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Category Archives: Butler County

A trip to the North Country

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It’s hard to think of Bob McCafferty running an empire of any kind — he smiles and laughs too easily.

But Bob and Jodi McCafferty are more than a decade into North Country Brewing, a craft beer business that started as a brewpub in an old Slippery Rock mortuary. It now includes a production brewery that distributes to three states and a second brewpub at the site of what was Butler County’s first craft beer bar.

The canning operation began a few years ago, when it became apparent that there was a market for the brewery’s well-established staples: Buck Snort Stout, Slimy Pebble Pils or Station 33 Firehouse Red, for example. That’s proved to be a smart move. Sales in Pennsylvania have been solid enough that North Country also started sending beer to Florida, where Western Pennsylvania expats and snowbirds have made it popular. And the brewery recently expanded its distribution area to include eastern Ohio.

The most recent change didn’t come from the business plan. When the Harmony Inn began serving better beer in the mid-1980s, it didn’t take long for the McCaffertys to become regulars. And when they needed money — and time — so they could begin renovations of the Slippery Rock property that would become the original North Country, they both took jobs at the Inn.

So when that business was teetering on the brink a few years ago, the McCaffertys stepped in; they bought the building in 2013, remodeled it inside and out and opened it again a year later. It has the similar feel to the version of the Inn Bob McCafferty loved 30 years ago, and the North Country updates — including Big Rail Brewing, a nano brewery in the basement serving both as an incubator and as a provider of house beers — don’t disrupt that vibe. It’s a restoration that feels like it could hang on for another century.

If Mr. McCafferty is an emperor, he’s a benevolent one. And his empire is doing all of us some good.

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Reclaiming craft beer in Butler

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Mike and John Smith taste three Reclamation beers at the brewery’s pub in Butler.

Butler has always had bars, even some good ones.

But there is something different about a brew pub; it can inspire community and loyalty, and the beers themselves can become friends along with the regulars sitting next to you.

John Smith, his son Ben and their friend Ben Duncan built Reclamation Brewing on Main Street in Butler with Irish pubs in mind; not just in a physical sense — although the 125-year-old planks in the floor and the re-purposed tin ceiling tiles on the face of the bar contribute to a definite Irish feel in the space, which had been a gift shop. In the best pubs they found in Ireland — the ones that dotted the countryside towns, not the ones built for tourists in Dublin — were the community.

And that’s what they wanted for Reclamation. It’s right there on the brewery’s site:

The pub has always been and always will be a place for the community to gather, make connections, share ideas and perspectives, discuss the world, and have a great time together.

John and the Bens began brewing together years ago, as an easier alternative to the wine making they had dabbled with before. Some experimentation led to a few recipes that became regulars — a roasty milk stout, a slightly sweet pale ale and — of course — a dry Irish stout.

They’re all still regulars — Spurgeon’s, Promised Land and Egan’s, respectively — in Butler’s first brewpub, but they have regular company on the menu ranging from standards — Butler Brown, Everyman’s Red and a Belgian Wit called Wittenburg — to hot ginger pales and hefty limited-release barleywines and wee heavies.

That’s enough variety to keep regulars happy … and keep them coming back for more.

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