Two of Pennsylvania’s fastest-growing industries are quickly becoming a significant part of manufacturing growth at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, and it all began with a halfhearted joke. But the lines of these manufacturers carry a bit more punch that the typical rib-tickler.
Over the next several months, HiJinx Brewing Company and County Seat Spirits will join The Colony Meadery in producing craft beer, distilled spirits and mead at the business incubator., where the Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) team is refining their expertise at helping new tenants work their way through the myriad of state liquor laws and permitting processes.
“We were talking to a previous prospective client in the industry looking to move into the incubator around the same time that we were talking to the guys from HiJinx; we started joking that it would be something if we filled the place with alcohol-related businesses,” said AEDC Program Manager Anthony Durante.
“But we are developing that expertise in understanding the processes related to alcohol-related businesses and as we work with more potential clients, we can build on that expertise and lower some of the hurdles they face,” he added.
HiJinx Brewing Company, founded in 2012 by brewing buddies Curt Keck and Chris Becker, expects to start fermenting beverages in August and Keck and Becker hope to be producing 750 barrels by the end of their first year. They’ve been working out of Keck’s garage in South Whitehall Township, providing craft beers such as Pinch Penny Ale, an English bitter; Kung Fu Gnome, a Belgian blonde ale brewed with jasmine flowers; and Steal Your Face Stout, a malty Imperial stout.
They have been able to self-distribute their products to local bars that include Jack Callaghan’s Ale House, The Hamilton, Strange Brew Tavern, the Liberty Street Tavern, Grille 3501, Roosevelt’s, Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn and the Spinnerstown Hotel.
The $250,000 expansion will allow them to serve up to 29 counties but will also put them in head-to-head competition with a number of other craft breweries in the state. “We’re in competition for tap space but we aren’t really in competition,” Keck says. “We help each other out.”
There are more than 100 craft breweries in Pennsylvania now, more than double the number that existed in 2001, according to the Brewers of Pennsylvania Association, and there are at least a half-dozen just in the Lehigh Valley. “People are looking for something different but they also want local,” says Keck.
The partners share a rich and long history in the brewing industry. Keck, an Allentown native, previously worked for Weyerbacher in Easton and Old Lehigh in Allentown before venturing out on his own. Becker, who grew up in Northampton, is a veteran homebrewer who met Keck through the Lehigh Valley Homebrewers club. Together they have more than 100 ribbons from home- and craft-brewing competitions.
The Bridgeworks Enterprise Center and AEDC have been invaluable partners as the business has grown, both men say.
“It turns out this is really the best option for us because of the property, itself, and the resources,” says Keck.
Becker says that in addition to the availability of experienced business advisors and other economic development aid, the building’s shared forklift, conference room and assistance with fit-out costs all proved invaluable.
Both say they are looking forward to joining forces with The Colony Meadery and County Seat Spirits to offer a unique experience to visitors.
A 2012 change in Pennsylvania law opened the door for smaller distilleries to operate in the state on a smaller level and since 2005 the number of distilleries has grown from three to more than 20. The AEDC Board of Directors, in June, approved the application for County Seat, owned by Anthony Brichta and John Rowe. County Seat plans to manufacture both aged and un-aged whiskeys, vodka, gin and rum.
“We scouted a variety of locations in Pennsylvania but, in the end, we always knew we would end up at home in the Lehigh Valley,” Brichta said earlier this summer. “Once we found AEDC’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, it became a no-brainer.”
Durante says that alcohol-based manufacturers can be a strong presence at Bridgeworks, “but we are not solely focused on them. They are companies that we can have an immediate impact on, even before they get going.”