At 9-ft by 9.5-ft, the brewery in the basement of The Vegetable Hunter, a vegetarian restaurant on Second Street in Harrisburg, might be the smallest brewery in Pennsylvania.
While the brewing space is cramped, brewer Derek Markel does not let that hinder him in making small-batch beers with big flavor.
Markel started with The Vegetable Hunter initially as a consultant to help get the brewing equipment set up, brew the first couple of batches and get the program rolling. Now, a few months in, and he is on his sixth batch of beer with plans for more.
“I can’t say how long I’ll be here, but I hope it’s for a while,” said Markel. “I want to help the brewery grow and I think I have the expertise to bring good beer.”
Perfect sized background
Markel’s background is strictly from homebrewing. He’s done it for nearly a decade and jumped in with both feet with the very first batch he brewed.
“When I started home brewing, I built my own system and went right into kegging,” said Markel. “I also went right to doing all grain batches as opposed to starting with extracts.”
The Vegetable Hunter needed someone who knew how to brew good beer on a smaller system. Right now, Markel has a state of the art brewing system just on a smaller scale, but he’s comfortable.
“Homebrewing has definitely helped the transition to brewing on this system,” said Markel. “It might be the smallest brewery in Pennsylvania, but it works for what we need.”
His brewing space is small, and he utilizes all the space he can. The ceiling is only 6-feet high and pipes hang down at spots that make it feel even more cramped. A brewing space like this proves that great beer can come out of anywhere.
While Markel isn’t ducking under floorboards to connect hoses and dry-hop his latest beer, he works as an IT professional. A job, he says, that doesn’t give him much of an outlet.
“I love brewing,” said Markel. “I don’t get to be too creative in my day job and brewing gives me a chance to work with my hands and break out to be creative.”
Big flavor in a small space
Markel is no stranger to creating beers packed with flavor. He has competed in and won many local homebrew competitions with a variety of beers including, most recently, his dry-hopped pale ale.
“My style has always been to try to bring the most flavor in a drinkable beer,” said Markel. “I like to focus more on things like malt and hop flavors rather than really bitter beers.”
Although Markel likes the innovative side of brewing, he embraces the technicalities that go along with making different styles of beer.
“Creating my own water has been a big thing for the quality of my beer,” said Markel. “I have a spreadsheet of how different water affects different styles of beer.”
The attention to detail is evident in the four beers he currently has on tap and the two others waiting in the fermenters.
“Right now, we’re trying to figure out what beer is going to sell best here,” said Markel. “It’s nice to brew on a smaller system because you get the freedom to try out a few new ingredients.”
Brews like Punk Rock Girl Hibiscus Saison and Veg Halen Toaster Coconut Porter show off experimentation, while Geiger’s Punch Pale Ale and Drink Floyd The Beer IPA shows how he can brew the classics.
He likes keeping it local and has used a local maltsters Deer Creek Malthouse for three of his first six batches. Markel also says that he plans to use local fruit in a few brews throughout the summer.
“I’ve brought over some recipes from homebrewing, but all of these are actually new recipes that I am trying here,” said Markel.
Upcoming Markel has another version of the hibiscus saison and a dry-hopped Northeast-style DIPA, that should be ready for their “Meet The Brewer” event during Harrisburg Beer Week TONIGHT, Friday, April 21.
The Vegetable Hunter is open Monday-Tuesday 8 a.m.-2 p.m., Wednesday 8 a.m.-9 p.m., Thursday-Friday 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-8 p.m.