Local breweries, bars put Toledo on craft beer mapWritten by Staff Reports | | email@example.com
By Dave Kubacki
For years, Glass City beer lovers haven’t had craft brews to fill their steins and snifters, but thanks to local breweries and restaurants, that’s no longer the case, local experts said.
According to the Brewers Association, the number of larger breweries in the United States has grown from about 500 in 1990 to 2,126 as of July 1. While many recognize the household names of Budweiser, Coors and Miller, it is the smaller, craft breweries that have exploded in growth during the past 20 years. As of July 1, there were 2,075 craft breweries in the U.S. Paul Traver, co-owner and head brewer of Toledo’s Great Black Swamp Brewing, said that Toledo is just trying to catch up.
“Depending on what part of the country you compare it to, the craft beer scene in Toledo is three years, five years or almost a decade behind what everyone else in the country is doing,” Traver said.
“However, in the last three years, Toledo has made leaps and bounds with not only the availability of craft beer in bars and retail, but also consumer knowledge has increased as well. It is a big commitment on the part of retailers and bars to dive in as you have to educate your staff. It’s amazing how much ground the city has made up in a short amount of time.”
Maumee Bay Brewing Co.’s head brewer, Jon Koester, echoed Traver’s take on Toledo’s place in the craft beer scene.
“In the last three or four years, it has really grown,” Koester said. “Honestly, when I started, it was kind of sad working here and seeing how little craft beer was out there. Sure, beer stores like Joseph’s Beverage Center and Marino’s had great selections, but there wasn’t much good, craft beer on tap to be found. Now, all these bars are going local and getting beers from Maumee Bay, Great Black Swamp, Sugar Ridge and other states such as Michigan and California.”
Across the United States, craft beer is becoming more readily available due to increased demand and popularity. Growth of the craft brewing industry in 2011 was 13 percent by volume and 15 percent by dollars compared to growth in 2010 of 12 percent by volume and 15 percent by dollars, according to the Brewers Association. Retail dollar value in 2011 was an estimated $8.7 billion, up from $7.6 billion in 2010 and the market share was 5.7 percent by volume and 9.1 percent by dollars. With so much craft beer momentum, Traver said there are still obstacles to overcome for craft beer in Toledo.
“Bud Light has a foothold in Toledo like nowhere else,” Traver said. “It’s hard to break that.”
However, restaurants like Perrysburg’s Swig are making a name for themselves by providing more options. According to co-owner Tony Bilancini, drink choice is often rooted in tradition.
“Northwest Ohio is a working-class area of Ohio,” Bilancini said. “It is automotive- and factory-based. We have a lot of strong, hard-working blue-collar workers. With that comes American beer like Coors, Miller Light, Schlitz and Stroh’s. Most people are brought in and drinking what their father or grandfather were drinking.”
While Bilancini isn’t trying to change that tradition, he said he recognizes craft beer’s place in Toledo and the city’s growing interest. According to Bilancini, craft beer provides an opportunity for conversation.
“You can’t get bored talking about beer,” Bilancini said. “It’s not religion; it’s not politics; it’s not your ex-wife and it’s not your good friend. It’s like gossiping right in front of someone and not needing to be embarrassed about it.”
Both Traver and Koester said Toledo is still a bit behind most of the country in the craft beer scene. For breweries like Maumee Bay Brewing Co., Great Black Swamp Brewing and Sugar Ridge Brewery, the question becomes how to compete with big breweries and established regional craft breweries like Bell’s Brewery and Founders Brewing Company.
Traver said local breweries can offer options other breweries cannot.
“For us, our focus has always been small bars and restaurants, locally owned,” Traver said. “We needed to let them know we were local and what we could do for them as a small brewery. They don’t need a delivery schedule with us or have a standing order with us. Because of where we are located, if you run out of beer on a Friday afternoon, we can get it to you by 5 p.m. For a small bar, if they have an empty tap, they aren’t making any money and we understand that.”
Both Maumee Bay Brewing Co. and Great Black Swamp Brewing hope to continue expanding in 2013. Maumee Bay will increase its bottle offerings with pub favorites such as the brewery’s double India pale ale Amarillo Brillo and their Total Eclipse Breakfast Stout, Koester said.
Great Black Swamp Brewing will work on higher gravity bottling with very limited draft. The business recently met with a coffee roaster for an imperial coffee stout and is also working on an imperial India pale ale as well, Traver said.
The goal is to not only put Toledo on the map, but also to help Ohio’s craft beer reputation, he said.
“We would like to have more name recognition in Toledo,” Traver said. “Michigan has a stronghold on what’s going on in the Midwest and I would like our brewery to start chipping into that. Actually, I would like to see all the Ohio breweries start chipping into that.”
Koester said it’s important to understand how to manage your growth.
“You don’t want a huge growth all at once,” Koester said. “You want steady growth; otherwise, you’ll end up irritating your distributors by not having your products available. You have to take it slow. That’s how the other successful breweries have handled growth.”
Bilancini said some restaurants and bars will continue to establish themselves as players in the craft beer scene and some will not. For Bilancini, he just wants a place where craft beer is part of the conversation.
“That’s the thing about this bar,” Bilancini said. “I can walk around and talk to anyone. There are no strangers. There are just friends you haven’t met yet.”