“Why Ohio?” was our first question to Adam Charnack, co-owner of Hi-Wire Brewing. The Asheville, N.C., brewery had been slowly but surely expanding in adjacent southern markets, which made the jump right into the Buckeye State stand out to us. Was this the plan all along? What did you see in the market?
I expected to hear spreadsheet and math talk – recognizing X amount of potential with Y amount of additional capacity – but the answer I got instead had much more to do with interpersonal relationships and the true value of the three-tier system.
“The distributor actually reached out to us,” Charnack says.
That distributor would be Premium Beverage Supply, an indie distributor in Ohio that focuses solely on delivering good, quality craft beer around the state. Its thinking here makes a ton of sense – Asheville, N.C., is basically becoming a brand in itself in the craft beer world, much like how a San Diego, Denver or Portland might resonate with a casual craft drinker. Yet, true Asheville-born breweries don’t have that wide level of distribution outside state borders.
So, Premium Beverage reasoned, why not head to Asheville, target the best breweries, and be the first Ohio distributor to bring that Asheville experience here?
That’s the first answer to “Why Ohio?” but that just gets the keg filling. The tapping is up to Hi-Wire.
Hi-Wire Brewing is known for producing approachable and balanced lagers and ales, most notably Hi-Wire Lager, Bed of Nails Brown, and Hi-Pitch Mosaic IPA. They now have two locations in Asheville: the 27,000 square foot Big Top Production Facility & Taproom located half a mile from the Biltmore Estate and the South Slope Specialty Brewery & Taproom located in the South Slope region of downtown with a focus on wild and sour ales. Ohio is one of three projected new markets Hi-Wire Brewing plans to launch in 2017, which is part of a larger plan to grow sales by 60 percent this year.
We are chatting at Charnack’s final launch party in Northeast Ohio (our neck of the woods) during his week-long Ohio tour. Tomorrow he and the team head to Toledo, about three hours west, in the opposite corner of the state. After that, he finally heads home.
Shawn Mihalko, Hi-Wire’s rep from Premium Beverage Supply, made it clear that this type of on-the-ground presence in the state and at the distribution accounts is a huge deal when considering which breweries to work with and which ones will show sales results over time. In this respect, Hi-Wire has delivered big time.
“They came up here to scout each and every account we discussed without me even knowing,” Mihalko laughs, although, the upper management at Premium knew they were coming. “We walked into one of our grocery accounts and were going to bring up Hi-Wire for the first time and the guy said ‘oh yea, Adam? He was here last week to introduce himself, look around and ask questions.’ That’s huge.”
Suddenly, the account is asking Premium Beverage Supply “hey, tell us about Hi-Wire – can we bring them in here?” after previously being completely off the radar.
From Charnack’s point of view, the due diligence and quality accounts need to be there on Premium’s part for this big of a move to make sense. And the only way to figure that out was to hit the road and see them up close. Where is their beer going to be located? What’s already there? Will the accounts be knowledgeable and do right by the brand?
So … why Ohio?
“You don’t know how good you have it,” Charnack says to us about Ohio’s craft beer scene. And it’s true. We take for granted that just regular grocery stores have shelves and shelves of craft beer. It’s become the norm here, which isn’t the case in a lot of states. And it’s the case here for a good reason, apparently.
“You guys love your IPAs; it’s no joke,” he says. “Our year-round gose, though, has also been extremely popular thus far. With a well-rounded portfolio, including two IPAs and also a gose, a lager and a brown ale, I’m hopeful our beer will resonate in Ohio both now and as tastes might change over time.”
The biggest question in the end for Hi-Wire, and for any brewery, is this: Is all of that shelf space for craft beer a problem for a brewery like Hi-Wire (because of the competition) or an opportunity (because of the market size and demand)? There honest
ly might not be a right answer because, at least to Charnack, there’s truth in both.
“So yea, things have exceeded our expectations already – and they were high to begin with,” he explains. “Starting in the furthest South in Cincinnati, everyone already seemed to know ‘Asheville,’ which is part and parcel of our brand, which was awesome. More toward the middle, in Columbus, it was about 70/30. Here in the Northeast, it was maybe more like 2 out of 10. So, we have our most work on introducing ‘Asheville’ to the consumer and what that means up here.”
The initial response is always great; after that you see if your beers and marketing resonated and find new ways to keep your beers top of mind.
“We have to build that long-tail,” Charnack says.
That ties back around to both the Hi-Wire team hitting the streets to make people aware, and to Premium Beverage believing in it and keeping it top of mind at each of its accounts. All of that is what makes this a triumphant story of the three-tier system – an independent distribution channel run as a meritocracy instead of a monopoly. Can’t ask for much more than that.
So, that’s why Ohio.