The Happy Valley Brewing Company is a local brewery located in State College that serves fine crafts and comfort foods. I had an amazing experience visiting the Brewery. I learned that it is a great place to visit with friends and family and enjoy some quality time.
As I walked into the brewery, I immediately knew I was in for a treat. I smelled the aroma of fine comfort foods and homemade local crafts made in the brewery. It was dinner time and my stomach was turning. If people have this sense of hunger like me and are looking for a treat, I would send them over to The Happy Valley Brewing Company. Located in State College, this place is a staple for the locals and should be a go-to for tourists visiting Centre County.
After I walked in, the head brewer, Josh, welcomed me to the facility. He gave insights into the background of the brewery. The Happy Valley Brewing Company was once a barn that was converted into a brewery and restaurant that now serves comfort foods and fine crafts. However, local residents of Centre County couldn’t enjoy this venue when COVID-19 came in. Josh explained to me that in the middle of this past March, the brewery closed its business up until late September. The pandemic completely destroyed the momentum and operations that The Happy Valley Brewing Company once had. As soon as the facility reopened, the management had to completely change their business model, focusing on customer safety and satisfaction. I was lucky enough to be one of the first few people to visit the restaurant again.
After we discussed the challenges that the business has been facing, Josh led me into the brewery part of the restaurant, As soon as I walked in, I had no idea what I was looking at. I saw many tanks with pipelines running through the walls and machines. I never learned how beer was made before this, I was so interested in the process. I wanted to learn more about the production of their popular crafts. Josh gave me a rundown and showed me each step of the process. He first walked me over to the Mash/Lunder Tun. The first step is to add grain, barley, and water. With these ingredients, you have to combine them together to form a mash. In the mash, starches turn to sugars. After the mash is made, it flows through the ceiling pipes into the Kittle. The mash then boils with water in the kettle. The next step is to add hops to the mixture. The hops are added to keep the beer as fresh and long lasting as possible. After the hops are added, the mixture needs to be chilled down and sent into the fermenters. When the liquid makes its way into the fermenters, yeast is added to the mixture to form alcohol and remove all of the sugars. This process makes up to 15 kegs of beer. The way that the brewery creates their different crafts is to have multiple simulations of the same exact process, but with different flavors.
Josh and I then discussed what their most popular craft is. He would recommend anyone to try their Barnstormer IPA. It is a standard IPA from the west coast. This craft is dry with a subtle malt character which lets the hops do their thing. The flavors in this IPA are super consistent and delicious. Before the pandemic, the brewery would serve about one hundred of these IPA’s per night. However, Josh explained now that it’s hard to get a count because not many people are visiting their restaurant as much as people used to.
After we discussed how the brewery functions, I wanted to learn more about Josh and how he got into the brewing industry. Josh was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. After Josh turned 21, he attended a beer festival in his home state. At the beer festival, The Happy Valley Brewing Company had its own stand. After talking to the owner, they both hit it off and the owner wanted Josh to come in and volunteer at the brewery. It sounded great to Josh, who was and still is a lover of beer. He couldn’t imagine a better picture than tasting all kinds of beer and having it for free. As Josh was spending more time in the brewery, he eventually fell in love with it and State College. His passion led him and his wife to move from Michigan to State College. However, it was hard for Josh to leave Michigan because he worked for another brewer at the time. He was in charge of eleven employees, and it was difficult to manage all of them. He missed out on a lot of opportunities to make money, but he fell in love with the lifestyle in Central PA. Josh would rather love what he is doing, than making more money. I couldn’t agree with him more.
I was then shocked when I learned how much experience is needed nowadays to get into the brewing industry. Josh was lucky enough to get into the industry about a decade ago when not too much experience was needed. Now, brewers are recommended to go to college and earn degrees in brewing and fermentation. I was amazed to learn that colleges offer these types of degrees. Josh cannot stress enough about how much education is needed to get into the industry. The brewing world today has never been more competitive with over 11,000 breweries in the U.S compared to a total of about 1100 breweries in the U.S when Josh first started. Anyone can be a brewer, but brewers need to learn how to separate themselves in such a competitive environment.
Josh then explained to me what a day in his life is like being the head brewer at the Happy Valley Brewing Company. He wakes up at the crack of dawn, drinks coffee, and gets straight to work. Originally, I thought his job was just crafting different beers and tasting them, but I was completely wrong. I was shocked to learn about how much maintenance Josh has to do to keep the Brewery running smoothly. There is so much cleaning and production that goes into his operations. Josh compares running a brewery to owning a farm. At a farm, you have to maintain the farmland, feed the crops, and keep growing the crops. At the brewery, Josh needs to clean the pipes, fill the tanks, and pour the beer into kegs, bottles, and cans.
Josh has had a lot of experience throughout his years in his industry. However, his most memorable experience was when he attended the Great American Beer Festival in 2009 with the old brewery that he worked for. It was the biggest competition in the United States, at the time, with over 1900 beers. It was a very competitive environment, but despite the challenge, Josh and his team won the gold medal for the barrel aged strong beer category. Josh and his team were ecstatic to find out that they won the competition. It really goes to show how much love Josh has put into this industry.
Although Josh has so much love for what he does, if he had to criticize one thing, he would point out how terrible it is for people, who have no experience, to come into his brewery, taste his beers, and complain about it on the internet. The world that we live in is saturated with social media. People can come into any brewery and complain about it over the internet. “Oh this beer is too hazy” or, “This beer needs more haze with more of a sweet taste”. It’s insane how much power consumers have over the internet. Consumers have so much opportunity to find out what breweries are the best, which can be good and bad at the same time. It’s good because it promotes the spread of breweries and tasting. Josh believes that social media is the reason for the spike in breweries in the U.S. However, it is bad because consumers are so judgemental and critical. They have such a quickness to judge. Josh goes by the model, if you don’t like it, don’t buy it.
After discussing with Josh about his job and his passion for what he does, we eventually sat down in the dining room and tasted some of the Brewing Company’s most popular dishes. Unfortunately, due to COVID, I was not able to go behind the scenes into the kitchen. There are a lot of safety precautions, like I said before, that the brewery takes in order to keep their customers safe. I appreciate how much they take care of their customers.
Anyways, the waitress then brought out their popular short rib nachos. From the moment I smelled this dish, I knew I would love it. I smelled the aroma of the different kinds of cheeses and the short rib. I’m not a big fan of meat with nachos, but after tasting these nachos it changed my mind. As soon as I bit into the nacho, my taste buds were going crazy with the crunchiness of the chip, with the creaminess cheese, and the sweetness from the short rib. All of these flavors come together to create such a spectacular taste.
After I tasted their nachos, I tasted their popular “Pork ‘n Buns “. This dish leans more towards an Asian taste, which I can’t say I was a fan of before trying this dish. For my whole life, I’ve never enjoyed Asian food. However, as soon as I bit into the sandwich, my thoughts changed immediately. I tasted the fluffiness of their steamed buns, with the sweetness of the barbeque sauce and pork, with the saltiness of their homemade pickles. It was a taste experience that I have never had before.
With all being said, the Happy Valley Brewing Company is such a great place for friends and family to come and have a good time. The place is filled with a warming environment with great people. It is guaranteed that visitors will feel safe in this day and age and enjoy themselves.
Written by Jake Bogan
Edited by Lexie Hosterman