Oktoberfest and pumpkin beers are still lingering in the stores and the weather has yet to turn frigid here in Ohio, but that hasn't stopped Founders Brewing Co. from declaring it stout season.
The award-winning brewery from Grand Rapids, Mich., released its Breakfast Stout late last month. And so far, co-founder Mike Stevens says, Ohioans are lapping it up. Breakfast Stout sales are up 198 percent so far over the same time period last year, he says.
Breakfast Stout, which will be available through February, is made with chocolate, coffee and oatmeal, and clocks in at 8.3 percent alcohol per volume.
Ohio has been a great market for the brewery, which distributes in 23 states, Stevens said in a telephone interview this week. Founders entered Ohio in the early 2000s and is still seeing big sales growth here. He noted that sales are up 69 percent in the state this year.
"It’s a fairly sophisticated market," Stevens says. "If I’m to analyze the palates of people in Ohio, they really tend to gravitate toward our higher end products, our specialty products, our seasonal products. We do a really good business with those brands."
Next year, Ohioans can expect to see 19 Founders brands, including a few "hidden gems." Asked to elaborate on those hidden gems, Stevens declined, joking that even though he's a co-founder and president of the company, he could be fired if he let those slip.
He agrees that the major growth in the number of breweries opening in Ohio will help craft beer sales in the state. He has seen the same happen in Michigan. While there's room for the craft beer segment to grow, Stevens also has a warning for new brewers who are entering a much more competitive marketplace.
"It’s going to force people to elevate their game," he says. "I don’t think you can come into the scene anymore and start a brewery and not be highly focused on quality as well as focused on specializing a little bit in very specific areas within the craft industry. If you take a broad-based approach and make all the basics, the IPA, a porter and a wheat and whatever it might be, you’re going to struggle a little bit. There are a lot of us out there that have been making products for years and years who have a little bit of a brand recognition and it’s going to be a little difficult to overcome that. If I was to give any advice for a newcomer, narrow your focus within a small niche within this industry so you can shine in a particular arena."