Craft Beers, and Their Crazy Names, Go Mainstream

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — They carry the names “Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout,” “Purple Haze Raspberry Wheat Brew,” “Yellow Snow India Pale Ale” and “Hell or High Watermelon Beer.” Their colorful boxes, found in almost any store that sells alcohol, puts Crayola’s largest boxes of crayons to shame. And, depending on who’s asking, the industry is just shy of – or just beyond – a cult.

Almost overnight, craft beer quickly became one of the most prolific industries and popular hobbies. The industry has been around for decades, but only in the past five or so years has it taken off.

In 1978, there were 42 craft breweries in the United States. By November 2014, that number had surpassed 3,200, according to The Brewers Association, a nationwide trade group of craft brewers.

In Ohio alone, the number of craft breweries has tripled over the past three years, to some 120. In 2012, there were 58, says Mary MacDonald, executive director of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association.

“It’s a great business to be in right now,” she says.

Ohio is one of 13 states with more than 100 craft breweries, the national trade group reports, and production could fill a small lake, with an 18% increase in volume last year.

At Chalet Premier in North Lima, the explosion of craft beers has strained the limited space in the store, even with the addition of new aisles and shelves.

“We need more room, but we don’t have the space,” says store manager Ryan Zocolo. “We have three gondolas – the back-to-back shelving – and one regular unit with our bigger bottles and the build-your-own [cartons of] beers.”

And even with that, along with several other displays around the store, the customer can see boxes surrounding the base of each unit and stacks of 12- and 24-packs between the shelves and coolers.

“None of this was here two years ago,” Zocolo says. “Curiosity drives a lot of it. I know of a lot of customers that are used to drinking the same domestic beer all the time who get intrigued by what we have here. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone.”

To help spur people to try new beers, many stores offer build-your-own six-packs. Customers can choose an assortment of up to six or 12 brands they’re curious to sample at home.

“It’s $9.99 for any six of them [on the display]. That’s less than you’d pay for a standard six pack. And if you don’t like [one], then you aren’t left with five beers you won’t drink,” Zocolo says.

Bob Pallozzi, divisional sales manager for Superior Beverage Group, estimates that between 25% and 30% of the beer his distributorship sells are craft beers.

“Specifically in Ohio, it’s been an explosion. We were slightly behind some of the other states up until about five years ago,” Pallozzi explains. “But it really took off when some of the bigger craft breweries like New Belgium or Sweetwater or Deschutes entered the state.”

A&C Southway Beverage owner Al Franceschelli notes that those distinctive brands are just one aspect of the growing craft beer culture.

“The consumers we have here like to try different things. They’re not consumers that stick to one brand over and over like their parents who just drank Bud Light or Miller,” he says. “This is a very trendy market. They [customers] switch and try different things.”

But moving beyond flavor, which is seemingly limitless, the styles of beer are just as varied. Most typically fall into one of two categories: ales and lagers. From there, though, things can get complicated.

Beneath the lager heading are – in part – pilsners, malt beers, red lagers, bocks and dortmunders. Ales are where beers are a bit more clustered, with barleywines, porters, stouts, saisons and weissbiers.

It’s in the latter category that the industry’s most popular style falls: India pale ale. According to the Brewers Association, IPAs are the biggest section of the craft beer market, constituting 23% of sales outside of tap houses and 21% of the volume produced last year.

At the 2014 Great American Beer Festival in Boulder, Colo., the IPA categories had the most entries.

“The American IPA category had some 270 entries and each one of those was different based on what hops they choose and what you put in it,” the trade group’s MacDonald says. “It’s all the same combination of barley, hops, water and yeast – those four things are essential – but what you put into it and what you get out the other end is completely wide open with possibilities.”

Microbreweries have been in America since Colonial times. Following the repeal of Prohibition, Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, established in 1988, was one of the first in northeastern Ohio.

But the renaissance didn’t blossom until the last decade, A&C’s Franceschelli says.

The first small brewery to introduce a larger number of people to beer outside of the major brands was Samuel Adams, based in Boston.

“They were really the first to mass produce a craft beer and it shot out from there with small breweries making brews with special taste,” Franceschelli explains.

“When I started in the beer industry, this market was almost nonexistent. It was a very small percentage of customers buying them, mostly from England. What’s happening now is that American breweries are getting into it, even the massive ones.”

In Ohio, companies make beer in almost all quantities, from Samuel Adams – tied in the United States with Yuengling for highest sales by an American-owned company – to what have been dubbed “nanobreweries.” Nanobreweries produce only enough beer to serve the patrons of their brewpubs.

While the smaller breweries that offer three or four beers at a time can be popular, the large craft breweries continue to dominate the scene, Superior Beverage Group’s Pallozzi says.

“Boston Beer, which makes Samuel Adams and Angry Orchard [hard cider] is our definite No. 1 brand. That’s followed up by New Belgium, which entered the state about a year-and-a-half ago, so they’ve done well,” he says. “And of course there are ones like Blue Moon and Leinenkugel that are top sellers throughout the country and Ohio.”

With such a variety of sizes and approaches, MacDonald notes the craft brewing industry is quite collaborative. Several organizations, including the Ohio Brewers Association, have their own private Facebook pages where members can ask for advice, sell leftover supplies and share ideas.

“They may not deliberately work together, but the craft brewing industry is very collaborative and open to share when you compare it to other types of industries,” she says. “On a day-to-day basis, it is business. And the individual companies focus on growing their business or strengthening their business. But it’s not cutthroat the way other industries can be.”

And with so many breweries popping up nationwide, they find support within their own communities. It’s not that different from other trends spurred by a shift to a preference for local products rather than national brands.

“There’s a preponderance of support for local economies. It happened with farmers’ markets, too. We went from a few here and there to a few in each state to now a few in every city,” MacDonald says.

Another impact, especially in northeastern Ohio, is many breweries are adapting empty buildings rather than building new ones.

“They have a potential to rejuvenate places in this state. Look at the Over-the-Rhine [neighborhood] in Cincinnati. There are at least three breweries that have opened there in old factories,” MacDonald says. “Even places like Rust Belt in Youngstown are in old buildings and it’s good for the community.”

With the impact on local economies, the passion many brewers – both new and established – bring and craft beers becoming more popular every year, any slowdown is beyond the horizon.

“I don’t see it stopping. This generation of consumers – 40 and under – are going to drink it all the time,” Franceschelli declares. “We all thought it was a fad in the ’90s and when Samuel Adams came out. But it’s lasted too long to be a fad anymore. It’s become a staple.”

Pictured: To help newcomers acquire a taste for craft beer, Chalet Premier store manager Ryan Zocolo puts together a “build-your-own six pack” shelf. If a customer doesn’t like a beer, he isn’t stuck with five more bottles he doesn’t like, Zocolo says.


Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.