Stoney Age: 100 and still brewing

Makers of Stoney's beer celebrate centennial in Smithton

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The makers of Stoney's beer celebrated their centennial yesterday at the old brewery in Smithton, Westmoreland County, with an afternoon of memorabilia, food and, of course, beer.

The memories -- in the form of collectible cans, calendars and other "breweriana" -- were still sweet. And no one complained about the familiar taste of the beer.

And yet there was still a hint of bitterness. Not in the beer, mind you, but among some of the people who stopped in to the celebration in the former brewery's parking lot on Second Street, along the Youghiogheny River.

"No, I don't drink it any more. Not since they brew it in Pittsburgh now, I quit," said Dave Davis, 68, of Smithton. "It ticked me off the way they closed it up. They're not making it here, I'm not drinking it. I think there's a few people like that with me."

Stoney's was founded in 1907 by William B. "Stoney" Jones, a Welsh immigrant who started his own brewery on the bank of the Youghiogheny River. He gave his beverages names such as "Eureka" and "Gold Crown," but the locals just called it "Stoney's" and the name stuck.

For decades -- even through the lean years of Prohibition -- the brewery was owned and operated by the Jones family, which included first cousin actress/singer Shirley Jones.

In 1988, local residents Gabriel and Sandra Podlucky purchased the brewery and tried to make a go of it in an era when America's small breweries were being run out of business by the national brands.

It's been a struggle, and in 2002, the Podluckys closed the Smithton brewery. But they kept the Stoney's brand name alive by making arrangements to have the beer produced -- with the original recipe of no additives, no preservatives -- by the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. in Lawrenceville and another brewer in Wilkes-Barre.

"You have to do the best you can with what you have, and that's what we've done," said Mrs. Podlucky, whose husband died in 2006. "We just couldn't keep it going the way we were, so we had to do what we had to do."

The company kept its corporate offices, sales force and gift shop operating at the old brewery. But jobs were lost and pensions were cut, moves that didn't go down well in Smithton.

"I used to drink it all the time, till they moved out of town," said Jim Adams, 45, a mechanic who still visited the celebration with his wife, Margaret, and their 16-year-old son, Colton. "It's not the same as when the Joneses had it. The Joneses would have kept this brewery, and it would still be booming in this town."

"We find that," Mrs. Podlucky acknowledged while offering visitors free samples of Stoney's Light. "But our product is so good, so clean ... that I think that if they quit buying Stoney's, sooner or later they're going to come back. The people who drink Stoney's are faithful drinkers.

"We're keeping our production local. People feel that allegiance to Western Pennsylvania. We're still one of Pennsylvania's breweries."

She said the sales numbers for Stoney's beer keep growing, and everyone involved in yesterday's celebration expressed happiness with the event and the turnout of more than 100.

Fifty exhibitors spread their collectible beer paraphernalia out on tables to show, trade or sell -- everything from old cone-top cans of Duquesne beer to mint-condition placards promoting Fort Pitt. "That's it!"

There were bottle caps, coasters, tap knobs and neon bar lights. A 1910 lithograph calendar for Aberdeen beer out of the state of Washington was sold to collector Debra Hamilla of Franklin for $850.

"This isn't all about beer," she said. "It's about history and art."

Collector Bud Hundenski, of Moon, who helped organize the event, said he sympathized with the local residents who still have hard feelings about the closing of the brewery. But he said he hoped they would be realistic.

"Anheuser-Busch bought [Rolling Rock in Latrobe] and shut down the brewing," he said. "Even though Stoney's no longer brews at the plant in Smithton, they contracted out to Pittsburgh Brewing Co., so at least we're keeping our local people working. That's why we patronize our local breweries.

"Beer is like milk, the fresher the better. And you can't get any fresher than what we brew in our own back yards. That's the cold, hard facts."


Dan Majors, whose aunt was Miss Olde Frothingslosh, can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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