Something 'Bearded' is brewing in Emporium

Photo by Yelena Kisler – Pictured are two of Bearded Brewing's coffee roasts along with a local-made custom beer carrier the company is offering especially for the holiday season. The two versions of the logos seen on the coffee and carrier were designed by company owners Josh Zucal and Ryan Magaro.Photo by Yelena Kisler – Pictured from right to left are Bearded Brewing owners Leslie Zucal, Josh Zucal, Brandi Magaro (not pictured) and Ryan Magaro. The group stand in front of their coffee point-of-sale location at Aroma Cafe in Emporium. The beans can be ground on-site with their vintage grinder seen on the left side of the table. Photo by Yelena Kisler – Bearded Brewing co-owner Ryan Magaro talks to a patron about plans for the company at last week's Christmas in the Wilds event in Emporium.
Yelena Kisler
Staff Writer
Bearded Brewing has all of Emporium buzzing lately, and with good reason. What started as a dream among local entrepreneurs and long-time friends has taken on a life of its own in ways they never expected.
Husband and wife teams Josh and Lindsey Zucal and Ryan and Brandi Magaro have known each other most of their lives, but only teamed up in March of this year to pursue a mutual passion: brewing beer.
"I had always wanted to try to incorporate a microbrewery into the business here," said Josh Zucal. This has been on his mind since he and Lindsey took over ownership of Aroma Cafe three years ago. "I'm not big on doing things by myself, so the partnership we created together (with the Magaros) is Bearded Brewing LLC," he said.
The Magaros have another business they started about two years ago, Rich Valley Apiary, which produces creams, lotions, beard products and other items that use beeswax as a base.
Josh saw that the pair had found success in launching and branding a brand new product. "I really liked what they were doing, and I really liked their products and the way they present everything, and I just knew that this would go hand-in-hand perfectly," he said.
He saw that the Magaros were very good at the marketing end of it and putting out a product that looked really nice. The two logos for the Bearded Brewing brand were designed by Ryan and Josh. The beer, coffee and soda all fit well under the Bearded Brewing brand. "We were throwing around ideas for names and stuff, that one stuck very quickly," said Ryan, "because it allowed us under that one umbrella to cover [all the products]."
"It was a perfect partnership," said Ryan of the Zucals. "Lindsey and I are probably the realists and Brandi and Josh the idealists, we have to rein in what's doable and logical with the dream. And that's a perfect balance." The original goal was to start a brewery within the cafe itself, but since March of this year when they began, the focus has spread to include coffee and, more recently, even sodas.

The coffee
"Ryan came up with the great idea, that in the meantime, while we're trying to get funding together and do different things, why don't we start roasting coffee, because it's something that we can do right now, we don't need any licensing for it," Josh said. 
That's how the coffee came about, just a fun generator, to be able to fund the beer side of the business. In April, the team purchased their first roaster and got to work.
All four members of the team are dedicated to promoting locally grown, made and sourced products whenever possible, and even though the coffee isn't grown locally, it's still sourced from small family farms and not big agriculture.
"We like to try to source our beans fair trade as much as possible, so we're really mindful of supporting the small farmers. The people that are out there working and this is their livelihood," Josh said. "That aspect of it is really enjoyable, for me at least, knowing that we're helping these small family farms."
Bearded Brewing offers three distinct roasts and one blend. One variety, like many commercial coffee, is sourced from Columbia, another is from Sumatra (an island in Indonesia) and a third comes from Ethiopia. Columbian coffee is very versatile and can be roasted light or dark as can the Sumatran and the two come together to form Bearded Brewing's house blend which the Zucals serve at Aroma. The Ethiopian coffee is called Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and it is their lightest roast.
"So with the coffee roasting, it sort of became its own little animal," Josh said. 
"And we have the means to sell it and we use it [in Aroma Cafe]," added Lindsey. "Our house blend is our own roasted beans."
"We though it would be fun, we didn't expect it to be its own thing," Ryan said. The coffee has been selling so well, it could easily be its own business.
Because the coffee goes from the roaster directly to the Cafe and the customer, sometimes only a few hours pass between when the beans finish roasting and when they are brewed into coffee. 
"What it allows us to do is build the brand, the Bearded Brewing brand," Ryan said, "which eventually will carry over into the nano-brewery and still drive extra clientele to the restaurant, so it's a win-win for everyone."
The beer
Bearded Brewing plan to use the momentum from their coffee sales to fund the beer brewing side of the business. The beer side has taken a bit longer to get going than the team initially hoped, but that's partly because the coffee roasting and sales took on a life of its own.  
The goal is to start a nano-brewery within the Cafe itself. A nano-brewery differs from a micro-brewery in the number of barrels the company brews each year. Even at the nano-brewing scale, they would be producing approximately 2,000 barrels per year.
"We're trying to start off small and grow organically," Ryan said.
At this point, the beer has just been home-brewed. They were able to showcase the beers at a dinner event at Aroma where they offered samples to patrons. They are trying to do fundraisers like that, where Aroma provides and sells the food and Bearded Brewing provides the sample beers for free. 
"It gives us an opportunity to test what's out there, test what people like," Ryan said.
Most locals, they have found, want a lighter ale as opposed to one containing more hops. But they don't want to make the next Miller Lite, their intention is to make something better than that.
"What we're looking to do is just to have a higher end restaurant and atmosphere here," Josh said. "They're not going to be cheap beers, it's not going to be like a bar."
Looking to the future
Culturally, the group see a shift in local mentality wanting to move towards artisan goods and that's why they see a future in this type of business. 
"What we're starting to see is a renaissance in Cameron County. People are coming back to 'I'm sick of the Walmart effect,'" Ryan said. "With the millennials, that generation is rebelling against the norm and saying 'no, I'm OK to pay a couple bucks more for a coffee or a beer.' We're hoping to build that atmosphere here in Emporium where both locals and tourists can enjoy our amazing Main Street.
"We're at the point now where we'd like to expand now," he said, "We'd like to see [the coffee] get into other communities. We'd like to make it a niche and in each town maybe partner with one restaurant that has a similar mindset and wants to know where their coffee's coming from."
"Recently we had our first out-of-town facility start selling our coffee, the Coffee Project in Kane," Ryan said. The team hopes to offer restaurants in St. Marys and surrounding areas a custom roast to sell at their establishment.
"We can make a blend just for them, we could use a different region like Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico," he said, "so we're looking for other people that would like to do what the Aroma is doing, which is serve coffee that they know where it's coming from."
Looking forward, the company wants to have more events like this to promote both the coffee and help perfect the beer brewing while they work on getting proper licensing.
They know they want to do a pale ale, they definitely plan to have a coffee stout to connect the two sides of the business, they want to do some sort of IPA as well as some seasonal items. Right now they are just experimenting with brews and flavors to determine what they want to continue to make. For 
New Year's Eve, the Aroma will host a party at their Cafe and their beer will be available for tasting at that event. The event is limited to 80 seats and the Zucals expect it to sell out. The tickets are $20 per person and are available at the Aroma Cafe or by calling 486-7662.
Another aspect of the business is making their own sodas. They have already started making them and once the current supply runs out, Lindsey will be substituting the Pepsi products served in Aroma with their locally-made soda.

For the full story, check out the FINANCIAL section of today's print edition.