The Brick Brewing Co., Ontario, Canada’s first craft brewer, is using the Akron-Canton area as a springboard to launch its beers into the U.S. market.
Local drinkers are getting the first sips of Waterloo Dark, IPA and Amber, and Laker Lager after the brewery teamed up with Esber Beverage Co. in Canton.
Esber, which sought out the brewery, is the only distributor in the country now selling the brands. It’s available in area bars, restaurants and many supermarkets.
Brick President and Chief Executive Officer George Croft and Chief Technical Officer Russell Tabata met with bar owners and chatted with the Akron Beacon Journal last week during an Akron Aeros game at Canal Park, where their beer is sold.
The publicly traded company wants to grow its Waterloo brand in the U.S. to take advantage of the American demand for craft beer and will use its relationship with Esber as a model as it expands.
“We’re looking for the right partners,” said Croft, who previously served as president of Labatt Breweries of Canada and the Lakeport Brewing Income Fund. “We’re looking for guys who are committed to small brands. The size of the house doesn’t matter to us.”
Founded in 1984, Brick is based in Kitchener, Ontario. Its Laker brand is its best-selling, with the Waterloo lineup serving as its craft division. Waterloo Dark has won several medals at the World Beer Cup, Ontario Brewing Awards and Canadian Brewing Awards.
“We really started the craft brewery trend [in Canada],” Tabata said.
Canada is experiencing the same craft surge as the U.S. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which oversees beer sales in the province, reported a 35 percent increase in craft sales from 2010 to 2011.
Brick wants to create a seasonal Waterloo lineup similar to those offered by Samuel Adams and Magic Hat. It recently launched Waterloo IPA and Waterloo Amber and both brands are hitting the Akron-Canton market.
The Waterloo IPA is less hoppy than many American-style India pale ales.
“Our brewmaster and myself did a lot of tasting and we didn’t want to go over the top from a standpoint of overall bitterness, hoppiness,” Tabata said. “How would we compare between an English IPA and an American-style IPA? We’d probably be in the middle.”
Croft added: “We wanted to make it interestingly distinctive but we also wanted to make it appropriately drinkable.”
So far, Akron-Canton beer drinkers have warmed to Waterloo Dark, which has been available for a little while.
“We go through a significant amount of it,” said Mark Sabina, general manager of TD’s Tailgate Grill in Canton. “It’s a great drinking beer.”
It has enough flavor to satisfy craft beer drinkers, he said, but also is light enough to appeal to those who enjoy American lagers.
Sabina said he’s looking forward to serving Waterloo IPA and Amber, as well.
Meanwhile, the flavor profile of Laker Lager falls more in line with Labatt and Molson. Croft and Dave Esber, owner of Esber Beverage, said it wasn’t easy to bring Laker into the country. The brewery and distributor got into a legal spat over the name with the NBA and Los Angeles Lakers.
The plan is to build the Waterloo and Laker Lager brands slowly in the U.S.
“You think about the number of brands that make their way to the market and quickly disappear,” Croft said. “Our view is that we have to build the brands.”
For more details about Brick, go online to: www.brickbeer.com.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his beer blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/the-beer-blog.