Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Heady days ahead for Milly's
MANCHESTER -- Next month, Milly's Tavern will join the parade of Granite State craft-brewers marketing beers to stores and bars when it begins shipping Milly's Oatmeal Stout and Mt. Uncanoonuc Golden Cream Ale in 22-ounce "bomber" bottles.
It might seem like owner Peter Telge is joining the bandwagon with the new launch of Stark Brewing Co. But he's just jumping back on after a 20-year break.
While Milly's Tavern features more than a dozen original and seasonal brews, customers have only been able to take them home in 64-ounce growler jugs since the bar and restaurant opened in 2001.
That was several years after Telge gave up trying to distribute the beer he and brewer J.B. Smith made at the 500 Commercial St. brewery. Telge says they were just ahead of their time.
"It was not a very pleasant market for people like me," Telge said Thursday at the brewery, citing difficulty being accepted by the marketplace and distribution business. Getting an edge in the age of Bud and Miller was a losing battle.
Now Telge and brewery CEO Todd Griffin (you might know him as Mr. Green, formerly of the band Recycled Percussion) are giving the Stark brand a second chance in what they say is a renaissance for craft brewers in the Granite State, which at last count was up to 30 microbreweries.
The newly formed Granite State Brewers Association - which launched the Brew NH campaign last month with the Beer Distributors of New Hampshire and the state to promote the local beer industry - is the third attempt at such a trade organization over the years, Telge said.
He's certain it's different this time. While U.S. beer sales grew just 1 percent in 2012, the craft brewing segment grew 15 to 17 percent. And with his two children now in school, Telge said he's ready to become more involved in the brewing operation.
"We're starting with two brands, and then we're going to expand to multiple brands," he said. "Five or six brands and seasonals. Seasonals are huge. If you don't live in a closet, you've probably heard about my pumpkin ale." (The "other guys" use pumpkin pie filling, said Telge. He uses 300 to 400 pounds of whole pumpkins per batch that he buys from a local farmer.)
Telge bought a brewing system in 1994 that could produce 1,000 barrels of beer a year and upgraded it to a capacity of 2,500 barrels two years later when the company started shipping its beer. Much of that capacity has lain dormant since Stark gave up on distributing. Milly's Tavern produces about 500 barrels a year, he said. He also has a small bottling machine that he bought in the '90s that he has had tuned up again so it's ready to roll. He also has plans to sell his beers in cans, which has been a growing trend in the craft-brewing industry.
Telge is also on a mission with his fellow New Hampshire brewers to help change the attitudes of drinkers and bar owners to support local brews. While Vermont bars typically offer several local beers on tap, few Granite State bars offer more than one or two, if they do at all, Telge said.
"We need to change bar owners to think that New Hampshire beers are as good as Sam Adams and Long Trail and other out-of-state beers. And if they buy New Hampshire beers, they are supporting New Hampshire."
Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.