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Summer in a glass: Roy Pitz brews up strawberry ale

CHAMBERSBURG - Thanks to Roy Pitz Brewery, locals can get their fill of two summer staples, beer and strawberries, in one cold glass.

Strawberry beer is an idea whose time has come for Roy Pitz Brewery owners Ryan Richards and Jesse Rotz and their friend Brent Barnhart from Country Creek Produce.

Local craft beer aficionados will get a chance to taste the latest offering - Country Creek Strawberry Blond ale - featuring fresh strawberries from local strawberry fields - this weekend.

The first keg of the ale will be tapped during a celebration Friday - just in time for the Fourth of July holiday weekend - at an event at the brewery's attached pub-style restaurant, featuring live music by Jerry Rigged, a local blue grass band.

Country Creek Strawberry Blond is a German-style Kolsch beer with what Richards describes as a "nice, easy going summer ale with the flavor of fresh strawberries."

The idea for a strawberry-flavored beer came earlier this year when Richards and Rotz began looking for a new fruit product to add to their line of specialty craft beers.

That line includes the silver-medal-winning Lovitz Watermelon Lager, a seasonal fruity lager made with Florida and Georgia melons Roy Pitz obtains from Four Seasons Produce, and a craft beer they call The Black Spot, a "hoppy" lager made with locally grown hops, introduced last year.

The watermelon lager was introduced when the  brewery opened in 2008, but was first bottled in 2015.

"Fruit beers are more popular than ever in the summertime," Richards said.

But to get the most out of the fresh fruit flavor in the beer, the team had to get the berries from the Country Creek fields to the brewing facility for processing within 24 hours of the time they were picked.

Once at the Roy Pitz brewery on North Third Street, the 700 pounds of strawberries were quickly pureed in a Hobard blender, then added to the unfermented beer in full boil in a kettle. The brew is boiled to sterilize and homogenize the berries with the liquid.

Once that is done, yeast is added and fermentation begins.

Because this year's strawberries were already very sweet, the brewers didn't have to add much sugar to the mix, resulting in a lower than normal sugar content in the new product.

Country Creek Strawberry Blond lager's production was limited to 20 barrels this year. A barrel is about 31 gallons of lager.

The new lager will probably be a seasonal-staple offering by the brewery, but it won't be the last experiment Roy Pitz undertakes using local fruit in the brewery's offerings.

Rotz said the team is in the process of acquiring new equipment to almost double the brewery's production capacity within the next two to six months. Currently they produce 2,000 barrels a year, selling it at the Roy Pitz pub and through a number of local retailers.

Their use of local hops grown in the Mercersburg area and now Country Creek's strawberries is an effort to integrate local products into their brews, Richards said.

He said Roy Pitz fans loved the new Black Spot lager featuring the Mercersburg-grown hops when it was introduced last year.

That delighted Richards and Rotz, whose aim is to partner with as many local suppliers as possible in an effort to invest in the local community.

The two local men first became interested in making craft beer in college, experimenting with home brewing, and liked it so much they decided to get graduate degrees in brewing science at Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology after obtaining business degrees at West Chester University.

With that education behind them, they came home to Chambersburg where they opened Roy Pitz in 2008.

The brewery started small, with only two employees, Richards and Rotz.

They combined their college nicknames - Roy (Richards) and Pitz (Rotz) - to come up with a name for their brewery and its craft beers.

Today, they stay busy not only brewing their products, but running an attached pub with the help of what they call 23 "passionate" employees, and involving themselves with community events such as an upcoming fundraiser for the Franklin County Historical Society called "Smoke 'em if you've got 'em" set for the annual Old Market Day event July 16 at the Old Jail on King Street.

In addition to producing award-winning craft beer and running the pub, they offer brewery tours to the public at 2:30 p.m. every Saturday for people who just want to come and see how craft beers are produced.

Roy Pitz Brewing Company is located at 140 N. Third St. in Chambersburg.

Vicky Taylor, 717-262-4754