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Rayburn pastor creates microbrewery to educate, enjoy

| Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
SUBMITTED John Smith, Ben Duncan and Ben Smith of Reclamation Brewing Co. add ingredients to a craft beer at their headquarters in Kittanning.
SUBMITTED Ben Duncan, John Smith, and Ben Smith of Reclamation Brewing Co. on their trip to Ireland.

Pastor John Smith is on a mission, but not one that you might expect: He's on a crusade to restore the good name of beer.

Smith, who has been pastor of Pine Creek Baptist Church in Rayburn for 15 years, along with his son, Ben “Dennis” Smith, 24, of Beaver Falls and family friend Ben Duncan, 30, of Templeton, recently established Reclamation Brewing Co., a fledgling microbrewery with lofty aspirations.

“Our desire is to both make really good beer and to educate people about its history,” said Smith, 44. “We want to help people overcome some of the negative ideas they might have about the culture and to present beer the way it ought to be.”

It started about a year and a half ago when a trip to Ireland inspired the company founders to bring back the ideologies they were immersed in.

“We went to one pub in a small village, and they welcomed us as foreigners as if we were one of their own,” Smith said. “Pubs have historically been a place where people would gather, connect with each other, talk about life and celebrate. In America, that by and large, got subjugated during Prohibition when the beer culture was forced underground and its reputation never really recovered.”

Upon their return, the trio turned their attention to brewing a quality homemade beer for their own use.

“It really started because all three of us have a love for craft beers,” Smith said. “Ben (Duncan) had some extra raspberries that we used to make some wine, and that quickly morphed into making beer for personal consumption and then some for a wedding and other small events. But as more people tried it, everyone said we really had to try to make it more widely available.”

Although none of the men had training in brewing, they quickly began experimenting with unique recipes that appealed to their taste buds and their shared spirituality. “Promised Land Imperial Ale” is a milk and honey flavored brew that references the biblical description of the holy land. “Carey Me Home Imperial IPA,” named in honor of 19th-century Baptist missionary William Carey, blends grapefruit, orange and tropical fruits with caramel.

“The name ‘Carey Me Home' also is playing on the fact that it's 10 percent (alcohol by volume),” said Smith with a laugh. “So someone might actually have to carry you home.”

For now, however, there are only a select few places you can try any of Reclamation Brewing Co.'s beers. In order to be licensed, Smith said federal and state laws state that the company must first secure a physical location to sell from. Although they're in negotiations with a few different building owners in the Butler area, Smith said the microbrew can only offer their drinks at tasting events like the upcoming Butler Brewfest on Nov. 10.

In an effort to raise the $35,000 needed to get their business off the ground, Reclamation Brewing Co. has set up an online crowd-funding campaign that anyone can contribute to on The fundraiser runs through Nov. 21 and if the company fails to reach its goal, the company won't receive any of the donations.

“It's going well,” said Smith. “Eighty-two percent of the projects (funded on Kickstarter) that reach 20 percent of their goals go on to succeed, and we're already above that mark.”

If their brew pub becomes a reality, Smith said, the last thing Reclamation Brewing Co. will need to do is convince remaining non-believers.

“When people find out a pastor is a brewer, sometimes, it raises some eyebrows,” said Smith. “But while the Bible condemns improper excessive use of alcohol, it never condemns proper use. There's no contradiction between being a follower of Christ and a lover of good beer.”

For more information and to pitch in, visit

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or

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