By Day Bracey
Pittsburgh Current Craft Beer Writer
May 18, 5 p.m.: I’m back at Indiana University of PA, a place where I managed to spend thousands of dollars and hours without obtaining a degree, to meet up with some old friends. It’s weird being back. The campus is mostly new. The town is mostly the same. I’m not sure if I paid that last noise violation, so there’s a possibility I have a warrant out for my arrest.
One thing that has changed about the town is the addition of a few breweries. There’s a slight possibility they’ve always been here and I was just too broke to drink at any? I walk into Noble Stein, and I’m not met with the familiar scent of yeast and beards, but rather popcorn! They offer free, fresh-popped popcorn! By far the best smelling brewery I’ve ever been to. I sit with head brewer, Zack Morrow, to imbibe and discuss how this place came to be.
Me: So, how’d you get into brewing?
ZM: I started home brewing when I was in college here at IUP. My wife bought me my first homebrew kit.
Me: That seems to be a common theme in brewing, wives helping to cultivate their husband’s passion. Does your wife drink beer?
ZM: Oh, yeah. She does.
Me: So, did she get you the kit because she thought you’d be interested or was it because she wanted cheap beer?
ZM: I’m going to say a little bit of both. We brewed a bunch of batches in college. I had about six or seven friends over the first time. We got a couple of cases of beer and hung out for the night. That was really the root of the notion that beer brings people together, not only to discuss beer, but anything. That’s what got me hooked, the networking. The fact that our first batch turned out to be drinkable was probably key.
Me: What was your first batch?
ZM: Some made-up kit called a Canadian Ale. It was basically Molson with ale yeast.
Me: That’s impressive on your first try. I had a friend who made a batch and it was 90% head.
ZM: That’s like a bag of Lays.
Me: You had to wait a half hour for it to settle, so you could get a shot of beer.
ZM: One of my first few, I thought I’d get cute with it. It was a Belgian witbier, that I added honey too. At the time I wasn’t experienced enough and hadn’t thought about the bottling process. So, I added the honey to this beer, the bottling sugars, and I bottled it. 3 a.m. comes around and I hear glass breaking. I was pretty sure someone was breaking into my bedroom. When I opened my closet, there were bottles exploded all over my clothes. That was a little discouraging, but I plowed forward.
Me: I was impressed with the range you have on tap.
ZM: I take a lot of pride in having a diverse selection here. Before this, I was working in investment management. So, I look at our taps as a diverse portfolio of beers. I simplify it in a sense and categorize them as yeast forward, hop forward, malt forward, or adjunct forward.
Me: What’s it like opening a brewery in a college town, where the population density is pretty light, and most of the students can’t afford your product? How do you get people who drink Budweiser to drink IPAs?
ZM: This location is near and dear because we grew up and went to college here. We felt this area was underserved. What I love most about the area is that it’s a close-knit community. I’m grateful for the home brew club IPA, Indiana, PA AleSmiths. Having that club lead to the Indiana, PA Oktberfest. Home brewers put their beers on tap, and that’s where we ended up showcasing ours before we opened up. So, there was this concept in the community that people were doing this thing here, and we want to get out and support. So, it wasn’t so much the liquid, which helps, but I think Indiana wants to support local businesses period.
Me: Why Noble Stein?
ZM: Our name is communicating a couple of ideas with the two words. First, we have a product here that we are proud of and has a lot of integrity. It’s also a German hop family. We also were thinking about what we wanted to do. Not only did we want to brew defined, traditional styles of beer, we wanted to improve upon that.
June 9, 7:50 p.m.: Just wrapped up a whole share with Pittsburgh Craft Beer society. I’ve got a story to tell…