Lawrence Pritchard III and his wife Rachel in the lobby at Flatrock Brewing Company Taproom & Bottle Shop.
NAPOLEON — Lawrence Pritchard III doesn’t feel connected to the craft beer community. That perceived disconnect — justified or not — has proved to be equal parts motivation and innovation, and maybe even a source of pride.
“The way I look at it, if I can make it here, anyone can open a brewery pretty much anywhere in Ohio and be successful,” Pritchard said last week at his taproom located at 621 N. Perry St.
The owner and brewer of Flatrock Brewing Co. has an adventurous brewing spirit that he says he has to temper for the sake of running his business. After all, to his estimate, there was nary a craft beer drinker in Henry County when he opened his brewery in Holgate in 2012.
“This area is all Bud Light drinkers, so we kind of have a unique clientele,” Pritchard said. “It was hard at first because we were creating a market versus having a market already set up.
“When we first opened up we really had to do a really good job of explaining the beers, of what an IPA [India Pale Ale] was. It wasn’t a population set up for us. We had to make the market.”
Pritchard decided to introduce the locals to craft beer by introducing them to Towpath, his classic American pilsner-styled beer. He had hoped by giving patrons something close to what they were used to drinking, he could win them over with other selections from his artisan ales.
Towpath is Flatrock’s top seller, and its success in winning over the light beer crowd eventually demanded a larger facility. Pritchard relocated the taproom to its current location in December.
“I started out in a small, little town in a small, little old barber shop and grew into where we are now,” he said. “We have a long way to go and that includes reaching out to Columbus and Toledo and get those craft beer people in [here] because I want to make bigger beers and maltier and more IPAs and kind of push the envelope.
“But it’s hard to do because when I do it, not a lot of local people drink it. So, I kind of hold on to it for a while. We definitely want more people to come in from out of town and try our beers.”
A flight of summer beers: Key Lime Pie Flora radler, County Line honey braggot, Joe E. Brown S’Mores stout, and Taylor’s Harbor mango IPA from Flatrock Brewing Co.
Pritchard, 45, is a 2001 graduate of the University of Toledo. Originally from Columbus, he said it was a culture shock when he moved to Holgate, his wife Rachel’s hometown, in 2003.
He started homebrewing and joined a few clubs. It wasn’t long before he fell in love with the craft because it was so different from his profession as a computer consultant. After winning a few competitions, he started thinking of making beer for a living.
“I didn’t think I was ever going to until one day we found a building and my wife said ‘Hey, can we do this?’” he said. His thought at the time? “There’s not a lot of craft beer drinkers here and we’re in the middle of nowhere.”
After a little research and discovering other rural-area breweries, he decided to give it a go.
“When we opened, there wasn’t a Father John’s [Microbrewery in Bryan] or a Findlay [Brewing Co.],” Pritchard said. “There was no one in this area. It was just us.
“To me, I think we’re helping craft beer because we’re making more craft beer drinkers. They’re leaving here and going to other breweries or going to restaurants and they feel comfortable ordering an IPA because they know what it is now.”
Pritchard says he brews eight barrels a week and likes to keep eight to 10 beers on tap at the taproom.
Lawrence Pritchard III in the brewing room.
Hopgoblin, which finished in the top seven of a statewide American IPA contest last year, is a favorite. Other current tap offerings include Pritchard Lane, an American pale ale; Mitternacht, an American black ale; Key Lime Pie Flora radler; County Line, a honey braggot; Taylor's Harbor, a mango IPA; and Joe E. Brown S'Mores stout.
The craziest beer Pritchard’s ever made? Rhubarb and hibiscus. He gets a lot of his ingredients from local sources and hobby farms, including honey, strawberries, hops, blackberries, blueberries, and maple syrup.
It’s the taproom itself, however, that’s proved to be Pritchard’s most valuable asset. It’s open from 3 to 11 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and, of course, pints, bottles, and growlers are available for purchase. It’s the instant feedback that Pritchard relishes.
“That instant interaction really helps me,” he said of the taproom that holds up to 90 people on Friday and Saturday nights. “I can change a batch on the fly. I do that a lot. I’m not afraid to change it up with hops or malt or whatever to get it just right. Sometimes, we have hits and sometimes we have misses, but it’s a whole process. I’m learning a lot about people and what they like and don’t like.
“For me, I don’t have to spend that much money on decorations, or spend hundreds of thousands of dollars getting the taproom just right. A lot of the stuff was donated. Somebody came and built us a bar. The whole community kind of came out to make sure we were up and running.”
Pritchard is eyeing distribution in stores and bars in the Toledo area, and if he’s able to network he’s open to expansion. But until then, he’s willing to put in the work to get where he wants to be.
“We don’t have a lot of money for forklifts or anything like that — so I unload the trucks, my wife and I,” he said. “She throws the grain bags at me, and I dump them in the back of a truck. We pretty much do everything ourselves. It’s a lot of hard work but it saves us money.
Front entrance to Flatrock Brewing Company Taproom & Bottle Shop.
“I’m the type of person, I’d rather get the connection first and know it’s there and then expand than just jumping up and trying something. I like to limit risk. That’s just the kind of person I am.”
For more information, go to flatrockbrewery.com or on Facebook.
Catawba Island Brewing Co., 2330 E. Harbor Rd., Port Clinton, has new summer hours at its taproom. The new hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Maumee Bay Brewing Co.’s Summer Concert Series returns this summer. On June 12, July 17, and Aug. 7, there will be live music on the lawn at the brewery, 27 Broadway St., from 6 to 9 p.m. Old State Line will perform June 12, with Shotguns & Violins and Category 2 playing July 17 and Aug. 7, respectively.
Raise a Glass is a craft beer column covering what’s brewing in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. It appears in The Blade’s Peach Weekender on the last Thursday of every month.
Contact Bob Cunningham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6506.
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