When you ask most brewers how they got their start, typically, they respond by saying, “Well, we like beer, so we decided to make it ourselves.” Reclamation Brewing Company is no different. Ben Smith, John Smith, and Ben Duncan (referred to as ‘Duncan’ throughout the rest of the feature…and whenever you see him out and about or behind the brew kettle) opened Reclamation Brewing Company on Main Street in Butler on September 15, 2015, but they’ve been brewing for a while.
Before Reclamation was even a thought, Ben’s mission was to like beer. He’s what you may call a unicorn these days because nary a drop of alcohol was consumed until his 21st birthday. His brother took him out and bought him his first beer. It is with deep sadness that I inform you it was a Miller Lite.
His first thought: “There’s gotta be something better.” Thankfully, there is.
Fast forward to the home brewing phase. They made beer for Ben’s wedding and after some great feedback, the trio decided to open their own brewery. Or rather, Ben said they were doing it and filed the paperwork.
The boys from Butler were inspired to reclaim the dignity of the beer experience during a trip to Ireland. They marveled that people actually wanted to go out to a bar and talk to their friends instead of being sucked into whatever sporting event happens to be on at the time. They also marveled at the popularity of Bud and Carlsberg.
What really stood out, though, is the community at the local pubs. People would talk together and enjoy the entire experience. They would bring instruments and everyone would sing. And not Irish folk songs like you’d expect, but American pop songs. Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, and Journey were also popular, according to the guys.
That’s what they decided their brewery should feel like, too. When you walk in, it’s comfortable and homey. There are no TVs, just like the local pubs they discovered in Ireland. Instead, they want you to savor your experience at Reclamation. You can sit for hours and enjoy food from their full menu, games, trivia, and, of course, beer.
“I look a lot to English beers: porters, stouts, darker beers. Most of what we do are all English based,” Duncan says.
That’s not all. “I did a lot of different study and research. I like to go to old styles that people aren’t doing as much anymore.” For example, there’s a Sahti pouring in the brewery’s taproom right now.
Since I’m sure you’re wondering, Sahti is a Finnish farmhouse style. In the wee years of brewing, hops weren’t added. Instead, you’d run the mash through juniper bows and berries. Duncan’s version isn’t hopped; the rye, barley, yeast, and juniper flavors shine through.
If you couldn’t tell, Duncan experiments quite a bit. Case in point: the honey chicken beer. Everyone has a go-to Chinese order and for Duncan, it’s Honey Chicken at his particular restaurant of choice. It has a sauce made with honey and milk. So, why not try to capture that in a beer? He uses lactose and orange blossom honey to make Promised Land Ale.
When he isn’t reviving old styles or turning Chinese food into beer, Duncan takes classic cocktail recipes and turns them into beer form.
“It’s something that’s worked to varying degrees,” he admits. He pretty much brews the beers he wants to drink.
Up next: imperial beers. Look for an imperial stout that’s fermenting with brettanomyces on blackberries and raspberries. And also an imperial IPA fermenting with brettanomyces in oak barrels with apricot. There may be a small bottle release, but your best bet is to visit the brewery to get your hands on these.
In the meantime, look for Curtain Call, a Belgian IPA brewed specially for Penn Theater. You’re able to enjoy it mid-May and donations will go to Penn Theater. And, if you’re feeling politically motivated, Ben Smith is running for mayor of Butler. Perhaps you can chat about issues over a beer. Or, at the very least, support his cause.
There’s quite a bit of old-world spirit at Reclamation Brewing Company from the beer to how they approach the atmosphere and culture they’ve created. It’s worth the trip to try some interesting beer styles. If that doesn’t pique your interest, kudos to you for reading this far and keep an eye out for a big announcement later this year. Of course, follow Reclamation on Facebook and Twitter to be the first to hear of the news.