Just a short spin down a tree-lined lane from Newport, situated along the Juniata River, you will find the oldest brewery in Perry County— River Bend Hop Farm and Brewery.
“Since we own the only brewery in Perry County, we enjoy claiming the title of the oldest brewery in Perry County, even though it only opened two years ago,” quipped co-owner Tom Beers.
River Bend boasts an “ever-changing” beer menu featuring sour, dark, hoppy, sweet and light flavors, including house-made sodas.
“I prefer the dark beer and Denny the IPA,” Beers said. “Our customers have shown a preference for a German wheat beer we call hefeweizen.”
In addition to the 13 beers on tap, River Bend offers food such as burgers and pulled pork sandwiches—popular complements to their beer. With a farm-to-table restaurant, they grow their own vegetables and many fruits such as blueberries and blackberries.
In 2014, Denny and Wendy Browne bought a 22-acre farm.
Denny had grown up on a farm, so it wasn’t a far stretch from his childhood. While attending an organic farming conference in Pittsburgh, the Brownes sat in on a seminar about growing hops.
Afterwards, they decided they wanted in on this cash crop, considering the rapid growth in craft beer production. While at the conference, they bought the equipment needed to raise hops on their new farm. Three days later, they asked a group of friends if they would be willing to help them plant the hops. Tom and Melissa Beers were on board.
“When we began planting hops, we never really intended to start a brewery,” Beers said. “We just evolved into it.”
In the fall of 2014, Beers and the Brownes erected a trellis system that was needed to support the hops. As winter intervened, their work was postponed.
The next spring, they put up 25,000 feet of cables to support the strings on their 1,000 plants, hand-wrapping each of the 22- to 24-foot plants around the strings. The group finished the planting in early May 2015, soon harvesting a small crop.
The next step was renovating the barn for use as the restaurant.
“We needed to gut it and start from scratch by putting in new floors and closing in one end,” Beers explained.
He added that there were production specifications for firewalls, electricity and plumbing that they needed to follow. Lastly, they had to add a new bathroom for customers, as well as the bars on each of the two floors.
Not being experienced brewers, the group’s initial efforts, by their own admission, did not turn out well. So, they decided it was best to hire a professional brewer. They have now hired a second brewer so that Beers and Browne can focus on marketing and managing a staff of four full-time and 30 part-time employees.
River Bend Hop Farm and Brewery officially opened in September 2017.
“We were all thrilled when we opened,” Beers said. “Initially, we started with six beers. After six months, we graduated to 12 beers, and now we brew a total of 13, one of which is a sour.”
Looking to expand further, the owners pondered the possibility of adding a stand in Cumberland County. However, they faced resistance.
“We were told we would never be able to sell craft beer in the county since the locals are domestic beer drinkers,” Beers said. “Happily, after partnering with a number of nonprofits at festivals, we have discovered that is not the case at all. Our experience has far exceeded our expectations.”
In March 2019, River Bend Hop Farm and Brewery opened a stand at the West Shore Farmers Market with six beers on tap to go.
“Our growth has really been an evolution, one step at a time,” Beers said.
River Bend Hop Farm and Brewery is located at 1800 Lower Bailey Rd., Newport, and also has a stand in the West Shore Farmers Market in Lemoyne. For more information, call 717-315-6764 or visit www.riverbendhopfarmandbrewery.com.