Susquehanna Brewing Company, Pittston, Pennsylvania

Susquehanna Brewing Company (SBC) is a monster of a brewing operation compared to most microbreweries in the Northeast.  While many, like Breaker Brewing Company, just up the road in Wilkes-Barre are brewing in a 5 barrel system, SBC is playing in the big leagues of the micro world running a 50 barrel process and fermenting 100 barrels at a time.  To put this in perspective, that’s 16,533 bottles of beer per batch.  The brewery offers a free tour every Saturday at 2:00 pm where you will learn the history of this microbrewery and how their process works.

Cheers: Jeers
  • Free Tour
  • Free samples before and after the tour
  • Interesting facts and information
  • Extremely limited window of opportunity for a visit
  • The tour can be a bit tedious for some and lasts over an hour

Susquehanna Brewing Company opened their business three years ago but are hardly newcomers to the brewing game.  The brewery is owned by Ed Maiers, his son Fred, and Mark Nobile.  Mark’s family has been in the brewing business since 1934 and Ed’s great-great-grandfather was Charles Stegmaier who founded Stegmaier Brewing Co. in 1857.  Stegmaier was the first to brew a lager in Pennsylvania.

SBC opens their doors every Saturday for a tour starting at 2:00pm.  The number of participants varies greatly from week to week but on the tour we attended, there were 32 people in the group.  A side door is opened at about 1:45 and guests are invited to come in, look over the logo merchandise and sample a beer or two on the house.  There were six different beers to try including a pair of seasonal ales, IPAs, and lagers.  The building is a large scale brewing operation and is not climate controlled, so be aware that it can be hot and muggy inside.  The tour began at about 2:10 once it appeared that all of their guests had arrived.

Ed Maiers was our guide for the tour.  He began by discussing the history of brewing in the United States, the evolution of the microbrewery, and how SBC fits into this evolving market.  There were some who found his history of the massive breweries like Miller and Bud interesting and some were daydreaming a bit. There were many bits of information that were surprising.  Ed discussed how in 1970, there were only 42 breweries in the US and today, there are over 1,700.  After a little fact checking in the Internet, we believe the 1,700 number should be more like 2,400.  He also discussed the volume of craft beer produced around the country.  Twenty-seven million barrels are produced annually.  Again for perspective, that’s 46 bottles for each and every American over the age of 21 per year.

Ed spent some time discussing their philosophy on quality and consistency.  We also learned that they brew for other breweries as well, including Lancaster and Shoefly.  Their annual production at this site is around 10,000 barrels or around 3.3 million bottles per year.

The tour then shifted into a discussion of the SBC process so let’s walk through it.

The Mill – this device crushes malt grains, like barley, and prepares these grains for introduction into the water.  The mill at SBC can also separate the husk from the grains. The advantage of this is that the husk ads bitterness to the beer so this gives more control to the final product.

The Mash Tun – in this first vessel, the grains are mixed with hot water and held for eight hours.  The output of this step is called mash. This is a 50 barrel mash tun so it holds 1,550 gallons of mash per batch.  Heat is applied which activates enzymes in the grains that begin to convert the starch in the grain into sugars.  Typically this step will be around 200 degrees F and is, in the case of SBC, a completely computerized process.  This automation increases their consistency.

Concoction cooker – this small vessel super heats up to 10 barrels of mash at a time. This process darkens the beer and ads some complexity to the flavor.  This process is optional and will be repeated a set number of times based on the recipe.

Lauder tun – here the husk is added to the mash for a more bitter taste.  The mash is continuously stirred and circulated through a bed of grain and a filter.  This step takes grain particles out of the mash and the resulting liquid is now called wort.

The Kettle – this large vessel is used for the final boiling of the sweet wort.  Hops are added at this point, as well as any other spices or flavors.  The key to this step is that this sterilizes the wort and eliminates any harmful bacteria that may contaminate the brew.

Hop jack – beside the kettle, this vessel allows for the introduction of wet cone hops.  IPAs and other hoppy beers get pushed through the hops and the intensity can be adjusted.

The Whirlpool – this large centrifuge spins the wort to filter out particulates before it is pumped to the fermenter.

Fermenter – the cooled wort is now pumped into large fermenting tanks where yeast is added.  This addition of yeast begins the fermenting process and the sugars in the wort become alcohol. The wort is now becoming beer.  There are 12 of these fermenting tanks at SBC and each is a 100 barrel tank.  The fermenting process causes the generation of carbon dioxide which bubbles out of the tank into a bucket of water.  When the bubbling stops, the beer is nearly complete.  Each of these tanks can be set to a specific temperature that is ideal for the style of beer being brewed.  Ales will typically ferment between 65-76 degrees F while lager would ferment much colder, between 45 and 55 degrees F.  Fermenting takes between 6 and 14 weeks.

Clean in Place – this system handles the cleaning of every tank in the process.  Cleaning is essential to beer production and a system like this makes the cleaning process of the tanks between batches quick and efficient.

Lab complex – SBC has a small in-house lab where quality testing is performed.  While this may seem like a employee tasting room, the process of testing is a bit more complex than that.

The Lab Complex

Centrifuge – this step, just before bottling, spins the beer at 8,000 rpm to spin out impurities.  Some beers are intended to be cloudy and have particulates, some are not.  This is the first step in filtering out this cloudiness.

Press Filter – when a crystal clear beer is desired, this system employs a series of particulate filters stacked together.  The beer is pushed through this system and the result is a particulate free beer.

Finish Tanks – once a beer is finished and has been through all of the desired filtering, it is pumped into the finish tanks and held before it is pushed through the bottling line.  This is short term storage.

Racker – this machine adds the CO2 carbonation just before the filling process.  This has to be done at the proper time as to not have too much or too little carbonation in each bottle.

Filler – as the name implies this is the machine like the one in the old Laverne and Shirley opening credits, that puts the liquid in the bottle.  This is a high speed process and a very controlled one. The fill level of each bottle has to be precise and the foam needs to be to the exact level in the neck so that no ambient air is trapped in the neck when the cap is put on.   This line can handle up to 120 bottles per minute; that’s two bottles per second.

Crowner – this machine presses on and crimps the crown or cap onto each bottle as it exits the filler.  The beer needs to foam over, just as the crown goes on to assure no trapped ambient air.

Pasteurizer – all of the bottles now go through a pasteurization process where they are heated to 140 degrees F for about 10 minutes and then cooled before they come out the other end of this line.  This process stops the yeast from continuing to ferment and keeps the beer fresher longer.

Rotary labeler – the neck and body labels are applied in this step.

Packaging – finally the finished product is packed in cases for sales and distribution.  This entire process from the mill to the case takes between seven and fourteen weeks depending on what type of beer is being made.


It’s a Wrap

In general, this is an interesting, but somewhat long winded tour.  The free samples before and after the tour were appreciated.  Unfortunately for now, you are limited to Saturdays at 2:00 pm as the only time to see this operation, but a change is in the works.  Like many Pennsylvania microbreweries, recent law changes are working out to SBC’s favor.  Look for a new tap room that will be opened in their factory in the December 2015 / January 2016 time frame.  Plans are set in motion to take some of their office space and repurpose it to allow for more access to their facility and their beers.

Overall Rating 3.5 out of 5
Quality and Selection of Beer 3.5 out of 5
Quality and Selection of Food N/A
Family Friendliness (For those who care)

The Details


635 S Main St
Pittston, PA 18640
(570) 654-3557


Tours Every Saturday at 2:00 PM

Once the taproom opens, we will update the hours here.

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