A conversation with Spring House Brewing Co. founder Matt Keasey.
Home to the very first licensed brewery in the state of Pennsylvania (Stoudt’s), as well as fifteen other licensed, operating breweries/brewpubs, Lancaster County is an ever-growing hub for craft beer. Just fifteen minutes outside of the city of Lancaster, in Conestoga, sits a house and a barn, not only built the same year Eli Whitney’s cotton gin was patented, but built on a natural spring. That barn, that spring, they represent the heart of the brewing operation for Matt Keasey’s Spring House Brewing.
“The spring was the only source of water until the 1970s,” said Keasey. “While constructing the brewery, I was able to tap into the natural spring to supply the brewing water for the brewery; so all of our products are brewed with spring water.”
But what prompted this man, who came from a background in chemistry and pharmaceuticals, to essentially open up the doors of his home to the public? Where did the drive to start Spring House begin? Aside from hating his job, Keasey credits two particular instances with starting him down the road to brewery ownership. “I remember going to my first beer fest sometime around 1992. What really stood out to me was seeing Tom Kehoe and some burly lookin’ dude pouring Yards beers from a handpump cask. I thought that was the coolest thing ever and the beer that they were pouring was phenomenal. That was my first cask beer and I was blown away.”
He continued, “Then one day, I remember going in to the beer distributor and seeing a Victory Brewing Co. variety case sitting on the shelf. It was like it was glowing. I snatched that case up and never looked back; I had my first taste of Prima Pils and I was hooked.”
That initial experience started Matt down the road to homebrewing, where he jumped in head first, bypassing the use of extracts and going straight to the use of all grain. “My thought was that I wanted to make 100% my own beer. I was determined to make the best beer.” He quickly made the leap from a small first brew of brown ale to concocting 10 gallon-sized batches which may have been the most important decision in the evolution of Spring House, as it forced Keasey to move his operation outside, in turn leading to some…chilling…experiences. “I remember brewing an imperial stout in one degree weather with a foot of ice and snow covering everything. Knockout never went so quick. I had to run a drain hose about forty feet off my heat exchanger from my front porch down to my basement drain. Huddled over the brew kettle for warmth. Good times.”
The next step for Keasey involved completely engrossing himself in the brewing world as a volunteer at several breweries, following the brew master’s “like a lost puppy” and trying to learn as much as possible, as fast as possible, while also soaking up every bit of information he could from brewing textbooks. “When I started volunteering, I knew that someday, somehow, I was going to be running a brewery and I knew that the time that I was spending in the breweries was invaluable.”
So in 2006, when the time to open Spring House Brewing Co. was upon him, Keasey converted the 200-plus year-old barn that had been home to his personal brews into the heart of the Spring House operation. The doors of his home were more or less now open to the public, but Keasey said he really did not think too much about it, he was “…just so thrilled to be an operating brewery that it didn’t really matter to me. It wasn’t long until I began to notice that the space wasn’t really ideal for high volume retail. Parking became an issue and something needed to change. So I decided to open an
That off-site tap room in Lancaster serves all of the Spring House beers brewed at the Conestoga site, including a couple holdovers from Matt’s homebrewing recipes in the Seven Gates and Smoked Porter, as well as a selection of food for which Spring House proudly states, “All ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible. Many are from right next door at the Central Market House.”
When asked about this choice to go local, Keasey stated that, “If it wasn’t for our local community our business would not exist. It is very special to actually know the person who grew the fruits and vegetables that are being served on our menu. It is nice knowing that our establishment helps to strengthen our local food system and improves the local economy.”
In the vein of strengthening that local economy, when asked about any plans of expansion, Keasey did say that after adding two 50 bbl fermenters, amongst other equipment that doubled their capacity, Spring House has again reached their maximum but are looking
for a new site to expand into and, of course, it will stay in the Lancaster area.
As for the brews themselves, Keasey said his concepts steer less towards any particular style and more towards melding multiple flavors and tastes together, “our recipes are constantly evolving as I try to perfect each and every recipe.” He and his brewers, after each batch, analyze the beer to figure out how, or even if, the recipe could be improved upon, which usually leads to some tweak here or there in every batch. This also means it’s highly unlikely two batches of the exact “same” brew will taste identical.
For Keasey, a big part of his fun comes from naming the different beers to see what their designer comes up with for the labels. When looking at some of the Spring House options (Braaaiins!, Blood Lust, and Big Gruesome, to name a few) you can see why Matt says that Spring House has a bit of a horror/monster/sci-fi theme to its selections. That theme continues with a brew that Keasey is extremely excited to begin brewing this year after producing for the first time in 2012: The Martians Kidnap Santa! Egg Nog Stout.
“We produced this beer for the first time last year and I am anxious to brew it again this year. We actually just brewed a batch for GABF. This is probably the most unique beer that I have brewed using a plethora of spices, oats, eggs, and other things that I’m not going to mention. We are also releasing a bourbon barrel and rum barrel-aged version this year. I’m not sure that any other brewery is making a beer like this.”
So with so many options available as a brewer, with control over what Spring House produces in each of its batches, the big question is whether or not there was a dream beer for Keasey, one that he hasn’t had the opportunity to start yet? “We are getting ready to brew a Belgian saison to be aged in Napa Red Zin barrels. The fun part is, I am going to ferment concord grapes with Brettanomyces in the barrels. We are then going to add fresh wort and Belgian saison yeast to the barrels and do 100% fermentation in the barrels. We will then most likely blend the aged beer together with other barrel aged beer. Real exciting brewing going on!”