What do a salesman, a teacher, and a banker have in common? Go on, I’ll wait. I have this delicious beer from Levity Brewing Co. to keep me company. Damnit, I gave it away.
Levity Brewing Co. is the passion project of Erich Walls, Jared Herman, and Luke McKelvy. I say passion because that’s clearly what they have for their culture, their community, and, of course, their beer. So how did they land on this shared dream of opening a brewery? I’m so glad you asked.
Luke saw a need to add to the culture of Indiana. Historically, the drinking culture there was always bad. In typical college-town style, it was all about getting maximum drunk for minimum money. But when you walk into a brewery, he noticed, there’s an alternative storyline happening. People really take time to appreciate what’s in their glass. Craft beer culture is fun and lighthearted – it’s Levity after all. He felt it was time for Indiana to have a place like that.
The good folks of Indiana, PA felt that way, too.
“The community really embraced us,” Jared said. “People know what we’re all about. There are a lot of professionals, a lot of professors who come in to get away from downtown.”
Trust me, there’s nothing more awkward than seeing your professor at the bar, except maybe when his TA hits on you repeatedly. But that’s a story for another day. Suffice to say, there’s a good crowd at Levity who are there because they support the mission of the brewery.
There’s clearly a mutual appreciation between the town and the brewery. They created a gathering space for the community to drink and discuss, which is apparent right down to the details that are more than just beer. Family members built tables (which may or may not include a self portrait of said builder) and created kick-ass chalk art capturing the founding trio walking us through the brewing process. Local artists’ works grace the walls and musicians are invited to play in their tap room.
The night I was there, they were hosting a benefit concert for a 25-year-old Syrian student studying for his masters degree in the Indiana University of Pennsylvania department of music. He needed to raise funds to pay for his final semester’s tuition plus basic living expenses so his student visa wouldn’t be revoked. The town was so eager to attend the benefit and contribute, they were lined up waiting for the doors to open at 6pm.
While the passion to bring a great environment and product to the people was always the driving force behind Levity, the beer can’t be discounted. You enjoy Levity’s fantastic beer thanks to homebrewing. Luke wanted more of the good stuff. He figured if he just made his own beer, he would save money because he wouldn’t have to buy it. Later, he realized just how wrong he was. There was a happy side effect, though: homebrewing instilled a love for the science and creativity that go into making beer.
Similar to Luke, Jared liked good beer. His brother-in-law got a kit and they started homebrewing, too. Beginner’s luck was on his side, Jared said, because the first batch was awesome, but, and I’m using his words here, it “sucked for a while.” Thankfully, he didn’t throw in the towel. Now he’s experimenting with sours, a process many breweries avoid because they don’t want to risk something going awry and the whole operation being taken over by lactobacillus.
Many breweries are turning to kettle souring to create their sour styles. Kettle souring leaves you with a sharp, tart note, not the complexity of traditional Belgian wild or sour ales because of the controlled environment and use of lactobacillus instead of open vats and whatever is floating around the Belgian countryside.
In a very small (we’re talking macadamia) nutshell: to kettle sour, you need to hold the wort between 112-120 degrees and maintain an anaerobic environment (that means flush the kettle with carbon dioxide to eliminate oxygen) while you check every 12 hours for your desired pH level. Then sanitize everything meticulously so you don’t infect your other beer.
There’s a lot of science that goes into producing beer. No wonder Luke was drawn to it (and Erich started his own brewery so he didn’t have to start on the ground floor cleaning out kettles for someone else).
Speaking of Erich and Luke… they seriously started thinking about opening a brewery while they were picking up wine grapes a few years ago. A lot has changed since 2012. Recipes were created and followed, tables were built, chalk art was…chalk-arted.
And a lot has changed since January 2016, when Levity Brewing Co. officially opened their doors. Basically from the second they were cleared, they were filling growlers (they only thing they were permitted to do at the time). It was a freezing night, but there was a line out the door. You don’t draw crowds like that without community support. Good beer helps, too. When March came in like a lion, so did their grand opening; April brought a full food menu to Levity…much more appreciated by Levity’s taproom audience than the traditional springtime rain showers.
To thank the community that rallied around them so graciously, they’re throwing an anniversary party on January 21, 2017. There will be live music by Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing and the release of a barrel-aged beer. If you can’t make it to Indiana for their anniversary, it’s well worth the trip to experience the alternative culture that Levity Brewing Co. has created for their town. And stay on the lookout for Levity tap handles at your favorite craft beer destinations across Pittsburgh as they’ll be ramping up their distribution in the brand new year.