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First Southampton beers shipped from Latrobe for Pabst craft venture.

Among the craft beer cognoscenti, Phil Markowski has long been recognized as one of the top craft brewers in the United States. His reputation has been strongest in southern New England, where he has brewed for most of his career.

Today, Mr. Markowski is part owner and head brewer at the Southampton Publick House in Southampton, NY, where he produces a wide range of critically-acclaimed Belgian, German and English-inspired beers.

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These brands are soon to receive much wider distribution courtesy of the Pabst Brewing Company. The origins of Mr, Markowski's relationship with Pabst go back to the mid-1990s, when Mr. Markowski formulated several craft-style beers for Latrobe Brewing Co. (then owned by Labatt USA) including a well-regarded Bavarian Black.

Brad Hittle, Pabst's chief marketing officer, worked at Labatt USA back in the 1990s, and got to know Mr. Markowski when he was collaborating on the Latrobe craft beer project. When Pabst looked to add an authentic craft beer to its portfolio, Mr. Hittle turned to Mr. Markowski.

"Brad is a huge fan of Phil Markowski," said a source close to the brewery. "When Pabst decided to do this, Brad said 'what's Phil making these days? Phil is the guy we want to work with'." Mr. Hittle decided that Southampton's established craft brands could serve as a foundation for Pabst's specialty effort. While Pabst has taken no ownership in the Southampton brewery, it will handle sales, marketing and distribution for the brands as they expand nationwide.

The Southampton Publick House is a brewpub, with a small DME 15-barrel brewing system, so any large production runs of the Southampton brands will be produced under contract at larger regional breweries.

Early production runs of the Southampton brands took place at the Lion in Wilkes-Barre, PA, but now production has switched to a more familiar locale for Messrs Markowski and Hittle, the former Rolling Rock brewery in old Latrobe.

"I was a little self-conscious about brewing at other breweries," Phil recalls. "Because there used to be a real stigma about contract brewing. But the people at Latrobe have been amazing, and they really know what they are doing. Sam Adams broke them in when they were doing contract work there. They still talk about brewing Sam Adams Imperial Pilsner, it made a real impression on them, having to add thousands of pounds of hops to that beer." Mr. Markwoski said the physical plant in Latrobe is ideal for his purposes. "Thanks to the investment of Labatt USA and Interbrew, the equipment is really state-of-the-art," he said. "Most importantly, the packaging line is very modern. It's a Simonazzi line with brand new fillers, and gets real low airs. In a lot of these regional breweries, the lines are older, and air levels do not meet the modern standard. In addition to the nice low airs, it is set up for very gentle transfers tank to tank. Also, they've got a very tight computer-controlled brewhouse. It's pretty hands-off compared to what I am used to, but we can produce some very consistent beers there. It gives us the same time temperature sequence in the mash, and we're having great results. It's little things like that that make me happy."

In addition to Southampton's basic line of beers, which include an Alt, Double White, and IPA, Mr. Markwoski will produce a line of seasonals for the Pabst partnership.

The current Southampton seasonal is a pumpkin ale, to be followed by an imperial porter in November and a Maibock in the spring.

"The seasonals will ultimately be nationwide, but not this year," Mr. Markowski said. "For now the seasonals will be sold in the same markets as the core brands--the Northeast, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Metro Chicago, and Denver. We're not really radiating out from a home base, because I'm not sure that applies anymore. Because of the internet, people know you everywhere, so you can just pick your best markets."

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For its home markets, Southampton will continue to offer a Christmas Ale (brewed at Saratoga Brewing Co. in Saratoga Springs, NY) and some other large format bottle specialty beers, brewed and bottled in-house at Southampton Publick House or under contract at Sly Fox in Pennsylvania.

The first production runs of Southampton beers for Pabst have now been packaged at Latrobe Brewing Co. The pumpkin ale and Double White shipped last week, with the IPA to follow.

"I am very happy with the beers coming out of Latrobe," Phil said.
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Sep 3, 2009
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