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Monday, February 7, 2011

The Lion continues to upgrade and expand

The Lion, PA's third-largest brewery (don't know why the story ignores the Samuel Adams brewery outside Allentown; because it's not PA-based?), gets some good press here. There's been a lot of crap slung about these guys, but they're just keeping their heads down, steadily improving the quality of their beer, and the range of their beer, and now they've got some real sales support. Read the piece; it's just another story about how smaller breweries are real engines of economic growth in this still flailing economy.

Thanks to Bil at MyBeerBuzz for the tip on the story. 


Professor Bartels said...

Glad for the lion, I am a big supporter. I just wish they didnt relegate their wonderful porter to the ranks of "occasional release" and make it difficult to find. also i've been unable to get sixtels for my home unit for some time now and they still have zero draft presence at the multi-taps. why? Oh, and there's that liebotschaner promise that has not happened.

Still, roar lion, roar.

Jon Geeting said...

Hey Lew - not sure if you've written about this before, but how do you think the PA alcohol laws affect small brewers? Do you think the cap on liquor licenses could be a handicap for them, since the sort of places that might open if it were less expensive to open a bar would be more likely to be clued in to the craft beer trend? Apologies if you've written about this before.

Lew Bryson said...

I think the PA bar licensing laws are close to a disaster, almost too flawed to fix. I'm really wary of unintended consequences, though; I'm not so sure your conjecture that lower-priced licenses would help craft beer places would hold up in the real world. Cheap-ass dives would thrive too; do we need more of those? I don't know, to tell the truth. It's an area that's fraught with indecision for me...but I'd love to learn more.

JessKidden said...

As far as actual capacity of the physical brewery, wouldn't The Lion be #4, after Boston-Breinigsville, Yuengling and the City facility in Latrobe? Rolling Rock was selling at around 1m bbl. a year at the beginning of the 2000's, all of it coming out of Latrobe.

I'm guessing the reporter meant the second largest PA. headquartered brewing company?

Any idea why The Lion never seems to make it onto the Brewers Association list of Top Overall 50 Breweries (i.e. not just "craft") list? Even Straub makes that at around 70k bbl/yr.

Lew Bryson said...

Put the capacity of the two Yuengling plants together...or do them separately? Separately, the new plant probably would come out first.
But it's a moot point; pretty sure this was intended to be by production, which would still put Yuengling first, then Sam Adams -- if we're talking 'in Pennsylvania' brewing plants, rather than companies -- and then...not sure how much production is actually coming out of The Lion and City. City is way down from that million barrel mark (Rolling Rock was down by the time it was sold) -- Iron City sales are limping -- and the Lion's beer figures have been pretty vague. So really? It's all guesswork.
Your other question is a good one. Does contract output count?

sam k said...

I would absolutely count contract output. It's beer that they are brewing, regardless of who it's for. It's my understanding that most of Lion's output is malta and/or soda. Their own beer brands are a very small part of the overall picture there. I don't know if anyone's sure how much beer they actually produce. I'm also convinced they still have no idea how to sell it, otherwise one of the planet's longest-brewed (and best) porters would still be in production.

Straub is nowhere near 70,000. Their capacity at St. Marys is 42,000 and they contract 8000 bbl of cans at Genesee. I'm also sure that they're not at capacity in St. Marys these days, either, so they're most likely around 45,000 right now.

JessKidden said...

Yeah, I agree, it's always confusing (especially when it's written in an non-beer industry publication). To me, a "brewery's" given size should be based on capacity, otherwise it should be the largest "brewing company" or "brand", etc.

The question of The Lion's actual sales of it's own brands has come up before, I'm thinking. (Maybe every year when the BA releases those Top 50 PR's). Over on BeerAdvocate a lot of PA posters complain about not being able to find Lion's brands at the distributors and I don't find many, either in NJ, where there are a few distributors that still list Lionshead and Stegmaier as their brands.

I see where City-Latrobe apparently lost some of the Pabst/Southampton contract brands (which had previously been done by The Lion) to Genesee and Matt, so I realize that brewery is well under it's potential production.

I kinda hope that the Memphis deal comes throught for Yuengling, 'cause if nothing else it'll be a great trivia question- PA's "largest brewing company" makes more beer in TN while MA's largest makes more beer in PA.

Lew Bryson said...

Sounds like we all agree that The Lion maybe should be focusing more on sales and distribution...

JessKidden said...

"sam k" re: Straub

Oops, that was a typo- I meant around 50K, and that was based on an estimate on where they landed on that BA Top 50 list for '09 - at #46. (BW article noted 45k for 2008, including contracted out cans I guess). 8k for cans alone, huh? Sounds like they're doing OK with them.

The 70,000 figure was in my head, because that was the claimed production of #50- Steven Point - which included both their brands and their contracted production for other breweries.

Lee Botschaner said...

I dont think it's a coincidence that when the price of steg porter almost doubled the availability of the product almost halved, at least in my area. A pricing decision that clearly made them just one of many porters rather than standing out among the crowd.

It is discouraging to see so little of their beer just 90 minutes from the plant. Thank goodness I still have 2 places to buy the porter, but the seasonals I cant find. the new owners have done a great job of killing off historic brands-- which is a shame.

Sam K-- you said Straub capacity is 42K but that they are "most likely around 45k this year." Assuming you mean 35K?

sam k said...

Lee--sorry, I meant they're at around 45K including the cans coming from Genny. I'm guessing they're at about 37K in St. Marys, a drop of more than 10% in the last couple of years.

We have an excellent Lion wholesaler in State College (Pletcher's) who hasn't been able to get porter in six months or so, so the porter still on the shelves is the better part of a year old, I'd guess.

Distributors also have no idea if there will be any bock produced this year, having heard no announcement of its pending availability. Lion killed Pocono Pale Ale long before the Stegmaier replacement became available, so there was no transition for customers of that brand, just abandonment.

I still think they have no idea how to tap the craft market, how to satisfy their loyal customer base (which is eroding due to inattention and lack of availability) nor how to sell what they've got, except Lionshead, which practically sells itself.

I am pleased to see the progress they've made with the physical plant, and I am still loyal to the brewery's specialty products (when I can get what I want), but I remain convinced that they are adrift as go sales and marketing. They don't even have any POS to hand their distributors, and by that I mean counter cards or other simple sales devices, for crying out loud.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the posters, Lion products, other than Lionshead,are difficult to get. The company seems to have big ambitions with their beers but never seems to follow through with them. How many times have they relaunched their lager product (1857,Steg 150, Amber Lager). Perhaps distributors are just as frustraed as consumers are. I know one local distributor who told me a few years ago, he used to sell a lot of the porter but when the price went up sales really dropped.

Lee Botschaner said...

Thanks Anon, that validates my speculation on the porter. It was too good a bargain at 15 bucks a case and sold well, then the combination of taxes going up and the faulty logic that it would be taken more seriously by beer geeks if they raised the price (please!) caused the price to almost double. Supplies dried up at that point and I often wondered what most of the thrifty guys I would see buying it did, probably abandoned it I supposed.

Sam K you are right, and the bock is not on the website anymore. WTF? The Steg bock was revered for quality and was ahead of yueng and genesee in release but they cant make it go?

Seems to me like a problem with management/sales. Management seems to pull the plug on things rather than build/support loyalty. All I know is I'm 90 minutes from the brewery and cant get seasonals and now the last time out i saw 3 cases of the porter (i'll take it a year old, still tastes good to me) and NO other stegmaier products... no mixed cases, lager, or anything.

and i've given up on getting kegs, which used to only be a pain (but now is impossible).

Took the IPA to an xmas party and a family member really flipped for it but all I could do was follow up with "well, it's in a mixed case if you are lucky enough to find that anywhere." Sale lost.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with everyone here- most other companies would kill for the loyalty that the Steg brand inspires, yet they can't seem to deliver the product into the eager cash-waving hands of their customers. Baffling. Maybe management has the misguided notion that Steg fans will wait as long as it takes for the product- I have been looking for the IPA and Pale mixed cases for a year and have never seen one, so that money eventually went to other breweries, and I don't just have $20-$30 to drop on beer at the math guys.