JENKINS TWP. — Susquehanna Brewing Co. has a new master brewer, but he’s no stranger to the brewery or Luzerne County.
Guy Hagner, 52, of Fairview Township, has spent the past year and a half as the company’s assistant brewer and head of packaging and quality assurance. He replaces Jaime Jurado, a 1990 Wilkes University graduate and Forty Fort resident, who has left the company to pursue other opportunities.
Jurado was hired in 2011 when the company was still months away from assembling its brewing equipment in its sprawling facility off of South Main Street in Jenkins Township. He came to the company from The Gambrinus Brewing Co. in San Antonio, Texas, the nation’s sixth-largest brewer, with the goal of helping to get Susquehanna Brewing running and on the right path to success.
More than a year after brewing began, company owners, Ed and Fred Maier and Mark Nobile, said Jurado has done what he was asked and has left on good terms.
“We knew this day would come,” said Nobile. Fortunately, he added, Hagner was on board to quickly take over the brewing responsibilities.
An education in beer
Hagner, who was born in Florida and grew up in New Jersey, Maryland and North Carolina before his family finally headed back to New Jersey, where he graduated from high school and then earned an economics degree from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.
But beer is what he really got an education in for the past three decades.
He spent six months in Europe — Austria and Germany in particular — in 1980 and fell in love with the Bavarian brewing tradition. When he returned to the states he went knocking on the door of the Pabst brewery in Newark, N.J., looking for a job — any job. He was offered a clerical position, but he made it a point to interact and talk to brewers and those involved in all facets of the brewing process.
After that brewery closed in 1983, he sent himself to the famed Siebel Institute in Chicago. The brewing academy drew brewers from beer-making operations around the world, but Hagner said he was one of only two students that were there without a brewery affiliation. He graduated president of his class.
He became a home brewer and learned what he could about the process. His career then took him to a brewing company in Little Rock, Ark., where he became a brewmaster for the first time. From there he went to the Dixie Brewing Co. in New Orleans, where he served as an assistant brewmaster and then the brewmaster.
Planting roots in NEPA
In 1990 he was hired as the brewmaster at the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre and fell in love with Northeastern Pennsylvania. By this time he was married with two children, and Mountain Top became the family’s home.
In 1995 he set off on his own and started The Franconia Brewing Co. near Mount Pocono. The brewery, after an ardours three-year-process of raising enough money to begin brewing, lasted eight months before shutting its doors.
He worked as a consultant and accepted a brewmaster job at the Lakefront Brewing Co. in Milwaukee in 2004. But home was where his heart was and the family decided that Luzerne County was where they belonged.
“We didn’t want to uproot the family and leave the area,” Hagner said. So while the position and the brewery were nice, it just wasn’t the right fit.
“We really liked this area and we became involved (in church, community groups and the Crestwood School District),” Hagner said. “We like the region, and we’re here to stay.”
In 2007 he started One Guy Brewing Co. in Berwick and operated it until 2011, when the word started to spread about a new brewing company looking to open in Luzerne County.
Next step in a brewmaster’s life
He was among the first seven brought on board and said he’s glad he was given the opportunity.
“This is by far the nicest brewery I’m ever going to be associated with,” he said. “It just would have killed me that this was operating and I wasn’t part of it.”
And while he learned a lot about the brewing process and the engineering aspects of the craft from Jurado, his background in brewing and unique styles is something Susquehanna’s owners are looking forward to as Hagner leads them into the future.
“Jamie is a highly talented guy, and his goal was to help us build a highly capable brew house and help us get down the road,” said co-owner Ed Maier. “That’s what his laser focus has been on: our stability.”
But Jurado enjoys new challenges, Maier said, and “a small brewery like ours is not filled with a whole heck of a lot of action.”
The brewery is not going to miss a step with Hagner in charge, the owners said.
Different kind of car
Jurado said that while he’s been honored to be able to use his skills and know-how at Susquehanna, he doesn’t believe there’s much more for him to do there until the brewery expands, and that won’t be for a few more years. He called himself a Formula One driver but likened the Susquehanna Brewery to a smaller-engine machine.
“I’ve personally concluded that as much as I love it in Pittston, a Formula One driver can’t be happy in a go-kart for extended periods, and I don’t expect beautiful SBC to reach Formula One stage … for a few years,” Jurado said.
He said he has firm offers for the next step in his career but declined to identify them.
As for Hagner, Jurado said Susquehanna Brewing is in phenomenal hands.
“Guy Hagner is a fine brewmaster and is entrenched in the community … we are so fortunate in having him and I’ve been the luckiest brewer on earth to have him since we started commissioning. … I tasked Guy to determine key operating issues. In every task that I asked Guy to take ownership of, he has done a superior job. SBC is so very lucky.”