This month, I sat down with Voodoo Brewery, and the interview is slightly different than the last interviews in a few ways. Not only is Voodoo is significantly bigger, and older, than most of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s craft breweries, instead of sitting down with someone who wears many hats, I sat down with their COO, who is also one of the partners, Jake Voelker.
Jake is former military, and that is when his love of craft beer began. When he would be home in the US, he would seek out different and new craft beer that he hadn’t had yet. He really enjoyed spending his time off this way, and then in 2010 the opportunity came up for him to link up with investors in Voodoo Brewery. He started as a silent partner, but as the brewery grew, in 2014 he was able to come on full time. While there are partners, a COO, etc., Voodoo is actually an employee owned company.
When I say that Voodoo Brewery is bigger than the other breweries I’ve spoken to, I mean significantly bigger. Most of those that I have spoken to only have a single brewpub, or in some cases, not even really a pub with seating indoors. Voodoo opened their first pub in 2011 in Meadville, PA, shortly after Jake joined the team of investors that had already been together. His goal was to get the first pub up and running. Now, there are 7 locations, some with a large staff, some small, (we met at the Homestead, PA location,) and they are the largest craft brewery in Western PA by volume and distribute to 7 states with more to be added.
There are two brewers, the head brewer and director of barrel aging, Curt Rachocki, and Sean Strickland. They, and their staff, do everything from brewing, purchasing, bottling/canning, and are in early and out late from the ‘compound,’ which is what the group of buildings in Meadville where the brewing is done is referred to. The production staff is also responsible for the naming of the majority of the beers. They are always trying new things and have a few secret ideas up their sleeves coming out of their “Building 3” line, which is an experimental line of brewing. It has been vaguely mentioned on social media, but otherwise there hasn’t been a ton of talk about it.
Being such a large craft brewery, at least by the standards of those I have interviewed so far, and because we were meeting in Homestead, PA, which is another part of the Mon Valley, the area I am from, I felt the need to ask about community acceptance to Voodoo being there and how they are helping the community. Jake says that since they moved in, to what was a building that was abandoned for 30+ years, they have become a local meeting place, home values have shot up, and more people are moving in to the area. They are involved in the community and a portion of the proceeeds of every event benefits some outside group. Homestead isn’t to the point where anyone is being pushed out, Jake says, it isn’t far enough along yet. No new developments have come in and knocked down homes, and actually a lot of the volunteers that helped renovate the building were from the community. You can see some of their names on the back wall at the brewpub.
While I didn’t get a chance to sit down with the actual brewers, I definitely was able to get a new perspective on the behind the scenes aspects of running such a large craft brewery. Keep an eye on Voodoo Brewery’s social media for events that are upcoming, as well as information about their “Good Vibes Fest,” which is held in the summer at their compound. The ones that they had the last two years were very successful and a great time for all who went. It isn’t often that you get to sample some of the best craft beer in the world right in Western PA.
This post originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of the Pennsylvania Bridges magazine.