Neal Kovacik and his staff hear the same question all the time: When is Maumee Bay Brewing Co. going to start bottling this stuff?
Well, beer fans, the answer is now.
The Toledo microbrewery, which operates out of the 154-year-old Oliver House, has begun bottling three of its popular craft brews to sell in four-packs and six-packs at area retailers.
“I'm really excited about it. We all are,” said Mr. Kovacik, the general manager of the Oliver House. “I think it's going to be a good thing. The craft brews are where we really excel."
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Maumee Bay has been making beer since 1995 and has gained a solid reputation for brewing creative and flavorful beers, including several seasonal varieties. But until now, the only beer available in traditional 12-ounce bottles has been Buckeye.
While Mr. Kovacik says Buckeye is a fine beer, Maumee Bay was missing out on a big portion of the booming craft beer movement by not having its specialty beers available in stores.
That will change next week, when Maumee Bay’s India Pale Ale, Amarillo Brillo Double India Pale Ale, and Total Eclipse Breakfast Stout hit the shelves at The Andersons, Walt Churchill’s Market, Joseph’s Beverage Center, Marino’s Beverage Depot, and Corks Wine and Liquor.
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Within a month, Maumee Bay hopes to be in larger chain grocers and retailers across Ohio.
According to the Brewers Association, overall U.S. beer sales rose less than 1 percent in 2012. Craft beers, however, have been rapidly gaining market share, with sales up 15 percent last year after growing 13 percent in 2011.
“I think more people are looking for more in their beer than just watered-down Coors Light or Bud Light,” said Tom Shea, the manager at Joseph’s Beverage Center. “They’re looking for more flavor, different styles. A lot of our customers are definitely willing to try a lot of different things.”
Mr. Shea said the rise of craft beers has been especially strong over the last four or five years. Particularly popular here have been Michigan offerings from Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, and Bell’s Brewery Inc. outside of Kalamazoo. But Mr. Shea also sees high demand for microbrews from Colorado to California.
“It just seems like all of them are on fire,” he said.
Craft beers typically have stronger flavors and a higher alcohol content than traditional mass-marketed beers. They also command higher prices. For example, Mr. Shea said a recent limited release from Founders sold for nearly $21 a four-pack.
There was a waiting list.
Maumee Bay’s three varieties won’t be nearly that expensive, but they will represent a better profit margin than Buckeye. Maumee Bay sells Buckeye for about the same price as Bud Light or Miller Lite, but can’t come close to producing it as cheaply as the large brewing companies.
That’s less of a problem with craft beers.
"[Buyers] want good quality, good flavor, a higher alcohol content, and they'll pay whatever they need to get it,” Mr. Shea said.
The bottled beers are on sale now at the Oliver House, with the IPA priced at $9.99 for a six-pack and the Breakfast Stout and the Amarillo Brillo selling for $11.99 for a four-pack. Other retailers will determine their own prices.
Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association in Colorado, said many Americans are discovering they like the full-flavored beers and are intrigued by the innovation and different ingredients with which craft brewers experiment.
They also appeal to buyers who want to buy locally.
It’s a far busier place than it was three years ago when Mr. Kovacik took over as general manager. In the last year and a half, Maumee Bay has hired a second brewmaster and boosted its beer production by about 300 percent.
Getting its three craft brews into stores is the next step, but it's not the final step.
Mr. Kovacik thinks Maumee Bay has the potential to become known not as a local brew pub, but a legitimate regional brewery.
“If we have a good product, I don’t see why we don’t grow. The demand’s there. People like the beer, they inquire about it constantly. When’s it going to be here, when are you going to bottle this? And other breweries are having good success doing the same thing. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn't grow into a very good regional brewery and see where that takes us," he said. "It’s just a natural.”
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.