- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

HERSHEY, Pa. (AP) - As one of the region’s fastest growing wineries, The Vineyard at Hershey took no time buzzing into the world of craft beer.

In the summer of 2013, The Brewery at Hershey in Londonderry Twp. opened its taps.

More than a year later, the brewery has a waiting list and is fielding calls from restaurants interested in carrying its beers. Its production has doubled and this summer the Brewery at Hershey started distributing through Westy’s Beer Distributor in Camp Hill.

“Our demand is far exceeding our projections,” said Jason L. Reimer, one of the partners. “It’s one of those things you are careful what you wish for.”

Brewers around central Pennsylvania, which now total several dozen and growing, say the market for craft beer is exploding.

While it’s great Joe beer drinker is wildly interested in consuming the latest local IPAs, stouts and lagers, brewers say the demand has led to increased pressures, long hours and added expenses. In the case of Millbock Brewing Co. a small, 50-barrel production brewer in Linglestown, it prompted the owners’ decision to close.

The thirst for craft beer continues to drive the market. Nobody can argue the fact this is a great time to be a beer drinker.

Taphouses are multiplying. Fine dining and chain restaurants and dive bars have mile-long menus with draft and bottle beers.

The choices range from established names such as Founders Brewing to Stone Brewing Co. and Troegs Brewing Co. to the ever-growing list of rising, and in some cases, little-known brewers popping up around the country in the most unlikely of places.

“If you look at how much beer is sold in general, we could have one thousand breweries and it wouldn’t oversaturate the market. More people want to drink local,” said Al Kominski, owner of Al’s of Hamdpen restaurant and Pizza Boy Brewing Co. in Hamdpen Twp.

The Brewers Association figures indicate production volume of craft beer increased 18 percent in the first half of this year. Here in Pennsylvania, there are 170 operating brewers with more on the way, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

This fall at least a half dozen microbreweries are joining the central Pennsylvania craft beer scene and include Alter Ego Brewing Company in Harrisburg, Moo-Duck Brewery in Elizabethtown and Molly Pitcher Brewing Company in Carlisle.

In York County, Wyndridge Farm Brewing in Dallastown recently started brewing and will be joined by newcomer Aldus Brewing Company opening in Hanover. Wacker Brewing Co. will resurrects a Lancaster brew name and is scheduled to open a tasting room this fall.

The craft beer boom follows the farm-to-table restaurant trend where diners are gravitating toward ordering meals made with locally sourced produce, meats and cheeses.

Likewise, craft beer enthusiasts prefer a pint of Troegs’ Hopback Amber Ale or Appalachian Brewing Company’s Susquehanna Stout over anything with a corporate label.

“It goes with the current national trend of buy local, eat local, drink local,” said Brewery at Hershey’s Reimer.

More diners are heading to restaurants such as Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar in Susquehanna Twp. and both Harvest and Devon Seafood in Hershey opposed to chain restaurants, he said. The trend also is reflected at supermarkets which are selling and advertising more locally sourced foods.

“I would rather see one thousand more craft beers than one thousand run-of-the-mill bars selling national products,” Reimer said.

One entrant is Snitz Creek Brewery. Its 84-seat brewpub opened in Lebanon in January and brews Brown Trout Stout, Opening Day IPA and Explorer Ale on a seven-barrel system.

“We love what we are doing. People love what we are doing,” said Snitz Creek co-owner Patrick Freer. “So far, the response has been excellent.”

In fact since opening, Snitz Creek has doubled its projected beer sales at its pub where diners order Lebanon bologna sandwiches, pickle platters and whoopie pies.

But the increased demand, Freer said, comes with a price. The brewery has faced unexpected expenses such as having to hire additional staff and update its facility.

This summer, Snitz Creek started selling its beer wholesale to restaurants and bars through Westy’s and will start this fall working with All-Star Distributing in Reading.

Freer said it has been difficult competing for tap space at bars already crowded with national name and well-known craft beers.

“Part of that was asking around “Would you put us on tap?’ and everyone said ‘Yes.’ But now that we are out there, that isn’t so easy,” he said.

“It’s hard to get through all of that noise to make your beer that much better and sellable,” he added.

Al’s of Hampden’s Kominski sells craft beers such as Ballast Point, Sierra Nevada, DuClaw Brewing Company and Oskar Blues on the restaurant’s 100-tap system.

His Pizza Boy beers, brewed in the Hampden Twp. restaurant, fill 20 percent of the taps yet represent an impressive 60 percent of the shop’s draft beer sales.

Pizza Boy’s biggest seller is a West Shore IPA. Its sales total between 200 and 300 gallons per week.

In order to keep up with demand, Kominski recently installed 1,500 gallon tanks, up from the 600 gallon tanks he and brewmaster Terry Hawbaker had been using to brew the popular beer.

“It’s really hard work. People think you open up and sell beer and make a ton of money … that we stand around and drink beer all day, and it’s just not true,” Kominski said.

On most days, Kominski said the work is anything but glamorous. He cleans equipment and stays on top of the required state and federal paperwork associated with brewing.

He said people talk about the market becoming over-saturated or the craft beer bubble bursting. The concern is not about the growing number of breweries to compete against but whether the existing breweries can continue the pace of producing and selling good quality beer, he said.

“They are going to internally combust because they are not producing good beer or can’t keep up with paperwork,” Kominski said.

There is more of a boom than a bubble about to burst in the craft beer market, said Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association in Denver, Colorado. The statistics are staggering, with at least one and a half breweries opening daily across the nation.

Existing brewers are purchasing more equipment and ingredients while others are expanding. Sierra Nevada in California and Oskar Blues in Colorado have opened breweries in North Carolina, while Lagunitas Brewing Company in California opened a facility in Chicago.

Here in central Pennsylvania, Troegs recently leased warehouse space in Elizabethtown to house equipment. In the past year it also installed eight 50 foot high fermentation tanks at its Hershey facility along with both a canning line and ‘cork and cage” bottling line.

The accelerated growth in the craft beer market definitely has created a challenge for brewers, Watson said, adding that for some the demand and increased competition has prompted them to question their longevity.

Last week, Millbock craft brewers Alan Miller and Albert de Bock announced at the end of this year they will close their 4-year old small-batch brewing business in Lower Paxton Twp.

They said the decision had nothing to do with the sales of their beers. Millbock sold to several dozen bars and restaurants such as Al’s of Hampden and the Warwick Hotel in Hummelstown. The beer also sells to distributors such as Breski Beverage in Swatara Twp.

“The reality of it is the time commitment for us and the financial commitment,” Miller said.

He added that the craft brewer had been in the black since day one and it has become harder to keep up with the demand. In order to grow the business, Miller said he and de Bock would have to quit their full-time jobs, something they were not willing to risk.

Keeping up with demand is both a blessing and a problem in that you’re making more money but with that comes a bigger financial investment and more energy and effort, Miller said.

Both Miller and deBock chose not to work with a distributor so they pounded the pavement knocking on bar and restaurants’ doors and delivering kegs. With the popularity of craft beer, Miller said it has become increasingly harder to compete for tap space as distributors lock up taps with their brands.

Looking back, Miller said it may have made more sense to open a taproom where Millbock could have sold its beers.

“I think definitely the craft beer business has changed tremendously from three years ago, and the demand has increased,” Miller said.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1mQ1yLt

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Information from: Pennlive.com, https://www.pennlive.com

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