One of my favorite things to write about on here, is visiting different breweries around Pennsylvania and sampling what they have to offer (so maybe I like the sampling just a little bit better then the visiting), and there’s no shortage of breweries in PA to visit. In fact, there’s no shortage of breweries to visit anywhere in the country, because at the moment the United States is home to over 3,500 breweries. What’s most impressive about that is that in 1978, there were only 35 in the whole country. This is just one of the fun beer-based facts I learned this past weekend at the Susquehanna Brewing Company brewery tour.
I’ve been wanting to visit the Susquehanna Brewing Company since my return to NEPA last fall. My friends were big fans of their pumpkin beer, which I ended up drinking a lot of, and I liked that they advertised a proper half hour tour every Saturday at 2, rather than just tastings. This want was only exacerbated when it was announced that USA Today ranked them the number 4 brewery tour in the country. That’s very impressive, especially for a 3 year old brewery in northeast PA.
Having been on my fair share of brewery tours, I can absolutely say now that I’m not surprised the ranking is that high; this was one of the best brewery tours I’ve been on, for a couple of reasons. One of the firsts is that it’s casual. The tours are held at their brewery in Pittston every Saturday from 2-3. We arrived about ten minutes early, and found more people then I anticipated hanging out on the brewery floor sampling the five beers they had on draft. You know what else is sort of cool about it? The tour, and samples are free (they do have cases, growlers, and merchandise for sale). I tried both their So-Wheat (a hefeweizen, one of my favorites) and Pils Noir (which was recently featured as the “daily pint” by Draft Magazine)-both were good, although it was the wheat I kept going back for. My mother (I went with my parents-roommate bonding day!) was drinking their summer shandy. I’m not usually a shandy guy, I find them to be too sweet (weird for someone who loves Bud Light Lime more than he should, right?), but I enjoyed this one, not enough to switch from the wheat, but enough that’d I’d actually consider purchasing it on a hot summer day. Once the tour started, one of the owners, who was our guide, informed the guests that we were encouraged to go back for refills anytime we needed during the tour, and to ask questions whenever we needed, which kept a relaxed atmosphere.
The attitude of the tours, owners, and brewers was the next best part about it. Their motto, people beer, by beer people is extremely apt. I’m a beer enthusiast. I like trying different beers, I like learning about them, and I’m a big supporter craft beer in general. But, I like all beer, “shitty,” shitty to “complex.”My one complaint about small craft beer operations, is that there’s often a sense of elitism in this world, that tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth. You know, the beer snobs who judge those of us who dare to drink a Coors Light every now and then (fine, every weekend), and look down upon anyone who doesn’t want a mouthful of hops every time they sip a beer. They make drinking pretentious. Drinking should be fun. These guys were laid back and fun, and I respected the fact that at the very start of the tour, they said that they had no problem with, and even like, the big breweries. They also name checked several other breweries in the area they thought were doing cool things. They too, are beer enthusiasts. I’ll take a beer enthusiast over a beer snob anytime. I also thought it was cool how the owners conducted the tour, and walked around during the tasting meeting everyone, asking questions, and sharing their knowledge of the brewing process. Had the beers been bad (wasn’t an issue), I’d still be a supported of the SBC brand, just because I liked them.
Third best part of the tour, in my ever so humble opinion: it wasn’t just about the beer making process. Look, I’m not going to make fun of anyone who’s into home brewing or the science behind how beer is made. In fact, I find the process very interesting. That being said, I’m not a home brewer, and can only understand the science behind the process at a very base level. I liked that the tour gave us a good insight into the process, how SBC is different than many other breweries, and showed us every step of the process, without ever getting too technical. They interspersed this information with their story (they’re related to the original makers of Stegmaier and 6th generation brewers), beer making in the US, and fun historic anecdotes, such as how Stegmaier used to serve the people of Pittston by having a goat drawn cart ride around town and fill up growlers.
What is impressive taking into consideration that SBC is only three years old, is the size of the facility, the amount of beer they’re able to produce, and the quality of it. They’ve obviously achieved this by putting a tremendous amount of effort into making sure they have the best, and most state of the art technology, and I’m sure their history in the beverage industry didn’t hurt at all. The facility is so big that Lucky Girl Beer, and Southhampton Publick House, both brew their retail batches at the Pittston facility.
I don’t want to give away too much, thought. Go check it out yourselves. As I said before, tours operate every Saturday. I really can’t recommend this enough. If you’re in the greater Northeastern PA area, this is a great and easy daytrip. If you aren’t, but are a beer person, this is still highly recommended. Combine this tour with some of NEPA’s other craft breweries for a nice beer-centric weekend. I’ve documented them in this past, NEPA Ale trail post.