Pearl Street Brewery will receive a total of $150,000 from a La Crosse County development fund to help the company take advantage of the rapidly growing thirst nationwide for craft beers.
The La Crosse-based brewery intends to roughly triple its production in the next five years, going from more than 3,000 barrels to 10,000 by 2020.
The business also will expand its bottling operation so it can distribute its beer more widely in Wisconsin, Minnesota and perhaps other surrounding states, said Joe Katchever, founder and brewmaster of the business.
“When you open it up in bottles,” Katchever said, “you put that beer in front of a lot more people.”
In that same five-year period, industry analysts predict craft beer production in the U.S. will skyrocket from the current 11 percent of the overall volume to 20 percent, Katchever said.
Because the products tend to command a higher price, craft beers now generate $19.6 billion of the overall $101.5 billion in U.S. beer sales, or about 19.3 percent of the revenue, according to the national Brewers Association.
The county’s Economic Development Fund Inc. will provide the money in two $75,000 installments, with the second released no earlier than March 2016, after Pearl Street Brewery has demonstrated some growth, said Brian Fukuda, La Crosse County community development specialist.
“The county is excited to be able to assist this business on what should be a really aggressive and big growth for the company,” Fukuda said Thursday.
The brewery still must obtain bank financing to receive the county loan, along with $150,000 from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Katchever said his company already has applied for the WEDC funding and hopes to have approval soon.
Terms of repayment have yet to be finalized.
“I’m very confident it was a good investment for the county,” Katchever said.
Established 16 years ago, Pearl Street Brewery last expanded when it moved to the former LaCrosse Footwear factory in 2005. The company will remain at 1501 St. Andrews St. but plans to invest about $1 million in new equipment and another $200,000 refitting the building.
Staff will be expanded as well, from about a dozen employees to an estimated 33 over the next five years, Katchever said.
Pearl Street Brewery now produces eight different bottled beers, plus some seasonal products and limited varieties of draft beers for taverns and restaurants, he said. It will introduce a Belgian-style raspberry ale called a framboise Friday and a new India pale ale made with a special, Wisconsin-grown hop later this summer, both in bottles.
The new IPA has been dubbed Linalool, for the key aromatic compound in those wild northern discovery hops that gives the ale a unique flavor.
“You won’t find a beer anywhere else in the world that has this type of hop ... this hop is off the charts,” Katchever said.
He’s confident the heightened interest in craft beers is not a passing fad. The movement harkens back to pre-Prohibition days when communities commonly had a local brewery, he said, and is part of a modern trend that supports locally-produced food.
“They want to know who brewed their beer,” Katchever said of the growing popularity, “and craft beer is so darn delicious they just can’t help themselves.”
It’s already spawned a secondary source of revenue for the business: Beer tourism. About 100 people on average tour Pearl Street Brewery each weekend, sampling their products and bringing money to the region, Katchever said.
“The county is excited to be able to assist this business on what should be a really aggressive and big growth for the company.” Brian Fukuda, La Crosse County community development specialist