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Jeremy Wicks of Mother's Brewing Co. says supporting local breweries has become mainstream.
Jeremy Wicks of Mother's Brewing Co. says supporting local breweries has become mainstream.

Startups try to capitalize on craft brewery trend

Posted online
Last edited 8:20 a.m., April 5, 2011

Craft breweries such as Springfield Brewing Co. continue to increase their influence on the beer market by growing their production volumes and revenues during a time of overall beer industry declines.

According to the Brewers Association, craft brewery production was up 11 percent to 9.95 million barrels in 2010 – at a time when total beer production declined by 1 percent to 203.6 million barrels in 2010. The new data, released March 21, reveals craft brewers represented 4.9 percent of sales volumes last year, up from 4.3 percent in 2009.

“Consumers are demanding more flavor,” said Jeremy Wicks, director of sales and marketing for the fledgling Mother’s Brewing Co., which has taken over the former Butternut Bread building at the corner of Grant Avenue and Walnut Street.

“They’ve gotten a taste for some of the smaller brewers that have started, and they are looking for more options and more flavors.”

According to the Brewers Association, a craft brewer is small, independent and traditional, which means the brewer produces less than 6 million barrels annually; less than 25 percent is owned by a beer industry member who himself is not a craft brewer; and has 50 percent of its beer volume in malt beers or beers designed to enhance flavor.

Wicks recently attended a national convention of craft brewers in San Francisco, where the sentiment was that beer drinkers want to support local brewing.

“Supporting local breweries has gone from a fad, to a trend, to mainstream now, and it’s the norm,” Wicks said.There were 1,701 total breweries in the U.S. in March, up 9 percent compared to a year ago, according to the Brewers Association.

Local support from the nearby towns of Monett, Marionville and Verona has kept Aurora’s Bootlegger’s Restaurant and Brewery afloat, according to co-owner Scott Young.

Alcohol sales comprise up to 25 percent of Bootlegger’s revenues, Young said, and about half of that is from its craft beer. He saw steady growth in the establishment’s first 10 years, but beer sales have been flat the last two years.

Describing himself as a restaurant guy who decided to become a brewer, Young said Bootlegger’s doesn’t distribute, and it makes its 150-pound batches one at a time, about once a week. It sells its beer on tap, in kegs or half-gallon growlers.

“Generally, as soon as we’re done with one batch, we’re on to another one,” Young said, adding that fees have discouraged him from becoming a full-fledged distributor. “Keeping our beer fresh and not having to pasteurize it is probably the best business model for us.”  

Springfield Brewing Co. brewmaster Ashton Lewis said the increase in total breweries has benefited his employer, which is owned by stainless steel tank manufacturer Paul Mueller Co.

“Our objective in opening the brewery was to have a showcase for our equipment,” said Lewis, adding that the company made a conscientious effort not to compete against other craft breweries in beer sales.

“Is our business increasing in brewing? The answer is yes, but it’s not in selling more beer, it’s in selling more equipment to make more beer.”

Lewis said Paul Mueller has taken orders for tanks and fermenting equipment from Bell’s Brewing Co. in Kalamazoo, Mich., Green Flash Brewing Co. in San Diego, and it has active clients in Texas and New Hampshire. “We are seeing a good boost from what’s happening in beer,” Lewis said.

Other attempts
Kevin Mackey, the operational director for Springfield Brewing Co., is listed as an organizer on secretary of state paperwork for Hollister-based Branson Brewing Co. In December, the company took out a $2.36 million U.S. Small Business Administration-backed loan through Liberty Bank, but Mackey said the plans were still in their infancy and he declined to comment on them. When asked about diving into the Branson area, he said, “Branson needs it.”

His partner, Jim Kramer, deferred questions to Mackey.

Around the same time the idea for Mother’s Brewing Co. was coming together, brothers-in-law Kris Foster and Doug Draper were working to open a craft brewery at 505 W. Commercial St.

Plans for the C Street Brewery have since fallen through due to a lack of financing, according to Mary Collette, former city councilwoman and a neighbor on Commercial Street.

“It’s unfortunate because they had some exciting plans,” Collette said, adding that the building was remodeled, leaving the property open to opportunity for another brewer.

Here to stay?
Wicks said the Mother’s Brewing production facility should go commercial by May.

“Primarily, we’ll be for sale in restaurants, bars, grocery stores and Brown Derby, places like that,” Wicks said.

He said Heart of America Beverage Co. is under contract to distribute its three regular brews – an Indian pale ale, an American blonde ale and a brown ale – and seasonal blends throughout southwest Missouri. Wicks said the company, owned by Jeff Schrag of The Daily Events, has been marketing itself through Twitter and Facebook, where it has collected about 1,600 fans.

“We’ve really been hitting the streets and taking a grassroots approach to it,” Wicks said.

He said Mother’s beer would be available at bars and restaurants such as Patton Alley Pub and Finnegan’s Wake before it begins bottling for stores such as Price Cutter by mid-June.

Young said when he and business partner Shawn Briggs decided to start their microbrewery in 1998 utilizing its on-site bank vault for production – the building operated as a bank before 1969 – not everyone thought it was a good idea.

“We were pretty much told by everybody that it would never go over in a small town,” Young said. “We were kind of hard-headed and wanted to prove everybody wrong. And we did that.”

Springfield Brewing Co.’s Lewis said the growth trend in craft brewing is here to stay.

“If you have gas-station coffee all of your life and you think that’s normal, and then one day you wake up and someone serves you coffee that’s been freshly brewed that has real flavor and hasn’t been sitting on a burner all day, it’s really hard to go back,” he said.

“Some of the changes in perception are permanent.”[[In-content Ad]]


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