Beer: He puts heart, sweat and soul into opening Voodoo Brewery




MEADVILLE -- There were times in the past year when Voodoo Brewery's Matt Allyn felt as if someone had a voodoo doll of him and was sticking pins into it.

The 35-year-old brewer -- formerly of Titusville, Crawford County's Four Sons Brewery & Restaurant that he helped start and that closed last year -- decided to open his own brewery and, eventually, brewpub/restaurant. He and his friend, Four Sons chef Jeremy Potocki, and Mr. Allyn's investors settled on a big former cabinetry store and funeral home building on Arch Street in downtown Meadville.

They started by building, in former stable space, a brewhouse, using brew equipment that had been in Singapore, then Australia, then Hawaii, before going to Sebago Brewing Co. in Portland, Maine, which later also expanded and needed a bigger setup.

   
A whole lot of pouring going on

Voodoo Brewery will be part of Saturday's Steel City Big Pour, but owner and head brewer Matt Allyn is going to be pouring at another festival: The Brewfest at North Country Brewing Co. in Slippery Rock, Butler County. For $15, attendees can sample Voodoo, North Country and seven other breweries and a winery in one of two sessions: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.

For tickets and details, call 724-794-BEER or www.northcountrybrewing.com.

   

"We're hoping that karma stays with it," Mr. Allyn jokes. "Or hopefully it's not pooped out."

But putting in a big boiler to heat the place this winter slowed them down for several months. Mr. Allyn got the brewing license in June but then got held up for months in getting federal label approval. He could brew beer but not distribute it.

"It's a rock and a hard place," Mr. Allyn said in June. By July, he was nearly swearing with frustration on his Web site.

But he wasn't just sitting on his hands. As a brewing consultant, he'd helped Sprague Farm & Brew Works get going in nearby Venango, Crawford County. And this spring, he helped set up Rivertowne Pour House in Monroeville.

By late August, he'd finally heard back from federal officials and posted, "Now that I have calmed down, we are waiting on the final Okeedokee ... on our labels. They then go to the State with a check to register the names. In the meantime we appreciate your continued patience."

The state gave the OK last week. Now, Voodoo Brewery is starting to bottle -- in 22-ounce bottles -- and sell its brews in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

The brews include Gran Met, a Belgian-style golden strong ale; White Magick of the Sun, an "off-breed wit" style; Voodoo Love Child, a Belgian golden strong ale aged on fruit; Four Seasons IPA, a different India pale ale for each of four seasons; PILZILLA, a big unfiltered pilsner keller bier; and Wynona's Big Brown Ale.

"There are little innuendos in each of them," he says, noting that Wynona's is a "tribute to Primus, the band we grew up with."

Coming are more big brews, including Big Black Voodoo Daddy, an imperial stout, and Black Magick Stout, aged in 13-year-old bourbon barrels.

"I like making true Bohemian-style German beers," says Mr. Allyn. "I never want to feel compelled to make more beer than I can personally touch."

He wears his commitment to craft brewing on his sleeve. And on his left shoulder, where earlier this year he had "Voodoo Brewery" tattooed.

He lives in Corry, where last year he bought a house and married a local girl in a ceremony that involved many brewers, including Aaron Morse, his buddy from Dark Horse Brewing Co. in Marshall, Mich. Mr. Morse already has the Voodoo tattoo, too. Mr. Allyn says they each plan to also get the Dark Horse logo tattoo and, "in between them, 'Brothers in debt forever.'"

Mr. Allyn settled back in his home area after seeing a lot of the world, first with the U.S. Air Force, where the munitions technician rose to sergeant rank.

His first brewing gig was as an apprentice at the late Naisbitt's Brewery in Ogden, Utah, from 1993 to 1995. Then he moved to the late Jackson (Mich.) Brewing Co. for three years, and on to the Copper Canyon Brewery in Southfield, Mich. for about four, consulting on various projects in the meantime. In 2002, he got the chance to come home, as Erie Brewing's brewmaster, a job he held until he started planning and then running Four Seasons.

He talks a mile a minute about all the cool things he wants to do with the brewpub/restaurant part of Voodoo, including consignment art and maybe even a glass-floored deck over Mill Run out behind the brewhouse. Mr. Potocki will be his partner in that venture, for which they may seek investors; they'll continue renovations in earnest this fall and winter. They're already scheming to open other places.

"The goal is to introduce northwestern Pennsylvania to a different concept that no one else is going to do," says Mr. Allyn, who thinks big but nonetheless doesn't want to get too big. "We want to keep it to the soul and to the heart."

For more, visit www.voodoo-brewery.com.


Send beer news and ideas to Bob Batz Jr. at bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930. First Published September 13, 2007 4:00 AM




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