Hydro Street Brewing co-owner and brewmaster Aaron Adams offered nearly a dozen of his beers in bomber bottles over the last year.
Over the last year, Hydro Street Brewing has been seeking to expand its footprint by bottling some of its best-selling beers. The brewpub in downtown Columbus is releasing 22-ounce bombers to attract the interest of Wisconsin craft beer fans on the hunt for something new.
"When we put something into a bottle, liquor stores and grocery stores get excited, especially when it's something they have never had or something that seems rare because we are so small," says Aaron Adams, co-owner and brewmaster of Hydro Street.
Adams' brewery is one of the region's smallest, and produces its beer in three-barrel batches. "We're in a small town, and when I can make more beer than I need for Columbus or those who visit us," Adams explains, "bottling becomes a great way for us to get off-site."
While Adams has considered increasing the amount of kegged beer he sells to local taverns, getting onto tap lines is very competitive. Instead, he's decided to offer bomber bottles because they fit better with the quantities of beer he makes. Adams also feels there's a market beyond Columbus for his beer, and over the last few months, he's been trying to increase production and find additional retailers to offer it.
"They usually sell pretty fast because people looking for 22-ounce bottles want something they haven't had before, something that is hard to find," he notes. "We try to fill that niche."
However, keeping up with demand for bottled products can be challenging for a small brewpub like Hydro Street, where Aaron, his wife Sandy, and a few part-time employees have to stay on top of everything. When a beer is popular, just making enough for what is sold over the bar is the primary goal. Those in-house drinkers have to come first, particularly when the owners know many regulars on a first-name basis, and each has his or her own favorite.
So, in Hydro Street's case, when there's a lull in bottles on store shelves, it can mean that business is pretty good in the brewpub. "We are trying to keep up with demand," says Adams.
Hydro Street opened nearly three years ago in a century-old building on the main drag of Columbus, located northeast of Madison just off Highway 151. While Aaron does double-duty as brewmaster and chef, his wife and co-owner Sandy shares in the day-to-day running of the brewpub.
Building Hydro Street's presence on shelves around Madison happens only if Adams can keep up with everything else. "We ferment our beer in the basement of the building and carry it up stairs in sterilized buckets, five gallons at a time," he explains. Filling and capping each individual bottle is done by hand, in similar fashion to what a homebrewer does.
The Hydro Street beers most commonly available in bombers are Campfire Porter, the rich malty and strong Seven Sisters Scotch Ale, the muddy-brown and hoppy Crawfish River IPA, a light-bodied hefeweizen called It's Delightful Hefe, and the gluten-free Orange Balloon. Altogether, Hydro Street has offered some 10 different beers in bombers over the last year.
As a rule, Adams selects his strong beers for bottles. "I really don't like to have the biggest and strongest beers on tap in the brewpub for a long time. I'm more comfortable with customers drinking them at home," he says.
A good example of this approach is Golden Creek, a strong Belgian-style golden ale that finishes at 10% ABV. And earlier this year Adams bottled a very limited amount of Seven Sisters Scotch Ale aged in apple brandy barrels; this one exceeded 10% ABV.
For most styles, Hydro Street bottles only about 30 gallons at time, which figures to be around 150-175 bombers. Adams also designs the label graphics for the bottles. Aaron and Sandy also handle the distribution by personally delivering their beer to retailers. The brewpub's bombers generally sell for $8-11 apiece, and can commonly be found at Cannery Wine and Spirits in Sun Prairie, Miller & Sons in Mount Horeb and Verona, and Trixie's in Madison.
If Adams can find time to stay on top of the brewing demands over the winter months, he wants to add at least one new beer to Hydro Street's bottle line-up. "In the winter months we like to do the extra-dark and extra-bodied beers," he explains. "I would like to brew something special for bottles."