Food & Drink

Thirsty for interesting conversation? Try Centre County’s science pub

At the Big Spring Spirits Science Pub, an interesting topic is chosen each month, and a presenter leads an informal discussion with the audience.
At the Big Spring Spirits Science Pub, an interesting topic is chosen each month, and a presenter leads an informal discussion with the audience. Photo provided

For many, Happy Valley is a hub of educational and enriching experiences. Offering a variety of organizations, performances, lectures and activities welcoming curious adults, outsiders are often surprised at the wealth of opportunity. It’s no surprise then, that if an educational concept draws a crowd in a larger metropolis, it will likely do the same in Centre County. Such was the case with the Big Springs Spirits Science Pubs.

“The idea of science pubs and science cafes has been happening for years all over the world,” said Michele Crowl, executive director of Discovery Space. “In the United States, they are often only in (larger) cities. The State College and Bellefonte area seemed like a place where these would work and they have been. Each year, we have higher attendance.”

Crowl says she had the idea for the Science Pub events as she saw Discovery Space meeting the needs of families and children, but not really doing the same for adults without children.

“We have many avenues for engaging children and families in science but we don’t have a good way yet of getting to adults — and especially adults who don’t have children,” she said. “I proposed the idea to Big Spring Spirits as a way of engaging an awesome local business and community members.”

The concept is simple — an interesting topic is chosen each month, and a presenter leads an informal discussion with the audience, all in a fun, adults-geared atmosphere.

“The goal is to choose a topic that is interesting to the general public and a presenter who is willing to have an informal conversation with an audience on that topic,” Crowl said. “We want it to be an event where people can come to learn something new about science in a relaxed environment.”

When the presentation is over, Crowl said the type of conversations that pop up are different than what you’d expect to find at a bar or distillery.

“I’ve seen groups of scientists spark a debate over something very technical. At the table beside them, they’re telling science jokes,” she said.

With the science pubs typically drawing 50-80 audience members, Crowl says the largest crowds show up when the topic of the evening is something related to food (particularly chocolate) or alcohol. Sometimes the topic is chosen based on audience feedback, but it can also reflect current events; an effort is also made to cover as many science domains as possible, so as to draw a wider crowd. The main goal, however, is to find a topic that will both appeal to the general public, and that can be presented by a dynamic expert.

“The reason to have it in Bellefonte was to meet in a neutral location, away from the university,” Crowl said. “I knew science enthusiasts like me would attend no matter where science pubs were hosted, but I wanted people who maybe weren’t part of the university or don’t work for a science company to attend too. Plus, who can beat the tap cocktails and the food at Big Spring Spirits?”

So far the monthly events have received praise for providing a unique atmosphere to enjoy a drink with friends, while also learning something new. Each event lasts about an hour, with guests arriving around 6-7 p.m., for the 7 p.m. event, and then sticking around until 9 p.m. to mingle until Big Spring Spirits closes for the evening.

Science Pubs at Big Spring Spirits occur every first Wednesday. RSVP ahead of time to and receive a free tap cocktail — a rare perk for an event like this.

The next science pub takes place March 7 and the topic is plant pathology. Experts to appear include Carolee Bull, Emma Rosenthal and Amanda Mainello, all of Penn State.

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at