On the Friday of Penn State’s graduation weekend, Happy Valley Brewing Company head brewer Josh Davies poured a couple pints of his freshly made beer straight from the tap and gave me a tour as we chatted about how he ended up at the brewpub.
Josh is a big part of HVBC’s history; he came to the area from Michigan to be head brewer when the brewpub opened in 2013 in a renovated 200-year-old barn at 137 Elmwood Street. After a brief hiatus at Otto’s Pub and Brewery across town, Josh came back home to the barn last summer and doesn’t plan on leaving again anytime soon. He’s looking to continue to grow the brewery’s presence in the community.
“I like to be a lifer and make beer for the community, and not jump around. … To be really impactful, I feel like you have to be part of a community for a long time,” Josh says.
I relished having the chance to enjoy a craft beer with the person who made it and learn about how he got here. After all, most every beer lover has at one point dreamed about being a brew master, mixing the grains into mash and making a beer that people enjoy. I have made a few home-brew batches in my day, but they were nothing to brag about.
So, here I was drinking a Tailgater IPA, listening to Josh tell his story about how he is living that dream; it put a smile on my face. Well, maybe the smile came from the really tasty beverage that Josh brewed. Yeah, that was definitely part of it. It is in those smiles from people enjoying his beer that Josh finds motivation.
“When you see people drink your stuff, and they like it, that feels pretty awesome,” he says. “When people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love this beer,’ … I’m blushing, because I don’t know how to say thank you. … For me, to be the go-to beer for some people in this community, where when people think about an IPA they think of my beer, that feels pretty good.”
Josh’s journey to head brewer started in Michigan, in 2001. He was working as a paramedic when he met a couple of people from the now-closed Arcadia Brewing at a brew expo, and they connected over their love of music and beer.
“They said, ‘Dude, you should come help us bottle. We bottle every Monday; you’ll drink the freshest beer you ever drank, we’ll send you home with three cases, and we’ll teach you a thing or two about a thing or two,” Josh says. This sounded like a good deal to Josh, who was then 21. “That was Saturday. I went on Monday, and I went every Monday for two-and-a-half years.”
Soon after, a fellow EMT hooked Josh up with some home-brewing supplies and he started making his own beer. He got hooked, learning as much as he could about technique, recipes, and equipment.
With that experience, he found a job at Michigan Brewing Company in 2004, managing the home-brew store, all the while learning and making connections. Every chance he got, he helped out in the brewing process, until one day the owner handed Josh the brew list for the day, telling him to call if he had any questions.
“I didn’t even know what button to push … it was all buttons,” says Josh, looking back with a laugh. It was a trial by fire, but he aced it, figuring out the correct buttons to push even though he had to call the owner “probably 10 times that day. But, no problem, everything was good. I brewed every batch of beer there for the next two-and-a-half years.”
He continued to make connections, building friendships and his network, until he got a call from his old friend from Arcadia Brewing Company.
“He said, ‘Dude, it is time to come home. We can’t make enough beer; we have quality control issues and we need you,” says Josh, who became assistant head brewer at the place where he used to volunteer for a couple of cases of beer.
Eventually, through friends in the industry, he got connected to a group that was looking to open a brewery in Happy Valley.
Josh remembers the first time he came to State College to consult about the possibility. During that trip, he sat on the 50-yard-line of a Michigan-Penn State game on Halloween, and climbed to the top of Mount Nittany. He started to think in the back of his mind about how nice it would be to raise his young family in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.
“It was like, this is … sweet,” says Josh.
Eventually, he had a choice to make: Either stay in Michigan and help Arcadia expand to a second location, or, “there are these really cool people who I just met who want to open up a brewery in State College, where you can get anywhere in the woods in like 10 minutes, and they have mountains, and streams you can paddle, and there is no crime. … So, the choice was to move here and raise a family in an awesome spot.”
Once he settled in, Josh got to brewing with this philosophy: “We are not trying to make the best beer on the planet; our true, honest goal is to make the best beer you’ll drink today.”
Josh brews a wide variety of beers, looking to satisfy a variety of flavor profiles. He likens the lineup to that of a sports team.
“For us here, a full lineup is 12 beers on tap. … Four of them need to be hoppy … so we’ve got eight to play with. You need a couple nice, approachable beers, because not everybody rides mountain bikes and sucks down 7-percent IPAs every day. A lot of people want the closest thing to Miller Lite. You should have something that satisfies the flavor-preference range.”
As we come out of the pandemic, Josh is ready to build the brewery’s connections to the community even stronger. An avid mountain-biker who loves live music, he sees those as avenues to build those connections.
“I want to make beer for this community, I want to be a part of this community,” he says. “My stuff is music-based, outdoor-based. So, for people who are doing things in those realms, I want to be involved. If there is a mountain-biking event or a trail-running event, we want to be involved. Beer offers a lot of things for people who are trying to create, that are coming up with ideas. They are getting together, brainstorming, and the environment downstairs is great to sit back, grab a couple of beers, and shoot the breeze and figure it out.”
Staff writer Vincent Corso enjoys drinking local and meeting new people at central Pennsylvania’s many interesting establishments.