Friday, September 19, 2003

Local brews still make splash with consumers

Barrel House to have German varieties available

By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Mike Cromer, owner of the Barrel House Brewing Co., features a sampler tray of beer to be available at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
People who cry in their beer, bemoaning the decline in Cincinnati's once vibrant brewing heritage, don't get much sympathy from Mike Cromer.

"There's still a lot of great beer made in Cincinnati,'' the co-owner of Barrel House Brewing Co. in Over-the-Rhine says.

This weekend, the 500,000 or so who will pack downtown Cincinnati for the 28th annual Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, the biggest thing this side of Munich, can sample Barrel House's seasonal Oktoberfest lager, RedLegg Ale and Hefeweizen. The beers will be available along with Budweiser, Miller Lite, Lowenbrau and Warsteiner, among others.

About half of the nine beer brands featured at this year's festival have some local tie.

Cromer, a former financial manager at GE Aircraft Engines who turned his "love of good German lagers and English ales'' into Barrel House eight years ago, said events like Oktoberfest "are an opportunity to show that Cincinnati is still a great beer town.''

Barrel House beer is available at about 100 establishments in Greater Cincinnati, including Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium.

And while it will be too late for this weekend's festivities, one of the city's best-known brands, Hudepohl-Schoenling, might soon make a comeback.

Mark Dottore, court-appointed receiver for Snyder International Brewing Group, which acquired Hudepohl-Schoenling brands in 1999, said Thursday that new financing permitting regular production of Little Kings Cream Ale, Hudy Delight, Burger and Christian Moerlein should be completed soon.

Since Snyder was forced by creditors into receivership in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in January, the availability of Hudepohl-Schoenling products - now brewed mainly at Snyder's 5-year-old Frederick, Md., brewery - has been sporadic.

"People in Cincinnati need to know, they'll start seeing Hudepohl-Schoenling products on store shelves in 30 to 45 days,'' said Kevin Kelley, who is managing the beer business for Dottore Cos.

The brands, marketed in 32 states, are the centerpiece of the recovery plan for the Snyder company, which also produces Cleveland's Crooked River Beer and other regional brews.

Kelley said Cincinnati is unique in that Hudepohl-Schoenling products continued to be brewed locally until two years ago, long after most other regional breweries hit the bottom of the barrel.

Beer industry experts say quality has replaced quantity among consumer preferences.

"People are drinking less, but they're drinking better,'' said Michelle Sullivan, spokesman for Boston Beer Co., which brews its premium Samuel Adams, one of Oktoberfest's featured beers, at the former Hudepohl-Schoenling brewery on Central Parkway in the West End.

Boston Beer employs about 100 at its brewery here and produces about 45 percent of the 17 million cases that the company sells annually.

Boston Beer acquired the brewery in 1996 and brewed Hudepohl-Schoenling products under contract until 2001.

Last year, U.S. per capita beer consumption was 21.8 gallons, according to Beverage Marketing Corp., a New York research and consulting firm. That was down from 22 gallons a person five years earlier.

While the firm doesn't have specific data for Cincinnati, Gary Hemphill, Beverage Marketing's senior vice president, said per capita beer consumption in Ohio last year was 23 gallons.

In 1894, Cincinnati's beer consumption was 50 gallons a person, according to Cincinnati Breweries, a compendium on the city's early brewing history written by Robert J. Wimberg.

While total U.S. beer consumption has been relatively flat for years, Hemphill said two of the fastest growing categories are light beers and imports.

Reflecting American's increased calorie counting, light beer sales increased 4.8 percent last year while imports increased 6 percent.

Import growth, Hemphill said, is being driven by consumers' interest in new tastes and "what they perceive as higher quality.''

Miller Lite, brewed at Miller Brewing Co.'s massive Trenton plant in Butler County, about 30 miles north of Cincinnati, and German-brewed Warsteiner are two of Oktoberfest's featured products.

The Trenton brewery, one of Miller's largest, produces about 9 million barrels of beer annually. There are 31 gallons in a barrel of beer.

Although Warsteiner has been imported to the United States since the early 1980s, the brand has more than doubled its U.S. market share in the last five years, said Gregory Hardman, president of Warsteiner Importers Agency, the beer's U.S. marketing arm based in West Chester.

Last year, Warsteiner, which is marking its 250th anniversary, sold 1.8 million cases in the United States, up from 1.3 million in 1999.

While there's no question the beer will flow again this weekend at Oktoberfest, one of the festival's best-kept secrets is how much beer is consumed.

A spokesman for the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce said festival organizers typically don't discuss beer sales.

Cromer said he expects to sell about 10,000 16-ounce servings this weekend. Warsteiner's Hardman said sales usually depend somewhat on the weather. The forecast is for sunny skies Saturday with highs in the mid-70s and mostly sunny Sunday with highs around 80.

And that should be good for selling beer.


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