Living local: Nittany Valley Organics

July 6, 2014 

Dee and Tony Musso recommend burning beer.

Not only that, they’re all for pouring it over hair and spreading it over skin.

The Mussos, of Patton Township, own Nittany Valley Organics. Their line of organic personal care and home products includes soap, shampoos, candles and body butter made with beer from the Robin Hood Brewing Co. owned by Home Delivery Pizza Pub.

They sell soaps containing porter, pale ale and India pale ale. Different IPA brews go into the shampoos. An IPA also contributes to the Spicy Amber Soy Candle.

None of it makes the user, or a room, smell like a brewery or a sofa after a house party.

The shampoos come in Spring Meadows, Citrus & Pine and Natural Scented fragrances. The soaps have non-hoppy aromas, and the candle doesn’t emit a sudsy odor.

Beer may play a nebulous role in the candle, but the Mussos tout its health value for skin and hair.

“The mineral-rich hops, malt and barley provide a restorative coat to your hair, adding body and shine,” reads a shampoo label.

A friend, Rich Schmitt, provided the inspiration. While drinking beer one night, he jokingly suggested they use it for lathering up locks.

Dee Musso’s response was swift: “We can make a shampoo because beer is excellent for your hair. It’s not a novelty. It’s a benefit.”

Just for fun, they first experimented with a Troeg’s ale. When Schmitt, the Home Delivery general manager, introduced the Robin Hood Brewing Co. line of beers, the Mussos entered into a steady partnership.

Batches of beer are delivered to their house, where they make all their products. As criminal as it sounds, they first let the beer go flat.

“It takes a while,” Dee Musso said. “Our basement smells like a frat house.”

Then the Mussos add the beer to lye and various natural liquids and oils for the soaps, and different formulas of organic ingredients for the shampoos and soy candle.

Their focus on organic components extends to all their products, which include lotions, deodorants, sunscreens and scented candles. They scorn commercial soaps as “detergent bars” and ordinary shampoos as “chemical cocktails.”

“You don’t need a Ph.D. to read the ingredients,” Tony Musso said last month to a customer at the Saturday North Atherton farmers market, where the Mussos are regulars in the Home Depot parking lot.

They started six years ago. Tony Musso was, and still is, a marketing consultant. His wife retired from 25 years at Penn State, mostly as a staff assistant in the art history department.

Turning Dee Musso’s hobby into a business, the couple began in their home with one cabinet.

“Now we have three closets, two rooms and half the garage, and that’s still not enough room,” Dee Musso said.

Aside from their official beer items, the Mussos do offer something that actually brings to mind a fresh-poured draft.

Their “Manly Man Candles” line of scented soy candles includes a beer one, along with barbecue, fresh cut grass, Grandpa’s pipe, leather jacket, new car smell, campfire, bacon and coffee.

“Coffee and beer are our No. 1 sellers,” Tony Musso said. “Barbecue and bacon are a close second.”

Last year, a fellow market vendor, a fisherman who sells Alaskan salmon, said they should add masculine scents like gunpowder. He was kidding, but the Mussos, who run with customer suggestions all the time, took the idea seriously.

They shopped around with different fragrance manufacturers. Some samples were busts, like the beer scent that was more “stale 7 Up” than lager or the pizza one rejected because of its unfortunate similarity to vomit.

A potential cannabis variety instead stank of “exploded cigars.”

But eventually, the Mussos settled on pleasing selections. Campfire, for instance, conjures subtle hints of pine and woodsmoke. Coffee could wake the dead.

Tony Musso said his wife still is the “ultimate” judge of any new fragrance.

“She has the final say because her nose is really good,” he said.

Together they can smell more money. Tony Musso is thinking of expanding the line to chain saw — possibly a heady mix of oil and wood — and another adult beverage.

“Another one I’m looking for is the right wine,” he said. “I’ve got merlot and chardonnay on order. I’ll see what they smell like when I get them.”

— Chris Rosenblum

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