- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) - The bluesy churn of Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child played over the restaurant’s sound system as Andy Ledesma worked behind an observation window preparing to brew a batch of Belgian wheat.

Red Eye Brewing Co. in Wausau was still about an hour away from opening the doors for another day of business but brewing and restaurant operations were well underway. Melding craft beer with food is part of the ethos of the brew pub where patrons can watch brewing operations from their tables.

When it comes to making unique locally brewed beers, Red Eye isn’t alone. Around the nation and state, the number of operations making craft beers continues to grow, Press-Gazette Media (https://gbpg.net/1RvxKAa ) reported.

“We’ve seen positive (production) growth every year, mostly in the double digits,” said Kevin Eichelberger, owner and brewmaster at Red Eye, which celebrated seven years in business earlier this month. “This year already, in the first three months, we’re up roughly 20 percent over last year.”

The craft beer industry continues to ride the wave with more than 600 new breweries opening around the nation last year. Wisconsin is seeing similar growth with a 27 percent increase in breweries over the past two years, along with a string of related events, such as the first ever Green Bay Craft Beer Week which kicked off on May 11.

The newly opened businesses range from traditional breweries to brew pubs and smaller micro- and nano-breweries.

“Wisconsin is seeing the same thing you’re seeing around the country, a growth in both production and the number of breweries,” said Bart Watson, chief economist with the Colorado-based Brewers Association. “Many of the new breweries coming on line are very small and locally focused. They look more local a like bar or restaurant than what many consumers think of when they think of a brewery. Nationally, we have breweries opening on average every 14 hours.”


The American craft beer industry had an economic impact of $33.9 billion in 2012, a number expected to increase closer to $50 billion when new data is compiled this summer, according to the Brewers Association. Craft beer had an 11 percent market share of beer sales last year, an impressive figure in an industry dominated by a small number of multinational conglomerates that own a string of brands.

Nationwide, craft beer production grew 18 percent in 2013 and 2014.

“Production continues to boom,” Watson said. “Seventy five percent of 21-plus-year-old adults live within 10 miles of a brewery, so this is an economic impact not being felt in just a particular city or two, but all over the country.”

Data from 2013 put the impact of Wisconsin’s craft beer industry at $856 million, 13th in the nation.

Wisconsin had a nearly 27 percent increase in breweries over the past two years. The state went from 90 craft breweries in 2013, according to data from the association, to 114 today, (including six operations in the planning phase) said Mark Garthwaite, executive director of the Madison-based Wisconsin Brewers Guild.

That’s led to growth in several other industries vital to beer production, including raw ingredients, packaging and brewing equipment.

“We’re seeing more hop growers sprouting up across the state. Wisconsin in the 1850s was one of the world’s largest hops producers … and that’s coming back now,” Garthwaite said. “The malting industry has always been strong here, and the national trend makes that malting industry far more of an economic powerhouse that it’s ever been.”


Some industry insiders are bullish on the craft beer industry in terms of volume, but have reservations about the number of brands.

“Craft beer is no longer a trend, it’s mainstream,” said John McMahon, founder of the two-year-old Door County Brewing Co. in Baileys Harbor. “There are bunch of young people who have never drunk big beer, and they never will. They’ll always be drinking this kind of beer.”

But the number of brands on the market bears watching.

“Eventually that’s got to change, but I don’t see any sign of it,” McMahon said.

Door County Brewing Co. specializes in Belgian- and French-style beers that are available on tap in restaurants and in bottles in retail locations.

“That’s something you don’t find very often in the market,” John McMahon said. “It’s a style we like to drink and the style we focus on. We found an opportunity with that style of beer.”

Eichelberger said Red Eye - a brew pub that derives most of its sales from food - usually offers between 8 and 12 different types of beers on tap including India Pale ales, pilsners, Maibock, and guest taps and seasonal brews.

The number one seller at is an India Pale Ale called Thrust. The mix of food and beer is a combination that has worked for Red Eye, and Eichelberger doesn’t see dramatic changes on the horizon.

“I think we’re going to stick to what we are,” he said. “We’re not looking to bottle or can, but we may be interested in moving some draught beer around the state.”

Others look to a wider market. Door County Brewing Co. is working on plans to expand the business to include a bottling operation by early 2017.

“Our aspirations are being more than just a local brewery,” McMahon said. “We don’t have any finite goal, but we’re going to do what we do best … and see where it takes us. There’s no limit to what we’re looking to do.”

Despite explosive growth in the craft industry, Watson and Garthwaite said market space exists for further growth in the industry.

“There’s probably a lot of hand wringing thinking that the bubble is about to burst… but there’s a lot of the beer market out there that’s still available,” Garthwaite said. “You’ll see the established breweries continuing to grow and you’ll see a lot more very small local breweries popping up here and there.”

Watson said market opportunities vary by geographic location, but finding ways to connect with local consumers is one of the key ingredients to sustaining the business growth.

“There is more competition that ever,” Watson said. “There are more than 3,400 breweries in the country - and this is going to vary by local market - but it’s not like you’re going to have the market all to yourself any more. Brewers really have to focus on differentiating themselves from existing offerings.”


Information from: Press-Gazette Media, https://www.greenbaypressgazette.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide