Third in a series of 14 articles spotlighting the member breweries of a new Ale Trail launching in March, which will span six counties and two states
Columbiana County, Ohio is probably one of the last places you would expect to find a thriving craft brewery. Due to its ties to the Steel industry and Appalachian Ohio, it probably has more in common culturally with Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia than the rest of Northeast Ohio. But if the craft beer industry has proved anything over the last decade, its that if you produce a quality product and work hard to educate the local population about your product, a brewery can thrive just about anywhere.
Greg Snyder, his brother-in-law Josh Dunn, and cousin Jared Channell fell in love with craft beer and began home brewing together in 2010. After brewing for themselves and friends for four years, and getting rave reviews from many relatives and friends, they started to believe that they had a market that was untapped and that they could bring fresh, handmade beer to an area where there really was none, and maybe convert a few folks in the process.
They’ve done better than that. They officially founded Birdfish Brewing Co. as an entity in 2014, opened their downtown Columbiana (population less than 6,300) taproom in November of 2015, and in just over two years they have expanded rapidly from a one barrel system to a 7 barrel production facility less than a quarter mile from the taproom. The taproom remains open and they will continue make more experimental batches on what will now essentially become the pilot system, while the 7 barrel, direct fire Portland Kettle Works system focuses on churning out bigger batches of the more popular beers, with the goal of expanding their customer base and having more consistent distribution.
They also plan to ultimately open the production space to the public soon, possibly this summer, for Saturday tours, as well as pints and growler fills. The efficiencies gained from the larger system will allow them to also do some discounted growler days/times. Josh Dunn told me earlier this week that they are also planning to eventually add a canning line. The brewery is also pre-plumbed for additional fermenters should they need to expand again.
For all the impressive growth in a short span of time, they have grown the smart way without taking on too much debt. With over 6,000 breweries now operating in the US and many more in planning, it can be easy to get starry eyed about the amazing growth and want to go all in from the get go.
Many breweries with deeper pockets come out of the gates swinging by opening with 10 to 15 barrel breweries on day one. There is no right or wrong approach, but with the small market and Columbiana County being an unknown quantity, they smartly elected to start small and grow as the demand grew. Initially they were only open on Saturdays, all three keeping their full time jobs and brewing one to two times a week to keep the five tap system full. But the demand was surprisingly so great that they would often sell out of a certain beer in one weekend. The Saturday only brewery expanded to Fridays within a year, and within the last eight months has added Thursday nights as well.
The one barrel system currently is churning out 5 bbls a week (one barrel = 31 gallons), while the 7 bbl is churning out 14 bbls a week. Beer brewed on both systems feeds the tasting room for pints, growler fills, and retail kegs as well as regional distribution. The partners are self distributing their beer and their goal is to continue to do so.
They often brew with unique ingredients… one of the more unique brews they’ve made is their excellent Dancing Hen Mushroom Porter. Mushroom doesn’t sound like something that would work in a beer, but the mushrooms lend a certain earthiness to the roasted malts that really works without being overpowering or off putting. They’ve also done a number of well received sours and goses, and recently collaborated with a local meteorologist, Andrew Diapolo, on a hazy White IPA, appropriately called Snow Daze.
And what of that name and logo? They came up with the name as home brewers in 2010 trying to relate their brewery name to a penguin. A penguin is a bird that swims, hence the name BIRDFISH. It also has a local connection in that they are located in the Mahoning Valley, home to the Youngstown State University Penguins. As for the logo, it is a penguin standing on an Ohio shaped iceberg.
BIRDFISH BREWING CO
16 S. Main St. Columbiana Ohio 44408 (1bbl system and tasting room)
140 E. Park Ave. Columbiana Ohio 44408 (7bbl production facility, additional tasting room under construction.
Founded: 2010 (homebrewers), Officially founded 2014 (Birdfish Brewing Company LLC), Opened November 2015
Brewer(s): Head of production is Jared Channell. Other brewers are Josh Dunn and Jared “Rooster” Oliver. There are 4 partners in the business: Josh Dunn, Jon Dunn, Greg Snyder, and Jared Channell
Flagship beers: With a 1 bbl system they typically are constantly rotating their 5 taps, but the closest thing to flagships would probably be their Generations Cold Pressed Coffee Stout on Nitro, brewed with coffee made from neighboring Generations Coffee, Too Hip To Sip NEIPA, or Ruperts Vanilla Bean Brown Ale
Best selling beer: “Too Hip To Sip” NEIPA
Hours: Open TH 4-10, FR 2-10, SA 12-10, SU 12-8
Additional reading: “Birdfish Brewing opens in Columbiana”, Herald-Star Online Business Section (http://www.heraldstaronline.com/news/business/2016/01/birdfish-brewing-opens-in-columbiana/)
All photos courtesy of Birdfish Facebook page, except Dancing Hen Porter photo, courtesy of Mahoning Valley Flight Crew page.