Kohler prepares new brewery in the castle

NEW CASTLE, Pa. – Shipments of stainless steel tanks and other brewing equipment arrive daily at Koehler Brewing Co.’s future production site. In New Castle, Pennsylvania.

The company recently purchased a 48,000-square-foot building at 105 Mahoning Ave. in the Mahoningtown neighborhood which would become its main brewery and distribution center.

The brewery, which will include a bar, will open next year, says Bruce Kohler, president and CEO. He will hire 10.

Kohler owns the company with his twin brother, Brian, who serves as COO. Although they share the same surname, the brothers are not descendants of brothers Jackson and Frederick Kohler, who founded the Kohler Brewing Company in 1890 in Erie.

Bruce Kohler explains that the founders did not have any male children bearing the name. But the current owners’ family is also from Erie. “I’ve always felt an emotional connection to the brand,” Koehler says.

The company already owns a pub and brewery in Ellwood, Pennsylvania. She had a second brewpub — the original — in Grove City, Pennsylvania, but closed it last year and sold the building, Koehler says.

The company has been looking to expand since the day it started.

“We were looking for a production building when we first opened in Grove City in 2017,” Kohler says. “We were originally looking at a place closer to Pittsburgh but couldn’t find anything we could afford.”

The Koehler brothers ended up purchasing a small factory building in Grove City and installed a 15-barrel brewing system and bar (there are 31 gallons in one barrel).

In 2019, the company expanded by adding a second brewpub in a former supermarket in Ellwood City.

As sales grew, so did the need to find a larger production building. The New Castle location fits the bill.

It has multiple loading docks and access to rail transportation, which could one day become part of its distribution, Kohler says. He did not disclose the terms of the sale deal.

The building was once home to Keystone Glass Co., said Joe Carofino, a New Castle real estate agent who brokered the sale. “They made the windows there,” Carofino says.

The new brewery and pub project is good news for New Castle, says Lawrence Williams, a member of the city Planning Commission.

New Castle brewery manager Robert Leach Jr. stands near some new fermentation tanks recently delivered to the site.

“The location is good, close to all the highways,” Williams says, “and it’s in a nice industrial area with good truck access.”

He also gave a thumbs up for the product. “I’ve tasted their beer, and it’s very good,” he says.

The opening of the new brewery and brewpub is another sign of the return of craft beer to New Castle. Earlier this year, Neshannock Creek Brewing Co. opened a brewery and pub downtown.

Koehler Brewing does all of its brewing at its Ellwood location, where it has a 20-barrel system and a bottling line that can fill 3,000 bottles per hour.

The New Castle location will significantly increase production capacity. It will have a 40-barrel brewing system and a bottling line that can fill 6,000 bottles per hour. The site will also be used to produce beer cans and fill kegs.

Koehler says most of the production will move to the new location once it opens.

“We will brew our specialty beers in Ellwood City and our larger brands in New Castle,” Kohler says.

The company’s best-selling products are its flagship Premium Lager and Amber Ale. Its specialties include Oktoberfest, Ornery Bulldog IPA, Brewberry Ale and more.

The company already has its landmarks in the Youngstown area. “We hope that in about a year we can start selling beer in Ohio,” Koehler says.

Marketing and history

Kohler, who also owns a Pittsburgh-based television ad marketing company, Television Ad Group, recently finished a commercial that will air during broadcasts of Pittsburgh Penguins games this season. The commercial, featuring the Pittsburgh band Blues Attack, brings back the company’s original slogan, “Get in the Secret.”

Kohler beer has always been known for its full flavor, and the company plays up that aspect in its marketing efforts.

“It’s a real ale and a malt beer,” Kohler says. “A lot of brewers add rice and corn, which means it’s not a real malt beer. Our beer is a little higher (in alcohol) but it’s a real beer.

Koehler Brewing Company has a long and proud history. In its peak years, it was sold in 13 states and was one of the best sellers in the Pittsburgh market.

The Erie Brewery closed in 1978 after nearly 90 years in the same building.

Schmidt’s of Philadelphia bought the brand that year and later sold it to G. Heileman of Wisconsin.

As its popularity faded, the company was sold to a private equity firm in 1994, which in turn sold it to Stroh Brewery Co. in Detroit in 1996. Stroh’s failed in 1999, and the Koehler brand was dissolved in 2000.

Seventeen years later, the Kohler brothers trademarked the brewery’s name and logo and opened their brewery and tavern in Grove City.

Kohler’s beer is distributed throughout western Pennsylvania, the Erme’s and Galilei distribution companies handling this end of the business. The beer can be purchased at nearly 100 bars, restaurants and distributors from Pittsburgh to Erie.

In Mercer and Lawrence counties, it is available at Apollo Minershor in Sharon. The Crane Room, McBride Beer Distributors and Beer 4 Less in New Castle; sports bar and M&M beer at Hermitage; And J. Hicks on the Square, Mercer Beverage and Pitt Stop Pub in Mercer.

Pictured at top: Brian Koehler is COO and co-owner of Koehler Brewing Co.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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