|South County Brewing Company
104 Mill Street | Fawn Grove, PA 17321
The fresh coat of snow made the drive a little treacherous, but extremely breathtaking as we wound our way through the backroads of southern Pennsylvania. When we finally entered the small town of Fawn Grove, we found South County Brewing Company nestled among other locally owned businesses.
When we first entered the brewery, we were greeted by Chris Heaps of South County Automotive, brother of JR Heaps. The property where the brewery and auto shop are located has been owned by the Heaps family for about 12 years, formerly owned by Phillips T J & Sons Inc. Sawmill. Chris and JR’s mother, Karen, owns Fawn Grove Florist and Nursery on site, and a small sandwich shop leases a spot from the family.
JR Heaps is the proud owner and head brewer of South County Brewing Company. In fact, he is the sole employee of the business. Upon meeting JR, you can sense his deep knowledge and passion for the brewing process.
The 5 bbl brewing system, which includes a 7 bbl fermenter, was built and is maintained with much love. In fact, the he built the entire building himself from the concrete to the bar, the equipment to the electrical work.
Opening the doors at South County Brewing Company was not easy. They fought a six month battle with the town of Fawn Grove, but luckily the town had no legal grounds, so the brewery was able to open. Since opening on July 1, 2011, there have been no complaints from the locals. As of now, the brewery is not allowed to fill growlers, but they plan to fight this in the future. Beers are available to-go in bomber bottles and merchandise can be purchased on site. Currently, JR is bottling all of his beer using a bottle filler that he and Chris built together.
The first beer I sampled was the AmericAle, the first beer ever brewed by South County Brewing Company back in 2011. The recipe for this beer was originally one of JR’s homebrew recipes. This dry-hopped 6.3% ABV, 45 IBU amber ale is brewed with select two row barley that provides a malt backbone with rich toasted overtones, which balances nicely with the sweet citrus aroma and flavor from the hops. After the first sip, I knew the drive was worth it.
My second sample was the Sessions ESB, a 4.5% ABV, 40 IBU extra special bitter. The inspiration for this beer was to brew “something different than a pale ale.” This brew is made “as English as possible,” using the Fuller’s yeast strain, Maris Otter malts, Progress and Tettnang hops, and an adjusted water profile.
JR’s brewing experience began as many new craft brewers do, with homebrewing. He was brewing all grain by his third batch and used a SABCO system by his fifth batch. He went to brewing school at the Siebel Institute in Chicago, and has brewed with many friends in the industry including Bavarian Bavarian (which sadly is now closed), Tröegs Brewing Company and Spring House Brewing Company.
He continues to work his full time job in the automatics drafting and design field while working at the brewery, giving him an 80 to 90 hour work week. How does he push through the hours? He focuses on the importance of re-loving the beer making process. The accolades, positive beer reviews, and meeting beer drinkers at brew fests are definitely a great payoff as well.
South County Brewing Company has also done a few music collaboration brews. Windhand IPA is a 5.1% ABV, 35 IBU India Pale Ale and the first beer in their Collaboration IPA series. JR is a big music enthusiast, and music is a big part of his life. In fact he has done a lot of studio and production work himself.
Windhand is a heavy psychedelic metal band from Richmond, VA who are described as a “new and fresh” Black Sabbath meets Nirvana. They are signed to Philadelphia’s Relapse Records. Windhand’s guitarist Asechiah Bogdan provided the art for the beer label and collectively Windhand’s music provided the inspiration for the brew.
The band shared a desire for a clean, citrusy IPA, and this IPA offers just that. Windhand IPA explores the citrus realm of hops with strong tangerine and grapefruit notes. The malt base balances the resin-like bite. This IPA is brewed with Nugget, Millennium, Warrior and Crystal hops. This beer is now brewed year-round.
Another collaboration brew is Black Cowgirl, a. 8.0% ABV, 72 IBU black double IPA brewed with Black Cowgirl, a rock band out of the Lancaster/North Philly area. While I didn’t get to try this Black Double IPA, South County Brewing Company’s website says this beer “has all of the roasted and subtle chewiness of a darker ale blended with the woody, floral and citrus notes of choice high alpha hops. Not quite a sipper, not quite a drinker… maybe a thinker as you work through its complexity.” The band brewed this beer onsite with JR, and the label is the band’s album work by Adrian Brouch of Coven Illustrations.
The next collaboration IPA will be a 10% ABV, 100 IBU Imperial IPA brewed with the band Electric Horsemen, a rock band out of Lancaster County. Coming in the spring of 2014, Electric Horsemen Imperial IPA promises to be big, malty, and hoppy.
Consistency and product quality are very important to JR. Despite the small system and distribution area, he is constantly working to find ways to improve his recipes and the shelf life of his beer. He regularly does cell counts and plating to ensure he’s selling the highest quality product possible.
For now, South County Brewing Company beers are available solely in the south central Pennsylvania region. JR has been “pushing elbows” to get his beers on tap at as many places as possible. Currently, South County beers are distributed to York, Fulton, and Franklin counties in south central Pennsylvania. JR is looking to the northern Philly and Reading area next, and eventually hopes to distribute in Maryland.
What does the future hold for JR Heaps and South Country Brewing Company? JR’s goal is to make the brewery his only full time job and continue to grow his brewing system. He admits that it’s tough getting investors and that last minute pull out is a possibility, as he has been burned before. JR hopes to start a barrel aging program in the future. In fact, he listens to other podcasts, like the Brewing Network, to hear what other brewers are doing with new projects like barrel aging. Perhaps soon enough other brewers will be listening to JR’s great ideas on another awesome beer podcast!