by Sally Colby
Brett Kintzer has been the brewmaster at Swashbuckler Brewing Company for just 15 months, but he arrived with plenty of experience. For the first 21 years of his brewing career, he honed his skills and learned what makes a great craft beer.
Kintzer explained that Swashbuckler Brewing Company, located on the grounds of the Mount Hope Estate and Winery (home of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire), is one of several ventures developed by owners Scott and Heather Bowser. The enterprise also includes Divine Swine Brewing, Rumspringa Brewing Company and Lancaster County Cider, and the Bowsers are planning to add a distillery by next year.
Swashbuckler Brewing Company has been in operation for about 17 years, and in 2006 Bowser updated the small operation from its original 10-barrel system to a 15-barrel system. When Kintzer was hired, Scott Bowser gave him 100 percent creative control. “I take his ideas to heart when it comes to new beer styles or changes,” said Kintzer, “but for the most part, I have carte blanche.”
Rather than scrapping the existing beers, Kintzer focused on revamping recipes. He makes a variety of standard beers year-round, along with several seasonal offerings. “We make a dry Irish stout, an Irish red ale and Swashbuckler Gold, which is a Kolsch-style ale,” he said. “We’ve come out with a new IPA called Wicked Wail, a New England-style IPA that’s hazy and aromatic. I also created a new pale ale style called Pirate’s Pale Ale, which has a lot of tropical fruit characteristics from an experimental hop variety.”
For those who are just starting to enjoy craft beer, Swashbuckler offers what Kintzer refers to as stepping-stone beers. Kintzer describes the Kolsch as a lighter German ale with low bitterness and not high in flavor. “Once they try that, they’ll try more,” he said. “People generalize and say ‘This is all beer, and this is all cider or wine,’ but there’s such a broad spectrum. You can get any group of people to like one of the other groups of beverages available.”
Kintzer keeps a variety of hops on hand, but sticks with just two or three for bittering. “Bittering is straightforward,” he said. “You’re looking for high alcohol and IBUs. For flavor and aroma, because there’s such a broad spectrum of different flavors and aromas throughout hop varieties, we use quite a few different hops. Most of our brewed beers use upwards of about 12 or 14 varieties of hops between bittering and aroma. We also do some dry-hopping either during or post-fermentation.”
Swashbuckler Brewing Company is situated next to an old barn, which is being revamped to serve as a pub-style tasting room. A courtyard between the buildings will include garden seating and a fire pit, ready for guests year-round. The entertainment aspect of the Renaissance Faire helps put Swashbuckler beers in front of the public since they’re the only beers offered during the Faire. But Kintzer said that with more than 6,000 craft breweries nationwide, it can be difficult to remain unique in the craft beer world.
“We’re focusing on quality,” said Kintzer, adding that the brewery is not trying to set or follow trends. “I think everyone in this industry should focus on quality, although I see a lot of gimmicks and enthusiasts and hobby-focused brewers getting into this business as a full-time job, and it isn’t that simple. You can’t just up your five-gallon recipe to a couple of barrels just because all your friends think the beer you made at home is really good. It doesn’t mean you should quit your day job and become a brewer.”
Kintzer also said the business is ever-evolving. “The consumer is driving production,” he said. “If you don’t give the consumer what they want, you have no business being in business. At the same time, you can’t just change your business model and your initial goal to try to please every beer drinker. They want one thing today, and want something different tomorrow. It’s hard to keep their attention. Even if they have something they absolutely love, they won’t drink it next week because they want to try something new and different.”
When discussing consumer preferences for beer or cider, Kintzer said a lot of millenials and “new” drinkers are getting into cider because it’s easy to drink. It’s sweet, and a flavor millenials — who have been brought up on soda and other sweet drinks — have come to expect. “If you can present to them a sweet alcoholic product that doesn’t actually taste like alcohol, it’s going to be a hit,” he said. “Beer has a lot of different flavors — the bitterness from the hops, even if it isn’t a hop-bitter beer — has a lot different character than the sweet, sugar-heavy ciders. If someone likes wine and does not like beer, it’s easier to get that person to try a cider. The beer drinker might drink a cider or wine, and there are a lot of in-betweens who are willing to drink beer, wine or cider.”
As hot as craft beer is right now, Kintzer has observed that those who turn 21 start experimenting with craft beers right away. But he hesitates to name a specific age group that’s attracted to craft beers. “People are more willing now to try new things than they were years ago,” he said.
With the capital expenditures required for start-up, even without packaging, Kintzer said operating a brewery isn’t easy money. “I think people see the growth of the sector over the last decade, and investors are chomping at the bit to get into the business thinking they’re going to rake it in,” he said. “It just isn’t that easy.”
To illustrate his point, Kintzer describes what happened in the mid-90s when brewpubs were opening then closing at a pace faster than new ones were opening during the previous several years. “A lot of that was due to quality,” he said. “People thought they could get into the business, put out any run-of-the-mill product and make money. Now there’s a lot more focus on quality, but I think there’s still going to be a little bit of a bust. We are seeing some closings – not nearly as much as we’re seeing openings – but at some point, there has to be some kind of market saturation.”
Kintzer said while the craft brewery market is difficult, it’s also exciting. He firmly believes that quality beers will stay true and stand above the trendy beers. Kintzer added that some trends have endured, including the increased interest in IPAs. “When IPAs became popular about five years ago, I thought it was a trend,” he said. “You can’t drink super-hoppy beers all night long — it wrecks your palate. You just can’t do it. But it lasted, and people still want hoppy IPAs.”
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