Thursday, April 1, 2004

Christian Moerlein returns - again

Initial focus on draft lager beer in bars, eateries

By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Christian Moerlein beer, one of Cincinnati's oldest brands, is making a comeback under new ownership.

Gregory Hardman, former president of German-brewed Warsteiner Importers Agency in West Chester, heads an investment group that bought the 150-year-old brand and is relaunching it with plans to expand distribution, marketing and adding new products.

The initial focus is on re-establishing the brand in Greater Cincinnati through draft distribution in taverns and restaurants. Bottles of Christian Moerlein Select Lager in redesigned bottles and a new Christian Moerlein Select Light will be available in six- and 12-packs in retail stores - including Kroger and Bigg's - starting in mid-May.

One new wrinkle: The company plans to introduce eight-packs of 7-ounce bottles called "mini-Moers,'' also next month.

That package is designed for people who want to sample a premium brew but don't want to consume a 12-ounce bottle.

Financial terms weren't disclosed. But Hardman's company, CMB Cincinnati LLC, acquired the Moerlein brand from Snyder International Brewing Group, which bought Moerlein and other Cincinnati brands produced by the former Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Co. in 1999. Hardman said he acquired only Moerlein, which is still produced, and not the Hudepohl or Schoenling brands.

"We're focusing on the premium beer market,'' he said.

Snyder, which has operated under a court-appointed receiver, has produced Moerlein for limited distribution from its Frederick, Md., brewery - and that will continue, Hardman said.

"The reason for that is that the Frederick, Maryland, brewery is one of only a handful in the country that can handle small batch, craft-brewed beers.''

Cincinnati Growth Partners - a strategic growth and financial advisory firm that helped Redox Brand reintroduce the Biz detergent brand - is assisting Hardman's firm in relaunching Moerlein.

Hardman, who has spent 20 years in the beer distribution business, said he's always been intrigued by the Moerlein brand.

A Bavarian immigrant and blacksmith, Christian Moerlein sold his first bottle of lager in Cincinnati in March 1854. Before Prohibition, the Moerlein brewery, a portion of which still stands on Elm Street near Findlay Market, was the biggest in Ohio.

In the late 1970s, the old Hudepohl Brewing Co. created the modern Moerlein beer using no chemical additives or preservatives. It was the first U.S. beer to be certified under the centuries-old German purity law.

"It was really the first craft-brewed beer on the market,'' Hardman said.


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