Expansion Is Brewing: Koehler Readies New Castle Brewery
NEW CASTLE, Pa. – Deliveries of stainless-steel tanks and other brewing equipment are arriving daily at the future Koehler Brewing Co. production site in New Castle, Pa.
The company recently purchased a 48,000-square-foot building at 105 Mahoning Ave. in the Mahoningtown neighborhood that will become its main brewery and distribution center.
The brewery, which will include a pub, will open next year, says Bruce Koehler, president and CEO. It will employ 10.
Koehler owns the company with his twin brother, Bryan, who is operations manager. Although they share the same surname, the brothers are not descendants of brothers Jackson and Frederick Koehler, who started the Koehler Brewing Co. in 1890 in Erie.
The founders did not have any male children to carry on the name, Bruce Koehler explains. But the current owners’ family is also from Erie. “I’ve always felt an emotional attachment to the brand,” Koehler says.
The company already has a pub and brewery in Ellwood City, Pa. It had a second brewpub – its original one – in Grove City, Pa., but closed it last year and sold the building, Koehler says.
The company has had its eye on expansion from the day it started.
“We were looking for a production building when we first opened in Grove City in 2017,” Koehler says. “We were originally looking closer to Pittsburgh but couldn’t find anything we could afford.”
The Koehler brothers wound up buying a small factory building in Grove City and installed a 15-barrel capacity brewing system and a pub (there are 31 gallons in one barrel).
In 2019, the company expanded by adding a second brewpub in a former supermarket in Ellwood City.
As sales grew, so did the need to find a larger production building. The New Castle site fit the bill.
It has multiple loading docks and access to rail transportation, which could one day be part of its distribution, Koehler says. He did not divulge the terms of the sales transaction.
Joe Carofino, a New Castle-based real estate agent who brokered the sale, says the structure was formerly the home of Keystone Glass Co. “They made windows there,” Carofino says.
The new brewery and pub project is good news for New Castle, says city planning commission member Lawrence Williams.
“The location is good, close to all highways,” Williams says “It’s in a nice industrial area with good truck access.”
He also gave a thumbs-up to the product. “I’ve tasted their beer and it’s pretty good,” he says.
The opening of the new brewery plant and brewpub is another sign that the beer industry is back in New Castle. Earlier this year, Neshannock Creek Brewing Co. opened a brewery and pub downtown.
Koehler Brewing does all of its brewing at its Ellwood City location, where it has a 20-barrel system and a bottling line that can fill 3,000 bottles an hour.
The New Castle location will sharply increase production capability. It will have a 40-barrel brewing system and a bottling line that can fill 6,000 bottles per hour. The site will also be used to produce cans of beer and fill kegs.
Most production will move to the new site once it opens, Koehler says.
“We will brew our specialty beers at Ellwood City and our larger brands at New Castle,” Koehler says.
The company’s top sellers are its flagship Premium Lager, and its Amber Ale. Its specialties include Oktoberfest and Ornery Bulledogge IPA and Brewberry Ale, among others.
The company already has its sights set on the Youngstown area. “We are hoping that in about a year we can start selling beer in Ohio,” Koehler says.
Marketing and History
Koehler, who also owns Pittsburgh-based television advertising marketing company Television Ad Group, recently finished a commercial that will air during Pittsburgh Penguins gamecasts this season. The commercial, which features Pittsburgh band Blues Attack, brings back the company’s original “Get in on the Secret” slogan.
Koehler beer has always been known for its full-bodied flavor, and the company plays up that aspect in its marketing efforts.
“It’s a real beer and all-malt beer,” says Koehler. “A lot of lager brewers are adding rice and corn, which means it’s not a real malt beer. Ours is a bit higher [in alcohol] but it’s a real beer.”
Koehler Brewing has a long and proud history. In its peak years, it was sold in 13 states and was one of the top sellers in the Pittsburgh market.
The Erie brewery closed in 1978 after almost 90 years in the same building.
Schmidt’s of Philadelphia bought the brand that year, and later sold it to G. Heileman of Wisconsin.
As its popularity faded, the company was sold to a private equity firm in 1994, which sold it to Stroh Brewery Co. of Detroit in 1996. Stroh’s failed in 1999, and the Koehler brand was dissolved in 2000.
Seventeen years later, the Koehler brothers acquired the trademarks for the brewery name and logo and opened the Grove City brewery and pub.
Koehler beer is distributed throughout western Pennsylvania, with Erme’s and Galilei distributing companies handling that end of the business. The beer can be purchased in almost 100 bars, restaurants and distributors from Pittsburgh to Erie.
In Mercer and Lawrence counties, it is available at the Apollo Maennerchor in Sharon; the Crane Room, McBride Beer Distributors and Beer 4 Less in New Castle; Sports Bar and M&M Beer in Hermitage; and J. Hicks on the Square, Mercer Beverage and the Pitt Stop Pub in Mercer.
Pictured at top: Bryan Koehler is the operations manager and co-owner of Koehler Brewing Co.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.