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‘Real Guys Making Real Beer’: Rusty Rail Brewing Breaking The Craft Beer Mold

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, was home to dozens of buggy manufacturers that constructed wagons, carriages, and sleighs. The small-town industry was abundant enough to dub Mifflinburg the “Buggy Capital of Pennsylvania.”

In 1911, one particular factory was converted to assemble Model T car bodies three years after the introduction of the universal car. The 70,000-square-foot factory produced automobile bodies, furniture, military cargo trailers, cabinets, and more before it fell into the hands of local brothers Paul and Eric John in 2009.

The John brothers introduced their cabinet manufacturing business to the historic building but left half of the factory empty, unsure how to best utilize it. Now, the former Model T plant is home to a new Pennsylvania industry: craft beer. The Johns, with the help of Rich Schrader and others, established Rusty Rail Brewing in the heart of Mifflinburg.

Every detail in the creation of Rusty Rail was more than intentional in order to preserve the integrity of the building and uplift commerce in the town that helped play a role in modern-day transportation. Down to the wood and individual nails, much of the building was repurposed and given new life in the former factory.

“At some point or another, this building was always connected to people working and living in the community,” Schrader, Rusty Rail’s president, said. “So we wanted to keep that tradition and keep this building as part of the community and have something to give back at the same time.”

Though the building’s output is far different than what it once was, it’s perhaps just as successful 112 years later.

Rusty Rail produces an average of 1,000 gallons of beer every day. Folks in State College probably recognize the brewery’s signature sips like its flagship Hazy IPA “Fog Monster” or West Coast-inspired clear IPA “Nice,” but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The Mifflinburg attraction distributes about 7,000 barrels of beer annually by way of 123 employees, accumulating regulars and destination-seekers to its home on Eighth Street.

“It’s not just the building we’re so proud of and repurposing this old building and giving it life again,” Schrader said. “It’s about the people that work here and then bringing a fun, exciting experience to try the beer.”

Head brewer Logan Powell is constantly experimenting with new flavor combinations like “Crunch Bot,” a caramel peanut brown ale, or “Whoo Berry,” a blueberry lager.

The brewery continues to push creativity a step further than most with its “Cheat Day” series, featuring sour beers with flavors ranging from blueberry cheesecake to lemon bar.

“We here at Rusty Rail take a lot of pride in trying to break the mold,” Powell said. “…We’re also known for wacky [beer] and just trying to combine really awesome flavors in beer.”

Though Powell has a flair for unique flavor profiles, it’s always been a passion project of his to brew a beer perfect for Penn State gamedays. As a college football and beer connoisseur, he knew it was time to concoct a brew bursting with flavor, but balanced enough to drink a few over the course of a tailgate or football game.

From there, “The Fans” was born. The Fans is a Hazy IPA forged with Pacific Northwestern hops and highlighting notes of citrus and stone fruit. Moreover, it finishes with smooth melon undertones. The Fans’ hops are plentiful, while not tasting overwhelmingly bitter. Instead, Powell emphasized the more aromatic and juicy elements of the West Coast hops.

Beginning Saturday, September 2, The Fans will be distributed in Beaver Stadium for the Nittany Lions’ battle against West Virginia and throughout the remainder of the 2023 season. Joining a new slate of local craft beers within the stadium, folks can purchase the 5.5%, 16-ounce Hazy IPA every Saturday in Happy Valley.

The Fans’ label art, designed by Rusty Rail Creative Director Jef McGreevy, unmistakably depicts Penn State fans in action.

Courtesy of Rusty Rail Brewing

“I just wanted it to be fun, and what makes up that whole environment is the fans,” McGreevy said.

The concept includes the Nittany Lions’ blue and white colorway, a lion’s paw, and a “State”-emblazoned end zone.

“Penn State fans have a bit of a reputation,” Powell said. “I feel like Jef really encapsulated, you know, that hype that comes from a gameday when you look at all these characters.”

Outside of Beaver Stadium, those in State College can find The Fans in grocery stores, a handful of bottle shops and bars, and Nittany Beverage.

The Mifflinburg brewery partners with local distributor Nittany Beverage and, with the help of Nittany Beverage President Tom Katancik, The Fans will soon be available in the Bryce Jordan Center for concerts, Medlar Field at Lubrano Park for State College Spikes games in 2024, Pegula Ice Arena, and the Penn State golf courses.

“Penn State Athletics is all in on this brand, which is really cool,” Katancik said.

Currently, Fog Monster is distributed in many of Penn State’s athletic venues, but a lower ABV beer will likely resonate with a greater number of fans, especially since it’s Penn State-inspired.

As Rusty Rail continues to expand westward and infiltrate Penn Staters’ tailgating coolers, the men behind the operation remain true to their small-town roots by encouraging people to visit Mifflinburg and their brewery. Rusty Rail hosts about 46 weddings per year, rents 23 on-site suites, and boasts an award-winning chef, demonstrating its massive significance within the community.

“That is our mission statement here,” Powell said. “We’re here not to just create kickass beer, but to have an awesome beer destination.

Still, after eight years of success in seven states, Schrader, Powell, and McGreevy truly just enjoy what they do everyday in the place they call home.

“Even though it is a small town, we’re real guys making real beer and just feel passionate about it,” Powell said.

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About the Author

Keeley Lamm

Keeley is a junior journalism major from Richmond, Virginia, and is Onward State's managing editor. She also talks about awesome stuff on our podcast, Podward State. Keeley is a lover of grilled cheese and Kevin Jonas. If you'd like to share your thoughts on the superior Jonas Brother, feel free to contact her on Twitter @keeleylammm or send your best joke to her email [email protected].

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