Company News

Penguin City Beer Brews First Batch at B&O

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Enjoying a beer is easy; making a beer that can be enjoyed in the first place is a little more difficult. Penguin City Brewing Co. learned that the hard way.

The brewery’s operations at B&O Station downtown are now under way, even though getting there didn’t quite go as planned. Initially, co-owners Aspasia Lyras and Rich Bernacki planned to start their first batch of Penguin City Beer at 11 a.m. Friday.

But after working for the past few months on getting the banquet center’s brewing system up and running again – it had sat unused for about four years, Bernacki said – they discovered earlier in the week that a pump had stopped working. A replacement was delivered Friday morning and a mechanic was on-site to install it. It took longer than expected.

“I didn’t sleep much last night. I went to bed early but slept about 3½ hours. There’s been a lot of anxiety and excitement,” Bernacki said about two hours after brewing was supposed to begin. “This down time is interesting. I’m just trying to relax. I’m just hoping that when we fire up this motor, it does exactly what we need it to do.”

The motor was installed and running around 2 p.m. Friday, but another problem soon arose: something was misaligned, causing water to spray across the brewery floor whenever it ran. Another hour’s delay. 

Throughout the delay, Penguin City brewmaster Doug Beedy had his hands on the system. He had worked as a brewer at B&O before – it’s part of why Bernacki and Lyras brought him on – but it’s been years with stops at other breweries in between.

“Every system has its own little quirks. You have to adjust. Even though I’ve brewed on this system, it’s been a lot of years,” Beedy said. “There’s been a learning curve. It’s been nerve-wracking today, but I’m feeling confident.”

After the hoses had be realigned through a two-man effort that involved laying on the ground under the lauter tun – the container where the liquids and solids from the mash kettle are separated – the process was ready to begin.

Or so Bernacki, Beedy and Lyras thought. 

Once malt was poured into the mill, it started churning through the tubes into the mash kettle, where it would mix with hot water to start the brewing process. After a minute or two, though, the sides of the hopper started bulging out. The malts were caught in a blockage.

Tubes were disconnected, cleared out and bolted back into place. Malt poured in, as did the hot water. Finally, after hours of delay and sitting anxiously in the lobby of B&O Station, Penguin City had started brewing on its own. Since it started, the beer had been brewed at Paladin Brewing in Austintown. 

“Hearing these machines turn on and smelling the malt, I feel that a weight is lifted off. There’s still work to do, but right now there’s a little bit of relief,” Lyras said. 

In all, the pre-beer takes about three hours before it goes into one of the four fermentation tanks at B&O, where it’ll sit for two to three weeks. With the first usable batch of malt getting into the kettle around 3:15 p.m., it meant a night of work later than what the co-owners had envisioned. But it sets the stage for the next phase of Penguin City, Lyras said. 

“When we said the name and we had that moment of, ‘This is what we want to do,’ I envisioned it big. That was my goal. It has to be for our city and it has to be huge,” she said. “Did I think in reality it would get to 200 accounts in eight months? It’s a little unbelievable to get where we are this quickly. Hopefully, we can keep pushing on.”

With four fermentation tanks – two 40-barrel and two 60-barrel, or about 6,200 gallons total – Penguin City is ready to expand into new areas. The company changed its licensing to brewer from just a distributor and is working on the early steps of selling in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. 

In-state, Lyras said the company is looking at expanding into the Akron/Canton, Cleveland and Columbus markets.

“We want to be the beer for our Valley. To get into all those places, you have to make a lot of beer. This helps us reach more people, even outside the Youngstown/Warren area,” she said. 

The increased capacity also means Penguin City will be able to expand its lineup beyond it’s standard golden ale. 

“This will give us the opportunity to do some more limited edition beers like seasonals and one-offs,” Bernacki said. “We have lots of things in mind, but we’re not ready to reveal anything.”

With the first day of brewing in the books, Bernacki and Lyras said they almost felt as if Day One had to go this way.

“Today’s fine. Compared to the entire time of this business, we’ve seen many more ups and downs that have been way more emotional,” Bernacki said. “We had to have problems. It all makes for a better beer.”

Added Lyras, “Today was long. There were some challenges. But hopefully, from here, we make it work. It’s Youngstown. You just make it work.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.