Gunpowder Falls latest addition to Susquehanna Ale Trail
“When people find us, they are hooked,” said Martin Virga, owner of Gunpowder Falls Brewing in Shrewsbury Township.
But after nearly 18 months, attracting the draft beer crowd remains one of the biggest challenges for the small craft operation, which toes the state line and sells 75 percent of its beer to wholesale distributors in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
"There are still people in southern York County that don't know we exist," said Virga, who will use the Susquehanna Ale Trail's Passport Event as a way to get more eyes on his brand, which specializes in German-style lagers.
Just a few minutes off the Shrewsbury exit of Interstate 83, Gunpowder Falls occupies about 4,000 square feet of an industrial building. The latest addition to the trail, which is run by the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau, is in between a cheerleading training center and a machine shop.
"We aren't impacting the economy significantly now. I'm hoping I can grow this into a business as equally viable as Tröegs (Brewing Co.) or Victory (Brewing Co.)," Virga said, referring to the largest craft breweries in the commonwealth.
He plans to invest in his bottling system to shorten turnaround times to distributors. And he's hoping to grow draft accounts at area bars.
The goal of the Passport Event is to expose beer enthusiasts, including people from outside the region, to a variety of craft options from York and Lancaster counties up to Dauphin County.
"The Susquehanna Ale Trail is a key component to driving future economic activity," Virga said.
The two-weekend event, including Fridays, has nine participating breweries this year. That is down from 14 businesses last year, which was the second year for the program. The bureau declined to comment on the drop, and sales data was not released.
The inaugural year in 2012 drew about 300 people, according to Business Journal archives.
"It does help a little bit on the sales side, but keep in mind these are all free samples we give out, so it's not a huge increase in sales," said Christian Quinlivan, one of the owners of Liquid Hero Brewery in downtown York. "It's more so the exposure from the advertising that the ale trail does."
Keith Stambaugh, owner of Warehouse Gourmet Bistro & Brew Pub in Hanover, agreed.
"We've had people visit us and come back to the restaurant," he said, citing the trail as one reason.
Other special events held across the region, including beer festivals, are another big marketing tool for regional brewers.
"Craft brew lovers are a unique bunch, like foodies," Stambaugh said. "It's good to be part of it."
He plans to expand brewery operations, including additional fermenters and cooler space.
The third annual Susquehanna Ale Trail Passport Event, which runs April 4-6 and April 11-13, will feature nine breweries.
• Bube’s Brewery, 102 N. Market St., Mount Joy
• Gunpowder Falls Brewing, 15556 Elm Drive, New Freedom
• Lancaster Brewing Co., 302 N. Plum St., Lancaster
• Liquid Hero Brewery, 50 E. North St., York
• Mudhook Brewing Co., 34 Cherry Lane, York
• Rumspringa Brewing Co., 3174 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand
• Swashbuckler Brewing Co., 2775 Lebanon Road, Manheim
• Tröegs Brewing Co., 200 E. Hersheypark Drive, Hershey
• Warehouse Gourmet Bistro & Brew Pub, 7 Pennsylvania Ave., Hanover
Participants can purchase a passport, which entitles them to special brewery tours, craft beer tastings, a 10 percent discount on merchandise at participating locations, and a souvenir Susquehanna Ale Trail mug.
Locations will be open 4-8 p.m. Friday, noon-5 p.m. Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday.