March of this year, 27 year-old Andrew Witchey left online fashion bastion ModCloth to pursue the dream of opening his own brewery. For six months, the Lower Burrell native had been waking up at 4:00 AM every morning to complete his course work with the American Brewers Guild, a Vermont-based organization that provides Apprenticeships as well as Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering courses. He’d also been hanging out at The Brew Gentlemen, the Braddock-based brewery known for making hop-bombs that rival the famous delights of Maine and Vermont. Dancing Gnome, named for the jolly, irreverent creature of Renaissance magic and alchemy, was born.
Self described as “hop-obsessed,” Witchey plans to make hazy, juicy beers that showcase various combinations of hops: pale ales, blondes, and IPAs, to name a few. “That’s what I love, what I drink, and what I want to spend my time working on,” Witchey said. He likes single hop beers, but thinks that the art of brewing comes from combining hops in unique combinations. Some of his favorites include Citra and Amarillo, two increasingly rare hops that Witchey has stockpiled in order to keep up with demand, as well as Vic’s Secret and Enigma, two Australian hops, and Nelson, a varietal from New Zealand.
When Witchey opens, he plans to have four beers in cans as “semi-flagships”: Lustra, a 5.8 % ABV ale that combines Citra, Amarillo, Centennial, and Horizon hops for intense tropical and citrus fruit flavors; Agricolis, a 5.2 % spicy farmhouse ale; Aevum, a 4.2 % session ale; and Caligo, a 7.5 % stout.
The naming conventions for the beers come from Latin, an homage to Witchey’s inspirational high school Latin teacher, though Witchey eventually plans to break that mold. For instance, in the works is “Young Archaic,” an oxymoron that refers to a newer style of beer (hence young) that uses traditional, standby hops (hence archaic).
The beers will be brewed in a space off the tasting room that contains four 10-barrel fermenters and one 10-barrel bright tank, though the capacity exists for up to five 10-barrel fermenters, two 10-barrel bright tanks, three 20-barrel fermenters, and one 20-barrel bright tank, as well as a canning line.
In addition to Witchey’s passion, and the beers themselves, perhaps the most interesting thing about Dancing Gnome is its location, on Main Street in Sharpsburg. Dancing Gnome will be the town’s first brewery, though its proximity to other breweries in the area make it seem like it has been there forever. Just over two miles to the southwest is Roundabout Brewery, Drai Laag, Hope Farm, and Grist House, and to the southeast, East End Brewing Company. It’s the missing piece in a brewery trail that makes an arc from Lawrenceville to Larimer.
Witchey was quick to stress that the community has been exceptionally supportive. During our interview at his under construction taproom and brewhouse, a gentleman wandered inside to ask for a job, and another complemented Witchey’s recently constructed sign. “Welcome to the neighborhood,” he said, “it’s nice to see someone moving in instead of moving out.”