CLARION — When they opened Mechanistic Brewing Company this past May, owners Chelsea and George Alexander envisioned it as a place for people to come together and, in so doing, support others. The name of the brew pub, located on Clarion’s Liberty Street in the former West Penn Power building, even reflects that vision.
“’Mechanistic’ was George’s idea. ‘Mechanistic’ is the act of bringing small pieces together to make a bigger whole. So we were thinking beer, high quality beer, brings people and people make a community,” Chelsea Alexander said.
The Alexanders’ commitment to community was demonstrated Nov. 22 when Mechanistic hosted the 2019 Stew & Brew Fundraiser to benefit the Friends of the Clarion Free Library (FCFL). Mechanistic provided the brew, offering craft beers from its varied line-up ranging from a light, crispy libation to an IPA to a darker porter- or stout-style draught. The Alexanders also recruited the 14 chefs who donated stews, as well as soups and chilis, for the event.
The first Stew & Brew was held in 2017 among the stacks at the Clarion Free Library in before going on hiatus last year. Miranda Spessard, president of the FCFL, said, “The idea was to have a fun event to bring the community together and, with the weather turning colder at the time, having an assortment of soups and stews felt like a perfect fit. The brewery wasn’t open but they (the Alexanders) were perfecting their brewing process. They offered to have a selection of their beer available for sampling and thus Stew and Brew was born.”
Added Chelsea Alexander, “Two years ago was a huge success. Different businesses donated roasters of soup. So I wanted to really bring it back this year. I was like ‘Let’s just have it here.’ We have the space.”
This year’s event was not only a fundraiser, but also a friendly competition. Prizes were awarded to the chefs that raised the most money, while two FCFL board members sampled each concoction to determine a “judge’s choice” winner. With 14 cooks in the mix, the offerings were eclectic. “It’s basically anything that you can eat on a spoon,” Chelsea Alexander noted.
Clarion County Treasurer Tom McConnell made ciorba de fasole, a bean and sausage soup often associated with Romania. Discussing his soup, McConnell said, “I was just kind of looking for something new and different. I was browsing the internet and I happened to find it. And I really like dill and it has an emphasis on dill. And it has cool toppings to put on it too. So that’s always fun.”
Randy Shook, culinary arts director at the Clarion County Career Center, was on hand with a dill pickle potato lager soup. “I decided to make something kind of different that nobody else was going to do. And I wanted to put some beer in it because we’re at a brewery,” said Shook, who finished third in donations earned.
Clarion resident Brad Grant also seized upon the idea of incorporating beer into his offering, a chili. “I made a beer chili from Mechanistic Brewery beer. And hopefully it’s very good.” he said.
Adding an international flavor, Carla Valdez, an exchange student from Argentina living with the Alexanders, made guiso, a traditional stew from her native county. Describing her offering, Valdez said “It’s a stew with beef and veggies, like carrots and potatoes and pumpkin and sweet potatoes, and noodles.”
The soup, which received the most donations and hence could be considered the winner, was a vegan dish prepared by John Miller of Artfunkle’s in Clarion. “A friend of mine and I got together. He made a chili. I was going to join him in preparing that. But then I talked to another friend of mine, I wanted him to come over (to the event), and he’s vegan. So he said he wouldn’t eat the chili because it had meat in it. So as a result of that, I made an entirely different soup. It’s a miso-tofu soup, a Japanese-based soup. I’ve only made it once before and that was years ago,” Miller said.
Brian Luton of Luton’s Plumbing and Heating was second in donations with his southwest chicken stew.
The “judge’s choice” award went to Martin Berkery, of Knox, who made a Greek lamb stew.
According to Chelsea Alexander, this year’s Stew & Brew raised approximately $1,050, with the money going toward FCFL’s support of the local library.
“We do not have specific plans for the funds raised from this event, but we have some projects in the works. The roof at the library has been in need of repair. Earlier this year we (the FCFL) committed $7,000 to help with this needed renovation,” Spessard said.
“The credit for this event goes to Mechanistic Brewing Company. They are such generous and hardworking members of our community. We are humbled that they offered to hold another fundraiser at their brewery for us this year (they previously held a guest bartender fundraiser),” she said.