10 Questions with Marc Eble and Darren Wolfe of Conyngham Brewing Company
Karen and I recently went to Conyngham, Pennsylvania to revisit one of the best breweries we’ve found on our camping trips, Conyngham Brewing Co. Now before you go crazy trying to figure out how to say it just keep it simple, it is pronounced Cunningham. Owner/Brewmaster Marc Eble and Assistant Brewer Darren Wolfe applied for their license in November 2012 and opened their doors in May of 2013. In comparison to here in New Jersey, I would have to say the process is a little easier in PA. The building that houses the Brewery was a general store dating back to the early 1800’s and was once owned by Darren’s grandparents. Marc and Darren took it down to the studs, and upgraded everything except for the old meat cooler with the original antique door. What once housed meat now is the home for the kegs for the taproom. They opened up with a 1 BBL system with a Kölsch being the first beer they brewed. Within 6 months they needed to move up to a 2 BBL system, and then up to their current brew house which is a 5 BBL system with 12 assorted 5 & 10 BBL fermenters. That jump made the beer making much faster. They both joked that what used to take 22 hours to brew now takes 6. The taproom itself is one of the warmest and welcoming ones we’ve been in. It has a 30”+ wide U-shaped bar that is made from reclaimed floorboards from the front of the building which were the living quarters that sits about 12 comfortably.
The bar area has a nice fireplace, and restrooms are nicer than most custom homes. As you travel through the doorway from the taproom, you enter what was once Darren’s grandmothers kitchen which has been transformed into a nice area with high tables, oversized brown leather couches, and a dartboard. Through a sliding door to your right, you enter what was the living quarters which is now adorned with more high tables, and oversized brown leather couches. Across the front of the room are about a dozen barrels filled with assorted styles including 1-2 year old sours in various flavors. It’s hard to truly appreciate what a great find this is, so you need to plan a weekend and experience true Artisan beer making. When you do go, try to catch a weekend with the Sunday brunch. As you could imagine everything is farm to table. They do it about once a month so do your research, and you won’t be disappointed.
1. What was the first beer you brewed, and how was it?
I only homebrewed once in my life, and it was in Hawaii. I built my own mash tun out of coolers, and did an all grain Belgium inspired Chocolate Mint Stout. It was ok, but I knew what I did wrong. I used fresh mint, and did not remove the stems which gave it a bittering aspect. I did get the chocolate part right with the timing of the coco nibs, and the underlying beer was quite tasty.
2. What is your favorite style to brew, and why?
The favorite style I like to brew because of the ease and the great final product would be our Kölsch. Now my favorite to brew to drink is our Bourbon Barrel Stout. I lived in Hawaii for 8 years, and still have friends there who send me fresh coffee which I put in the barrels.
3. Do you look at ratings on Untappd, Beer Advocate, or Rate Beer, and does it influence your recipes?
Once in a while I look at Untappd because you kind of have to. I mainly log in to keep the beers up to date. It in no way affects my recipes in any way.
4. How do you stay connected to the local area in relation to sourcing ingredients?
We have our own 20 acre farm about 8 minutes away. We grow our own hops, but not 100% of our hop bill is from that. We source local oats. All the fruit in our sours are grown on our farm. The honey for our Mint Tea Honey Saison comes from our hives.
5. What is one tip you would give home brewers to make better beer?
Remember you have the advantage. You can buy whatever you want because you don’t have to worry about sales so don’t skimp on the ingredients. I hate t give the typical answer, but sanitizing is a huge part of it which can be extremely hard in the homebrew environment. Keep it simple. If you try to complicate things you run the risk of things going wrong.
6. What is the one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to open a brewery?
I get this answer 95% of the time. DON’T! I say that knowing if it’s your true passion nothing will discourage you. You will need to double, and triple the time you think it will take. You will need to be resourceful. Our Glycol chiller went down, and Darren was able to get it operational, and I went and took the EPA test, and now I’m certified in HVAC. For me it’s my life, and I’ve had to make sacrifices in my social life, friends, and sometimes relationships because it’s that important to me. I used to love going to breweries, but that is very rare since I opened up. If you’re going to other breweries for “research” then you’re just ripping them off, and that’s not respectful, and you probably won’t make it.
7. If there is one beer you could brew with no regards to cost, production, or sales, what would it be?
I’ve actually already have done it. It’s our Imperial Dessert Stout which comes in at 17.5% ABV. We went one step further and put it into a Cognac barrel which should amp it up to about 21% when it comes out. We made that beer just to see if we could. We weren’t worried about cost, sales or time. We just wanted to see how big we could go.
8. Looking back to opening day forward, what was the one thing that happened that surprised you?
The change in the market. We opened up at the tail end of the first boom, and yes we are seeing another resurgence now. When we started bars and distributors were hounding us, but we weren’t ready, and by the time we were the market got very competitive to the point that it’s a challenge to get into bars and taverns.
9. Other than your beer, what is your go to after a long day at the brewery?
It’s hard to say our beer since I live upstairs (laugh). I would have to say when I’m lucky enough to find it is Traquair House Scottish Ale. It’s a Brewery that only makes 2 beers to support their castle in Scotland.
10. Where do you see the brewery in a year? In 5 Years?
Darren chimed in right away “Key West”. Which I quickly said “I’m in”. Seriously I want to do more distribution. That’s my main goal because it’s all about the beer. 5 Years. If the distribution doesn’t work out then we will move somewhere where we will have a better opportunity to distribute.
Bonus 1. What’s the best beer you ever had?
The Traquair House definitely comes to mind. There was also a great experience we had in Philly at the Brewers Conference where we went to a bar after and found Kosmic Mother Funk Grand Cru from Sam Adams on tap for $6 a pint. We had no choice but to kill the sixtel.
Bonus 2. What do you listen to when you’re brewing?
A lot of Van Halen when we’re brewing and country when we are bottling.
To say we enjoyed our visit would be an understatement. I can’t wait until the next visit which will be in early July. If you are a fan of craft beer then you need to punch Conyngham Brewing into your GPS and start driving.
And, as always, enjoy your pour!
Visit Conyngham Brewing on the Web at www.conynghambrewing.com
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