At the heart of every craft beer is a great community. From locally sourced ingredients to unique flavor profiles, craft beer draws inspiration from the area where it’s produced and becomes a delicious source of hometown pride.
Now the Cal U community has a brew to call its own.
“Like all of our beers, the recipe starts out as a vision of who, how and where the beer will be enjoyed,” says Matt Smiley, co-owner and brewer at Laurel Highlands Brewing in Uniontown, Pa.
The small craft brewery created a special Cal U Brew for this year’s VulcanFest and Homecoming celebration.
“Knowing that it would be served at Homecoming, we wanted to go with a light, approachable, lower-alcohol beer that you could drink all day. We decided to add some light blackberry notes to keep the beer interesting and play on the school colors and local flora.”
The University is represented in both the beer and the brewery.
Matt Smiley and Bob Kotarsky started brewing beer together before opening Laurel Highlands Brewing in 2016. Their wives, best friends since high school, attended Cal U together.
Allison Kotarsky ’07 studied graphic design, with a minor in graphic communication technology. She
creates the artwork for the brewery’s labels and website, as well as graphics used on social media and apparel.
Amy Smiley ’07 majored in public relations, with a minor in marketing. She consults on social media efforts and events.
To create a beer specifically for Cal U, the husband-and-wife teams worked with Ryan Barnhart '08, '09, the University’s director of Alumni Relations.
“We are beyond thrilled to have this come full circle,” Allison Kotarsky says.
“Being a part of our University and showcasing the business our husbands have built is really exciting.”
The popularity of craft beer has exploded in the last five years, and drinkers value its local connections.
According to the Nielsen research firm, 66% of craft beer drinkers purchase only brews produced in their region, and 57% prefer brands with ties to their city or town.
“Beer has always been a community experience,” Bob Kotarskysays.
“Being the first brewery in the Uniontown area since Prohibition, we have an obligation to educate and bring back local, handcrafted beer to a community where it has been absent since the 1920s.”
While the process of fermenting grains to produce alcohol is more than 5,000 years old, the scientific understanding and artful appreciation of the brewing process has advanced significantly.
Every new brew is a carefully calculated experiment involving glucose, ethanol, carbon dioxide and the local water’s mineral content. Colors and flavoring can turn a blank, water-based canvas into a masterpiece.
“Higher education and brewing actually go hand-in-hand,” Matt Smiley says.
“Partnering with the University and discussing the brewing process allows us to show how an education can lead to opportunities and careers outside of the traditional corporate structure.”