AlliedNews.com - Grove City, Pennsylvania

Local News

June 29, 2012

Successful suds

North Country Brewing plans to expand

SLIPPERY ROCK — When Bob and Jodi McCafferty opened North Country Brewing Co. in 2005 in Slippery Rock, they never imagined they'd need to expand operations to a warehouse to meet customer demand for locally made beer.

"Everything seems to really be falling into place," McCafferty said as he took in the crowd one evening from the restaurant's outdoor seating area.

Those customers looking for more even include other restaurants and bars that want to serve North Country's popular brews, which will also be available to buy as a six-pack of bottles come late summer or early fall.

"We love you. Keep coming back," Mrs. McCafferty said when asked what she wanted customers to know most about the rustic restaurant and brewery in the heart of the college town at 141 S. Main St.

McCafferty grew up in Butler, helping his brothers with their father's rental store, Kenmac Rentals, which is now run by his brother Bryan. He loved that "small-town feel" of knowing the other shop owners, and Slippery Rock offers that same atmosphere.

"It's kind of in your blood after working for your Dad," said McCafferty, whose family includes three stepchildren; he and his wife have been married 17 years and live on a farm in Stoneboro.

He worked as a bartender in college, earned a degree in environmental geoscience from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and became interested in the science behind brewing beer.

"Eighty percent of brewing beer is cleaning," he said, adding North Country has several experienced brewers running the tanks at the restaurant.

McCafferty also worked as an archeologist on the East Coast and throughout the mid-Atlantic before he and his wife in 1998 bought the building that's now North Country, a unique watering hole that features hand-carved woodwork, much of it from local trees.

"It was really falling down," he said of the building's condition in 1998; it was believed to have been built around 1805.

They spent seven years renovating the structure, which was once a funeral home and furniture store, and salvaged as much of the original building as possible.

It wasn't long before business was booming and the McCaffertys bought three, neighboring empty buildings and a vacant lot with plans to expand their brewing operations, the centerpiece of North Country; state liquor laws at that time prohibited off-site brewing.

"We ran out of tank space here," he said, adding that customer seating was also expanded along with his workforce, which now includes 72 employees - "the best staff ever."

While expansion plans were in the early stages, North Country also added a compost garden, where worms eat food waste. The spent grains from the brewing process go to his cattle, which turn out the restaurant's burgers and steaks.

"The environmental concept of the place is just one big circle," McCafferty said, calling it a "forkprint" instead of a "footprint."

Plans changed again when the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board decided this past fall places like North Country can brew off-site, and the McCaffertys happened upon a warehouse about a minute away off New Castle Road in Slippery Rock Township.

They now lease a 9,300-square-foot space and still have to set up the tanks and other equipment they bought from an Iowa brewery that went out of business.

The current system can put out 14½ kegs; the new one will be able to produce 120½ kegs at one time, almost 10 times more.

This new venture is costing them $950,000, but the McCaffertys have faith in their loyal customer base to help keep the beer flowing.

"I'm so excited everybody chooses us to go out," he said, adding they always have 12 different beers on draft and the menu changes throughout the year to include 76 types of brews.

Once the expansion is complete, North Country will continue brewing the four top-sellers of each season at the restaurant, where customers will be able to take home a six-pack or 5-gallon keg; the Growler, a 64-ounce mug, is the only carry-out offered now.

The three vacant buildings and empty lot might be part of another expansion to offer more room for conferences, parties and large groups.

And that's not enough for the McCaffertys, who also volunteer with various community groups. McCafferty invented "Polish the Rock," a regular event that calls for people to clean up the town.

"There are great volunteers in this town," he said. "The borough is full of good people right now."

At the next table over, Slippery Rock University professors and regular North County customers Rhonda Clark and Katie Cooklin gushed about the restaurant as they enjoyed some beer and dinner.

"The farm-to-fork is just amazing," Clark said.

McCafferty, who was also enjoying a cold beer on the humid patio, hesitated in naming his favorite brew when asked for a recommendation.

"I'm a horrible critic because I like them all," he said, raising his glass for a toast.

North Country Brewing Co. is at 141 S. Main St., Slippery Rock.

For more information, call them at 724-794-BEER or visit the website at www.northcountrybrewing.com

Published June 27, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.

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