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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.