Seeker, a Belgian Style strong ale brewed for the summer months. It’s a far cry from a lawnmower beer though. At 8.6% it was the most potent thing I sipped all afternoon.

If you couldn’t make the festival, the good news is that a great majority of these breweries are within a reasonable drive of Wayne County. Similarly, many breweries such as Sixpoint, Ommegang, Saranac, and Lake Placid Pub & Brewery bottle (or can in the case of Sixpoint) are available at Wegman’s in Dickson City; Dutch’s in Greentown; Peck’s in Narrowsburg; The River Market in Barryville; The Mill Market in Hawley; and many other beer delis and distributors in the Lake Region. Be sure to check them out.