By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
SLIPPERY ROCK —
Slippery Rock's own North Country Brewing Co. has been canning its beer for just a month and the product is already flying off the shelves of local distributors and flowing from the taps of area bars and restaurants.
"Thankfully we have a demand," said Bob McCafferty, who owns the business with his wife Jodi.
Not long after they opened their pub and restaurant in 2005 in downtown Slippery Rock at 141 S. Main St., where they've been making and serving their own beers on a small scale, McCafferty made it a goal to someday expand the brewery operation.
"We've all been amazed so far," he said of finally getting his product canned.
They lease warehouse space in Slippery Rock Township off New Castle Road, about a mile from the restaurant, and the smell of beer being brewed is evident before even setting foot into the canning facility.
"In this building we use sight, sound and smell," McCafferty said of how the brewing process is monitored.
The shiny tanks line one entire wall while pallets upon pallets of beer cans line another, the canning line itself in between.
"It's all spoken for," he said, noting all of the packaged beer - cans and kegs - in the warehouse has already been claimed by various beer distributors in Butler, Mercer, Lawrence, Allegheny and Crawford counties and beyond. It's also served at numerous restaurants and bars.
There are still some kinks being worked out, which is to be expected since he bought a lot of the equipment secondhand - some of it came from an Iowa brewery that went out of business and other parts that came from Quebec needed rebuilt.
But that hasn't taken away from the steps forward McCafferty and his employees are taking each day, starting with the first batch canned - Station 33 Firehouse Red; part of the proceeds sold from that brew go to the Slippery Rock Volunteer Fire Co.
"It was great," he said of watching the first cans come down the line; a typical canning day turns out about 800 cases of beer.
And he decided to go with cans because beer lasts longer compared to glass bottles, which let light in. Also, cans are "paw friendly," a phrase marked on the side of each cardboard package, meaning they won't break if dropped like glass bottles and potentially injure your pet.
That's especially important for the brewery's resident pet, Brownie.
"He's our warehouse therapist," McCafferty said of the dog.
A lot of thought went into the overall packaging during "beer theory sessions" - the artwork on the cans, the minimal amount of cardboard used to contain the six-packs and the plastic toppers used to connect the cans, which are made from recycled plastic and are recyclable.
And the recycling doesn't stop there. The spent grains from the brewing process are fed to the cattle on the McCaffertys' Stoneboro farm, and those animals eventually find their way onto customers' plates at the restaurant.
North Country also cooks with the beer, the selection of which changes with the season.
"The demand's been unbelievable," said Ken Vecenie, owner of Vecenie Distributing Co., Millville, Pa. "As long as Bob keeps filling our trucks up we're gonna be happy."
Vecenie had stopped by the warehouse to pick up a large order of cans and kegs, saying he's been in the craft beer business for 25 years and really enjoys working with small breweries like North Country.
Up next for McCafferty is yet another business venture. He recently bought the Harmony Inn and is in the process of remodeling it with plans to re-open the German-themed restaurant and pub in early 2014.
He's always thankful to have the support of his wife, staff and loyal customer base to back him up, no matter what idea he comes up with next. "The customers are the heartbeat of everything," he said.
For more information about North Country Brewing Co. or where to find their products, call 724-794-BEER or visit www.northcountrybrewing.com
Published Dec. 31, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.