Matt Gouwens, owner of Upper Lawrenceville's just-opened Hop Farm Brewing Company, decided to become a brewer in 2005 while he was living in Germany. "I noticed every town had its own little brewery," he recalls. "I decided that's what I wanted to do."
In 2009, he enrolled in a year-long training course with the American Brewer's Guild. After several years of working as an apprentice brewer for Delaware-based Iron Hill, he felt ready to open his own brewery.
Although it took several years to get the brewery up and running, Gouwens says it was worth the wait to brew in the right space. And he's capitalizing on the farm-to-bottle trend by growing his own hops. He currently has more than 125 plants at his house, and has contracted with a farmer to expand the operation to more than 1,000 plants at a new hop farm, located just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Cranberry.
Just a few blocks down Butler Street is month-old Roundabout Brewery, owned by veteran brewer Steve Sloan. Sloan has worked for corporate giants (Coors) and local favorites (Church Brew Works), but this is the first time he's run his own show.
"It's a pretty old-school approach," he says of his bare-knuckles operation that uses an open fermenter and some used dairy equipment. "We're not trying to wow anyone" with newfangled approaches, he says. "We just want to make good, clean, fresh beer."
Because he's brewing in such small quantities, Sloan is able to experiment with a diverse array of styles. The Oktoberfest is a particular standout on the current menu of top-notch beers.
Gouwens says that camaraderie is the name of the game between the owners of the two new breweries. The good feelings were evident when he and Sloan recently had lunch down the block at beer-heavy Industry Public House. "He's the veteran brewer, and he's been really helpful," he says.