Hey Fueled Fam! If you haven’t noticed, non-alcoholic (NA) beers have been gaining popularity recently. There’s a lot of reasons for this: medical concerns, fear of DUIs, and just personal preference to name a few.
We really think NA beers are going to gaining steam for the foreseeable future, so I thought we should introduce you to some of the pioneers of the NA game.
We recently caught up with Erica Deuso-Obert from Bear and Squirrel Brewing in Downingtown, PA. Bear and Squirrel is a brewery-in-planning in the Downingtown area. We chatted a bit about her journey in to craft beer as well as her vision for Bear and Squirrel.
Erica has an incredible resume of brewing that goes back well over 15 years. Impressively, she spent time honing her craft in Europe while working on her PhD. However, after a medical diagnosis in 2018, she started developing NA beers.
FBH: Erica, tell us a little about your journey in to craft beer. How did this passion for craft beer get started?
ERICA: Well, I was thirsty! I went to HS in south central PA, in a town called Hanover (home of Utz and Snyder’s, and some up-and-coming breweries). On a trip home from college, my dad took me out to a bar called Klingers, which back then had a 650+ item international beer list. I fell in love with the variety, the flavors, and the nuance of each. My first craft beer was a maibock, Dead Guy Ale, from Rogue, and then I tried roasty stouts, hoppy IPAs and bready pilsners…I just loved it far more than the swill I was drinking at university!!
FBH: When did you decide you wanted to start brewing beer?
ERICA: When I was 25, I was living in Copenhagen working on my Ph.D. and heard through the grapevine that a couple guys were thinking of starting a brewery, and needed some help with yeast. After working a full-time job, and going to school full-time as well, I had a few hours in the day where I wasn’t sleeping to lend a hand, so I learned from them. These gypsy brewers brewed on larger scale equipment than I had ever seen, and so it piqued my interest in how I could do it going forward. So in a sense, I went from learning on commercial equipment, to homebrewing, and now working back to commercial sizes.
FBH: At what point after you began brewing did you decide to launch a brewery?
Well, I always wanted to, as a pipedream, but work, a divorce, a new relationship, and getting married again always took precedence over that dream. I helped some breweries here and there, helped launch some, recipe development for others. But in 2016, I really started getting back into it, had some successes, won some awards, received some public and private accolades, and decided it was something I wanted to pursue more than just as a hobby.
FBH: I know you’ve faced some challenges getting Bear and Squirrel open? Can you elaborate on those?
Oh for sure! As most people in this industry can attest, the market is approaching saturation. Every town seemingly has a brewery or 3. They pop up, do great for a bit and then some fizzle out. Our major issue has been finding the right location. Just here in Downingtown, we have the regional juggernaut Victory Brewing Company, the smaller, but excellent East Branch Brewing, and a local cidery Dressler Estate, not to mention excellent restaurants and craft beer bars that already saturate us with the best of the best. So, if we want to open, we have to differentiate.
FBH: I see you want to feature non-alcoholic beers at your brewery, which is exciting and unique at the same time. What sparked the desire to make NA beers?
In 2018, I was diagnosed with a health condition that made drinking alcohol impossible for me for a time. So I started “researching” non-alcoholic options and found a lot that was better than I expected. Some were still the flavorless NA beers I remembered trying before, but some truly tasted good. One brewery, in fact, Athletic Brewing Company, featured hop-forward, non-alcoholic IPAs, a roasty stout and other offerings that opened my eyes to what could be. This would be how we could differentiate in a crowded local market! So I started investing in a pilot scale system, built my own dealcoholizing equipment, and started recipe development. The first few, in retrospect, were terrible, but now that I have a few years under my belt, I have a method ready for scale-up and production. The issues are licensing and equipment. Because Pennsylvania has no fully-NA breweries, no one seems to understand how to properly license one, and the commercial equipment to remove alcohol costs just as much as all the other equipment, combined!
FBH: What’s your vision for Bear and Squirrel? Where do you see it in 3, 5 years, etc.
In the future, I’d love to see us as the innovators on the front lines of the NA scene. There is so much going on right now, from NA wines and liquors, to breweries trying to make NA sours, it is inevitable that every style you enjoy with alcohol, there will be a NA verson out there, and we want to be the ones bringing it to you!
FBH: It’s evident that craft beer is under-represented by women. What can WE ALL do to help make craft beer a more inclusive space for women?
I think often times, there are assumptions, no matter how well-meaning, about what women will and won’t drink. What we do and don’t want. What we know and don’t know. And that isn’t the same with men. When I first started drinking craft, I ordered a Skullsplitter Ale from Orkney and had to convince the bartender that is what I really wanted! Women are savvy connoisseurs, our palettes are refined. We understand nuance, so it makes sense that we also would be able to enjoy a wide spectrum of craft beer as well.
People may not know this, but traditionally, women were always the brewers prior to the industrial revolution. Beer was made at the same time as soups and stews, wines, meads, etc., and because it was seen as food, it fell on women’s shoulders to make. So male brewers need to remember which giants’ shoulders they are standing on!
FBH: Where does the name Bear and Squirrel come from?
My husband has always been a giant man. When I met him, he was 6’4″ and resembled a NFL lineman. A bear of a human. So calling him my “Bear” became his pet name. I, on the other hand, have no attention span. We can be riding along in the car, having a nice conversation and see something that piques my interest, and just totally change the subject on a dime. So, its like I have a Squirrel brain, and that became his pet name for me: Squirrel. Our brewing is a collaborative effort, so thus, Bear & Squirrel. Now, our NA line is going to be spun off from B&S, because we want to differentiate that and leave the possibility of bringing full alcohol beer into our lineup someday. Our NA line is going to be made under Psy’n Tifik Beer Labs.
FBH: And lastly, if you could only brew one style of beer for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
This is the easiest question! The brown ale. It is a style I fell in love with while living in Europe because it is so versatile. Most flavors go well with it, honestly. You can make a hoppy brown, a nut brown, a chocolate brown, a caramel brown, or sour it and make an oud bruin! It can be sessionable at 4.5%, a killer at 13%, or even a NA beer below 0.5%. It’s approachable for the new craft drinker, and reliable for the experienced. You can drink it in the winter sitting by the fire, or in the summer heat. It can be served on CO2, nitro or on a handpump. And I think it is vastly underrepresented in our craft scene.