For some, the best part of a beer festival (besides the beer, of course) is the chance to have one-on-one conversations with the brewers.
That's why York Heritage Trust aimed small this year, capping attendance at about 300 for its annual History Untapped microbrew fest at the Agricultural and Industrial Museum in York Saturday night.
Starting last year, York Heritage Trust remodeled the event, formerly called Microbrew Fest, to lower attendance, add fine dining options and give guests the chance to talk one-on-one with the brewers, York Heritage Trust Marketing Director Melanie Hady said.
Though attendance was smaller, the festival still included 19 breweries, about 46 beers and food pairings from nine local restaurants and catering companies in addition to live music from local band The Bottomfeeders.
Kevin Smith, 48, of West Manchester Township, said he attended the event several years ago when it was still called MicrobrewFest.
"It's less quantity as far as people, but higher quality beer and good food pairings," Kevin Smith, 48, of West Manchester Township, said. "I think they raised the bar and I think this will be the new trend."
Jessica Brimfield, 34, of New Salem, agreed. She said she was impressed last year and thought the festival was just as good this year.
"It's definitely more intimate and one-on-one," she said.
In between pouring beer and chatting with guests, some of the local brewers spoke about how they got started in the beer industry, their background and their biggest challenges. Here are their stories.
Black Cap Brewing Co. (5 W. High St., Red Lion)
Brewer: Greg Bentley, 54
Opened: Dec. 4, 2014
How he got started: Bentley said he always liked drinking beer, but it wasn't until he took a trip to Germany that he got serious about home brewing. He and his business partner Jim Waller were home brewers for eight and 20 years, respectively.
"There's something about drinking German beer that sparked an interest in home brewing," he said. "It went from zero to 60 in a short time."
At age 50, Bentley had a heart attack and said that motivated him to "give it a whirl" and open Black Cap.
Biggest challenge: The long and late hours are the toughest part for Bentley.
"I'm not a kid anymore," he said. "Sometimes it's midnight 'til you get home."
What makes Black Cap unique: Black Cap sticks to the basics and brews traditional beers, as opposed to testing out "crazy flavors" like jalapeno and mango.
"We concentrate on the traditional and our big focus is doing them well," Bentley said. "We want to create a real friendly, comfortable place. We purposely have no TVs in the pub. We want people to come have good food and good beer."
Gift Horse Brewing Co. (soon to be located at 117 N. George St., York)
Brewer: Jason Snyder, 37
Opening: This fall
How he got started: About six and a half years ago, Snyder's sister-in-law bought him a homebrew kit for Christmas.
"I've loved it ever since," he said.
Snyder has also always loved cooking for guests in his home, so he said making beer was a natural progression.
Biggest challenge: Opening his own business and working with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and the city has been difficult for Snyder.
"Making the beer comes easy," he said. "The business aspect has been the biggest challenge."
What makes Gift Horse unique: "I don't think we want to be unique," Snyder said. "We want to complement the other brewers. We want to make York City a craft beer destination and I think we're one more piece to the puzzle to make that happen."
South County Brewing Co. (104 Mill Street, Fawn Grove)
Brewer: JR Heaps, 31
Opened: July 1, 2011
How he got started: In 2009 or 2010, Heaps went to Siebel beer school in Chicago, where he said he learned everything from the business side of brewing to the science and technicality of making a good beer. He also spent time interning and shadowing at Troegs and Spring House before making the decision to open his own brewery.
Biggest challenge: Though he and his family are both familiar with how to run a business, Heaps said the biggest challenge is selling, distribution, marketing and other aspects of the "business side of beer." "Bigger breweries get the benefit of the doubt," Heaps said," but smaller breweries have to prove they have good beer. You can make a really good beer, but the tough part is selling it."
What makes South County unique: Heaps said his skill set, formal brewing training and business background sets him apart.
"The beers we make are traditional with our own personality and their well done in the style," he said. "We don't get real crazy, but what we do, we do well We try to take something that's mundane and overdone and refocus the taste buds on the style."
Crystal Ball Brewing Co. (1612 W. King St., York)
Brewer: Ryan Johnstonbaugh, 34
Opened: May 22, 2014
How he got started: Opening Crystal Ball was all about following his passion, Johnstonbaugh said. He started out home brewing, reading books and teaching himself.
"For me, it's not all about making money I love making beer," he said. "Starting this business has been a fulfilling experience."
Biggest challenge: Being a small-scale, start-up has its challenges, like consistency, repeating batches and keeping up with demand, Johnstonbaugh said.
What makes Crystal Ball unique: Johnstonbaugh said it's as simple as their willingness to take risks.
"We're never satisfied," he said. "We're always thinking about what's next, figuring out ways to expand and grow the brand."