Craft brewing bubbles up in Stark County
Small brewing makes for big business. The craft brewing industry—including breweries, wholesalers and retailers—contributed $33.9 billion to the U.S. economy in 2012, and provided more than 360,000 jobs. Here in Ohio, the industry had an economic impact of $1.26 billion. Now, enterprising stark county brewers are getting in on the craft game.
There truly never has been a better time to be a connoisseur of beers in America. The craft brewing revolution quickly is coming to a head in the U.S.—with the majority of Americans now living within 10 miles of a brewery, according to the Brewers Association (brewersassociation.org), the nation’s authority on craft brewing and breweries. As the trend in new brewery starts continues to head unfailingly upward, it is possible that, for the first time in more than 125 years, the number of breweries across the country will be at an all-time high.
The movement started in earnest in the 1970s. The number of craft brewers has gone from eight in 1980, to 537 in 1994, to more than 2,800 in 2013. But what is really startling is the number of breweries in planning. As of June 2013, there were more than 1,500 breweries in development in the U.S., say sources at the Brewers Association.
Among those are several right here in Stark County.
By our count, as many as six new microbrewers, brewpubs and contract brewers have or will be flooding the local market with a distinct variety of high quality (but low quantity) brews for our drinking pleasure by the end of 2015, and it is anyone’s guess how many might crop up in coming years.
Add that to Meniru Meadery and Brewery, a popular Jackson Township winery that recently added a nanobrewery for making small batches of beers—including the McKinley Special Ale and a delicious Rasp-Van Chocolate Porter—to complement its mead, honey wine and cider offering.
Even local grocer Fishers Foods is getting in on the action, expanding its craft offering with growler stations. Plus, Alex Fisher, beer buyer for the family chain, brewed his own “Nutty ProFisher,” an American brown ale, with Thirsty Dog Brewing in Akron last year.
Canton even boasts its own hop supplier, Second Sons Hopyards, which grows and supplies fresh Cascade hops to the brewing industry (including Canton Brewing Company).
The business of beer is booming. So, let’s start with one simple question: Just what is craft brewing? The Brewers Association defines the American craft brewer as “small, independent and traditional.” Small: Annual production of 6 million or fewer barrels. Independent: Less than 25 percent of the brewery owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer. Traditional: Majority of total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.
In other words, craft brewers are small brewers for whom the hallmark of their product is innovation—and craft brewers interpret historical styles and add unique twists to develop new styles.
Certainly the behemoth on the Stark County brewery scene is Canton Brewing Company, scheduled to open in late winter in downtown Canton.
For Canton, what once was old is new again. The brewery is named for its famous predecessor, the original Canton Brewing Company, which dates to 1883. Owner and local CPA Dave Beule will have invested an estimated $3 million by the time it is all said and done, and not only does this new development represent the largest investment in craft brewing locally to date, it will perhaps usher in future developments and rejuvenation to the Market Square area of downtown Canton.
Construction is well underway at the two-level urban brewery, which comes equipped with beautiful brickwork and arches throughout. The brewpub will open first, with ample space for beer tastings galore in a downstairs Speakeasy, not to mention a full restaurant up top.
New brewmaster John McGroarty and Co. are busy at work brewing now (several restaurants already have Canton Brewing brews on tap). When fully functional, the large brewing equipment can produce 2,000 barrels a year, or the equivalent of 62,000 gallons of beer. What’s more, if stretched to the limit, they could do as many as 3,000 barrels a year.
But that’s probably not in the cards.
“We’re not out here to just push a ton of beer—we’re in this to do what’s best for the beer. We are a brewpub that puts out great tasting beers in a wide variety of styles. For us, it’s quality, not quantity,” McGroarty explained, though the space downtown provides for great expansion opportunity down the road.
McGroarty was most recently the barrel aging manager at Thirsty Dog Brewing in Akron, and prior to that, head brewer at Karbach Brewing in Houston, Texas. For him, the brew day is 10 hours, and to meet Canton Brewing’s rigorous standards, it takes 21 days for an ale and 45 or more days for a lager from the time it’s brewed until the time it’s ready to be enjoyed.
McGroarty credits the maturing of the craft brewing movement with the rapid ramp up locally.
“In my opinion, there’s a young demographic of drinkers who would normally latch onto wines and craft cocktails. Now they’re seeing that there is a wide world of craft beer. That’s a huge driving factor here locally,” said McGroarty. When you pair a maturing industry with the growing consumer trend in buying, eating nd consuming local, it creates a perfect storm for new business starts. And it is that perfect storm that is raging here in town.
He goes on to say that even dyed-in-the-wool wine drinkers can find their footing in craft brews, especially in the Belgian family of beers, such Saisons, Tripels and Dubbels.
Canton Brewing brews are available at several local restaurants and in growlers from Fishers Foods. Once the brewery opens, McGroarty talks of plans to do limited-edition 750 mL hand-bottled brews, along with possibly canning beers down the road. He estimates that the brewery will produce as many as 20 different varieties a year, with approximately seven available upon any given visit.
For him, like many other brewers, the fun comes in the experimenting. Recent experiments seem to center around barrel aging the brews, such as the Gold Jacket Cream Ale, which is the bourbon-barrel-aged version of Stark Cream Ale. Both were delicious; both were distinct from each other.
Size is a big factor that contributes to the brewery’s ability to experiment. While Canton Brewing is the biggest operation in town, it’s still small, relatively speaking.
“The best thing about a brewery of this size is that, at 15 brewers barrels at a time, if we do something that doesn’t work out, we aren’t throwing away enormous amounts of money,” McGroarty explained. To put it in perspective, at a production brewery the size of Thirsty Dog or Karbach, McGroarty estimates that maybe one in 100 experiments will make it to the consumer; at Canton Brewing, he will be looking at more like one in ten. Canton Brewing also plans to limit its distribution even regionally, to ensure quality of the brews once they leave the premises.
“We want to move the majority of our beers through our brewpub, so that we can be there to educate our patrons on craft beers and the brewing process.”
His overriding philosophy is very simple: Do whatever is best for the beer.
“That’s how I was trained—that’s the question I was taught to ask myself while brewing. The answer may add 10 hours of work a week, but it ensures that you know you’re brewing the beer in such a way that it is the best it can be.”
And while food was not available for sampling on our visit, assistant brewer Julian Christian, who also serves as restaurant manager and chef, has big expectations of Canton Brewing’s debut menu. Expect a review in a summer issue of About, featuring our thoughts on the forthcoming gourmet pizzas and modern pub-style fare.
There is adventure in any entrepreneurial endeavor, and it is with that spirit of adventure that Dan and Hillary Mueller will open and operate Scenic Brewing Company this month. Dan, a longtime officer in the U.S. Army and fulltime member of the Ohio Army National Guard, and wife Hillary, a business teacher at GlenOak High School, got spirited away by the craft brewing movement during an adventure to the Finger Lakes in New York state.
“When I came back (from a deployment to Afghanistan), we took a trip up to the Finger Lakes. We went for the wineries, but what we found was an equal amount of breweries. When we came home, we thought ‘we can do that, we can make our own beer,’ ” recalled Mueller.
After a trip to a home-brewing equipment retailer, the couple made their first batch of beer on a Sunday afternoon during the Browns game. What they didn’t know then was that a weekend pastime would become habitual for the couple during the next two years, and that their home endeavor ultimately would blossom into a 5,400-square-foot brewery and taproom this spring.
The couple has been spurred on by a warm reception from friends and industry players alike, and they remain ever cognizant of that same sense of adventure that began their journey. Scenic’s “Base Camp,” a warm, rustic taproom, will accommodate up to 90 guests, and is designed to encourage gatherings among family as well as business connections.
The beers themselves are born of adventure, too. Each beer captures the essence of individual tales of adventure—be it the couple’s own travels or their customers’. The couple asks their patrons to submit these wanderlust tales on the company website, and they plan to use the submissions to inspire new recipes over time.
Mueller likens experimentation in beer making to the experiments one might conduct in the kitchen. Everything from the raw ingredients to the size of the system can impact the final “dish.”
Right now, he’s focused on perfecting those dishes.
“Every time you brew, you try to get the best batch you can from the batch before. We’re not ready to go into distribution because we want to keep refining our product, making it consistent. That’s what craft brewing is—you can change it up and do something a little different each time.”
Things have come quite a ways since the couple’s first homebrew three years ago. “Our stove took some damage from some of our batches. It’s beer, but it’s manufacturing, too. It’s messy. It takes work.”
Beginning one’s foray into craft brewing as a homebrewer isn’t unique to the Muellers. Jake Turner, brewmaster for Maize Valley Winery, started homebrewing eight years ago while working as a firefighter in Alliance.
When the popular local winery set its sights on adding a craft brewing component, Turner reached out through a family friend to get involved. They started selling craft brews this past Labor Day.
“The owners here enjoy beer as well as wine, and adding beer fills a need in the township. We’re hitting both sides of the fence—wine that’s made here or beer that’s made here,” explained Turner. He also believes that diversifying the product line helped in directly growing fall sales figures across the board, simply by bringing more people through the door.
Maize Valley has three standard beers on tap, along with a rotating mix of three or four seasonal and limited-edition brews. It runs a half-barrel brewing system, and Turner is brewing as often as three times a day, or the equivalent of about 20 gallons. The winery has explored a larger brewing system, moving to a 10-barrel system, but only time will tell.
“Our most popular by sales is the Blonde Ale. People like light American lagers, but tastes change over time. Customers will try our blonde ale, and it’s a little fuller than an American Lager. Then, next time, they might be willing to try something a little hoppier. But it happens slowly—it’s difficult to go from a Bud Light to an extreme IPA (India Pale Ale) overnight.”
For Turner, and most of the brewers operating today, the draw is the creativity. “I was never much of an artist as a kid. Now, I’ll get an idea for a beer and it’s fun to put together a recipe, an idea for an end product, and see how it all comes together.”
He attributes the explosion of craft brewing here to the significant reduction in licensing costs in Ohio last year. “Before, it was nearly $4,000 a year to operate, another $4,000 to have a tasting room. Now you can have both for around $1,000 a year. That’s why you see so many breweries in Michigan—their licensing cost is almost nonexistent.”
In the end, though, he believes it comes down to one thing: People are ready to have a local brewery. “If you can go someplace down the road to have a beer, and it’s made right there, you’ll do it.”
Not all brewers provide accommodations for enjoying the brews directly on-site. Contract brewer Hall of Fame City Beer Company was among the first to debut a beer in the Stark County market. Its signature Canton Pale Ale is available at 16 bars and four retail establishments in the region. And while the ale has its foundation in our community, it wasn’t brewed here.
Friends and business partners Steve Noggle and Eric Milavickas originally planned to brew the ale themselves, and plans for their own production brewery were underway for two years. When Noggle’s cousin and proposed brewmaster took a job with Sam Adams, plans were put on pause.The duo’s dream of bringing their Canton Pale Ale home to Stark County drinkers persevered.
Noggle connected with Beltway Brewing in Sterling, Virginia. The brewery had excess brewing capacity and created the first batch of his recipe. He is exploring local brewers for future batches and future craft beers. And the bigger dream for a production brewery isn’t dead—he believes it will come with time and increased revenue.
“I would call our story a tale of persistence. I’d chased the dream for two years and couldn’t let it go. Now, with all of the other brewers in the area, there could be a possibility where we work with them. They can help us out with brewing, and we could help them with distributing,” said Noggle.
Next up is a lager scheduled for a May release, and a seasonal brew for late July, timed to debut during this summer’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival.
“What we’ve learned, no matter what beer you make, everyone has different tastes. It’s a Bud Light town, so we’ve got a battle to change tastes.”
Despite Bud Light predilections, Noggle believes that craft brewing is growing because drinkers are looking for alternatives, and as he’s proven, the cost of entry for a new beer can vary.
Also angling to get into the distribution game is Shale Brewing Company, which will launch, bottle and self-distribute a variety of beers beginning midyear.
Shale’s owners are Dan and Jim, but they prefer their last names be omitted, as they currently work full time in other industries and do not wish this new venture to impede their current careers.
Brewmaster Jim started out in homebrewing in the early 2000s with a small following of family and friends. Fast-forward to 2008, when he purchased a small commercial brewing system to take things up a notch. After honing his skills over the last few years, he teamed up with Dan to expand his reach.
“Jim is really good at brewing beer, and the details. I’m really good at showing up, rolling up my sleeves and cleaning or moving cases. Sweat equity, that’s what operating a startup business is all about: breaking a sweat, doing everything in your power to get it done,” Dan explained of their complementary partnership.
The pair want to capitalize not only on microbrew momentum, but also on the development of the oil and gas industry in eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. To that end, their philosophy centers upon beer drinkability, providing a product that is neither overbearing nor too daring, but is of high quality and worth your money. Dan calls their beer drinkable, not “try-able.” In other words, he wants his customer to say “my God, that’s a good beer,” and grab a 12-pack.
“We’re a bunch of white-collar dudes who want to be blue-collar dudes, and we just want to drink some beer.”
Right now, they’re working on producing inventory for their debut.
“We’ve got 60 cases sitting here and are continuously brewing three to four days a week at a volume of eight cases a day. Our inventory is up, our quality is good, and we’re focused on making sure the consistency in our taste remains the same,” said Dan of their day-to-day work.
Brewery operations are located near downtown Canton, with what Dan believes will provide great access to their customer base. While able to support initial demand, like many other brewers, they have their sights set on a growth plan for the future. Phase-two investments in larger equipment could start as early as late this year.
“Right now, we couldn’t ask for a better time and venue to showcase our product. Locally, the scene is alive and well with several local breweries as well as a few contract brewers who have introduced their product here. With the Utica and Marcellus shale plays being such a strong driver, our target markets are ample, and our growth plan robust.”
In the craft brewing tradition of reimagining historical styles, one local brewer stands out as a bit more cosmopolitan than the rest. Royal Docks Brewing Company, a family affair operated by husband-and-wife team John and Adriana Bikis, along with John’s brother Jeff Bikis, aims to bring the flavors of Europe and the charm of the pub setting to Stark County.
John’s job took the Bikises to the Royal Docks area of London along the Thames River, where the couple lived for a year, enjoying the nearby blocks and blocks of pubs. The ones that resonated most for the couple were those built into oil tankers, and the experience, paired with the couple’s love of travel and passion for beers, led the GlenOak native and his wife to return home to Canton three months ago and found Royal Docks.
Currently brewing smaller batches, the family has big ambitions for what it will offer patrons when it opens midyear. But John Bikis admits that they find themselves at a strategic crossroads when it comes to decisions about remaining a brewery only, or adding a brewpub to the business plan.
“We don’t want to lose focus on the beer. The reason we’re doing this is for the beer. But what we’ve seen work in the U.K. is a good-sized warehouse where the garage doors go up on the weekends and the place is filled with picnic tables and food trucks,” explained Bikis.
At the moment, Bikis seeks to overcome some brewing issues—his recipes that were developed in the U.K.—that stem from a difference in water here versus across the pond.
But despite their foundation in European traditions, drinkability is still first and foremost for the brewers, and Bikis is quick to explain that while the name is regal, the brand and its brews aren’t “fancy.”
“Some shy away from ‘craft beers’ because there are many flavors that can take away from the beer taste. We’re trying to keep the balance with our first three offerings. Keep the drinkability over being more adventurous,” said Bikis. “My vision is a good lager or ale you can enjoy several pints of and feel great.”
In the end, Royal Docks seeks what all of the local brewers we spoke with seek: “If you put your heart and soul into it, make it come out the right way, and it resonates with you and with your beer lovers, you’ve really got something.”
CANTON BREWING COMPANY
TUSCORA (AMERICAN PILSNER)
5% ABV (based on initial testing)
Canton’s Flagship brew, made using adjunct ingredients (corn or rice). A very light-bodied, delicate beer, with hints of herbal or spicy hops. Brewmaster McGroarty says this is the best style beer to evaluate a brewer on: because of the delicacy, it is near-impossible to hide imperfections!
Stark Cream Ale*
4.9% ABV | 33 IBU’s
Traditional cream ale. A good beginner beer, mid-golden and crisp.
Gold Jacket Cream Ale*
Cream Ale (above) as base beer, then aged in bourbon barrels. Distinctive bourbon taste, together with vanilla, coconut and characteristics from the American oak.
6.9% ABV | 62 IBU’s
Another flagship brew: Made with local Second Sons Hopyard hops, but not quite a true India Pale Ale—good hop bitterness, with grapefruit and citrus notes, but a very malty backbone so the hoppiness doesn’t slap you in the face, and you can enjoy a second.
Carpe Noctem Porter*
7.2% ABV | 44 IBU’s
Loads of coffee throughout from the local Carpe Diem Coffee Shop. Smooth, carmelly and dense porter.
Only tasted a green (unfinished) version of Canton’s late winter Saison during our visit, but flavor is true to French belgian style featuring bitter orange peel and ginger root.
Centennial pale ale
More traditional American Pale ale. Does not have the same malt backbone as in the Cascade. Instead, hops in the forefront and on display. Fairly bitter, with notes of stone fruits and tropical fruits.
120 Third St. NW, Canton
Downstairs Speakeasy open to the public in late spring. On tap as of press time at several downtown restaurants and several Fishers Foods locations.
SCENIC BREWING COMPANY
Pours are $4.50 to $5.50 each, depending on style.
Dubbel Trap (Belgian Double)*
6.8% ABV | 11 IBU’s
Dark candi sugar, yeast and the hops. Malt gives it some color, hops makes it bitter but not too bitter. Sweetness comes from the candi.
No Man’s Land (Black IPA)*
6.5% ABV | 65 IBU’s
This Black IPA comes from a friend’s story of a place that is just far enough away from civilization, yet close enough to wander while enjoying scenic solitude. The high initial bitterness from Summit hops, followed by a smooth dark and sweet malt flavoring at the end. Not quite a porter, not quite an IPA, this beer is halfway in and halfway out.
Base Camp Porter (Chocolate Porter)*
5.5% ABV | 20 IBU’s
Warm, dark and inviting: the irresistible chocolate Porter will remind you of sitting at a campfire, enjoying s’mores with friends and family. The name exemplifies the Base Camp taproom ambiance. Expect a bitterness of an IPA but the smoothness and color of a porter or stout, with chocolate grain malt.
Davenport Smoked Ale
6% ABV | 24 IBU’s
Along the Appalachian Trail in the great Smoky Mountains lies Davenport Gap shelter at just under 3,000 feet in elevation. This beer celebrates the first adventure owners Dan and Hillary took together. Amber ale with smoked malt.
Gambit’s Peak (Blonde Ale)
5.5% ABV | 18 IBU’s
Traditional blonde ale named after a climb outside Denver, Colorado, Gambit provides an extremely enjoyable moderate traditional climb to the summit of Shirttail Peak. The views are excellent from any point on the route, stretching from Denver to the Indian Peaks.
Crimson Harvest (Wheat)
5% ABV | 24 IBU’s
A symbol of Americana from the past to the present. An American red wheat grain, grown in the Appalachian mountain region of North Carolina, is front and center in this crisp beer, along with earthy tone hops.
6% ABV | 66 IBU’s
An IPA that represents our path through life with an unfinished map to our destination. Hops of floral, tropical, citrus and pine, representing the forests and beaches we want to explore, make up this classic American IPA. A beer for every occasion, perfect for starting the next adventure.
6255 Promler Ave. NW, North Canton
Opening March 2015
Tasting prices range from $2.50 to $3 for a 5 oz. sample, $5 to $7 for a 16 oz. pour and $16 to $24 for a growler.
4.8 % ABV | 18 IBU’s
An easy drinking ale for all beer lovers. Light and crisp malt character balanced by subtle additions of Cascade hops (American). Brewmaster Turner uses them with a lighter touch than, say, a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The result is crisp and refreshing. Pale malt, light crystal malt, wheat, Munich and flaked corn.
5.2% ABV | 25 IBU’s
A light bodied ale with hints of caramel, delicately balanced with light hop character. Same Cascade hops as the Blonde, but more caramelly and sweet.
7 C’s IPA
7.4% ABV | 70 IBU’s
A slightly dry ale with light malts and a resinous pine bitterness. Additions of a citrusy hop blend late in the boil and dry hopping round out the flavors and aromas. Pale, light crystal and Munich malts. Chinook, 7 C’s hops and 7 C’s dry hops.
7% ABV | 30 IBU’s
Dark, roasted malts with hints of coffee, chocolate, caramel and raisin. Served on nitro with a hearty, dried fruit flavor. Pale, roast barley, caramel, chocolate and special roast malts.
Imperial Brown Ale (limited edition)
8% ABV | 30 IBU’s
Aroma of slight chocolate and roast. Flavor is of roasted malts, slight raisin and a hint of chocolate with a very slight hop bitterness. Warming to the palate.
Triple IPA (seasonal)
11% ABV | 120 IBU’s
Light, dry, malt body that is slightly syrupy. Assertive bitterness and huge fruity hop flavor and aroma from big, late editions of Amarillo hops.
Robust Porter* (limited edition)
6.2% ABV | 28 IBU’s
American style, a little hoppier than an English porter. A lighter, easier drinking balance of roasted and chocolate malts than your standard stout. It has a moderate hop character derived from Cascade and Phoenix hops with a very slight hint of smokiness.
Belgian Imperial Chocolate Stout
Delicious in the vein of chocolate covered raisins. Fermented with Belgian ale yeast, more estery and fruity, with cocoa nibs for a nice chocolate flavor.
6193 Edison St. NE, Hartville
330-877-8344 | maizevalley.com
Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
HALL OF FAME CITY BEER COMPANY
Prices vary by retailer, averaging $1.99 a bottle or $9.99 for a six-pack.
Canton Pale Ale*
5.5% ABV | 35 IBU’s
Canton Pale Ale possesses a solid hop presence along with a nice malt base. The crisp flavor is imparted from a blend of Warrior and Mt. Hood hops. Fans of Sierra Nevada will find comfort here with a brew that has a mid-scale hoppiness and an unusual
614-519-4067 | hfcbeer.com
Available at 20 restaurants and retailers regionally.
SHALE BREWING CO.
Roughneck Red Ale
4.3% ABV (initial testing)
The Roughneck will be the Shale Brewing Company’s signature beer. The smooth amber provides a bold but not overbearing taste of hops and malt. Perfect for both those who enjoy a good IPA, but also the everyday light beer drinker.
Cold Black Gold
4.8% ABV (initial testing)
The Cold Black Gold is an American IPA, darkened with American hops, but a lower
ABV not yet determined
Continuing on the theme of drinkability, Shale’s Pipeline Porter provides a hint of flavors from the porter spectrum without overpowering the layers of flavor. Pipeline Porter will be available three to six months post-launch.
ROYAL DOCKS BREWING COMPANY
67 Alaska Lager*
ABV and IBU’s not yet available
Named for an address that the couple lived at in London, Royal Dock’s signature beer has its beginning in the great taste of European style lagers. Sweet smelling, hearty lager. Natural yeasts, locally grown malt and hops provide for the aromatic flavor that won’t confuse the palate. This recipe was brought across the pond from the East Anglia region of the U.K.
Signature London Ale*
This ale is true to its name; very creamy and rich, with distinct hints of a porter influence. Originating from a 200-year-old recipe, it can be traced to some of Britain’s oldest pubs. Royal Dock’s Signature London Ale has been crafted into a full bodied, delicious dark amber and aromas similar to many ales you would find in a London pub today.
ABV and IBU’s not yet available
The Docklands IPA is not your typical India Pale Ale, rather a crisp, refreshing alternative with mild hoppiness. Docklands IPA is unique in the way it’s finished to preserve the aroma and hoppy signature. While at the same time, great care has been taken in not overpowering the flavor in this special process. Light flowery aroma.
Scheduled to open during the second half of the year in a location to be announced.
SPIDER MONKEY BREWING
Orange Barrel Ale
Smooth, clean American wheat ale, made with fresh grain and hops and naturally filtered. In the Midwest, when the orange barrels come out, it’s time for an Orange Barrel Ale.
While not interviewed for this article, Spider Monkey has had its Orange Barrel available at more than 120 regional locations since April 2014. They brew by contract through Black Box Brewing.
BEER GUIDE KEY
ABV: Alcohol by volume, portion of the total volume of the liquid is alcohol. IBU’s: International Bitterness Unit scale, referring to the amount of hops in a beer. The higher the number, the more hops, and the more bitter the beer. Note: All beers and info subject to change. Please drink responsibly.
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