YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Navigating outside a comfort zone and into new territory can be one of the more daunting challenges any small business can face.
That’s especially true for a local brewery that’s experienced rapid growth and has achieved tremendous popularity in a very short amount of time.
In a little more than a year, Penguin City Brewing Co. has become a household name throughout the Mahoning Valley. Maintaining a focus on its flagship Penguin City Beer has enabled the brand to develop a stranglehold here.
Penguin City Beer is now available at about 300 bars, restaurants and retail outlets throughout the Mahoning Valley.
“Without our own brewpub operating every day, we had to get our beer out to as many places as we could,” said Richard Bernacki, who co-owns the brewery with his wife, Aspasia Lyras.
Penguin City Brewing took one step toward changing that when it took over the former B&O Station’s brewing system earlier this year. Some beer and the brand’s new seltzer, Lost River, are brewed at B&O. Plans call for occasional Penguin City events at the B&O.
An old connection to B&O Station is now helping the brand think a bit broader. Doug Beedy, brewmaster at B&O from 2002 to 2004, helped clean up the brewing equipment, which hadn’t been used in years. That quickly turned into an assist in updating and getting the equipment running again.
Soon, Beedy was asked to stay on to brew enough beer to fill the four fermentation tanks. He did.
“One day, Richie asked if I was looking for a full-time job,” Beedy said. “I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ ”
That was in May. Beedy’s been focused since on perfecting Penguin City Beer on the B&O system and launching the new seltzer. He’s also had an eye on some other new and exciting things.
Penguin City previously was brewed only by Youngstown Brewing Co., a business unit of Paladin Brewing in Austintown. That relationship will remain. Penguin City Beer and seltzers will be brewed there.
“The changing face of craft beer calls for adding some beers to the lineup,” Beedy said. “So, we’re opening things up a bit.”
That’s exactly what’s in store this fall. Specialty beers will be brewed at the B&O.
Beedy’s specialty is brewery startups, and he’s assisted 19 breweries in doing so via his consultancy, The Beer Builder, for the past 19 years.
Guests at Penguin City’s one-year anniversary party Aug. 30 were teased with a few of Beedy’s small-batch beers. There are plenty more on the way.
Beedy grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He studied advertising and public relations at Michigan State University in East Lansing. He also studied brewing at the Siebel Institute and dabbled in homebrewing with the goal of one day opening his own brewery.
“After I graduated, no one was calling for me to work in advertising or PR,” Beedy said. “But breweries were calling.”
So, off he went.
Eventually, he landed at B&O Station in 2002. That’s where he met his wife, Tracy, a Youngstown native and Youngstown State University graduate who was a regular customer. The Beedys moved on in 2004, but kept coming back to Youngstown to visit Tracy’s mom.
Eventually, Beedy accomplished his lifelong dream of opening, owning and operating his own brewery, Tilted Axis in Lapeer, Mich. Beedy soon learned Lapeer was a church-going town. People weren’t out late drinking beer.
“It’s tough to make a good living when people are only drinking beer from 5 to 7 p.m.,” Beedy said.
Before moving back to Youngstown, the Beedys had been living in Columbus. Beedy had recently served as brewmaster at Elevator Brewing. His experience has been a welcome addition to Penguin City, where growth has been steady.
The company reached a major agreement with Youngstown State University earlier this year to sell Penguin City Beer in Stambaugh Stadium at all home football games. It’s the first locally produced beer to ever be served in the stadium.
While the flagship keeps soaring, time has come for interesting new releases.
The new Farmhouse IPA was released Oct. 10. Another new beer, John Young Apple Ale, a collaboration featuring White House Fruit Farm cider, will be launched Oct. 26 for the Youngstown Zombie Crawl. More new beers will be launched in November and December, including a collaboration with One Hot Cookie.
Each new beer will be available for about one month at a time.
“We’ll be launching a new beer the second Thursday of each month,” Beedy said. “Eventually, the more popular styles will be around for one quarter, and maybe longer.”
Penguin City also is working on some more new seltzers, including an Apple Tart Cherry, another collaboration with White House.
Beedy and the Penguin City Beer crew won’t sit still, and they’ll continue to look for new opportunities for growth and expansion.
“The support we’ve received from the City of Youngstown and the entire community has been amazing,” said Lyras.
That support will surely keep growing as Penguin City continues to brew solid beers – and seltzers – for solid people.
Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.