Kegs and Kombucha: Antifragile Brewing Company to Open at Downtown State College

Lisa Harpster and John Schaffer are co-owners of Antifragile Brewing Company, 324 E. Calder Way at State College. Photo of Ryan Parsons | forward state

Downtown State College is full of cafes, restaurants, niche stores, and bars, but one thing it didn’t have was a brewpub.

Lisa Harpster and John Schaffer are changing that. Their Antifragile Brewery, the borough’s first brewery, will open at 324 E. Calder Way, the former location of Pablo’s Chicken and Barranquero Café. A soft opening is planned for the end of the week.

Harpster and Schaffer, who will operate as co-owners of Antifragile, began their brewing journey not with a passion for beer, but for kombucha.

Six years ago, Schaffer was in San Francisco for the Super Bowl and drank fermented tea which he thoroughly enjoyed. When he returned to State College, he found nothing remotely comparable. Time passed, he took a beer trip to Vermont, and he noticed that all the craft breweries had kombucha on tap too.

Why can’t we do this at State College? » he wondered.

So Schaffer went home, dedicated himself to this idea, and ultimately the duo landed on their usual naked kombucha. Schaffer worked on the brewing aspect, while Harpster spent time experimenting with flavors and eventually social media and branding.

The duo started out brewing kombucha for friends and family, but Rothrock Coffee asked if they were considering selling it. Rothrock became the first customer, sullen culture kombucha was born and their adventure took off.

Moody Culture has been brewing since 2017 and is sold in and around State College. Glass bottles are available at Café Lemont, Cheese Shoppe, Pump Station Cafe and many other local businesses.

“Anytime you ferment anything, it’s a product of the environment,” Harpster said. “Sometimes we would create a batch of kombucha and the SCOBY would look one way. Other times it would look a different way. Sometimes the taste was a little different whether it was temperature, environment or flavor type.

“We started talking about how it was in a bad mood“, Harpster continued. “He had a life of his own. We talked about how he lives and breathes like how we are as people. We can also be in different moods while we brew. there are a lot of different mood variants that go into the final product.

As for “culture,” the owners included the word in the brand name as a tribute to “SCOBY,” a brewing ingredient that stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. Combined with their attempt to foster a community culture that comes together to enjoy drinks, the name was a home run.

Moody Culture’s kombucha will keep its name and will be brewed and sold at the Antifragile Brewing Company downtown.

The owners had been brewing kombucha in a basement apartment for four years and said they really needed to expand.

Before the pandemic, Harpster and Schaffer knew they wanted to expand into more fermented drinks. They first started looking for big properties outside of State College, but saw an opportunity to bring a new scene to downtown.

“We both have a passion for craft drinks,” Harpster explained. “We wanted to incorporate fermenting beer, as well as kombucha.”

Kombucha and beer are similar in that they are brewed by converting sugars into carbon dioxide, alcohol, and heat. Brewing Kombucha involves open fermentation with bacteria and yeast where the bacteria then convert most of the alcohol into acetic acid. Beer, however, involves closed fermentation using only yeast.

An award-winning brewer from Brazil whom the duo met three years ago and who was previously an exchange student at a State College area school will brew the beer for Antifragile.

Antifragile’s location on Calder Way is at the former location of the Barranquero Café, a Colombian cafe where Harpster liked to go. It’s an intimate space already geared towards selling drinks to guests and has a quaint upstairs seating area.

“I did a lot of design work that was really fun,” Harpster said. “To see a space start as something, create ideas, bring people together and come together to create this final product, it’s really cool. John and I are both project-minded, and we have a reputation for taking on a little more than we probably should. It was really fun to see the process from birth to finished product.

Antifragile will have a little taproom feel that aims for a modern, elevated experience.

“We wanted to add value to the quality beverages we produce,” Harpster said. “Whether it’s kombucha, beer or a cocktail, we want people to feel like they’re somewhere special. People can expect to see a mid-century modern vibe. He feels in a bad mood. It has an artistic touch, clean lines and the floor is made of leather and velvet. Downstairs there is lots of walnut, raw wood and brass lighting. It is an elevated experience.

As for the inspiration behind the Antifragile Brewing Company name, it started with a book written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Both Harpster and Schaffer read “Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder” a few years ago, and the themes of the story resonated with both of them. He was talking about being more resilient than resilient. People resist tough times and get through them, but they also grow stronger as a result.

You have to find the lessons and go through difficult times. According to Harpster, fermentation is also a growing process, so they thought this concept fitted their brewery very well.

Antifragile’s logo is inspired by the hydra of Greek mythology. The biggest head is immortal and cannot be damaged by typical weapons. As for the other heads, two are grown for each that is cut. The logo is an ode to resilience, a recurring theme throughout the brewery.

When Antifragile opens this spring, it will primarily serve beer, kombucha, and cocktails. Eventually, however, the owners plan to add hard seltzers and alcoholic kombucha to the mix. Antifragile will also serve gourmet popcorn as an option for people looking for a light snack.

While some places add alcohol to their non-alcoholic kombucha, Antifragile will ferment it to create the alcohol.

Antifragile is near a Lebanese restaurant, a Chinese restaurant and there are pizza places nearby. Local cuisine is something the owners love about the location, so they allow customers to bring food into the brewery if they’re looking for something other than a snack.

“John and I have a history in the restaurant industry,” Harpster said. “We both really appreciate this process. [We enjoy] chatting with people, especially around the drinks we create. It’s super exciting. I can’t wait to see people’s faces, whether they’re trying our kombucha, our beer, or our cocktails for the first time.

Antifragile will offer a variety of beers for all tastes. IPAs will be the focus, but the owners want to create a well-rounded beer list. Customers can expect quality beer in a variety of types, including lagers, stouts, lagers, saisons, and more.

The beers will be named after themes like the Grateful Dead and Phish references, phrases from the Antifragile book, and even a fluffy little puppy.

The new downtown brewery will be open a few days a week, although exact opening hours are unofficial. It will likely be open Friday and Saturday with one or two more days dotted around. For now, the owners want to focus on providing enough quality products to their customers. Outdoor seating should also be phased in gradually.

Harpster said they want to create another place downtown for the local community. Their goal is to bring in Penn State students, but also prioritize Penn State faculty and State College residents.

Eventually people can stop by and buy four packs of beer and kombucha to go. When the brewery first opens, it will focus on drafts and eventually set up its canning lines a few weeks after opening.

Moody Culture fans can also expect a relaunch of its kombucha brand.

As Antifragile Brewing Company opens its doors to the public in the coming weeks, Harpster and Schaffer say they’re excited to fulfill their mission to bring craft beverages downtown.

Luz W. German