As Rhinegeist Brewing prepares to celebrate its fifth anniversary this weekend, the Cincinnati-based beer company is closing in on another milestone: surpassing the 100,000-barrel mark.
Rhinegeist co-founder Bryant Goulding told Brewbound that the brewery is on pace to reach 100,000 barrels by the end of 2018, adding that year-to-date sales are up 30 percent even though the company hasn’t released any new innovation beers or expanded its distribution footprint. Last year, Rhinegeist increased sales 53 percent, to 86,500 barrels, according to data from industry trade group the Brewers Association.
“We’re tracking toward our goal without any innovation and cycling a Bubbles [rosé ale] package launch and Knowledge [imperial IPA] 4-pack launch last spring, so we’re feeling pretty good about our numbers in a really rough spring,” he said.
“May has been great, and June has continued to accelerate,” he continued.
Sales of Rhinegeist’s core offerings are up 28 percent year-to-date, Goulding shared, noting that Truth IPA and Bubbles rosé ale, which is a part of the company’s Cidergeist portfolio, are up 37 percent and 110 percent, respectively. Additionally, the company’s fruited ales and Outer Reaches sour beer program are becoming bigger parts of its portfolio. Last year’s launch of Peach Dodo sour gose was its biggest seasonal release of the year, Goulding said.
Recognizing that consumer tastes have become “very promiscuous,” Goulding said Rhinegeist has altered its seasonal beer program to be more nimble and allow for quicker evolution if products aren’t moving. The company evaluates seasonal performance weekly, he added, and solicits feedback from its sales reps in order to determine if the offerings are meeting projections. If not, the company will pivot.
“In the first two weeks of a seasonal, if it’s off to a slow start, we’re immediately not brewing that last batch that we’d planned for,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rhinegeist’s Hustle brand — a baseball-themed beer that is released every year on opening day of the Cincinnati Reds’ season — is one example of a seasonal that has morphed annually in style. Since its package introduction three years ago, Hustle has been sold as a rye pale ale, a red lager, and an IPA, Goulding said.
“I don’t know that you can hang your hat on a seasonal and expect it to be the same brand 10 years from now or even five years from now,” he said. “So we’re really adjusting what our expectations are.”
In July, Rhinegeist plans to release its first innovation beers of 2018 when it launches Cheetah “premium lager” in 12-packs, and Wowie fruited ale with pineapple and passion fruit in 6-packs.
Cheetah was first released in late April as “Lit Up,” a beer for the Homecoming music festival put on by indie rock band The National, in Cincinnati. The relaunch of the sessionable lager is aimed at trading up consumers from mass-produced premium beers with a $15.99 price point, Goulding said.
“We’re gonna go a little bit lower [in price],” he said of Cheetah. “Not deeply discounted, but a little bit less.”
In the back half of the year, Rhinegeist also plans to introduce a New England-style hazy IPA in 4-packs, which Goulding said will be a limited release.
Rhinegeist has piloted many of its new brands in small batches and sold them at various on-premise retailers, using the feedback as a “thermometer for how much potential there is for a brand,” Goulding said. Although Rhinegeist’s own brewery taproom only accounts for about five percent of its sales, he said it has provided critical feedback for its pilot beers.
In an effort to bolster its innovation pipeline, Rhinegeist plans to install an 8.5-barrel pilot system inside of a 40,000 sq. ft. secondary brewery currently being built on eight acres of real estate in Cincinnati’s Camp Washington neighborhood. The new facility — which will also feature additional cold storage space and several loading docks to make shipping beer easier — is expected to come online later this year, Goulding said.
The project is part of a 17-acre site that the company had purchased while pursuing a license to launch a medical marijuana dispensary. However, the state rejected Rhinegeist’s application, forcing the company to adjust its plans for the location. Goulding said the company has “a lot of ideas” for how to develop the remaining space, but “nothing concrete.”
Missing out on the marijuana dispensary application has allowed Rhinegeist to stay focused on its core business, expand its leadership team, and implement new processes, Goulding added.
“We’re approaching five years old, and we’re trying to act like a mature brewery and make decisions for the long-term because that’s our horizon, and we’re in no hurry, even though our growth has been powerful, that’s not been our aim,” he said.
To that end, Goulding said the company has focused on improving the quality of life for its 300 employees while strengthening its relationships with wholesalers and retailers. In April, Rhinegeist added three additional managerial positions to support its self-distribution operations in Cincinnati and Columbus. The company also promoted Nick Vitalo to director of wholesaler relations in order to create deeper bonds with the company’s distributors and key accounts in Ohio, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pittsburgh and Indiana.
Rhinegeist’s goal remains to be employee-owned, Goulding said, and the company’s leaders have begun transferring a lot of strategic decision-making from a small group of owners to its growing employee base.
“Our goal has been to create a brand that stands for something powerful,” he said. “Quality and innovation, and an intimate connection and commitment to our customers, and to Cincinnati, and to being independently owned. And a move toward employee ownership, which has been our stated goal for a long time. But what that really means is transferring a lot of strategic decision-making from the small group of us that have charted the course, to enrolling more leadership into that conversation, and being proactive about building processes and enabling us to grow something that people have a real stake in.”