Beer and brewing mean a lot of different things to people. Some consider beer a light beverage simply meant to intoxicate, while others see it as an experience meant to be cherished. To the owners and brewers at Roy-Pitz Brewing Company, beer is liquid art. We spoke with Ryan Richards (“Roy”), co-founder and brewmaster of Roy-Pitz, about its creative production process in Chambersburg, Pa.
Tell us about Roy-Pitz Brewing Company.
Roy-Pitz launched in 2008, but the business plan and the friendship go back to when and Jesse Rotz (“Pitz”) and I were in grade school. We came out of high school in 2002 with the idea for the business and really honed it while in college together at West Chester. We got into the industry by working at Victory Brewing Company and Twin Lakes Brewing Company during college, doing every random job we could find to learn more. After college, we went to the Siebel Institute of Brewing Science in 2006 and from there worked to launch the company out of that passion for homebrewing that we’d turned into a plan for Roy-Pitz. We launched with a 7-bbl system, doing about 300 bbl a year, and since have grown that to a 20-bbl system and 4,500-bbl capacity. Today, we have 4 full time and 1 part time folks on our brewery team.
Can you tell me what it means to be a liquid artist? When did you begin delving into this art form?
Being a Liquid Artist is really just about being an artist and craftsman; it’s a mantra we put into all aspects of how we’re operating the business and how we drive that creative engine behind the beer. Like other artists that paint or build or tattoo, we wanted to be a company and a group of people who brought a story and authenticity to everything we did in crafting that product. Liquid Art was born from that desire to produce something that was hand-crafted, that told a story and was an authentic representation of the product and the people involved with it. We’ve ingrained this idea into our culture and have worked hard to surround and build the brand with other artists, and that’s made a huge difference on the process, the brand and ultimately the product.
What is the creative process of producing a beer like at Roy-Pitz Brewing Company, from recipe creation to labeling?
A lot of the beers come from stories, memories and experiences over the last 20 years, and others have been the result of a desire for a particular style and then working backward to understand how that style and end product ultimately tie back to our brand, our experiences and a collective desire to tell stories together. The best part of that process are the beerstorming sessions where we get to sit down together with Will Hemsley, our brand artist, to build that story and bring it to life in an oil-on-canvas creation. We take that message and story all the way down to the packaging. Over time, the story, brand, and beer take shape beyond just the style or a name and become a well-rounded piece of Liquid Art.
You have a lot of offerings including year-rounds and a monthly Liquid Art Series. What have been some of your favorite concoctions or what are some styles you like to experiment with most? Why?
It’s always a great conversation to ask employees at Roy-Pitz what their favorite beer is, because you always get a different response, which for me is what it’s all about. We’re really striving to produce a great variety of tasty, well-balanced beers that are super unique in style, flavor and overall character. Personally, I’m a big fan and drinker of European lagers and ales and my personal Roy-Pitz favorites are Gobbler Lager (German-style Märzen), Mind Your P’s and Q’s (Belgian-style IPA), Honey Sucker Pilsner (German-style honey-infused Pilsner), Ludwig’s Revenge (German smoked Schwarzbier) and Sour Hound (American Kettle Sour Red Ale). Right now, our experimentation is really around wood-aged and brett and lacto beers. We’re working on our own series of smoked beers and doing a lot of collaborating with local growers, farmers and producers.
Tell me about The Stube. What is the atmosphere like and what is on the menu?
The Stube is this organic extension of our brewery; it’s the representation of how we like to hang out and eat and drink together. We do a lot to make sure it’s the true Roy-Pitz experience. We want our customers to get a chance to enjoy the beer, the food, the music, the vibe and then have them walk away and really know what we’re about as a brand. We have a super-relaxed atmosphere, and some really, really top-notch food. Our chef (and also my brother) Mike Richards has grown the menu and offerings from a couple sandwich stations and a panini grill to a menu full of local, farm-fresh dishes that go above and beyond. We have great wings, burgers, and amazing fresh-cut fries, but we also have a killer charcuterie plate, house-made sour plate (a board including kimchi, sauerkraut and pickled beets) and items that we think really surprise and delight our fans who are coming in. Mike does an awesome job building the beer into recipes, making all the sauces in-house and working with some awesome local producers to bring in great products.
Being artists yourself – you also host a lot of musical acts. What is your local artistic community like?
In short, it’s amazing. We are really amazed with the caliber of artists who are not only here in Chambersburg, but are seeking us out on their tours from New York, North Carolina and really all over. Musicians seem to respond really well to the vibe we’ve created and it makes for a great experience for them, their fans and our customers who get turned on to some new music. That is something we are really proud of: getting to introduce people to these local artists they had no idea were right here in town. Overall, the artist community just fits really well with our brand and we’ve had acts write songs about their experiences at The Stube, others who create awesome show bills, we’ve recorded live shows, done storytellers types of experiences, just a lot of fun and different things that make the relationship with Roy-Pitz and these artists so great and unique.
Can you fill us in on plans for your Barrel House in Philadelphia?
So we’re under construction now on a 4,500-square-foot brewpub that will open in the first half of 2017. We’re going to focus on producing barrel-aged and sour beers alongside the full Roy-Pitz portfolio and, of course, a stellar food program. We’re looking to replicate the vibe and experience and everything core to our brand and awesome we’ve got out of The Stube in Chambersburg, and at the same time build something that’s unique and fitting for Philadelphia, especially the Spring Arts neighborhood. The choice for Spring Arts really sprung from a fortuitous meeting at a bar in Old City one night, and when we met Craig Grossman and the team at Arts & Craft Holdings and saw their vision for this neighborhood, we were all in. We weren’t necessarily seeking out a Philadelphia location, but it’s always been incredibly close to our hearts and this was an opportunity that just matched with our mission and our brand so well we had to be in. We love that the neighborhood has a collection of makers and producers and artists and it seemed fitting to be the Liquid Artists in that space. Round that out that with the proximity to the Rail Park project and the rotating mural galleries from Mural Arts, and we see it as a really core piece of Roy-Pitz moving forward.
What is your vision for your brewery and has that changed since its inception?
Our vision is to continue building on this idea of Liquid Art, and sharing that with people through awesome experiences, a great product, a focus on craft, and by surrounding ourselves with others who take their art seriously. We want to build a brand that people can relate to, find authenticity in, and extends beyond just a beer or a tap handle. Finding new and interesting ways to share that with more and more people will be our driving force for some time to come. I wouldn’t say the vision has changed since we started, but we’re always refining it and for sure understand it better ourselves than we ever did. It’s almost been like a journey of self-discovery and we’re super excited to keep growing it in the years to come. We realize everyone might not like every piece of art out there, but we want to make sure we’re supporting the artists regardless.
The Brewers of Pennsylvania is a nonprofit trade association that brings together leaders of Pennsylvania-based breweries in order to promote and protect the brewing industry in the state. Established in 2011, the Brewers of Pennsylvania serves the consuming public of Pennsylvania by encouraging brand diversity in the market. We believe in the nobility of brewing and hold dear the great traditions and history of Pennsylvania brewing.
Bottom photo credit: Vince Ha; remaining photos credited to Roy-Pitz Brewing Company