Brewing in Mars
Right time for Stick City's former home beer brewers to set up shop
By J.W. Johnson Jr. Cranberry Eagle Bureau Chief
MARS — Elaine Salkeld remembers the exact moment she began to love beer.
As she waited for her husband, Ron, to return home for family dinner, she opened a brown ale — one that had been brewed in the tiny kitchen of the family's home on Second Street in Butler.
As she sipped the brew she had no way of knowing that nearly 25 years later, beer would become the family business.
That business, Stick City Brewing, is the product of a lifetime hobby-turned-second career for the members of the Salkeld family. It's also a result of history in Mars, a borough that until last year did not permit the production and sale of alcohol.
According to Nick Salkeld, who serves as brewmaster, Mars' vicinity to the bustling surrounding area and its history made it an ideal location.
“That fit our mold perfectly,” he said. “It almost felt natural that we wanted to be here.”
The name itself is reflective of the family's history with the outdoors in rural Butler County, with Ron Salkeld having grown up and spending much of his early life on the family farm near Cabot and Fenelton. Nick Salkeld and his siblings later dubbed the property “the sticks,” with the brewery's name serving as a subtle tribute.
After moving to Butler and starting a family, Ron Salkeld discovered craft beer while on a work trip in Germany.
After returning home and finding beer offerings to be lacking, he learned to home brew. The process of brewing and bottle conditioning took up to six weeks, and was less than appealing to his family.
“The kids didn't like the smell of the wort,” he said. “They'd run to their bedrooms, close the doors and roll the towel up.”
It remained a hobby for several years until the children reached high school and lives became hectic. The brewing equipment eventually found a new home in the attic and stayed there until the late 2000s, when Nick Salkeld discovered craft beer — much like his father did two decades earlier.
By 2010, the brewing equipment made its way to Nick Salkeld's home, and the old recipes made a return. A career mechanical engineer, Nick began to tweak the recipes and systems and put an analytical perspective to the process.
“He took what I was doing at the time and really put science behind it,” Ron Salkeld said of his son. “It went from really good to great.”
The family originally discussed opening a brewery in 2013, but the idea fell by the wayside until 2017.
“Nick said if we're going to do it, now is the time,” Elaine Salkeld said, a self-described, non-risk taker. “So we jumped in with both feet.”
The family set their sights on the Irvine Street building that housed the Mars Fire Department from 1934 until the mid-2000s.
According to Gregg Hartung, Mars mayor, the building was mostly used for equipment storage, with a neighboring building offering office space and a sleep quarters for firefighters. When the department merged with the Valencia Volunteer Fire Department to form the Adams Area Fire District in 2017, the building became available, though it sat empty for several months.
Though the Salkelds were unable to purchase the building, they did sign a lease to use the space in 2017.
The move coincided with a referendum which sought to permit the sale and production of alcohol in the borough. The borough had been dry since its inception in the late 1800s, and Stick City Brewing would become the first establishment to offer alcohol in the boroughs's history.
Hartung said the idea of a brewery was helpful when promoting the referendum vote.
“People were really receptive,” he said. “People really thought that was unique and a good location.”
The referendum was approved in May, and permits for construction were secured in September, with the Salkelds doing a majority of the work.
Nick Salkeld said the goal was to create a space that allowed for no overlap between the brewing space and the tap room area, though they also wanted to give visitors a chance to see how their beer was made from grain room to glass.
The seven-barrel brewhouse and taproom space, as well as the outdoor patio, were finished in March. Since then, Ron Salkeld has taken an early retirement to man the brewery full-time.
They've turned out everything from hazy IPAs to porters to saisons — as well as a brown ale that traces its roots to the original family recipe.
While it features a clean design and shiny, new fixtures, the space also includes pieces that reflect the history of the Salkelds and Butler County. The cold room was repurposed from Iffts Poultry Farm in Evans City. The grain room is covered by barn doors that were picked off a scrap pile on the Salkelds' farm in Cabot.
“I feel like we took a little bit of heart from the sticks and put it in here,” Ron Salkeld said proudly.
That sense of family and community pride is something the Salkelds hope to create at the brewery. The open space is child and dog friendly, and often features food trucks to feed hungry patrons.
Nick Salkeld said he hopes members of the Mars community come to find the location to be one where they can gather, relax and connect with their friends, neighbors and family.
For Ron Salkeld, that's already happened.
“What better day can you have when you're with your wife, you're with your son, and ... we brew beer?” he said.