Harrisburg’s second brewery is on the way.
The town’s first brewery— Percent Tap House— opened a couple of months ago and soon residents will have more craft beer to try at Pharr Mill Brewing Co.
The brewery sits a little off of Highway 49 on Oakley Drive and is the brainchild of two friends who spent plenty of time in Harrisburg as students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Alston Richardson and Kevin Bitner met while pursuing their undergraduate degree at UNCC. The now business partners said they always drove to Harrisburg to get their Bojangles’ fix.
“At UNCC, Harrisburg is really a good town for a college student. It was the closest Bojangles’ so it was very convenient,” Richardson said. “We spent a lot of time in Harrisburg and were familiar with the town.”
Something the two friends also have in common is a love for craft beer. Richardson starting brewing his own at home and somewhere along the way they started joking about opening a brewery of their own.
“Over the years we saw the craft beer industry just kind of explode. Being a home brewer over the years you kind of think ‘Could I do that?’” Richardson said. “You ask yourself that question so many times.”
About three years ago the friends took a trip to Asheville, went on some brewery tours and the dream started to become more of a reality. They visited Burial Brewing when it was just getting started, and realized they could also create something similar.
“It was a small scale kind of early in their game and just seeing what they were doing, the environment, the culture, it was really appealing to us and it was kind of like, we need to do this,” Bitner said. “It was kind of a joke until finally we had some friends in town and he (Richardson) looks at me and goes, ‘You want to do a brewery? Here’s what we got.’”
Richardson had already been doing some of the legwork to get the brewery started and said it was full-steam ahead from there.
Finding the perfect location
Before landing the building on Oakley Drive, the co-owners toured several locations in other towns but none of them quite fit what they were looking for.
When they walked into what would become their new home and saw the brick walls and wood ceilings, they were sold. Bitner said the 1950’s building has been several things over the years, but most-recently it was a welding shop.
“You walked in and you see that beautiful ceiling with the trusses and that really just brings the whole building to life,” he said.
And the growth in Harrisburg was a big selling point. They moved away after college but when they returned, they discovered the town had “completely exploded” with the construction of Publix, Harris Teeter and other shopping centers.
It was very different from the town they remembered with just banks, gas stations and a Bojangles’.
“Seeing the transition of the town, right them we knew that Harrisburg was a great place to have a business in. Then finding the building and all that just kind of starting making sense,” Richardson said. “We talked to the town, asked if we could do it here and the next thing you know we are sitting here with the lease in front of our face ready to sign it.”
A name important to Harrisburg
Originally the brewery was planned to be named Taproot Brewing Co. but a vineyard in Rhode Island committed to that name first. So the owners needed to come up with something else.
“It was actually a blessing in disguise. It gave us an opportunity to really step back and say ‘What does the name of a brewery in Harrisburg need to be?’” Richardson said. “So we started doing research and realized that Pharr Mill was the original mill in the town.”
They learned that the original mill drove a lot of activity. Residents would come to the mill to get grain and there was also a watering hole right around the corner, so there was plenty of activity in the area.
“I think that type of environment, in a certain way, is kind of what we want to do as well. We want to have a place where people can come enjoy themselves, and the grain is still here,” Richardson said.
Bring on the beer
If all goes according to plan, the owners hope to open the brewery in early March.
When that happens, Richardson said they are excited to introduce their craft beer to Harrisburg.
He plans to start out with a blonde ale and a New England IPA, along with some other classics.
“I think once people try our New England IPA they will realize that this isn’t a bitter beer, this isn’t a hoppy beer; this is almost a fruity beer and I think that’s going to kind of help transition some people into supporting new types of beers,” Richardson said.
Then there is his gose beer, which Bitner said is one of the best he’s ever tasted. A gose is a top-fermented beer that originated in Germany and is usually brewed with at least 50 percent of the grain bill being malted wheat. Dominant flavors in gose include lemon sourness, a herbal characteristic and a strong saltiness.
“Gose is a kettle sour. It’s more of a refreshing beer with a balance of the salt and the sour. The two worlds meet and one doesn’t overpower the other,” Richardson said. “It might not be quite as sour as you expect but it still has that tart in it.”
And Bitner— who usually hates sour beers— said this one won him over.
“I never would touch a sour. I tried them and hated them. This guy brews this gose and he says ‘You’ve got to try this, it’s a sour.’ And I said ‘Just save that for someone else, I’m not going to try it.’” Bitner said. “But I took a sip and said ‘Yeah it’s a sour.’ I took another sip and then the third sip hit me and I was like ‘That’s pretty good.’ Honestly, I think I could drink that at any point of the day. I could drink that at any time of the year. It’s amazing.”
As the brewery grows and expands, Richardson said it will have several recipes for Harrisburg residents to come and try; either inside while watching a game on the flat screen televisions or outside in the beer garden while munching on food from a food truck.
“We really feel like we wanted to have a place in Harrisburg that people felt like is Harrisburg and people that live in Harrisburg can come and look at it as one of their own,” he said.
For more information like Pharr Mill Brewing Co. on Facebook or visit http://pharrmillbrewing.com. The brewery is located at 105 Oakley Drive in Harrisburg.