For years, Ohio craft beer drinkers lamented that the well-respected New Belgium and Deschutes breweries didn’t distribute here.
Well, that’s about to change, with New Belgium arriving in December and Deschutes coming in January.
When they’re both here, Ohio can toast the fact that the 10 largest craft brewers in the nation are available in the Buckeye State.
New Belgium of Fort Collins, Colo., the third largest, and Deschutes of Bend, Ore., the fifth largest, were the two missing pieces in that top 10 puzzle. (The others, in order, are: Boston Beer, Sierra Nevada, Gambrinus, Lagunitas, Bell’s, F.X. Matt, Harpoon and Stone.)
The logical question is: Who’s missing?
Boulevard, the 12th largest, isn’t here. But the Kansas City brewery most certainly will arrive at some point after being purchased by importer Duvel Moortgat.
That leaves No. 16 Alaskan, No. 17 New Glarus, No. 18 Long Trail, No. 20 Firestone Walker and No. 24 SweetWater among the top 25 who aren’t in Ohio.
Don’t hold out any hope for New Glarus, the New Glarus, Wis., brewery that makes Spotted Cow, Raspberry Tart and other brands.
“We have no intention to distribute outside of Wisconsin,” co-founder Deb Carey told me. “And Ohio is a few states away so I don’t see it happening.”
Of course, she tossed in a “never say never” after that.
Alaskan, which makes the award-winning and coveted — at least by me — Smoked Porter, has discussed Ohio.
“It’s hard to ignore Ohio’s population base and Ohioans love beer,” brewery spokesman Andy Kline said. “It’s definitely something on our radar. It’s one of the states that comes up. I don’t think it’s misleading to say that it’s not next in our sights, but it’s in our sights.”
It’s a matter of the Juneau, Alaska, brewery having enough capacity to expand its footprint. Alaskan has no intention of opening a second brewery elsewhere to meet demand like some other craft brewers have, Kline said.
How could it brag about being Alaskan-made if it weren’t brewed in Alaska? he asked.
Meanwhile, Firestone Walker has an Ohio connection.
Co-founder Adam Firestone is related to the Firestones who launched the former tire empire in Akron. But spokesman Christopher Weir said there are no plans to move into Ohio now.
“It’s always a possibility down the line,” he added.
Of course, big doesn’t necessarily mean coveted, either.
“With many bigger craft brands hitting the market, there are going to be just as many smaller ones,” said Neil Mentzer Jr., the craft/import brand manager for Cleveland-based Beverage Distributors Inc. “A few of the smaller breweries I would like to see [are] Back Forty, O’Connor Brewing and Russian River Brewing and let’s not forget Cigar City.
“Ohio is a state of beer drinkers and production is always an issue, so most breweries hold off until they are able to ramp up production,” he added. “ … Ohio is going to be a growing state for a lot of newcomers large and small.”
Jon Albrecht, the beer buyer for the Acme Fresh Market grocery stores in Akron, said he’d like to see Russian River, Firestone Walker, Ska, Alchemist and Pizza Port.
Ska, from Durango, Colo., was served at his wedding.
“They make damn good beers,” he said. “And I love beer in cans. I dig that.”
John Lane, the co-owner of the Bedford Heights-based Winking Lizard Tavern chain, would like to see Russian River, Odell and Firestone Walker.
But he also cautions that Ohioans shouldn’t take the current selection for granted.
“I would like to say that our scene here is as good as it gets anywhere in the nation and we are blessed already with great selection and quality breweries,” he said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his beer blog at www.ohio.com/beer. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrick.