BRIMFIELD TWP.: LD Carlson President Ron Hartman spotted the first email urging him to check out an online video released by the White House over the weekend.
The four-minute video profiles the kitchen staff making beer at the presidential mansion.
And there, plain as day, is the company’s Brewer’s Best logo.
The White House — which has garnered a ton of media coverage for making its own beer and releasing the two recipes — used LD Carlson homebrewing equipment when making its Honey Ale and Honey Porter for President Barack Obama.
“This is huge for us,” Hartman said, both about the exposure for the company and the homebrewing industry. “We’re in the spotlight now.”
Despite being the largest wholesaler of beer- and wine-making equipment in the country for the retail industry, LD Carlson has operated in relative obscurity among the general public, mainly because it sells only to retailers under the Brewer’s Best brand. It hopes the new video and publicity about its role in the White House beers help raise the Brewer’s Best profile and boost an already growing hobby.
“I would guess that the average homebrewer isn’t familiar with LD Carlson, but every retailer knows who LD Carlson is,” said Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewers Association.
The company was founded as Wines Inc. in 1970 by Laurence Dale Carlson, a B.F. Goodrich marketing manager who oversaw the rubber company’s soles for shoes effort. He took his life savings of $16,000 and opened a wine and beer shop in Highland Square in Akron.
Carlson later sold that shop and three others to focus on the wholesale side. Carlson died in 1991.
Hartman joined the company in 1979 when Congress legalized homebrewing. At the time, wine made up 90 percent of sales. Today, beer is 60 percent of the business. The Brewer’s Best brand debuted in 1991.
LD Carlson – one of the original sponsors for the Great American Beer Festival in Denver – sells not only all the equipment needed to brew, but it also offers 45 pre-packaged ingredient kits so its customers can make anything from an amber to a smoked porter to a whiskey barrel stout. The malt, hops, yeast and even bottle caps are included. Users just follow the recipe provided.
Each day, the company and its 84 workers hand-pack and ship anywhere from 600 to 1,100 kits across the United States and around the world from its 73,000-square-foot warehouse in a nondescript industrial park in Portage County.
The company will sell about 150,000 kits this year, up from 130,000 last year, said Ryan Stelzer, the Brewer’s Best brand manager. He said sales are expected to top 200,000 in coming years, in part because of the company’s devotion to fresh ingredients and the surge in popularity of homebrewing as a hobby.
Nationwide, homebrew shops reported a 24 percent increase in gross sales last year, according to the American Homebrewers Association, and the number of sanctioned homebrew competitions has topped 400 a year.
“The hobby is doing really, really well now,” Glass said.
The craft beer industry also is seeing major sales growth and a spike in new breweries. The two go hand in hand, experts said, as craft beer drinkers try brewing and skilled homebrewers move on to the professional ranks or open their own brewery.
“One is strong, the other is strong,” said Brian Wright, LD Carlson sales and marketing manager.
The homebrewing industry has changed over the years from being an afterthought for hop growers and others who supply ingredients to being a force, company officials said. The ingredients are fresher and more varied today, meaning homebrewers are able to make a better beer, they said.
The starter kits range from $80 to $150, and the ingredient kits range from $30 to $50, depending on the style. The most popular Brewer’s Best ingredient kit is the India pale ale, mirroring the tastes of craft beer drinkers who have demanded more hoppy beers.
“That kit surpasses every other kit in terms of sales,” Stelzer said. The second-most popular kit is the American pale ale.
Hartman expects homebrewing sales to continue to climb. He noted that big box retailers have taken notice and are interested in selling Brewer’s Best equipment and ingredient kits.
Brewer’s Best can be found in some Whole Foods supermarkets and even Wal-Mart Stores Inc. came calling, he said. The company turned that offer down because it worried about customer service.
“This culture is spreading,” Hartman said. “So there are still a lot of untapped people out there that are going to do this once they realize how easy it is. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. And you make quality. At the end of the day, you’re the life of the party when you serve your beer.”
For details about LD Carlson, go to www.ldcarlson.com.