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Published: Sunday, 8/24/2014 - Updated: 1 year ago

Holland man sets up Black Frog Brewery in his garage

Chris Harris, 46, of Holland started brewing commercially this month in his garage. Chris Harris, 46, of Holland started brewing commercially this month in his garage.
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Chris Harris is an affable and gregarious fellow. You know, the type who’s quick to share a beer with a friend in his backyard, on his porch, or even in his garage.

That’s because his garage in Holland is home to Black Frog Brewery.

Mr. Harris’ brewery is just the third in Lucas County, following in the footsteps of Maumee Bay Brewing Co. and Great Black Swamp Brewing Co.

“I saw on the Internet where some breweries started in a garage, and one in particular in Pennsylvania that really piqued my interest, and that really was my inspiration for doing this,” said Mr. Harris, 46, who had been homebrewing for three and a half years before deciding to ascend from the amateur ranks.

“I just wanted to do something that I loved,” he said. “From the very first moment I started brewing I just really fell in love with it. The more I did it, the more I wanted to do it more and more. I was like, ‘Wow, I would really like to do this on a professional level.’”

Not only is Mr. Harris a groundbreaker when it comes to the type of brewery he operates, but he says he is the first African-American commercial craft brewer in Ohio, and one of just a few in the country.

“A guy in Cincinnati emailed me because he’s in the process of starting a brewery, and other than me and him, I don’t know of any others in Ohio,” Mr. Harris said. “You can probably count us [African-American brewers] on one hand.”

Mr. Harris is a Scott High School graduate who spent 10 years in the Army as a mechanic, traveling the world and discovering different beers wherever he went.

But he believes that’s not the norm for a lot of African-Americans.

“I don’t think that African-Americans have really embraced the craft beer,” said Harris who has worked for the Social Security Administration since getting out of the Army. “I guess that’s what I’m really pushing for. There are a lot of great beers out there besides — and no disrespect to them — Bud Light or Miller Lite or Coors Light.

“I really want African-Americans to broaden their horizons There’s a lot of great craft beers that they could be drinking.”

In fact, that thinking factored into naming Mr. Harris’ brewery.

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"Toledo, of course, is the frog city and me, I'm African-American, so you know, Black Frog Brewery," Mr. Harris said. 

"I toyed with a lot of names before I came up with Black Frog Brewery, and it just really stuck."

Mr. Harris makes about 20 different styles of beer, but, initially for his business venture, he will focus on a few main recipes such as Cream of the Frog, a cream ale. All of Black Frog's beers will have a frog theme, including Amphibian (pale ale), Froglicious (porter), and a holiday ale titled 12 Frogs of Christmas. Mr. Harris also is planning a semi-annual IPA named Flying Frog as a tribute to his father's career in the Air National Guard. Plus, he says all Black Frog beers will have some form of honey in each batch of beer. Honey's use is reflected in his company logo, which features a black frog and honey bees.

His two-car garage was divided in half by adding a wall near the middle of the room, and he has a fermentation chamber, a fair-sized brewing system, a refrigerator, a bottle capper, and storage for grains, hops, and other supplies.

Chris Harris built this small, walled-off section in his garage to brew the beer. Chris Harris built this small, walled-off section in his garage to brew the beer.
THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Mr. Harris' garage brewery was approved for federal license by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, earlier this summer and he received his Ohio brewing license on Aug. 1. 

He is permitted to make beer in the garage, but he can't sell it from his garage because of zoning issues. But he can self-distribute in Ohio to bars, restaurants, and grocery stores.

He has his sights set on selling Black Frog beers in 22-ounce bottles at stores such as The Andersons, Walt Churchill's Markets, and other local grocers, and eventually kegs of beer in bars and restaurants.

In general, Mr. Harris, who brewed his first commercial batch last weekend, is a one-man operation.

"I'm going to be everything: the brewer, distributor, cleaner, everything." he said. Add local farmer's advocate to the list because Mr. Harris donates all of his spent grains to local chicken and pig farmers as food and also to avoid dumping them in a landfill.

That's all just part of the big picture for Mr. Harris and Black Frog Brewery.

"This is really just a part-time thing until if and when it takes off," he said. "If it takes off, with my military time I might be able to retire early and just do this full-time.

"I would love to brew every day. That would be just the greatest thing in the world."

Contact Bob Cunningham at bcunningham@theblade.com or 419-724-6506.

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