Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Beer Ambition: The Armstrongs have a dream of building a small brewery in Harrisburg. Can they make it come true?

TheBurg_alteregoTheo and Brandalynn Armstrong love beer.

I don’t mean this in the way college fraternities love the cheap stuff in large quantities. I mean this in the way a literature professor loves leather-bound first editions or a cinefile loves Kurosawa. Their love for beer is deep, their knowledge seemingly endless. It is this love that has pushed them to want to open a tasting room, bringing their home-brewed talent to the city of Harrisburg.

I don’t want to misrepresent the married couple, who together own the Alter Ego Brewing Co. It is not as if they are lofty, academic zymologists (those who study the science of fermentation) who cannot understand the simple joy of a cold beer on a summer evening. Theo and Brandalynn may be beer geeks, but there is no prerequisite for cracking open a bottle with them.

I arrived at their Harrisburg home in the evening. After meeting their dog Olive, I followed them into their basement. The furnished portion features a comfortable bar while the unfurnished portion houses Theo’s brew-works. Before we could start talking, Brandalynn poured me the first of what would be a flight through their flagship brews. After a few sips, we were ready to dive into the evening’s official business.

Why Not?

Theo’s home-brewing began alongside a new job.

“I used to work retail hours. I used to work all the time,” says Theo. “Suddenly I was working a 40-hour week. I had weekends off. I had nothing to do with my free time. I decided I needed a hobby.”

Theo had already developed a taste for craft beer and had been interested in venturing into home-brewing for a long time.

It was then that Theo met Brad Moyer, the store manager at Scotzin Brothers, the home-brew supply store in Lemoyne. Brad, with whom I met separately, wears his resume as a beer connoisseur on his sleeve quite literally—tattooed hops and grains adorn his arm.

“He was always coming in and asking tough questions,” says Brad.

Theo had a couple of false starts, but, before long, he realized he had a knack for brewing.

“People started asking me why I wasn’t selling my beer,” says Theo. “We looked at each other and asked, ‘Why not?’”

However, taking the real step towards turning hobby into business took some convincing. That’s when Brandalynn stepped in to encourage Theo, though still apprehensive herself.

“I was concerned that, if we start doing this professionally, Theo would lose his love for the hobby,” says Brandalynn. “But so far so good!”

Home-Brew to Business

Theo wants to steer away from the term “microbrewery.” Instead, he and Brandalynn like to think of Alter Ego as “artisanal.”

“We want our brewery to be place where you can come in, talk to the owners and feel like you are sitting in a living room at a friend’s house,” says Theo.

“Just good beer and good people,” adds Brandalynn.

Specifically, the couple wants to open a small tasting room with seating for 30 people or so, featuring their beers and a selective menu of locally sourced food. They plan on offering growler fills, but, at this point, they don’t envision any bottling. They simply want to combine their love of beer with their passion for hospitality. They want to be an unpretentious, neighborhood brewery.

To convert vision into reality, Theo and Brandalynn turned to crowd-sourcing to raise the necessary capital to open up shop.

“I’ve always enjoyed watching people’s projects,” says Theo. “You get a sense of involvement. So for us, it wasn’t just about raising money, it raised community awareness.”

This is where Brandalynn’s expertise becomes invaluable. While Theo brews, Brandalynn manages the social media.

“It was a lot of work,” says Brandalynn, “Nobody wants to get spammed, nobody wants to see ‘give me money, give me money.’ We wanted to get our name out, but nobody wants to see the same Facebook post over and over. We wanted to sound authentic. Despite the work, I think it paid off.”

To build hype for their brand, Theo and Brandalynn set up several tastings. Scotzin Brothers hosted one such tasting back in April. They set up some barbecues and brought some kegs for sampling. Even on short notice, the crowds came.

“I know Theo went through a lot of beer that day,” says Brad, chuckling.

Grassroots Approach

Theo and Brandalynn still have a lot of work ahead of them to meet their goal of opening in the city in 2014. But licensing and space requirements have made finding a suitable location difficult.

Pennsylvania is a tough state for upstart brewers. A restaurant can’t even start serving liquor until it has occupied a property for six months. Theo and Brandalynn saw crowd-sourcing as an opportunity to defray the cost of six months’ rent without being able to open for business.

Even more challenging, the amount of industrial brewing equipment needed has eliminated a number of potential locations.

“In the city of Harrisburg, there are not many locations with docks or garage doors, or the space to grow,” says Theo.

“For our licensing, the physical brewery, kitchen, tasting room and seating for 30 have to be on site,” adds Brandalynn.

I asked Brad Moyer to rate Alter Ego’s chances.

“I think they are doing a lot of things different in the right way,” responds Brad. “I like that they’re really taking a grassroots approach. Other breweries make their beers for the beer nerds. I think Theo and Brandalynn are really marketing for the everyday craft drinker. And that’s important.”

In the meantime, they continue to search for a place to call home. Brandalynn stays on top of promotion through social media and Theo continues to brew. And at its heart, this is the Alter Ego Brewing Co.: a couple of beer people doing what they love.

For more information and to follow the progress of Alter Ego Brewing Co., visit, or Facebook: Alter Ego Brewing.


Continue Reading