Q&A with Harris Family Brewery

Get to know Pennsylvania’s first-ever black owned brewery. We chatted with Harris Family Brewery (Harrisburg, PA). Meet them this weekend at Fresh Fest.

by Stephanie Brea
August 9, 2019

Harris Family Brewery is a nano brewery that has been making craft beer in Harrisburg. It is also the first black-owned brewery in the state of Pennsylvania. You can try some of the Harris Family Brewery beers at beer festivals and stay tuned for details on when the brewery will be opening in Harrisburg.

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Harris Family Brewery is one of the many breweries from around the country that will be in Pittsburgh for Fresh Fest this weekend. We caught up with Tim White and Shaun Harris to find out more about how they got started with craft beer.

Q&A with Harris Family Brewery

Q: When did you first become interested in craft beer? What’s your craft beer origin story?

Tim: I’ve always drank Yuengling lagers – it was my beer of choice since it is local to Harrisburg. But I was not aware of what “craft beer” was yet.

Shaun would host summer cookouts; one time, Shaun gave me a glass and told me he made it in his kitchen. I gave it a try. A couple glasses later, I suggested selling this product and putting a business plan together. I was instantly hooked and started down my YouTube journey education of life as a homebrewer. It’s 2013; I’m the businessman and Shaun is the brewmaster and Jerry “Jt” Thomas is the co-brewer.

Shaun: We didn’t even know what craft beer was until almost a decade ago, when we learned it wasn’t legal to make alcohol and bought a beer kit. That beer kit changed our perception of what beer can be, and we made batch after batch nonstop for years until we got better and better and stopped relying on kit recipes and started dreaming up our own. We did lots of research and went through good old-fashioned trial and error, and eventually, we started coming up with consistently good beer.

Q: Can you give me an update on HFB? Timeline for opening, the space renovations, what you’re focusing on in the meantime? Collaborations?

Tim: Harris Family Brewery is still in the brewery-planning stage and is looking to open early 2020 in the Allison Hill area of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We have had many challenges and changes of buildings to start our nano brewery, the learning curve is big. I tried for a long time to put a square peg in a round hole. But I believe our current space by far is the best and will be successful in opening. We almost gave up starting with a taproom because of the restrictions needed, but I believe we have what we need now with minimal construction needed, which really means I don’t have $100,000 to rebuild a whole building from scratch.

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Q: What is one way to make craft beer more accessible to wider audiences?

Tim: We plan on educating our community about what craft beer is first and then slowly walking the flavors and ABV up. As we have been trained to like a certain style of Big 3 beers and malt beverages, we are mainly scared of the super hoppy beers, as I was when I first started drinking IPAs but now I like them a little more.

I always say we need to do things on purpose and unapologetically; meaning don’t be afraid to say I wanna make beer for a specific population.

Do some research, find out what people like and how they like it, then make beer they like. Not “here’s my beer; like it or leave it.”

But it takes the right person. Empathy is everything.

Q: For people who are interested in learning more about craft beer, or even breaking into the brewing industry, what’s one piece of advice you would give them?

Tim: Find people who are doing it great and sit down and talk to them. For us, the craft beer community has been willing to talk about every part of their journey.

Also, the internet is everything. YouTube saved my life. Do your research, do your research. This business is crazy town. Every state is different, every brewery is different, every brewer is different; and that is good and bad.

This is not a free sport, this game costs time and money even to get off the ground. The great thing is that there are many examples of success to follow, but even better are the breweries that don’t make it.

Shaun: Have money. Have a plan. But really, have money.

Learn what kind of beer you like and get good at that and then branch out and don’t be scared to make mistakes.

Q: What do you know about the Pittsburgh beer scene? 

Tim: So far, so good. I was here last year for Fresh Fest and got to enjoy some local places. Brew Gentlemen and East End were my favorites, right off the top of my head. I also think that the show of black people who enjoy craft beer was huge, and I can’t wait to see more of it.

Shaun: The Pittsburgh beer scene is prestigious and thriving! Our favorite breweries in the area are East End, and Brew Gentlemen in Braddock. They both make great beer, and their stories really resonate with what we are doing over in Harrisburg.

https://www.facebook.com/HARRISFAMILYBREWERY/photos/a.817345331656730/2408065202584727/?type=3&theater

Q: Is there a particular Pittsburgh brewery or specific beer you are hoping to drink before you return to Harrisburg?

Shaun: Always gotta hit East End and see what’s new, but not looking for anything specific, but I know we will enjoy some faves and some new stuff!

Q: What is Harris Family Brewery bringing to Fresh Fest? 

Shaun: We are doing a collaboration with Boneshire Brewing in Harrisburg that we will be bringing to Fresh Fest 2019. It’s going to be a Smokey Applewood Malted Stout scheduled to be 8% ABV.

 

Stephanie has been organizing events since 1998, starting with a series of motorcycle rides through the Arizona desert to support her father’s business. She’s probably crossed your name off a presale ticket list or served you a beer somewhere around town. An undergrad degree in poetry means she has lots of unpractical knowledge about iambic pentameter, while a brief stint as a copy editor for Alternative Press taught her that twenty one pilots is stylized in all lowercase letters. Wanna throw a party in a vacant parking lot? She’s interested. At the onset of COVID-19, Stephanie took on the role...

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