In the Fall of 2013 State College’s latest entrant to the local vibrant Craft Beer scene opened its doors, Beer Infinity visited Happy Valley Brewing to find out more.
I met with Greg Somers, who is one of the Owners of Happy Valley Brewing, and Josh Davies who is the Head Brewer. Together we discussed how Happy Valley Brewing came about, their plans for the future, and I was also kindly shown around their brew house.
This venture has been in the planning since around 2010 with the search for an appropriate location within the State College area, developing the concept upon which a new successful brewpub could be based, and to find a high calibre head brewer with the experience of setting up and running a brewery.
Greg has many years of experience in the hospitality industry as well as familiarity with the Craft Beer scene since the 1990’s from attending and running beer festivals such as the State College Brew Expo, to rubbing shoulders with prominent players and pioneers in the Craft Beer industry such as Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head.
Josh started out by training within the medical field but was soon drawn to the brewing industry in his early 20’s. He began by helping out at a Home Brew shop which was owned by the same person as Michigan Brewing. Eventually Josh managed to get in on the action of a brew day aided only by assistance over his cell phone – in at the deep end you might say!
In 2007 Josh moved to Arcadia Ales, in Battle Creek (MI), where as part of the brewing team he won a Silver medal in 2007 at the Great American Beer Festival with their Cereal Killer Barleywine. This same beer was then aged in casks and took Gold in 2009 at GABF in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer category.
Greg and Josh met with an unusual episode over a Frisbee at a Michigan beer festival in the middle of a rain storm – to find out the details of this bizarre encounter you’ll have to ask one or both of them when visiting Happy Valley Brewing!
First steps in Happy Valley
In order to find a building to open a brewpub in requires not only identifying an appropriate property with zoning that will allow for brewing, which is often classed as industrial usage, but also one that is available and in a good location for customers.
To the east of downtown State College is a barn that up until 1975 was part of a large farm, between 1975 and 2012 this building had many uses including a furniture store. After a lot of searching for an appropriate property this same barn presented itself as a good potential location for Happy Valley Brewing.
Downstairs the wooden beams of the original building could be seen and upon investigation it turned out that the upstairs had the same structure behind the false ceiling which would present lots of character and help generate a traditional atmosphere to diners and drinkers alike. One thing Greg did stress was the importance that they place on the Food, Beer, and Atmosphere – this building certainly helps generate the atmosphere they desire.
Now that the brewpub is open the upstairs has a bar and more formal dining area whereas downstairs has a more informal eating and drinking area with a bar and television screens showing the latest sports events for which many in State College, and at Penn State University, are both avid fans of and renowned for.
Building a Brewery
Aside from needing a location, a key component of any brewery or brewpub is of course the brewing system itself. The sky is the limit for how much you can be spend on purchasing and installing a brew system whether new or used. With the recent growth of the Craft Beer industry used equipment is snapped up quickly so the trick here is knowing whether or not to go for a system that you come across or whether a better alternative might come up further down the line…?
Greg and Josh investigated many options and eventually identified an ex-demo system from J.V. Northwest that had been bought and used by a brewery but was no longer operating. Josh already had previous experience of moving a brewery so together they assembled an 8-person team who went out to the brewery to break it down, haul it a third of the way across the USA, and then install it in an area that was only 25% the size of the location it came from.
Needless to say the installation process was challenging and required some customization but eventually this was completed with the help of a TIG welder who could work with stainless steel and produce food grade welds that are essential to avoid producing infected beer. They also had the assistance of someone with knowledge of how to setup this particular type of brewing system which was a bonus.
Range of Beers
Happy Valley Brewing opted to go with a ‘soft opening’ in late October 2013 in order to get the brewpub up and running, by this we mean that for the first few weeks they began with a range of guest beers whilst their own beers were being produced. By late November their initial four beers were ready and accompanied the guest beers on tap. Now the range of in-house brewed beers is expanding but being accompanied by a rotating selection of guest beers – during my tour I noticed Founders on tap who produce excellent Michigan beer (see our Grand Rapids visit in May 2013).
Below are the beers that Happy Valley are brewing together with planned and potential beers for the future:
- Stratus – a ‘Loftbier’ American Blonde Ale at 4.7%.
- Tailgater – a dry-hopped Pale Ale at 4.7%.
- Barnstormer – a dry-hopped India Pale Ale at 6.2%.
- Craftsman: – a Brown Ale at 5.2%.
- Phyrst Phamily Stout – a recently launched Oatmeal stout on Nitro at 5.0%.
- Cherry Picker – a soon to be released Brown Ale at 5.0% laid on tart cherries (see pilot fermenter photo below).
- LeMonster – a future Imperial IPA at 8.2% that may well use Citra and Amarillo hops.
- Sain’t Misbehavin’ – a future Winter Warmer at 7.5% that will be a seasonal Red Ale brewed with molasses and winter spices.
- Headknocker – a future English Barleywine that everyone is looking forward to!
- Joe – a future Java Porter made with locally-roasted coffee from Café Lemont.
- Scotia – a future Scotch Ale that will be robust, but surprisingly well-attenuated.
Other beers in the line-up that are being considered include a Black IPA, an American ‘Dark’ Wheat with spices, an ESB, and an Imperial Stout.
The general approach to the beer line-up is going to be a selection of Year-round beers such as the first 5 in the above list that will always be on tap and these will be accompanied by seasonal rotating beers. By this we mean different beers will be produced throughout the year that are one-offs but are appropriate for the time of year e.g. a Kolsch in the summer or an Oktoberfest in the Fall, then if they are well received they may well be brewed again the following year but with some tweaks or a different twist on the previous brew.
The brew house is based on a 15 bbl (British Barrel) system with a current capacity of approximately 1800-2000 bbl/year. Future potential expansion could increase this to around 4000 bbl/year.
At present the system is made up of the following:
- Hot Liquor Tank (HLT) – this has an electric element and uses carbon filtered borough water that optionally passes through a softener and has some additions to adjust the pH.
- Grain Silo – this is an external tank that feeds directly into a mill situated on a raised platform within the brew house. This then feeds into a Grist Case that is located on a scale directly above the Mash Tun. The Grist Case allows speciality malts to be added and to mill all the grain in advance prior to releasing it into the Mash Tun.
- Mash Lauter Tun – this is direct fired and has a false bottom to suspend the grain bed that then gravity feeds into a Grant. Sparging is carried out with a water distribution ball suspended above the grain bed.
- Brew Kettle – this is direct fired and is fed by a pump attached to the Grant. The Grant avoids the pump sucking down and compacting the grain bed which can slow down the sparge and also extract tannins from the grain itself. The Brew Kettle also contains a Whirlpool nozzle that can be used to help produce a better rolling boil as well as collect the sediment at the end of the boil in the middle of the kettle and then a deflector plate in front of the outlet valve also helps reduce the sediment that is pumped out of the kettle.
- Heat Exchangers – there are two Heat Exchanger plates that the wort passes through after the Brew Kettle, the first is water cooled and the second is glycol cooled.
- Fermenters – there are five coned stainless steel fermenters that are 15 bbl each. Currently the beer is not filtered but Isinglass is used for 48 hours to help clear the beer.
- Bright Tanks – there are seven domed bottom Bright Tanks which are 15 bbl each and are used to both carbonate the beer as well as act as serving tanks for both bars.
- Pilot Fermenter – this is a 90 gallon stainless steel fermenter than is used for small test or pilot batches. At the time of visiting it was filled with 75 gallons of Brown Ale sitting on 120 Lb of cherries.
- Keg Filler – the brew house has a Keg Filler which will be used for distributing beer in the future and could also be used to keg smaller batches of beer rather than taking up a partially filled Bright Tank.
Future plans include a barrel-ageing program which will extend the variety of beers produced as well as increase the current capacity. An agreement is also in the process of being signed with Nittany Beverage who are a local beer distributor. This will enable Happy Valley Brewing to supply their beer to other outlets within the area.
Currently a beer is brewed every three days and this then sits in the fermenter for about two weeks before being carbonated and ready for serving. For yeast they primarily use White Labs though often, as is the case within the Craft Beer industry, they are helped out with yeast supplies by Tröegs Brewing in Hershey some 90 minutes away in Pennsylvania. Pellet hops are used for bittering, flavor, aroma and dry-hopping of the beers.
I would like to personally thank Greg and Josh for their time discussing Happy Valley Brewing and believe they have a very promising future. The brewpub is a welcome addition to the local Craft Beer scene and is certainly very popular and is always busy when myself or my friends visit. The food is excellent and the beers are top quality, also I understand they have a great range of cocktails. I would certainly recommend paying them a visit and cannot wait for the future beers coming available.
137 Elmwood St
(814) 234 4406