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The Dayton Beer Company joins forces with Bonbright Distributing

By Kevin J. Gray

Photo: The Dayton Beer Company tap list features three dozen Ohio beers, with nearly half brewed in-house

In early June, the Dayton beer scene reached another milestone in its maturation when The Dayton Beer Company inked a deal with Bonbright Distributing. This historic partnership marks the first pick-up of a local brewery by a distributor.

The Dayton Beer Company

When it opened in Kettering in May 2012, The Dayton Beer Company was at the forefront of the Miami Valley craft boom. Yet, the Dorothy Lane brewery was very modest in scope—about 1,400 square feet, with about 450 devoted to a small taproom. Most of the space held a nanobrewery, where owner Peter Hilgeman brewed on a 1.5-barrel system, 200 plus days a year, to produce about 500 barrels annually. The brewery had a few accounts around town, but Hilgeman found it difficult to keep up with demand and to keep the beers consistent. Hilgeman knew a larger space was needed: “Kettering has been great for what it is, a great little neighborhood brewpub,” he notes. “It would have been nice to make it more than that, we tried to shoehorn a 7 barrel [system] in there and the space just wouldn’t allow it.”

Early last year, Hilgeman started looking to expand downtown, noting, “[I] knew I wanted to be by the stadium, that was always a must.” He took ownership of the former Weiler Welding building, located a block from the Dragons’ Stadium, in July 2014. After a lot of hard work, he opened the new Dayton Beer Company brewery and taproom in April of this year.

The new facility features an extensive tap list made up of beers from all around Ohio, including many brewed at The Dayton Beer Company. The space also offers room for exponential growth—the building is 8,000 square feet, and Hilgeman just bought the building adjacent, which offers another 5,000 square feet of storage. Today, Hilgeman brews on a 15-barrel brewhouse and expects to be able to produce nearly 4,000 barrels annually.

The additional brewing capacity means more volume, more variety in styles and more consistency between batches: “The [new] system allows me to control all of the variables that I couldn’t control in Kettering,” Hilgeman explains. “A lot more control over the fermentation process, over the brewing process. I mean, it’s night and day between the two.” And more volume means a need for expanded distribution. That’s where Bonbright comes in.

Bonbright Distributing

Dayton’s oldest distributorship started in 1934, just months after Prohibition ended, when founder Carl Bonbright left his father’s tool company to join with the Olt Brothers, a local brewery, to distribute their beer around Dayton. Bonbright expanded and, in the mid-1950s, secured the distribution rights for Miller Brewing Company. The family-owned business continued to grow before selling to the Anderson family, the current owners, in the early 1980s. Today, the distributorship serves hundreds of accounts in the nine counties that contain and surround the Miami Valley.

John DiMario, Bonbright’s director of sales, notes that ties to the community are important for Bonbright. “Being a part of the Dayton community for 81 years has been a big part of who we are,” DiMario explains. “Part of our mission statement … is to make readily available a diverse collection of our most favorite beers.” Bonbright distributes dozens of brands, but The Dayton Beer Company is the first local addition in more than 50 years. “I think it’s really fitting that we started with a local Dayton brewery,” DiMario notes, “and now we have The Dayton Beer Company in the house.”

Why the partnership?

Both sides the see the new deal as a natural fit. Chris Fritz, who manages Bonbright’s craft portfolio, explains that it was the family-based aspect of The Dayton Beer Company that drew Bonbright to the brewery. Fritz notes about an pre-opening visit: “That’s where we kinda got the first feel for that family culture—[Hilgeman’s] family was here, his friends are here, they’re all working together, so I couldn’t wait to try the beer out of this place. Then we fell in love with the liquid pretty quick. It’s becoming a favorite spot for a lot of our guys now.”

Hilgeman sees the cultural match as well: “The culture of the company, and their ideals, everything just fit really well with my ideals and my culture. It just made for a great partnership. When they said they were interested, I was tickled pink.”

Beyond just a cultural fit, the distribution deal allows Hilgeman to get more of his beer to market (including a lineup of canned beers coming this summer), while focusing on brewing. DiMario explains, “We believe strongly in what Pete’s doing and what he has been doing, because we think he’s doing it the right way, and we think he’s building a sustainable model. So it’s important for us in those nine counties that he can focus on brewing great beer, and we can focus on making it readily available to anybody.” Clearly excited about the prospect of selling locally produced beer, DiMario summarizes by saying, “If you are going to make a bet on local breweries, I would think you’d have to make a bet on The Dayton Beer Company.”

Kevin J. Gray is Dayton City Paper’s Resident Beer Geek. A firm believer in all things balanced, when Kevin isn’t drinking craft beer, he’s hiking or biking to keep his beer belly in optimal shape. Reach Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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