Last updated: July 13. 2013 2:57PM - 1922 Views

Draught beer taps in the tasting area of Susquehanna Brewing Company's brewing facility in Jenkins Township. Golden Cold, left, and Pils-Noir.
Draught beer taps in the tasting area of Susquehanna Brewing Company's brewing facility in Jenkins Township. Golden Cold, left, and Pils-Noir.
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For a closer look at new brewmaster Guy Hagner, see Page 3A.

JENKINS TWP. — A year after the first drops of hoppy goodness flowed from the lines at Susquehanna Brewing Company, the start up brewery has doubled its workforce and expanded its service territory fivefold.

In the rough and tumble — and expensive to build and grow — craft brewing world, Susquehanna has been able to find success thanks to an innovative brewmaster, a trio of owners that had a background in beer distribution and a region with a history of beer drinking.

Ed and Fred Maier and Mark Nobile had an idea and followed it through. Close to $10 million has gone in to the start up costs, but by this time next year the company that employs 14 will be profitable, Nobile, 57, of Pittston, said.

In its first year, the company off South Main Street in Jenkins Township, has produced just shy of 5,000 barrels of beer. Each barrel contains 31 gallons. The owners said good and unique beer have allowed them to have an early success but they also credit distributors and bars that have agreed to carry their products for the ability to grow at a steady pace throughout the first year.

Expanding sales territory

When the brewery opened — the first kegs were filled May 21, the first bottles July 17 — it only focused on seven counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania — Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming. Gradually the territory expanded, first down toward Philadelphia then west toward Harrisburg, Lancaster and Williamsport. Today the beer is found in 39 counties in Pennsylvania.

Nobile points out that while they are enjoying the growth, it’s not something the company actively sought.

“We didn’t seek out 39 counties. They came to us,” he said.

But Fred Maier, 35, of Dallas, said the majority is sold within 10 miles of its Jenkins Township headquarters.

The backgrounds of the Maiers and Nobile is in beer, especially beer distribution.

Nobile’s grandfather, Mac Gargano, opened Wyoming Quality Beverage in West Wyoming in 1934, a year after Prohibition ended. He merged the company with Maier’s Premium Brands in 2004 to form United Beverage.

The relationships the men have made over the years with beer distributors has gone a long way to making inroads to having Susquehanna in coolers and on tap throughout the region.

From Smokey Bones to Bar Louie, The Tipsy Turtle to Grotto Pizza, the beer has been on tap and available to drinkers throughout the Wyoming Valley.

Basic beers and more

With the basics, like a lager, Oktoberfest, an Indian Pale Ale and a stock ale, the company has understood what most beer drinkers want. But it’s not been shy about pushing the envelope with a black pilsner, a peach pumpkinberry ale and a southern rye India Pale Ale.

Ed Maier, 63, of Lehman Township, is the great-great-grandson of Charles Stegmaier, who made his fortune brewing beer in Wilkes-Barre after founding the Baer and Stegmaier Brewing Co. with his father-in-law, George Baer, in 1857. He said this area appreciates good beer and when the company was founded it brought in masterbrewer Jaime Jurado to develop those brews.

Jurado, a Forty Fort resident and a Wilkes University graduate, helped build the brewing lines and developed the original four beers plus the four seasonal beers that were rolled out over the past year. He left the company July 1 to pursue other options saying that there wasn’t much else he could do at Susquehanna until it was ready for another major expansion.

New brewmaster Guy Hagner, of Mountain Top, has been with the company since Jan. 1, 2012, and is already developing new craft brews to roll out.

Maier said that while he’s “very happy with our first year, we certainly minimally met our expectations.” He said slow growth is the course to stay on and the next step will be new tanks and fermenters to be able to increase capacity. Also being discussed is automation on the bottling line.

“Right now it’s all hand done, said Ed Maier.

Fred Maier, Ed’s son, said thanks to Jurado and now Hagner, “we feel we’ve got the building blocks and the foundation laid.”

“It’s such a cool place,” Hagner said. “They are such tremendous people to work for. I only see bigger and brighter things ahead for this place.”

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