ICYMI: Craft Brewing Business turned 10 this year, and we are celebrating our 10th anniversary with craft breweries that also launched in 2013. In Cheers to 10 Years, we’ll learn how these brewing businesses have made it work for a decade, and how they plan to keep it going. Cheers to 10 Years!
If you really know the Ohio craft beer scene, then you know about Wolf’s Ridge Brewing. Cofounded by father-son duo Alan and Bob Szuter, Wolf’s Ridge stands out in the crowded Columbus craft beer scene (home of BrewDog’s massive facility, the award-winning Columbus Brewing and many more) with its great food and inventive beers.
Wolf’s Ridge opened its doors in 2013 – the same year as CBB – and became a semi-regular contributor for us over the years. For instance, Wolf’s Ridge told us how they were getting “creative to overcome the beer can shortage.”
At Wolf’s Ridge, we’ve seen an unprecedented shift in preference for “new” and “small batch” beers packaged in cans.
While this is something we and many others have been forced to lean into in 2020, it nevertheless causes challenges with forecasting demand for larger batches and brands meant to stay on the shelves for longer periods of time.
Alan explained how their self-distribution strategy saved the brewery during COVID shutdown.
“We felt like we could give a better buying experience for our customers through a self-distribution model … a more, resourceful, responsive experience for them to get the product that they needed.”
Head brewer Chris Davison also gave us some keen insight into how he treats coffee beans like hops.
I highly suggest you sit down with your local roaster and try coffees. Many of them. Learn to drink it black and to judge your coffee like a beer in competition. Ask questions and learn about your ingredient. You don’t throw random hops that have been abused into your IPA do you? Why would you just toss the first dark roast you find into your beer? Don’t fear light roasts. I’d be more worried about desired flavor than degree of roasting when selecting a coffee.
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing will be hitting its 10-year anniversary in September. So, of course, when we put out the call for 10-year anniversary retrospectives, the first person in our inbox was Davison. Keep that coffee bean insight in mind as you read Davison’s recap below.
What’s changed over the last 10 years?
Davison: In our first year of operations we produced 97 bbls of beer, and now we’re making over 5,000 bbls a year.
We’ve gone from a brewery staff of one, to a team of: 10 production staff, 5 full time distribution people, and 8 full time sales reps. As a company, we’ve grown from ~20 staff to over 120 employees across 3 locations now.
Any key turning points or decisions to note?
Davison: We began to see our notoriety rise quickly once we opened our Taproom (a separate beer focused space with 20 draft lines) vs. the full restaurant space we originally opened with alongside our small brewery.
Our best-selling core brand, Daybreak (a Coffee Vanilla Cream Ale), was a huge turning point. We brought that beer to market as a draft experiment in 2015 and it quickly took off to eventually surpass our IPA sales a couple years later. Over seven years later, the beer has become recognized as a world-class coffee beer with 3 consecutive GABF medals (2019-2021) and a World Beer Cup medal in 2022.
It’s hard to overstate how important that brand has been to the success of our brewery.
Packaging has been a part of many key points:
- Our first bottles of Imperial Stout and variants of it came out in 2015,
- We began bottling core brands in 12 oz 6-packs in 2016, which saw the brewery’s first production capacity expansion,
- And then switching to cans in 2020 was a huge boon while riding into the pandemic years.
Are you making any changes to prep for the next 10?
Davison: Over the years, we’ve grown increasingly sophisticated with our planning processes and are watching our financials much more closely than ever before. While these aren’t crazy exciting sounding, they’re necessary steps toward the overall health and longevity of the business as our brand is maturing and the market is shrinking.
Nevertheless, we hope to continue to innovate and reward our markets with premium products few other local breweries are producing.
Cheers to 10 years, Wolf’s Ridge Brewing! If your brewery is turning 10 and wants to cheers, drop me a line at [email protected]. Tell me your story …
- What’s changed over the last 10 years?
- Key turning points or decisions to note?
- Are you making any changes to prep for the next 10?
Other Cheers to 10 Years entries: