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Published: Sunday, 5/8/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Home brewed: Two area beer makers take basement hobby to area bars

BY BOB CUNNINGHAM
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Bob Morris, left, and Paul Traver own the Great Black Swamp Brewing Co. Bob Morris, left, and Paul Traver own the Great Black Swamp Brewing Co.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo

It all started with two guys’ love of beer — not only with how it tastes, but with how it’s made.

Bob Morris and Paul Traver have been brewing beer at home for more than 35 years, collectively. Their experience and appreciation for the craft has resulted in the creation of the area’s third microbrewery, the Great Black Swamp Brewing Co.

It is strictly a two-man operation. The burgeoning entrepreneurs cobbled together their brewery piece by piece from across the country and assembled it in a warehouse in central Toledo.

"All of the brewing equipment we bought was used," said Mr. Traver, 36, of South Toledo. "It took six months to locate, have it shipped, and installed. We got parts from Colorado, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, California … everywhere but the South."

The entrepreneurs put the equipment — and their expertise — to use, tapping into the Toledo area bar and restaurant scene in December when their first keg was filled just after Thanksgiving.

The microbrewery produces five different beers — Sand Piper Golden Ale, Mosquito Red, Bull Frog Stout, Bay Front Pale Ale, and Wild Duck India Pale Ale (IPA). The beers currently can be found on tap at 15 bars and restaurants in the area, as well as Tower 230 Bar and Grill in Cleveland. Kegs of beer also can be purchased at the Beer and Wine Cave in South Toledo.

The brewery’s first seasonal brew, Hellfish, an Imperial IPA, was made in April and is available for a limited time. There are plans to unveil two more seasonal brews in the coming weeks.

TERMS TO KNOW

Ale: The common term for any English-style, 'top-fermented' beer.

India Pale Ale: At the height of colonial trade with the British East Indies, the export brew of Burton Pale Ale became known as India Pale Ale, and the name has stuck.

Imperial IPA: A stronger India Pale Ale.

Stout: Traditionally the generic term for the strongest, or stoutest, porters.

Porter: A dark-colored style of beer.

Sources: beer-pages.com, wikipedia.com

CONTACT INFO

Web site: greatblack swampbrewing.com

E-mail: sales@greatblack swampbrewing.com

Phone: 419-973-1256

WHERE TO FIND IT

Establishments where you can buy the Great Black Swamp Brewing Co.'s beers on tap:

Miss Cue South, 1720 South Reynolds Rd.

Bier Stube, 5333 Monroe St.

Shawn's Irish Tavern, 4400 Heatherdowns Blvd.

The Bronze Boar, 20 South Huron St.

Swig, 219 Louisiana Ave., Perrysburg

The Village Idiot, 309 Conant St., Maumee

Crazy Lady Saloon, 22645 West Front St., Curtice

Break Room Lounge, 720 Illinois Ave. #A

Poco Piatti, 3155 Chappel Drive, Perrysburg

Degage Jaze Cafe, 301 River Rd., Maumee

Doc Watson's, 1515 South Byrne Rd.

Stimmel's, 625 North Perry St., Napoleon

Treo, 5703 Main St., Sylvania

LaRoe's Restaurant, 24138 Front St., Grand Rapids

Tony Packo's, 1902 Front St., Toledo

Tower 230 Bar and Grill, 230 Prospect Ave., Cleveland

Beer and Wine Cave (kegs only), 4400 Heatherdowns

"We make beers we like," said Mr. Morris, 56, "and beers that will sell. A range of beers fill out our selection."

Mr. Morris, who lives in Maumee, started out home brewing before craft beers became popular.

"I couldn’t buy good beer," Mr. Morris said. So he started brewing his own. "I researched why other Toledo brewers didn’t do well, and the lack of good beers was definitely a reason."

Mr. Traver moved from northwest Ohio to Eugene, Ore., right out of college. His interest in home brewing started as a hobby but quickly morphed into something more serious.

"It was an inexpensive way to make good beer," he said.

When Mr. Traver returned to the area about five years ago, he was surprised by the lack of craft beers in Ohio, and Toledo in particular, because there were numerous microbreweries Oregon.

"For a city the size of Toledo to have only one craft brewer was surprising. It was culture shock," said Mr. Traver, who grew up in Sylvania. "Brewing trends out West are about five to 10 years ahead of us. There is a lot more pressure to come up with better brews."

The two met four years ago at a contest get-together at Titgemeier’s, a feed and garden store in South Toledo that also sells beer and wine supplies, and struck up a friendship. They also are members of the Salacious Homebrewers in Toledo club, which Mr. Morris co-founded.

Both have made the full transition to making this business their full-time career. Mr. Morris previously worked in real estate, while Mr. Traver was a project manager at a market research company.

Before the development of the Great Black Swamp Brewing Co. the area had just the Maumee Bay Brewing Co. at the Oliver House in Toledo and Granite City Food & Brewery, a Minnesota chain restaurant at the Shops of Fallen Timbers in Maumee.

A defunct brewer also served as inspiration. The Black Swamp Microbrewery at Nick & Jimmy’s closed in 2000, Mr. Morris said.

"It had a good reputation, and we wanted to build from that," he said of their company’s namesake. Actually, the recipe for the popular Mosquito Red at Nick & Jimmy’s had belonged to Mr. Morris.

As of now, Mr. Morris and Mr. Traver have no plans to enter the brewpub market. They have more interest in the growing buy local movement.

"We feel like it’s something we can take advantage of," Mr. Traver said, "by helping to draw people to other establishments around town."

Great Black Swamp Brewing Co, brews five beers on a regular basis, in addition to seasonal varieties. The beers are, from left, Sandpiper Golden Ale, Mosquito Red, Bull Frog Stout, Bay Front Pale Ale, and Wild Duck IPA. Great Black Swamp Brewing Co, brews five beers on a regular basis, in addition to seasonal varieties. The beers are, from left, Sandpiper Golden Ale, Mosquito Red, Bull Frog Stout, Bay Front Pale Ale, and Wild Duck IPA.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo

"Local establishments have been very supportive," Mr. Morris said. "It’s hard to get someone in charge at a chain convinced."

Making it work

Sales have been increasing steadily since January, Mr. Traver said. He credits word of mouth for much of their success.

"We obviously don’t have the resources to spend on advertising," he said. "So the places that we are on tap and what they are doing to get their customers to enjoy our beer … is the key for us in gaining name recognition and increasing our sales."

The two beer makers buy most of their supplies nearby. They get their malt from a wholesaler in Ypsilanti, Mich., and grain from Akron, but sources of hops are more spread out.

Something else that works in the brewers’ favor is that Ohio allows for self distribution. So, as long as they have a vehicle that can carry a keg, Mr. Morris and Mr. Traver can get their product to the vendor.

"Ohio really is an underserved market," Mr. Traver said. "There are a lot of people out there that want to drink good beer."

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


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