Review: Voodoo Brewery
215 Arch Street
Meadville, PA 16335
Brewer: Matt Allyn
Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Salt City and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.
…up, down, swinging around woodlands, fast past farmland and open fields, meandering around meadows and swinging by swamps as the weird contraption two wheels its way through hair pin corners…
Last time I interviewed Matt Allyn I rode my Honda Big Ruckus scooter to Titusville, PA. Matt used to be the brewer at 4 Sons Brewing in Titusville. 4 Sons is closed now: another brewery occupies the same building: called “Blue Canoe…” and that is a better name than “Blue Gnu” because I’ve been told gnu tastes terrible in beer.
(Surprised? So was I. Who gnu?)
But all that was a long time ago, in a different brew galaxy seemingly far away, when I was a less seasoned writer. (More Cajun spices, please!)
More than two years ago I heard rumors Matt was planning on opening a brewpub: or perhaps, as accurate… a brewery with a tasting room and great food, in Meadville: I even swung by sometime between 2008 to 2012 to see where it would be, saying to myself, “There? Ewe.”
Rumors I probably heard in 2008 at Sprague Brewery… then forgot.
What I didn’t know was that Voodoo had been around since 2007 as a production brewery with just Matt creating the brew magic. Opening date for the brewery as it is now was June 30th, 2012.
The next time I heard about what Matt was doing was from Gary Burleigh, who at time was the brewer at The Brewerie in the old train station: Erie, PA. I’m not sure when I found out where Matt’s brewery was going to be: all this uncertainty have nothing to do with beer consumed at The Brewerie or Sprague. Nothing at all.
Suddenly two years passed.
That was fast, wasn’t it? Amazing what magic writers can perform: though sometimes it’s a tad like Bullwinkle trying to pull a rabbit out of his hat. “Wanna see me pull another typo out of my…?”
Having forgotten the conversation with Gary, in the spring of this year I discovered a new brewpub had opened called Timber Creek: just west of Voodoo. Twere one of those rare occasions I was on tour and Millie was with me. So we stopped by and I did a review. Jake Vorisek: the brewer at Timber Creek, suggested I stop by Voodoo.
“Who is the brewer?” I asked Jake.
Duh. Two years passing had zombie sucked the memory of the conversation with Gary from my brain.
When Matt mentioned Voodoo I remembered checking the location, probably in 2011. While the exterior didn’t impress I had fond memories of interviewing Matt in Titusville dancing like Achouffe-ian elves in my head.
Going back to the reason for that “ewe” for a moment: according to Matt the building was used until the 40s for A. W. E. Byham Cabinet and Coffin Maker, “maker” for the Byham Funeral Home who was right next door. One wonders what the display windows were for. Happy postmortem “customers?” Ironically this is not the first review I’ve done on a brewery in PA that had had previous occupants who used to be in the biz: North Country in Slippery Rock bounced between tavern and a mortuary. But, as you shall soon see, “ewe” no longer applies. They’ve done a fine job refurbishing this built in 1900 joint on the inside. The outside could use some spiffing up but, like people, isn’t it what ferments inside that’s crucial? Given that truism, Voodoo is filled with flocculated goodness.
Yet maybe Matt and company could have some fun with the display windows Halloween time? Something Walking Dead inspired and Voodoo-ish? Perhaps mannequins, or pictures of customers, who look dead while holding and drinking beer from Voodoo Love Child or Gran Met bottles.
Just an idea.
Parking may spook you at first, but if you take a left just before you pass the building as you head into downtown Meadville, then go straight back, there’s plenty of metered parking back there: two hours max. Living in Nashville where downtown parking is mostly a very expensive monopoly, I was pleased. I was told Meadville wasn’t all that stringent when it came to time limits by a patron, but being a frequent out of towner I have learned to ignore such claims. A tow job doth not brighten any day when miles and miles away from home.
What the elderly building on the outside lacks for appeal the folks at Voodoo more than made up for in the tasting room. Decked out with bright red, old fridge, tap stations, paneling, huge chalk boards with the names of exotic “brewed here” beers written on them: I felt right at home immediately. On the top of their list were regulars like 4 Season IPA, Wyonna’s Big Brown Ale, White Magick of the Sun, Voodoo Love Child, Pillzilla and Gran Met. And they have a hell of a lot of seasonals… a lot of high gravs. One regular could also be considered a seasonal too, I suppose: the nature of the hops vary in 4 Season according to, well, what’s that name again? Oh, “Season.”
Obviously a very popular pub, even only being open such a short time as brewery, pub and fun food place. After I waited with several thirsty patrons for them to open, by the time I had left the place had filled to the brim like a pint glass with a tiny, tiny head. And many of those folks were obviously regulars as they were greeted by name, personal reminders and “Do I have to send Jack the loan shark with the bass knuckles over to your house if you don’t pay off?”
Yes, I’m kidding about the last. Geez, didn’t you find the “bass knuckles” knuckles comment a little fishy?
Lucky me: Matt was right at the serving bar as I walked in. He even bought me a beer.
Matt was very much like I left him: poor, destitute, hanging around some gurgling, crackling, cauldron in some train yard brewery, hands clasped around a tin can for a cup… nah, but there was “a beard upon his face” I don’t remember from before..
(Thanks to an old friend named John Hartford for providing my whimsical imagery. John and his lyrics will always be remembered, his lyrics… Gentle on My Mind.)
I asked for the Gran Met: a Belgian Tripel brewed using cane and beet sugar which had that classic Abbey Ale yeast-like taste, only not as brash. I must admit, I used to love homebrewing with White Labs Abbey. It’s almost impossible for it to not ferment like crazy. But, to be honest, White Labs Abbey has worn on me because it tends to take over. Hops? Forget it. Malts? Yeah: they’re there somewhere… but mostly a clingy, on rare occasion slightly sourish, almost always brassy, sense. After a while appreciation goes to, “Uh, isn’t there more to this than Abbey yeast sense?”
Good news: this special yeast strain has all that… but subtle, more pleasant: less “brass,” and pretty much none of that very occasional sour I get from Abbey… probably when the fermentation temp was too high? A guess. Matt told me this yeast was Pierre Celis, used in several of their beers: White Majick, Voodoo Love Child, Gran Met.
Poured right out of one of their red, tap handled, fridges that I suspect go straight to the serving tanks: delicious. It not only had that more background yeast sense, but a firm, solid Pilsner malt profile. If a mosquito whispered in my ear this was the latest release from Westmalle or Chimay I wouldn’t have disagreed with what the “buzz” was all about. Yeast sense was strongest in the nose. Sweet on the palate with some Belgian white sugar sense and a pinpoint carbonation mouthfeel: the sweet, somewhat caramel malt-ish sense hangs in the mouth long after it easily slips and slides down the tunnel towards, then into, your innards.
After savoring Met we went back to the brewery so I could take pictures. He told me with their system they could do about 1,000 barrels, but because of all the high gravity, and specialty brews, probably 800 would be about the norm.
As we looked at the equipment he spoke of how he had community support, especially from the president of Allegheny College. Matt mentioned in the 80s a gentleman named Larry Bell… you know, Bells Brewery? … started a micro and the president of the college noticed how the nearby community grew around Larry’s micro. He realized what a big plus brewing could be for the Meadville community: especially with a brewpub atmosphere, or a tasting room: a place where a community could gather.
Matt said he has been doing this for 21 years: not just in western Pennsylvania, where he was born and raised, but in Utah: Naisbitt’s Private Brewery. Michigan: Jackson Brewing Co, Copper Canyon Brewery, BrewBakers, Helped Open Dark Horse Brewing. Pa: Erie Brewing, Four Sons Brewery and Blue Canoe Brewery (Titusville) and Straub Brewery.
In keeping with his personal “brewed many places” motif his equipment is from many places too: the boiler and the mash tun from Sebago Brewing in Portland, Maine, and one of the bottlers is from Dark Horse Brewery and the other is a old champagne filler… he wasn’t sure where that came from except “elsewhere” and it was “made in the 70s.”
Matt had to run to a meeting so, as I ordered the sampler, he spoke of what he’d like to do in the future: “Stay small and brew more beers we all can have fun with,” and about his philosophy: “when I came here Mickey’s Big Mouth was all most folks drank, but when I was overseas in the Air Force I discovered so much about beer. I didn’t really train for all this, but I’ve learned so much actually doing: like in Utah where I had to brew to 4%. So many award winning beers come out of Utah because such limitations help you learn the craft. I like being in small communities: rarely in big cities does the local brewery become the talk of the town.”
Matt also would like to do barrel aged, start doing ciders and an artisan distillery… but no “neutral spirits.”
Settling in to taste my samples I found the 4 Seasons IPA had a grapefruit/orange/tangerine nose. Carmel malt right behind that. Earthy hops also in the taste as well as the fruit. At 7.9% I thought it one of the best IPAs I’ve had, but Matt felt it needed a lot more work.
Wynona’s Big Brown Ale had no head: but I find small glasses tend to do that: probably not having enough surface for the kind of tension that supports a decent head. A full glass a patron had me sniff had a nice pillow head. I immediately noticed a maris otter nose, but upon taste; compliments to the “chef:: a far more complex bev malt profile-wise. Indeed it reminded me a tad of Maduro: a marvelous brown ale brewed by Cigar City in Tampa. The deep, brown, somewhat roasty, malt sense hangs in the mouth for a long time: as a brown ale should.
White Magick of the Sun had, again, that better than White Labs Abbey Belgian-sense, and juniper behind that with slight pepper sense. Obvious wheat proteins hung in suspension.
Do they get any last words before “hanged?”
Voodoo Love Child was fascinating: almost fruit punch in the nose. First thing I picked up was passion fruit: I was happy to see it on the description after I so firmly felt it was in there. Whew! Then as I sipped some more I picked up some sour cherry, but the raspberries were tougher… as I have found they are when I brew. They tend to disappear fast, or get covered over easy. At least that’s my experience.
By the way, when I say fruit punch, I mean in the best way. I don’t mean that sickly sweet, almost Fruit Loops-like, sense there is to some fruit punches at parties until some cad adds Scotch, Whiskey, Grenadine and Jaggermeister.
Just typing about that kind of spiked punch made me sick.
…I’m back. Did you miss me?
The Pilzilla was impressive. I am no lager fan, but the malt profile had a nice, solid, firm, top of the mouth cling to it. SRM maybe 2-3. The balance was perfect. Didn’t get any of that acidic, maybe more sulfuric, lager yeast sense I get sometimes. But I can’t say anything about the head: small glass ruined it. I guarantee this bugger gives good head.
I didn’t just type that did I? Ah, the joys of what you can get away with typing when writing about BEER.
Delicate Like a Flower: golden in color with organic hibiscus and rose hips I wasn’t as happy with this one, but that’s just me. I find herbal beers wearing after a sip or two. There have been exceptions, but not many. I also thought I got a hint of Brett, but was that actually one of the spices? The lichee?
I stayed for the hand pulled: their brown with cashews. A nice creamy head, pillow perfect, you could actually taste the cashews in the background. I even commented that getting this cashew flair must have been tough. “Kind of like a cucumber beer I judged in Mississippi. I remember commenting to my fellow judge, ‘How the hell do you get the very mild cucumber taste into beer?’”
“We did it. We just used an incredibly stupid amount of cucumber.”
Nice touch at the end: presented my bill in an old book, instead of the usual cheesy vinyl bill holder. I was suitably impressed… realizing Meadville now has that jewel of a brewery the college president dreamed of.
215 Arch Street, Meadville, PA: Voodoo Brewery.
Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”