CLEARFIELD – Two friends who started out as home brewers now have a brewpub, Race Street Brew Works, on tap to open this fall in Clearfield.
The soon-to-open brewpub was founded by Robert Striker of Clearfield and Michael Askey of State College and formerly of Philipsburg. Striker said although the duo has been friends for more than 20 years, they didn’t begin brewing until late 2008. Growing up together and sharing interests, Striker and Askey wanted to start a business together and considered various possibilities; however, they could never come up with an idea that they not only loved, but also found profitable.
“The funny thing is, the answer was always there. It was right in our hands, in the form of a cup, a can or bottle – beer,” said Striker. “With the craft beer revolution in full swing, the idea finally took root and we knew we had to give it a try.”
In 2008 Striker said he and Askey built a three-vessel, semi-automated, all grain brewing system that is capable of producing one-third barrel of product per session. He said it is powered by 6,500 watt heating elements, driven by high temperature pumps and modulated by temperature sensors and controllers.
“The whole thing was shiny and beautiful, but to be honest, we weren’t exactly sure how it all worked,” said Striker. “It was funny; we were still reading articles in magazines and books as we were going through the process of brewing our first batch. But despite the definite learning curve, we were hooked from the minute that first batch started to boil.
“The other thing that secured our commitment was a surprising event that happened when we entered our very first homebrew contest.”
Striker said they used the same recipe that they had developed for their first batch and entered the highly competitive India Pale Ale category at the Mount Hope Brew Festival. He said this particular recipe, which is called Loud Mouth IPA, is aged in oak to give it a “unique finishing character.” Out of more than 100 entries, Striker said the novel home brewers took third place.
Striker said a few years, a few hundred gallons of beer and a lot of support from friends and the community led him and his home brewing partner, Askey, to a turning point. In the back of their minds, he said they eventually wanted to go from home brewers to commercial brewers. However, Striker said what they didn’t know, though, is that the process to become a microbrewery or brewpub is long, complicated and expensive.
“We had a check list a mile long and basically started at the top and began working our way through it,” said Striker. “There were so many actions and decisions that depended on other decisions and actions. Each one came with its own timeline.
“Eventually we had to create a flow diagram that we taped up on an old revolving blackboard in the Race Street War Room – my living room. Priorities included finding the brewery space itself, financing, licensing, permits, procuring equipment, deposits, tax determination, etc.”
Striker said after searching for a space that met all of our needs, he and Askey signed a lease in January for the former BergElectronicsBuilding on Spruce Street in Clearfield. He said that nearly four months later after working with KTH Architects and making many drawing revisions, he and Askey finally had the building and zoning permit approved in mid-April. He said during the process, they were revising their business plan that at this point is nearly 50 pages long. Striker said interest has generated and meetings have occurred with financing institutions, including local banks and economic development corporations.
“However, up to this point the entire process has been personally funded by the two owners,” said Striker.
Meanwhile, he said they have continued to brew on their pilot system, which will have a home in the new brewpub. Because their license hasn’t received approval yet, Striker said they offer beer free for tasting, which allows them to gather feedback, determine popular styles and refine recipes, if needed. He said with social media, they have been able to generate interest that may otherwise have been difficult to obtain. Striker said they have a Web site, www.racestreetbrew.com, that is continually evolving, and they’re utilizing Facebook to provide updates and to gather friends.
Microbreweries and brewpubs, according to Striker, have been credited with helping many small communities initiate or build upon existing revitalization efforts. He said, “They represent unique places for people to gather and enjoy not just great beer and food, but an atmosphere of creativity and community. We, at Race Street Brew Works, want to be part of the active revitalization and community development that is taking place here in Clearfield, spearheaded by like-minded, creative professionals and businesses.”
Striker said that craft beer is a growth industry and they plan to hire people from the community as they grow. In addition, he said they plan to partner with local restaurants and caterers to have special food-themed nights to showcase some of the other great businesses that make up the community. With planned movie nights, musical events, beer classes, community festivals and charitable activities, Striker said he and Askey want to be a driving force of ongoing economic development, but in “a fun and delicious way” that has not been a part of this area before.
Holly Komonczi, executive director of VisitClearfieldCounty, said breweries are much sought after destinations by tourists.
“We are super excited to add that to our mix of culinary experiences,” she said. “Race Street Brew Works will be a grand addition to the four in-county wineries, the world famous burger challenges and our plethora of local flavor as a draw to the plate of adventure seekers.
“. . . We hope to see Race Street Brew Works join Visit Clearfield County as a tourism partner, and then we can work together to promote this addition to our culinary tourism attractions.”