Good Beer and Good Fortune
The timing is that good.
It’s almost as if Jesse De Salvo, Ryan Johnstonbaugh and Ashley Garvick – the owners of Crystal Ball Brewing Company – divined the future by gazing fixedly into a mystical crystal ball or maybe into one of their fermenters full of swirling coconut porter.
In late May, Crystal Ball celebrated its one-year anniversary as a business and received a special surprise gift – the PA Liquor Control Board enacted a law allowing breweries to sell beer on-site without having to purchase a special brewpub license. For a brewery like Crystal Ball, the new ruling is a big deal.
“It’s huge,” says De Salvo. “That’s my quote,” he laughs before expanding a bit. “It’s not every day – especially in the booze business – that you get a bone thrown to you. Now we can take it to the next level. We are one few breweries in the area that are truly benefiting from this.”
Unlike the owners of most start-up breweries, the guys at Crystal Ball decided not to pursue the standard brewpub business model and instead focused on a production facility and distribution.
“Now that this new law has come through, it really brings to light how many production spots like us there really aren’t,” says De Salvo. “We got the brewery license, and now that license translates into us being able to serve at the brewery without buying any more licensing or going through any more hoops.”
The new law also saves the company thousands of dollars in licensing fees and other costs.
Not having a brewpub to showcase the beer has never really been a problem for Crystal Ball. Many local bars and restaurants regularly carry their beer, and they are a familiar face on the Central PA festival scene. Crystal Ball Brewing Company beers are currently distributed in nearly 40 counties, with plans to expand to even more areas in the near future.
“Our plan from day one was to concentrate on product and mass distribution and building a brand on a state level,” says De Salvo, who acts as the brewery’s entire marketing, branding and sales department.
But the best business plans (even when they are aided by luck) won’t work if the quality of the product isn’t there.
“If the beer wasn’t good, my job would be a lot harder,” De Salvo laughs. “But luckily for me, I feel like we’ve got a pretty solid product.”
Crystal Ball Brewing Company began when De Salvo (left), Johnstonbaugh (center) and Garvick (right) – three Spring Grove High School graduates who became friends later in life – decided to take Johnstonbaugh’s homebrewing operation to the next level. They entered a few local festivals and received positive feedback. From there, they raised money, built their production site in West York and started filling growlers, kegging and canning their beer and making connections with distributors.
Crystal Ball offers between five and seven beers at any given time. Their beers are simple, but that doesn’t mean the flavors aren’t rich or that they’re afraid of experimenting with styles.
“Our brews aren’t overly complex,” says De Salvo. “I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Gordon Ramsay, but he says, ‘If you’ve got 30 ingredients on a plate, you’re doing way too damn much.’”
The beer that has really taken off is the coconut porter, a brown porter with English dark malts made with real toasted coconut.
“It’s a year-round beer. Most people think of a dark beer and they think of winter,” says De Salvo. “We’ve broken that glass ceiling.”
Other offerings include the All-Seeing IPA – a big and flavorful IPA – a breakfast stout with bacon and a mango hibiscus that is still being tinkered with but has been well-received at many festivals.
“The guys are brewing their asses off,” says De Salvo. “And to be able to keep it consistent so that it can be distributed on such a large level in such a short amount of time is amazing.”
Even with the good fortune of the new PLCB ruling that is allowing the sale of beer at the brewery, De Salvo and Co. are set on expanding further. The expansion includes plans to take their beers into the Philadelphia, Western PA and Maryland markets. And even though they don’t technically need one, plans for a brewpub are under way.
“I’m actively looking at properties in West York, East York and York City,” says De Salvo. “I don’t know where we are going to land yet, but it’s going to make sense for the consumers. I guarantee it’s going to be a nice place to be.”
De Salvo can’t see the pub being ready before late December of this year. But in the meantime, stop by the brewery on Saturdays from 12-5 p.m. for drafts and growler fills. And look for Crystal Ball Brewing Company at local festivals, including the Gettysburg Brew Fest on August 22, the Lancaster Craft Beerfest on August 29 and the Lititz Craft Beer Festival on September 27.
• 1612 West King Street, West York
• Saturday, 12-5 p.m.