Reasons To Stay: Chemistry To Distillery, All In Centre County

Apr 14, 2016

Kevin Lloyd sets out bottles of Big Spring whiskey for a tour.

Visit the multi-media side of the Reasons to Stay project.

WPSU is taking a look at how central Pennsylvanians decide whether to make their home here or move on, in our new series “Reasons to Stay.” Big Spring Spirits is a micro-distillery and cocktail lounge in Bellefonte. Kevin Lloyd is a co-owner and operator of the business. After a career as an analytical chemist, Lloyd set out to open a small business – and he was able to do it all while calling Centre County home.

It’s Friday night at Big Spring Spirits. There’s a band playing, in the industrial but eclectic tasting room. The distillery is a relatively new business in Bellefonte; it opened its doors in 2014.

Big Spring is the brainchild of co-owner Kevin Lloyd. And he’s a Pennsylvania native through and through.

He said, “I grew up in Indiana, Pennsylvania about 100 miles west of here. I came to Penn State in '83 to start a degree in Molecular and Cell Biology. And I never left the region.”

His parents and his sister still live close by. “This idea of family and familiarity is probably some main reasons why I stay here,” he explained.

And it helps that in State College, the well never ran dry for jobs. After earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Penn State, he joined an environmental testing company in the area.

Then years later, while at a wedding, someone told him about a new law in Pennsylvania – Act 113. It allowed the state liquor control board to issue distillery licenses for small operations.

Lloyd said, “And so that kind of worked around in my head for a while.I thought that the idea of producing things locally, farm to table, that was a powerful trend. I had the chemistry background I thought... and business background to do something like this… I thought that we're in a big agricultural area…So all those things together brought me to this point.”

He decided the market was ripe for a micro-distillery. His idea to capitalize on the growing popularity of local farm-to-table products meant he needed farmers in the area to buy from. Which isn’t tough in Pennsylvania.

But most importantly, he needed a steady stream of customers eager to imbibe vodka, gin and whiskey. One place comes to mind, right?   

Downtown State College. Lloyd had the same idea. But he hit a few road blocks. State College officials weren’t exactly thrilled with his business pitch to bring a distillery into the neighborhood. “We're in the alcohol business, which is a lot of negativity around that on campus and in State College as well,” he said.

So, he looked to Bellefonte, where he found a very different reception. “First, I told them what I wanted to do, the kind of business I was interested in. And then we went around the table and we had the code enforcement person and the water people and the sewer people . Everybody that would possibly interact with me was around the table and each one was like, "No problem. No problem. No problem. No problem."

Then the next piece fell into place. They found a space to rent in an old match factory near downtown Bellefonte. Once that was settled, it wasn’t tough to choose the distillery’s name, Big Spring.

“Right beside our building is the Big Spring, which was voted best water in Pennsylvania last year. Which is just a fantastic source of water for us,” he said.

He uses that award-winning water as the base for his spirits. “So the Big Spring is an asset, the building we're in is an asset, the people have been great. Couldn't ask for more.”

An advantage of living in Centre County for so long is he already knew farmers that could sell him what he needed. “I have farmer friends out in the Madisonburg area. He's the one who gets our grain, mills it for us. He takes our spent grain and feeds it to his cows,” he said.

This was all done not to just keep their spirits locally made and sourced, but to really tap into everything Centre County has to offer.

With everything he needs at his fingertips and a town that rallied around him, Lloyd is optimistic about his future here. “This is fun for me now. I want to continue to be a fun project. I want to surround myself with people that have the same enthusiasm that I have. So, I like everything about the area that we have here.”