Yes, we know, a beer culture exists in central Pennsylvania, and its malty, hoppy, yeasty and sour varieties are about as separate and distinct from one another as a crowler from a growler or a brewer from his brew.
That’s why, for draft fans, it’s worth talking about when a new beer operation pops up, as it has in York Haven, about 20 minutes down the river from Harrisburg.
“New” is used loosely here, as the Lydian Stone Brewing Co. has been operating since June 2016, but has kept a somewhat low profile by adopting a “slow grow” model. Its owners decided to have limited hours in the tasting room and “keep their day jobs” to work hard at learning how to run a small business and make a consistently good product.
“It’s not about being a mass producer and pumping out a lot of beer,” owner and head brewer Keith Stevenson said. “It’s about making a really good, high-quality beer.”
Two and a half years later, there’s no denying that Lydian Stone beer has big fans, and the tasting room caters to an unpretentious crowd that otherwise doesn’t have a brewery to serve it.
“We fell into the location here,” Stevenson explained. “We were focusing on the Harrisburg area, and things didn’t work out for this or that reason. We went looking for some industrial properties, and we came down here and pulled into the parking lot and started talking to the owner’s wife who was here. This place used to be an auto sales lot, and it just worked.”
It had the right amount of space for a small tasting room in the front, and an industrial area in the back for tanks and equipment, as well as room for events.
Still, there’s a coziness you can’t find in most brewery settings.
“We wanted people to feel like they were in a brewery, not a bar,” said Stevenson. “So we kept the tasting room small.”
Unlike many people who become brewers, opening a brewery wasn’t Stevenson’s dream.
“I’m an IT guy,” he said. “I’ve always worked in IT, never ever thought about brewing beer.”
But back in the ‘90s, craft beer—specifically Pete’s Wicked Ale—caught his attention. Next thing he knew, he was being invited to brew with his co-workers.
“A couple of guys in my office came over one day and said, ‘Hey, you got any plans tonight? We’re trying to get 12 of us together and go down to this brewery in Bedford and brew beer.’”
He brewed his first Irish red ale this way and fell in love with the process. This led to home brewing.
A few years later in Harrisburg, Stevenson again found himself in a conversation with co-workers about beer.
“A couple of us at Highmark decided to throw a homebrew party,” he recounted joyfully.
His beer earned the highest praise.
“Hey, you should think about really doing this,” someone said to him.
What began as a hobby became more of an investment as Stevenson began to read books, take classes and experiment with different recipes. The goal of nano-brewing seemed reachable.
“I wanted to try and make it work while keeping my job,” he said.
And that’s just what he did.
In the Water
So, what makes one brewery or beer better or different from another?
“Well, every brewery has its signature,” Stevenson said.
However, much of the taste, he said, comes from the water.
“So, one of the things we have here is our own well,” he said. “We’re using water right from the ground, and the mineral content here is great for making beer.”
Stevenson also uses grain and hops from a company he trusts. He chose them because they deliver a consistent and high-quality product.
As for the tap menu, he takes inspiration from his customers.
“The ideas for our beers will come from whatever people are talking about while they’re sitting here,” he said. “We keep a suggestion book for what people might want.”
Last year, for instance, Stevenson brewed a special, French-style saison ale specifically for the tap at Rubicon, a downtown Harrisburg restaurant.
“I’ve brewed a lot of different styles because I enjoy the experimentation process,” Stevenson said. “And I think that’s what’s special about us, is that we have such a variety. It’s hard not to find a beer you like.”
Lydian Stone Brewing Co. is located at 685 York Haven Rd., York Haven. For more information, call 717-384-6055 or visit www.lydianstonebrewing.com.