Friday, November 18, 2011

Susquehanna Brewing: very serious

Just got a press release from the not-open-yet Susquehanna Brewing Company (a Facebook page...don't nobody do websites no more?): they've hired Jaime Jurado as their master brewer and "operations partner."

Well...I've wondered for quite a while if SBC is serious. They've got a ton of money, and beer sales experience, and links to PA brewing (partner Fred Maier is a descendant of Charles Stegmaier), but they're leaping into this big, with a 50 bbl. BrauKon system at the get-go -- which has, I gotta say, been a harbinger of failure in the past (not BrauKon, of course, but huge start-up equipment) -- and talk of banking on what sound like cross-over, gateway beers. A risky strategy.

Stole this from Jay Brooks, and will give it back if he asks!
But I have to tell you, this is a strong move. I've known Jaime for almost 20 years, and the man's one of the strongest technical brewers I know. He's brewed all over the world -- including a stint at The Lion! -- and has strong family ties to the Wyoming Valley. He's leaving a position he's held since 1997 as director of brewing operations for Gambrinus: that's Shiner, BridgePort, and Trumer, all excellent breweries (and if you're laughing at me for including Shiner in that, first off, get over your geeky self, and second, have a couple of their recent Ofests and get some of their excellent Export before you say another word...geek). The improvements he made at Shiner (funded in large part by Gambrinus's position as importer for Corona in the eastern US and Texas until recently ("Banco de Corona," as Jaime put it when we toured the eye-poppingly modern and well-equipped brewery)) alone are impressive, but the man's a published brewing chemist with references out the ying-yang. I'm very much taking Susquehanna Brewing seriously this morning.

That said, I still have concerns. I saw Independence ("Get it while it lasts!") buy big, get a good brewer, and fail with mainstreamy beers and no clue on how to sell beer. I also worry about a press release that has WTF paragraphs like this in it:
SBC represents a new direction in the exciting trajectory of American craft brewing. Founded by the former beer distributors of United Beverage in Pittston, PA, with a rich history of significant regional breweries in one family, as well as a multi-generation beer distribution enterprise in the other, this is the first successful beer distribution company to take up brewing… but being from brewing across generations, there already exists hand’s-on experience from running a regional brewery in the organization in its President.
I'm sure the beer will be better, I'm dead certain of it. The question is, with The Lion already making some pretty good crossover stuff that no one in the Wyoming Valley seems to want to buy, where's the market, especially when you've got 50 bbls. at a time? I guess we'll see. Best of luck, truly, because I'd like to see this succeed. NEPA deserves it.


Stan Hieronymus said...

Shiner just won three medals in the European Beer Star competition. Most of the judges were European. And Shiner won with "German styles" in Germany. Pretty impressive.

Lew Bryson said...

Indeed. Jaime's been getting some good stuff through down there. The "summer" kolsch was damned good too.

Anonymous said...

Jaime is the best ... a legend in his own time in our industry! They are blessed to tap into his expertise.

Former Gambrinus Colleague