Great Black Swamp serves straight from the tapWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Traver and Bob Morris believe in beer.
Specifically, they believe in their beer. Last fall, the two Toledo homebrewers took their passion for making flavorful suds to the masses, selling their first kegs of Great Black Swamp Brewing to local bars the week after Thanksgiving.
Since then, they’ve been working out of a nondescript building on Monroe Street near Downtown to ferment, brew, carbonate, promote and distribute their five brews: Sand Piper Golden Ale, Mosquito Red, Bull Frog Stout, Bay Front Pale Ale and Wild Duck India Pale Ale.
Five months later, Great Black Swamp Brewing tap handles can be found at 15 establishments in Toledo and Northwest Ohio, as well as by the keg at the Beer and Wine Cave on Heatherdowns.
Traver said that while the beer itself has been very well received, the task of getting it sold in bars is not so easy.
“We’ve had different sets of issues actually getting beers on tap,” he said. “We have to convince bars to take something out of their lineup and pick us up. There’s a lot of risk of taking something you know sells well and replacing it with something you hope sells well and brings people in.”
Oftentimes, the Great Black Swamp beer on tap is worlds apart from the beer flowing next to it behind the bar. At the Crazy Lady Saloon in the village of Curtice, for example, the tap offerings are typical favorites Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite — and Bull Frog Stout. Despite the brand-name competition, the bar’s customers aren’t afraid of the newcomer — the tavern runs through a keg of the local offering each week.
Standing out from the big names seems to be a source of pride for the local homebrewers, who have more than 40 years experience between them in making their own fermented beverages. Members of the Salacious Homebrewers in Toledo, a group of like-minded homebrewers that has been in existence since 1989, Paul and Bob decided to take things a step further and make a go of launching their own brewery in November 2009.
“It took lots of licensing paperwork, hunting down equipment, finding a building, etc. to start up,” Morris said. The men searched the country for equipment — mostly from breweries which either went out of business or moved onto newer equipment.
While bigger brewers may depend on cold temperature gimmicks or catchy slogans to sell their beer, it’s all about freshness for Paul and Bob.
“We’re not a huge brewery so we don’t have a huge supply on hand,” Morris said. “We try not to let it sit around too long.”
For now, the DIY brewers are content to serve their beers straight from the tap at area bars — bottling is not in the cards any time soon.
“This way we know where the beer is, that it’s cold and it’s being taken care of,” Morris said.
However, thirsty customers can buy all of Great Black Swamp’s beers in kegs at the Beer and Wine Cave.
For now, getting customers to get out to their local establishments and enjoy a pint is part of Great Black Swamp’s master plan, in a way.
“A lot of what we’ve wanted to be from the very beginning is a local brewery,” Traver said, emphasizing the adjective. “The best way for us to do that is to get people to go out to bars and restaurants.”
The two practice what they preach. Morris said he goes out at least once a week to sample his brews at one of the bars serving Great Black Swamp suds. Further, they are delivering beer every day.
“The big boys do it once a week,” Morris said.
The two work five or six days a week at the brewery and the bars, making sure the customers are happy with the product.
Traver and Morris realize Toledo isn’t a microbeer mecca like Portland or Denver – the flavorful beer world is still a niche market around here. However, the two are optimistic about the potential to change Northwest Ohioans’ beer palate, citing recent expansions and increased interest in the craft beer sections at the Beer and Wine Cave, The Andersons and Joseph’s Beverage Center.
Educating bars and drinkers on what craft beer is — and isn’t — remains a part of their job.
“A lot of bars and restaurants are new to this as well,” Traver said. “They’re learning how to adapt to this kind of crowd.”
And some people just have a hard time getting beyond the dreaded “dark” label.
“I walked into a bar and there was a guy sitting at the bar who said, ‘Oh no, I don’t drink dark beer,’” Traver recalled, laughing to himself while downing a pint of the pale ale at the Monroe Street brewery. “There’s nothing about this that’s ‘dark,’” he said, holding up a glass of the golden beverage.
He shrugged, still smiling. Then he took another sip.
For more information and a complete list of establishments serving Great Black Swamp Brewing beers, visit the website www.greatblack swampbrewing.com or email email@example.com.