All photos by Tom Hoffman for TPOP
With new craft breweries and brewpubs opening in the Pittsburgh area regularly, Beaver Brewing Company, an artisan nanobrewery in the heart of Beaver Falls, PA, may be easy to overlook.
You won ?t find a Beaver Brewing Company bottle at your local six-pack shop, can ?t pick up a growler at your favorite fill-up station, and you certainly won ?t find their creations on the draft list at any of the hundreds of bars in Allegheny County that now offer local craft options.
In fact, you can only get Beaver Brewing Company beer at their brewpub on 7th Avenue, which is exactly the reason you should seek it out. It can be billed as the least pretentious bar in Western Pennsylvania, equal parts beer pub, 80 ?s-child playground, and townie bar with a decor best described as thrift shop chic. Pinball machines in the hallways, movie posters on the walls (like the Vanilla Ice classic ?Cool as Ice ?), and an original NES in the pseudo-mom ?s basement living room section, the focus of the room is a simple L-shaped bar where owner Dan Woodske sells his creations Thursday-Saturday.
On Saturday afternoon, I ducked my head and followed Dan to the basement. As he cleaned his brewing kettle, I learned his philosophy on working life, business, and beer; all three of which lend themselves to Beaver Brewing Company ?s eclecticism and eccentricity.
?I hate working. I ?ve worked for so many idiots. ?
Dan started in the political arena, having worked in communications for a prominent elected official at the state level. When his former boss and coworkers were arrested, charged, and imprisoned in a well-known scandal, he realized his resume would do him no favors in politics.
He moved on to a series of jobs that never left him satisfied, spending time with local government and doing marketing and sales for a commercial construction firm, wanting more freedom and less work. Now a dedicated anti-9 to 5’er, dressed in cargo shorts, a ball cap, and running shoes, he comments ?I ?ve worked for so many idiots. This asshole is running a business and making money, I realized I could do this. ?
?You can do projections and business plans for years, but at some point, you just have to do it. ?
With just a year of home brewing under his belt, Dan opened Beaver Brewing Company. Many would consider this a bold move, especially other brewers, but Dan rejects that view. ?It either works or it doesn ?t. If it doesn ?t work, that’s OK, most businesses fail. There is not much mystery to business — treat people right, provide a good product, and do that all the time, you can ?t lose. ?
He felt Beaver Falls was a perfect market with an untapped (yup…) potential. ?I live around here, in Chippewa. I ?m driving 45 minutes to other counties to get to the closest brewery, I thought, ?What if something was between all of that? I think people will go there instead.
So in 2010, Dan launched Beaver County ?s first brewery with less than a $10,000 investment. A tireless self-promoter, he formed alliances with restaurants and bars to get his beers on tap and built a local buzz for his brand. He sold his beer every Friday and Saturday during his ?Power Growler ? days out of a one-room office on 15th Street in Beaver Falls.
It felt a little like buying your beer from a Breaking Bad character with the self-labeled growlers, brewing equipment strewn about, and a kegcooler/sales counter, but the off-beat brews and Dan ?s laid back demeanor developed a loyal following. By June 2013, he saved enough money to leave the workforce, open his brewpub, and become a full-time brewer.
?You remember that rosemary beer you made
At Beaver Brewing, there is no house IPA and only a few year round brews, like the I.Porter.A (Dan says, ?it ?s either a hoppy porter or a malty IPA…I dunno ?) and Chamomile Wheat ( ?most people call it shameelay wheat. ?) Dan states, ?All that shit is out there. If you want an IPA, there are thousands of them, you can get them anywhere you go. You want to try that basil beer you had one time…guess where you are coming? I want to give people an experience they cannot get anywhere else. ? Which is the specialty at Beaver Brewing Company.
Basil beer, Caramel Banana Winter Wheat, Simcoe-Rosemary IPA, Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout, A Nice Tall Glass of Shut the Hell Up, Monkey Picked Oolong Ale, Pecan Pie Nut Brown Ale, Busta Nutmeg Pumpkin Saison…I can promise you will not find these beers anywhere else. ?I just make it…it always comes out beer, can ?t really lose. ? With at least 200 brews to his credit, Dan does not keep a master list of the beers he ?s made or write down recipes, stating ?That seems like something you would do if you owned a brewery. ?
In fact, even if its a successful beer, he rarely makes anything twice, preferring to always try something new. ?I have people that stop in all the time and say, ?You remember that rosemary beer you made? It was really good. ? Yes it was. ?You making it again Nope. ? This attitude has Beaver Brewing churning out 50 different beers a year on a 1.5 barrel system (about 50 gallons), always using fresh ingredients.
Dan ?s irreverent approach to brewing has its critics, but his strange creations are what created his loyal fan base and draws business from across the region and country to try his brews. He believes ?if you have a good pallet for food, you can be good at brewing beer. ?
?Anyone heard of a British wine before? No? That ?s because they all suck. ?
On the Saturday afternoon I visited, I found a crowd of mostly first-timers who drove 30+ minutes to seek out Beaver Brewing Company based on word of mouth. Saturdays are tour days and like all other things at Beaver Brewing, this is not your standard brewery tour. Dan ?s tour is a stand-up act mixed in with the history of Beaver Brewing and the basics on making beer.
As the diverse crowd of seniors from a nearby 55+ community mingle in with Pittsburgh-area 30-somethings, locals, and a mustachioed hipster in camo await the start, Dan spots a problem. ?You can ?t be on a brewery tour without a beer, its a rule. ? The laughs pass and as people wait, they realize the rule is quite real. 20 pint sales later, the tour is underway.
Past the pinball machines and down the wooden steps, be sure to watch your head on the low concrete ceiling, and you take your place in a semi-circle around Dan ?s stage. As he walks you through the brewing equipment, Beaver ?s history, and how he comes up with his inspirations, Dan peppers it with one liners to highlight his points, such as his musing on British wine. The brewery tour does not have much to look at and certainly is not the prettiest brewery floor, but Dan holds the room with his witty mix of brewing, history, and philosophy.
?I don ?t like it, I don ?t drink it, but if you do, go for it. ?
Returning to the bar area, I order one of everything on tap, wanting to try the latest wizardry from Dan ?s brain. Wild #11 is a beer brewed with wild bacteria and yeast found in the Beaver Falls air. Its a completely unpredictable brew that always ends up a sours, this one with a crisp taste like a sour green apple. I think its a great start to my tasting, but its creator doesn ?t like it and his other wild beers, noting ?I don ?t like it, I don ?t drink it, ? but he makes them to please a growing crowd demanding more sour beer.
I wander through the conundrum that is the I.Porter.A, an enjoyable porter with hoppy notes (I think ?) and try the Harmonist Schwarzbier. A German black beer based on an 1816 recipe from the Harmonist society, a celibate settlement from neighboring Butler County, I like to think of this draft as a cult favorite. The Antwerp Ale pours a dark brown and has tasting notes similar to a Belgian dubbel and though enjoyable, is outshined by the true gem in my 10-beer sampler, the Mosaic. An IPA brewed with Mosaic and Citra hops, it pours a darker than expected brown, with hints of tropical fruit, and a full-bodied mouth feel while packing a hidden punch at 7.4% ABV.
The Caramel Banana Winter Wheat is a great seasonal offering that does not beat you over the head with its fruit flavors just like the Monkey Picked Oolong Ale. It delivers the taste you would expect based on the name, yet it does not go the way of many beers that focus on extreme flavor, these are always beer first. I end with the Gose (pronounced ?Goes-uh ?), a sours with added salt. My first reaction was that it tasted like mild ocean water, but as the glass ended, I curiously wanted more. All-in-all, the tastings were what I would have expected from Dan, flavors from all different directions, some strange, mostly satisfying, and at times brilliant.
?I just want to create a cool place to hang out and have a beer. ?
Dan embodies that part of us all that hates the call of the alarm clock in the morning, slumps out of three-hour meetings, and rolls their eyes at the latest HR policy wishing they could be their own master.
Beaver Brewing Company is successful because he wanted to escape that world, focusing on creating an experience and fitting his market, not driven by profit-first gimmicks. ?High ABV beers don ?t cost that much more to make, its just something they use to justify charging you $10 a beer. You won ?t find anything more than $5.50 a pint here. ? A 10-beer sampler will set you back only $16, with most pints available for $4-5.
His success has led him to write a popular book, available on Amazon, titled ?A Brewer’s Guide to Opening a Nano Brewery: Your $10,000 Brewery Consultant for $15. ? Yet even with the chance to expand, Dan plans to stay small and local. ?I ?ve had at least a dozen opportunities to open another location, take on partners, expand…I just don ?t want to work that much. ?
?The vibe is how I want it, I have full autonomy, full control. I like working for myself, I like giving people an experience they can only get here. ? Having visited countless brewpubs and breweries around the world, I can say for certain that Dan has succeeded in creating a one-of-a-kind experience in the often stereotypical craft beer space, one that should be destination for all of Western Pennsylvania craft brew fans.