The beer’s condensation pooled against the dark grain of the wooden table, creating a magnified image of the craftsmanship. The combination of the sour scent of beer against the fading maroon bricked walls brought a comforting earthy quality to the atmosphere.
Their dripping glasses sat on the table between them as they settled onto their bar stools. Both pairs of eyes gleamed with nostalgia from what seemed like another dimension entirely.
They became so enthusiastic from reminiscing, they seemed to forget I was there.
Then he turned to me so abruptly his wild red beard quivered against his shirt, the youth still peering from the newly-formed wrinkles around his eyes.
“Out of everyone, she made an impact on my life,” he said.
“He’s a lot hairier now,” she laughed bashfully.
A Philadelphia Inquirer headline is all it took for him to drop everything, drive two hours to Carlisle and sit at the Burd’s Nest to watch Alison Feeney teach one more time.
“She was definitely my favorite professor in college,” he said.
Once upon a time — 20 years ago, to be exact — Feeney sat before a group of young students during her first year at Shippensburg University. Little did she know, she changed the course of one young man’s life by introducing him to the beauty behind geography.
Now there they sat, two decades later, a teacher and her student walking down memory lane with one dark amber ale and a honey golden lager to join them.
Feeney has dedicated much of her time researching the history and craft behind brews such as these.
Author of “For the Love of Beer,” Feeney has traveled across the state to research the history and geography behind 100 of Pennsylvania’s thriving craft breweries.
A geography and earth science professor, Feeney, is using her research on campus and helped establish the Introduction to Home Brewing Course, which will prepare future employees for the brewed and malt beverage industry.
Many of her students may say that she has obtained the true essence of an educator, as she spends much of her time assisting students with personal projects and endeavors.
It is not uncommon to see her former and current students drift in and out of her office throughout the week, Feeney said. She welcomes all to her own personal cave, where the walls are decorated with books upon books.
The space truly reflects her soft and relaxed persona.
It is unique, as it is three times the size of an average staff office at SU. It is complete with a large messy desk with various papers, pens and more books overflowing with Post-it notes marking the pages.
A massive, pink furry carpet is spread across the center of the room, welcoming everyone to sprawl across its long tendrils of bubblegum hairs and stretch out the stiff muscles tangled in their necks.
With the aromatic flavors spilling from her coffee pot, Feeney offers her students a seat on her plush, angular butterfly chair, and together they set out on their journey.
“I want every student to come away with a skill set that will achieve the job they want to do or become the person they want to be,” she said. “I reach some more than others.”
More than anything, she loves the learning aspect of her job and sharing that knowledge as if it was her duty. She has taken several students under her wing and helped them sort out the professional world of brew science.
She is currently working with a graduate student to help his own brewery take off. Together, they visit conferences across the state that discuss home brewing and how to grow the perfect hopps plant.
She continues to inspire even the local community with her wealth of knowledge on the subject of brewing during her presentations, which are open to the public. It is there you can find this future brewer feverishly scribbling notes in the audience.
While her frame is small, and her voice is soft, the passion behind her research is grand enough to command the attention of any audience.
The Burd’s Nest was packed for a Thursday night.
Walking in, there was not an empty seat in the house and every head was turned in one direction. At the end of their line of vision was a short woman with blonde hair loosely pulled back into a relaxed bun.
She found a slow, comfortable pace as she ran through the science and advantages of home brewing. She was completely in her element.
Everyone’s eyes were glued on her when the door burst open suddenly, disturbing the audience’s trance.
Two burley men adorned with muddy boots and camouflage jackets bustle in with the expressions of two guilty children about to get scolded. The first man grins devilishly.
“We just wanted to get some beer,” he said.
Feeney does not miss a beat. Her smile grows warm and her hands went up in a mock surrender.
“Please do!” she says, “I did not want to get in the way of anyone’s drinking tonight.”
The class remained in session, including Feeney’s two new students.
I had to ask, “What is your favorite brew?”
She laughs softly and said, “I have to say I’m not a beer drinker.”
For Feeney, drinking beer is not about simply drinking beer — it is about the people sitting around their glasses and having a human experience with each other.
“The one thing I do love about beer is it does sort of break down barriers when you get people actually sitting and drinking a beer. You get them talking,” she said. “You know, I study beer but it’s really the people, the places, the experiences that I find really exciting — more so than the actual product of beer.”
Feeney finds a good brewery to be a magical place —one where cell phones are forgotten, and people dive into conversation over relaxing glasses of their favorite brew. She believes in disconnecting from our lives to reconnect with one other.
The greatest of conversations could be had with a glass of beer dripping with condensation between two people — like a teacher and her student 20 years later.
The man with the red beard poured with excitement as Feeney laughed at a time that once was.
“Do you still have that picture I slipped under your door?” he said.
She gave a great big laugh at the memory.
“Are you kidding?” she said. “It’s hanging right in my office.”
They then simultaneously sipped their beers, divulging in its tangy flavor, the condensation making small pools on the crafted wooden table. The memory of a hand-drawn picture from 20 years before suspended in their minds.