Coming soon: a brewery near you

First Posted: 3/11/2012

When beer lovers think of micro or craft brewery start ups they picture a couple guys with a couple barrels in a garage. Mark Nobile, one of the partners in the Susquehanna Brewing Company (SBC) soon to be opening in Jenkins Township, said many successful micro brews started that way, but he adds "there is more than one way to do it."

The way SBC is doing it is with innovative techniques and a multi-million dollar investment in state-of-art equipment.

Nobile likes to say, "I have beer in my blood going back to the Cat and Canary and the distributorships."

The Cat and Canary was a tavern owned by his parents in West Pittston. The distributorships were Wyoming Quality Beverage and United Beverage which was formed after he merged Quality with Premium Brands in 2004.

It was through that merger that Nobile became partners with Ed and Fred Maier, descendants of Charles Stegmaier, the iconic Wilkes-Barre brewer.

"When we closed United they wanted to get involved in brewing," Nobile said of the Maiers. "They asked me. The more I thought about it the more excited I got. We were fortunate to have the right building."

The 55,000 square foot building which housed United at 635 South Main Street proved ideal for conversion to a brewery

Nobile and the Maiers have a wealth of distributing experience, but they aren't brewers. They knew where to find one, though. They brought in Jamie Jurado from the Texas-based Gambrinus Co., the sixth largest beer company in the United States, which includes the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas, the Bridgeport Brewing Co. in Portland, Ore., and Trumer Brauerei of Berkeley, Calif. He had been director of brewing operations at Gambrinus since 1997.

Jurado is well-acquainted with the area. He's was the master brewer at the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre for six years until 1991.

SBC also hired Guy Hagner, founder of the successful micro One Guy Brewing Co. in Berwick, which is now the Berwick Brewery.

SBC has purchased 50-barrel Braukon brewhaus vessels and five 500 barrel fermentation tanks. The Brakon was imported from Germany. The fementation vessels were custom-made by JVNW of Oregon.

Innovations rare in the microbrew industry include a decoction kettle, a hopjack, a PDX Wort heater, a centrifuge and a 30 x 5 pasteurizer.

The decoction kettle removes part of the mash, boils it and returns it to the main mash. "It's its old Czech style and something we don't have to do," Juardo said.

Nobile explained that the hopjack is a device that processes whole hops for ales. "You can put whole hops in it instead of the pellet and kind of like tea bag run water through it for a fuller flavor."

Unlike most breweries which buy hops processed and dried in pellets, SBC has domestic and European whole hops on order and a special refrigerated room for storing them.

The Wort Heater, which was developed in Cambridge, England, only 10 years ago, fires steam at high speed at the wort, a malt solution, which saves energy and time without compromising flavor. "This is one of the first breweries built around a PDX, they've been retrofitted in other breweries. The centrifuge is another piece that's rare in micros," Jurado said. The centrifuge spins out impurities.

It all ads up to why an industry paper, Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, calls SBC one of the biggest starts up in micro brew history.

Nobile said they will be doing test brews later this month and have beer ready to roll out sometime in May. "We've had reach out from distributors out of the area. We're seen as a very credible micro because of our past experience distributing and brewing we have tremendous opportunities to open up new markets, but we're not going to do that yet. We want to get a hold locally first then expand through the Northeastern part of the country."

The first three beers will be a lager called Goldencold, a pilsner which is a bit of an in-house secret for now, and a Sixth-Generation Ale as a nod to the Maiers who are multi-generational grandsons of the Stegmaier family.

The name Susquehanna comes from a brewery opened in Nanticoke by Charles Stegmaier in 1898.

Once up and running, SBC will be open for daily tours and tap tastings, but not retail sales. The beers will be available at local taverns and restaurants in 12 ounce bottles and 22 ounce bottles. It will also come in half barrels and 1/6 barrels.

The brewery will also be available for events. One, an autism fundraiser, is already booked.

The beer will be priced "somewhere between national brands and Sam Adams."

Ed Maier said SBC is another part of the revitalization of Pittston. "We want it to be a destination. People coming in for tours can then head into Pittston."

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