You’ve heard the phrase, “Go big or go home”?
That applies to the Measel family, who this week released the first two beers of their CR Brewing Co. in Neshannock Township near New Castle in Lawrence County.
They’re not playing.
The family, which owns a big construction/development company here, has since the early 1980s gradually transformed a former plating factory from a building supply warehouse to a banquet hall to a restaurant and the township’s first bar and a sort of multi-tenant mall. When the Measels decided to build a brewery and started building last fall, it was a 20,000-square-feet addition in back.
And because of their expertise and interests, it’s new, but not new: They incorporated into open design turn-of-the-century, hand-riveted trusses from an Elks lodge in New Castle they’d torn down, supported by massive steel beams they had made. They also used other old elements from that grand old building, including the massive stone columns that grace the new entrance for the brewery, and other odds and ends. It’s an impressive space, in terms of its size and its bones and its feel.
“I get people who travel an hour for my food. I think I can expand that with the brewery,” says general manager Greg Measel, who runs the place with his sister, Kristin, whose husband, Bryan McDowell is the head brewer.
The longtime homebrewer got some training at the University of California at Davis when he lived out there. Now his 3-barrel system is here, but he’s working on a big 10-barrel system, with four 20-barrel fermenters, and that’s more beer than they can sell here, as big as their space is.
“I want to sell beer up the Eastern seaboard,” says the patriarch, Gale Measel, who, like his father, father-in-law and grandfather is a union carpenter. The family’s hand tools form part of the complex’s industrial decor, which includes a 10-ton crane that still works. The work ethic of the family and of New Castle informs what they’re all trying to do in this next phase, too.
Son Geoff, who is point man for the construction business, also has been helping out with the brewing, which Mr. McDowell has been doing around his good day job in Cleveland as information security officer for University Hospitals Health Systems Inc. This past Saturday, the family affair included him showing his son, Cayden, and his nieces and nephews the brewing ropes in the brewhouse, which the family put in the basement, but purposefully left open to the upstairs seating/banquet area. There, his mother-in-law, Valerie Measel, was preparing for a big 50th birthday.
Gale Measel, having studied brewpubs around the country, says customers “should be part of the brewery. You want to hear the banging, the clanging and the cussing.”
There was none of that last bit this past Saturday, where, while overseeing the steamy brewing of the next two beers, an American wheat and a chocolate stout, Mr. McDowell had his very first tastes from the bright tanks of his first beers: a kolsch and a double India pale ale.
“That’s pretty good,” he said, after a sip of the former. He was right.
He’s also planning an IPA and a stout as part of a core lineup, which they started serving to customers in their “Brew Crew” club on Monday and will continue to roll out. What he’s going for, he says, “I think it’s classic. It’s blue collar. It’s what you’d expect in Western Pennsylvania.”
He already has kolsch aging in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels down in the brewhouse, where a 1940 shuffleboard table awaits being transformed into a “Brewer’s Table” where some 20 people could gather for a special event next to the gleaming stainless steel tanks.
They’ve already been doing great business with craft beers in their bar, so the brewery was the next step, Greg Measel says. His brother, Geoff, is the one who started, nine years ago, the Super Brew beer festival they do the weekend before the Super Bowl and that so far has raised more than $400,000 for the American Cancer Society.
That event could be the big “coming out” for CR Brewing. They look to start distributing kegs before they go into packaging. In the meantime, the brewery will synch with the banquet business, including the fact that wedding parties can brew a beer for their receptions. And the Measels already know the beer fans will be coming — from Pittsburgh and Cleveland and beyond, where there’s already been a ton of interest. As Geoff Measel puts it, “We’re driving them nuts.”
CR Brewing Co. and the Crane Room Grille and the New Englander Banquet Center are about a 60-mile drive from Downtown just off Interstate 376 in Lawrence County at 3009 Wilmington Road, New Castle, PA, 16105. For information, visit craneroom.com and craneroombrewing.com or call (724) 656-1553.
You usually can't visit the garage that is 412 Brewery in McKees Rocks, but from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, you can, to sip a draft with some food and buy growlers and bottles, including its Christmas beer, "Yinzer Bread." It's at 706 Island Ave., McKees Rocks, PA 15136.
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.