Kegs & Kombucha: Antifragile Brewing Company To Open In Downtown State College

Simply put, downtown State College is special. There’s a coffee shop for every mood, a bar on every block, and niche shops that we all know and love. However, the charming town has always been missing…something.

Lisa Harpster and John Schaffer believe they’ve finally found the missing piece to the puzzle: the borough’s first brewery. Antifragile Brewing Company will open at 324 E. Calder Way, in the former location of Pablo’s Chicken and Barranquero Café. A soft opening is anticipated for the end of the week.

Harpster and Schaffer, who will function as Antifragile’s co-owners, began their brewing journey not with a passion for beer, but for kombucha.

Years ago, Schaffer was in San Francisco for the Super Bowl and had some fermented tea that he really enjoyed. Upon his return to State College, he couldn’t find anything that remotely compared. Time passed, he went on a beer trip to Vermont, and he noticed that all of the craft breweries had kombucha on tap, too.

Why can’t we do this in State College?” he wondered.

So, Schaffer came back home, dedicated himself to this idea, and, eventually, the duo landed on their regular naked kombucha. Schaffer worked on the brewing aspect, while Harpster spent time experimenting with flavors and eventually social media and branding.

The pair started off by brewing kombucha for friends and family, but Rothrock Coffee asked if they’d consider selling it. Rothrock became the first customer, Moody Culture kombucha was born, and their adventure took off.

Moody Culture has been brewing since 2017 and is sold in and around State College. The glass bottles are available at Cafe Lemont, the Cheese Shoppe, Pump Station Cafe, and many other local businesses.

“Anytime you’re fermenting anything, it’s a product of the environment,” Harpster said. “Sometimes, we would create a batch of kombucha and the SCOBY would look one way. Other times it would look another way. Sometimes the taste was a bit different, whether it was temperature, environment, or what type of flavoring.”

“We started talking about how it was moody,” Harpster continued. “It had a life of its own. We talked about how it’s living and breathing like how we are as people. We can be in different moods while we’re brewing as well. There’s a lot of different mood variants that go into the final product.”

As for “culture,” the owners included the word in the brand’s name as a tribute to the “SCOBY,” a brewing ingredient that stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. Combined with their attempt to foster a community culture that comes together to enjoy beverages, the name was a home run.

Moody Culture kombucha will keep its name and be brewed and sold at the downtown Antifragile Brewing Company location.

The owners had been brewing kombucha in a basement apartment for the last four years and said they really needed to expand.

Before the pandemic, Harpster and Schaffer knew they wanted to expand into more fermented beverages. They initially began looking at large properties outside of State College, but they saw an opportunity to bring a new scene to the downtown area.

“We both have a passion for craft beverages,” Harpster explained. “We wanted to incorporate fermenting beer, as well as kombucha.”

Both kombucha and beer are similar in that they’re brewed by converting sugars to carbon dioxide, alcohol, and heat. Kombucha brewing involves open fermentation with both bacteria and yeast where the bacteria then converts most of the alcohol to acetic acid. Beer, however, involves closed fermentation using only yeast.

About three years ago, the duo met an award-winning brewer from Brazil who was previously an exchange student in a State College area school. This individual will brew beer for Antifragile and will be an important asset to Harpster and Schaffer’s team.

Antifragile’s location on Calder Way is in the former spot of Barranquero Café, a Colombian coffee shop that Harpster enjoyed going to. It’s an intimate space already geared toward selling beverages to customers and has a quaint lounge area upstairs.

“I’ve been doing a lot of the design work which has been really fun,” Harpster said. “To see a space start as something, create ideas, bring people together, and to put our heads together to create this final product is really cool. Both John and I are project-minded, and we have a reputation for taking on a bit more than we probably should. It’s been really fun to see the process from birth to finished product.”

Antifragile will have a small taproom feel that’s aiming for a modern, elevated experience.

“We wanted to give value to the quality beverages that we’re producing,” Harpster said. “Whether it’s kombucha, beer, or a cocktail, we want people to feel like they are in a special place. People can expect to see a mid-century, modern vibe. It feels moody. It has an artistic flair, clean lines, and the upstairs consists of leather and velvet. Downstairs, there’s a lot of walnut, raw wood, and brass lighting. It’s an elevated experience.”

As for the inspiration behind Antifragile Brewing Company’s name, it started with a book written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Harpster and Schaffer both read “Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder” a few years ago, and the themes in the story resonated with both of them. It talked about being more resilient than resilient. People withstand hard times and get through them, but they also become stronger as a result.

You have to find the lessons and go through difficult times. According to Harpster, fermentation is a growing process as well, which is why they thought this concept fit really well with their brewery.

Antifragile’s logo is inspired by the hydra in Greek mythology. The largest head is immortal and cannot be damaged by typical weapons. As for the other heads, two are grown for every that is cut off. The logo is an ode to resilience, a persistent theme throughout the brewery.

When Antifragile first opens this spring, it will primarily serve beer, kombucha, and cocktails. Eventually, though, the owners plan to add hard seltzers and an alcoholic kombucha to the mix. Antifragile will also serve gourmet popcorn as an option for people who are looking for a light snack.

While some places add liquor to their nonalcoholic kombucha, Antifragile will ferment it to create the alcohol.

Antifragile sits near a Lebanese restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, and there’s pizza nearby. The local cuisine is something that the owners love about the location, so they’re allowing customers to bring food into the brewery if they’re looking for something beyond a snack.

“John and I have a history in the restaurant industry,” Harpster said. “We both really enjoy that process. [We enjoy] getting to chat with people, especially over beverages that we’re creating. It’s super exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing the looks on peoples’ faces, whether they’re trying our kombucha, our beer, or cocktails for the first time.”

Antifragile will offer a variety of beers for everyone’s beer palate. IPAs will be a focus, but the owners want to create a well-rounded beer list. Customers can expect quality beer in a variety of types including pale ales, stouts, lagers, saisons, and more.

The beers will be named after themes such as Grateful Dead and Phish references, phrases from the Antifragile book, and even a fluffy little puppy.

The new downtown brewery will be open a few days a week, though the exact opening times are not official. It will likely be open Friday and Saturday with one or two more days sprinkled in. For now, the owners want to focus on having enough quality products for their customers. Outdoor seating is expected to be phased in, too.

Harpster said that they want to create another spot downtown for the local community. Their goal is to bring in Penn State students but also prioritize Penn State faculty and State College residents.

Eventually, people can stop in and purchase four-packs of beer and kombucha to-go. When the brewery first opens, it will focus on drafts and eventually phase in its canning lines a few weeks after opening.

Moody Culture fans can also look forward to a brand relaunch of its kombucha.

As Antifragile Brewing Company opens to the public in the coming weeks, Harpster and Schaffer say they’re excited to fulfill their mission of bringing craft beverages to the downtown area.

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About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a washed-up biology grad and former associate editor. Her legacy will live on through stories like “10 Questions With State College Sensation ‘Hot UPS Bae’”. If you’re a STEM girlie, this is your sign to take the leap of faith and learn to write. It’s pretty fun. Colleen misses the hate mail and can be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

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