STORY WRITTEN BY COLIN SNYDER
Editor’s note: This story originally appear in our sister publication FlipsSidePA.
There is a little brewery tucked away in Fawn Grove that is doing some big things.
South County Brewing Co., owned by Kennard-Dale grad JR Heaps, is expanding with the recent purchase of a new brew house and conversion from 22-ounce bottles to industry-standard 12-ounce bottles.
“Part of our expansion is that we are going to open up more into Maryland since we are so close,” said Heaps, who designs the beer labels. “It’s a natural extension. Little by little, we are making a name for ourselves. Our beer reviews have been favorable on most, if not all, of the major websites. My financial partners and I have decided to put a little more money into it and begin to really get it out there.”
Heaps has set up shop in his family’s 3 1/2 acre commercial industrial-zoned mall on Mill Street. This venture is now his full-time job.
“My mother runs a flower shop and a hair salon,” Heaps said. “My dad and brother have the auto shop next door. I had been helping them out a bit for a while.”
South County, which opened in is present location in July 2011, primarily makes AmericAle, a dry-hopped amber ale, Black Cowgirl, a Black Double India Pale Ale, Sessions Extra Special Bitter and the Windhand IPA. There are also a few seasonals and works in progress.
“Black Cowgirl is fast becoming one of the beers we are best known for,” Heaps said. “By far it is our best-selling beer. We have gotten more requests and more placement for that beer than anything else.”
Heaps said to his knowledge, Black Cowgirl is the only locally produced Black IPA on the market. It has a bitterness rating of 72 on the IBU scale and is 8 percent ABV.
“It has a strong roast character,” Heaps said. “The hop character has, believe it or not, a touch of mint. It has a sweet, tropical top end to it.”
Sessions ESB, brewed with Progress and Tettnang hops, Fuller’s yeast strain and Maris Otter malts, is 4.5 ABV and has a bitterness of 40 on the IBU scale. Heaps said it has a crisp snappiness to it and a toffee note to it.
“While the Sessions is not a palate-wrecker or an epiphany beer, I’ve gotten great feedback,” Heaps said. “I had some Welsh people try it and were really impressed with it. They said for an American-made beer, we nailed it on the head. That was good to hear.”
The medium-bodied AmericAle has a 6.3 ABV while the Windhand IPA, which offers citrus notes of grapefruit and tangerine, comes in at 5.1 ABV.
“The AmericaAle is a malty, richer, caramel-based amber ale,” Heaps said. “You’re definitely going to have the bready and nutty notes, but there is a pretty strong sweet citrus to it as well. It’s not a heavy hitter, but it is a strong amber. A darker amber. It would go well with a good steak or burger. That’s the one we opened with (in 2006) and our longest-standing recipe I brew with.”
The new brew house will be a 15-barrel operation as opposed to the present 7-barrel system. It also has upgrades like a touchscreen control panel, timers, the ability to upload and pre-program recipes. Heaps said the system should greatly reduce hot-side aeration issues, so that the beer will remain fresher for a longer period of time.
“You can make a great beer in your garage,” Heaps said. “Now take that and move it into a commercial setting. Try to make hundreds if not thousands of gallons with it, send it out in sterile, stable and viable packaging, deal with shelf life and distribution. That is where a lot of guys can get cut off at the knees. It’s a whole other mess to deal with. Another level.”
Heaps first tried to make beer with a Mr. Beer home brewing kit for $40 or so.
That opened the door to all the science, chemistry and equipment that it entails to begin to make good beer.
“It wasn’t more than three or four weeks and I had dropped three or four thousand on a pilot system in my garage,” Heaps said. “It just snowballed. When I latch onto something, I do it to the end of my financial and practical resources. I started having some early successes then.”
It led Heaps to Chicago where he took the Concise Course in Brewing Technology at the Seibel Institute of Technology and then to seek out the wisdom of guys like Matt Keasey of Spring House Brewing in Lancaster, Mike Hiller of the former Bavarian Barbarian Brewing Company in Williamsport and lead cellarman Tim Mayhew at Troegs Brewing Company in Hershey.
“Hanging out with those guys was the biggest thing for me,” Heaps said. “I got the chance to go to Troegs and just observe and help out and learn a lot.”
The South County website lists Quick Six, the West York Inn, The Depot, The Brickyard and Golden Crust as York establishments where its beer can be found. Burning Bridge in Wrightsville, as well as Bill Batemans Express and 7 Sports Bar & Grill in New Freedom are also listed.
Where: 104 Mill St., Fawn Grove
Hours: 5:30 p.m. 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday
IBU: The International Bitterness Unit is a measurement of the bitterness of a beer. Not the “hoppiness” and not even how bitter the drinker might perceive the beer. It is the levels of a class of bitter compounds found in the finished beer. An IBU is one part per million of isohumulone, a chemical compound found in hops. The higher the number, the greater the bitterness. It’s not the only method to measure a beer’s bitterness, but is a popular method.
The average American lager, such as Budweiser, has 10 IBUs. The average IPA has between 40 and 60. Double IPAs and other highly hopped styles come in between 60 and 100.
ABV: Alcohol by volume is a standard measure of how much alcohol (ethanol) is contained in an alcoholic drink and is expressed as a percentage of total volume. It is defined as the number of milliliters of pure ethanol present in 100 milliliters of solution at 68 degrees F. The ABV standard is used worldwide.