I was talking to some people backstage before our show at Comfest and a couple of folks mentioned excitedly, "Do you know who is here checking out your gig and Comfest? The CEO and all the big guns from Stone Brewery. Rumor has it they might build a brewery here in Columbus."
Staring out into the sea of Comfest mugs, I pondered for a moment and said, "Damn, I guess we do drink a lot of beer here in C-bus. A little more can't hurt. Better safe the sorry. Did they bring a keg with them?"
"Uh no, dumb-ass, they are one of the biggest craft breweries in the USA. They didn't fly in with a keg for your band."
"Really? No beer and they still got backstage? This is a big deal, huh?"
"You bet. Now get onstage, we're running late..…"
Obviously, the idea of more beer being produced in my hometown is an exciting proposition, so I decided to ask some local experts what this would mean for Columbus and, additionally, who the hell is Stone Brewing anyway?
Greg May is a former Buffalo Wild Wings franchisee who now finds himself in the beer distribution business. His 17th Star Distributing is a start-up distributor focusing exclusively on craft beer.
Greg, What is it about Stone Brewery that makes them so special? Is there a certain beer they are famous for? Do you have a favorite?
Big beers with big ABV have been a driving force in the growth and popularity of the craft beer industry, especially India Pale Ales (IPA's). Stone has been making big beers for a long time, before the wave hit, so they had a sizable head start in terms of building a loyal (some would say fanatical) customer base Arrogant Bastard was first released in 1997. My personal favorite is the Enjoy By series of IPA's. These are IPA's intentionally built "not to last." They are given an "Enjoy By" date which assures that you are consuming the beer when it is at its absolute freshest.
Craft beer is exploding in central Ohio. Is distribution keeping up with demand?
Distribution is still lagging demand by a comfortable margin. Demand continues to expand into some of the outer regions of the marketplace such as fine-dining establishments and even drugstores. That's right, Walgreen's is now selling growlers in some locations.
How does having a brewery in Columbus help Stone with their East Coast distribution? Or does it?
According to one list recently published, Stone is the 10th largest craft brewery in the US. That puts them in the company of other large craft breweries like Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues, all of which have recently opened or will soon open East Coast brewing facilities. Trucking beer around the country is a big expense so as these breweries get bigger and bigger, they start to focus on reducing the cost of logistics and freight.
Greg, I want to back up to something you said earlier. You mean to tell me I could get my growlers and prescriptions filled at the same time? That is convenient! So how does all that beer end up in stores anyway? It looks heavy.
Big breweries like Stone sell the beer to a wholesale distributor who then resells it and delivers it to the retailers. Most of the small craft breweries that have been popping up in the last few years self-distribute.
Rick Kinsinger - A licensed Professional Engineer who has designed systems for craft breweries in Ohio.
Rick, you have first hand experience with building successful craft breweries. If Stone were to open their first "East Coast" brewery in Columbus, how big of operation would it be and how many jobs could we be talking about?
Columbus is an ideal location for Stone. With our proximity to both the Midwest and the East Coast, it’s easy to see why Stone is interested in Columbus. They’re looking to ultimately produce 500,000 barrels of beer annually at their new facility. To put that in perspective, last year Ohio produced about 1.1 million barrels of craft beer. The amount of beer production that they’re talking about should make Stone the third largest craft brewery in the country. I imagine they’re looking for space in the 150,000 to 200,000 square foot range. That’s a really big brewery in the craft beer industry and it would be great for Columbus to attract such a high profile manufacturer. Stone is planning to open a restaurant and bar attached to the brewery. Including the restaurant, they’re looking at upwards of 400 new jobs.
If you could offer advice to newcomers constructing a brewery in Columbus, what would it be?
The City of Columbus is always willing to work with good companies who want to expand or relocate to Columbus. As building departments go, I have always found ours to be reasonable and they will work to help new businesses. If I had any advice for Stone, it would be simply: “Learn all you can about Columbus. You’ll like what you see."
Mark Pottschmidt - owner of multiple World of Beer locations in Ohio.
Mark, What makes Stone Brewery so popular?
STONE IS ONE OF THE HANDFUL OF BREWERIES THAT HAS BEEN ABLE TO INTRODUCE CRAFT BEER TO BEER LOVERS ON A NATIONAL LEVEL, JUST AS DOGFISH HEAD, BELLS, DESCHUTES AND NEW BELGIUM HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO, AND IN DOING SO THEY HAVE CULTIVATED A GREAT BRAND AND LOYAL FANS.
Do you have success with them at your WOB locations?
YES, WE HAVE A GREAT RELATIONSHIP WITH STONE WHO WAS SO IMPRESSED WITH OUR PRODUCT MANAGER AT OUR BREWERY DISTRICT LOCATION, KENNY WRIGHT, THAT THEY BROUGHT HIM TO THEIR CALIFORNIA BREWERY AND GAVE HIM THE RED CARPET TREATMENT!
What do you think it would add to growing reputation of Columbus as a "beer capital" of the Midwest if they were to build their first brewery here east of the Mississippi?
STONE OPENING A BREWERY IN COLUMBUS WOULD BE A REAL COUP FOR THE ENTIRE REGION AS IT WOULD NOT ONLY STRENGTHEN OUR GROWING REPUTATION AS A CRAFT BEER MECCA BUT ALSO HIGHLIGHT THE FACT THAT COLUMBUS IS BUSINESS FRIENDLY WITH GREAT DISTRIBUTION INFRASTRUCTURE.
Okay, beer nerds, there you have it. Better buy a back-up growler and an extra ping pong ball because it looks like you may need it. Chug!
Colin Gawel writes for and runs Pencilstorm. He plays in the band Watershed, owns Colin's Coffee and he likes beer, rock n roll and baseball, though the order varies.