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Originally Posted February 9, 2008
Sly Fox Brewing Company recorded a 29.3% overall increase in production in 2007 and moved to just shy of $1 million in total beer sales. Total barrelage was 4,643, up from 3,600 in 2006.

Specifically, 4,290 barrels of the total were brewed in Royersford, a 32% increase, and 353 barrels were brewed in the Phoenixville brewpub, a slight increase over 2006. In terms of dollars, sales broke down to 52% draught, 22% bottles, 26% cans in the company's second full year of packaging in addition to draught.

"A big key to our performance was the change in wholesalers to Origlio here in the Philadelphia market and Manhattan in the New York City market, two of the largest and best wholesalers in the East," says managing partner John Giannopoulos. "To have that type of higher profile distribution allowed us to penetrate the market a little bit deeper and faster. We're going to concentrate our efforts on growing the existing Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey markets even further in the immediate future. We have no plans to enter any new markets in 2008, except maybe to fill in some areas in Pennsylvania where we're not represented, perhaps make some changes in the western part of the state. We will eventually expand, of course, but we want to do it right and not overreach our capabilities to meet demand. Our long term goal is to be at 10,000 barrels by 2010, which means maintaining about the same rate of growth we had this year."

"Slow and steady is the way we want to approach things," agrees brewmaster Brian O'Reilly. "The idea is to stay in this plant as long as we can, until it makes sense to jump to a 40bbl brewhouse rather than spending money to move the current brewhouse and then outgrowing it in a couple of years. Ideally, when we do move, it will be to a new brewery of our own rather than a rented space. Maybe that's just a dream, but it's a nice dream."

The existing Royersford brewery grew considerably in 2007, with the addition of two 40bbl fermenters and three 40bbl brite tanks (its first). Overall, there are now nine 40bbl fermenters and six 20bbl fermenters along with the three brites. Crowded conditions in the plant, especially when there are pallets of contract brews for clients like Southampton Publick House of New York and Brewers Art of Maryland awaiting pick-up, will be alleviated greatly by a new off-site 7,000 sq. ft. warehouse which includes a large cold box, a used unit which the company purchased and refurbished. Deliveries of glass, malt and other supplies are already being received there and, once the cold box is fully operational, shipping will be moved there as well.

(The photo at left shows the nearly full current cold box at the Royersford site, a condition which will be alleviated when the new box is ready and both kegged and packaged beers can be moved to the offsite location for pickup by wholesalers.)

"It's somewhat inefficient, trucking beer over there for shipping and supplies back over here when we need them," says brewery operations manager Tim Ohst. "The ideal would be to have the space to do everything right here. But it's all part of making this plant as functional as it can be and building toward that larger brewhouse and eventual move."

A new piece of equipment which went online last fall is an inkjet date coder for cans. "It cost us $9,000," notes O'Reilly, "one of those expenses that the public doesn't always recognize although they appreciate the information it provides. We stamp a 'best by..' date on the cans for consumers so they can be sure the beer is fresh. It helps us as well. Sometimes it's hard to keep track of everything just based on our memories or to know exactly when beer returned from a wholesaler was actually brewed and packaged."

O'Reilly and Ohst say that just keeping up with demand for the existing year-round beers and the large number of existing seasonals and special releases will preclude the introduction of many new products this year, but that there are places for an Imperial Stout and a Smoked Weizenbock on the schedule, the latter a style requested by Mike "Scoats" Scotese of the Grey Lodge Pub. "Scoats has been one of our great supporters from the beginning," O'Reilly laughs, "so we try to give him what he wants." The brewers also assure concerned fans that the IPA Project, imperiled by the current industry hops crisis, will survive. "We have commitments now for enough hops to do ten varietals," Ohst says. "We might not make that many if something goes wrong, but we will definitely have enough beers to make the program work. Also, by switching to sixtels for off premises accounts rather than halves, we will be able to expand the Project further into the New York market, where there is incredible demand."

Another item that customers have shown a strong interest in, O'Reilly's Stout in nitro cans, has moved to an experimental stage. "We finally got in a half pallet of 16oz widget cans," says O'Reilly, "and doing that wasn't easy, trust me. We are going to be testing them to see what we can do. The big issue is getting the amount of nitrogen in equal proportions into every can using our canning line. Even if we can achieve that, it would take a really large investment of funds. I'd say this year would be a long shot for that project, but we want to do it if we can pull it off."

Finally, the dormant cask ale program still lurks enticingly just over the horizon. "We want to do it, we have the handpumps in place in Phoenixville, we just need the time and the money to buy enough firkins, assuming we can find firkins," says O'Reilly. "I really want to make true cask ale, do it right, because I think we could build a real customer base for that product. And it would be a smash hit for New York, where they do a lot more real cask ale than we do down here."

Sly Fox has a broad and probably unique packaging program featuring its four canned beers, Pikeland Pils (a Gold Medal winner at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival), Phoenix Pale Ale, Royal Weisse and Dunkel Lager. The first two are year-round releases; the latter two are spring/summer and fall/winter seasonal releases. There are five beers packaged in caged, corked 750ml bottles: Ichor Quadruple, Incubus Tripel, Saison Vos, Black Raspberry Reserve and Christmas Ale. The flagship Rt. 113 IPA is available year-round in the increasingly popular 22oz "dinner bottle" size, Oktoberfest and Odyssey Imperial IPA are released in that format seasonally and there is a rotating 22oz-packaged beer released every January. In 2007 it was Instigator Doppelbock (a Bronze Medal winner at GABF 2007); for 2008 it is Gang Aft Agley Scotch Ale.

In addition to the year-long IPA Project, which culminates on IPA Project Day each December, a date on which all the varietals are on tap at once and Odyssey Imperial IPA, brewed with all those varietals, is released, Sly Fox has two other major events which draw beer aficionados from states as far away as North Carolina and Maine to its Phoenixville Pub. The annual Bock Festival and Goat Race is held on the first Sunday of May and is marked by the release of the annual Maibock, which is named on the spot after the winning goat in the day's multi-heat competition, and the Robbie Burns Birthday Bash every January, celebrating Scotland's most famous poet, during which Gang Aft Agley makes its annual debut. Finally, the annual ten-week St. Patrick's Day Boot Camp draws a steady stream of O'Reilly's Stout fans to both the Phoenixville and Royersford locations from mid-January to March 17, at which a drawing determines the winner of a free trip to Ireland.

Originally Posted February 18, 2008

Sly Fox Dunkel Lager was named Best of the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast region in the Dark Lager category at the recently completed United States Beer Tasting Championship Winter Competition judging.

Incubus Tripel finished second in the regional voting among all Belgian Ales and both Odyssey Imperial IPA and Christmas Ale were also highly rated, according to an email sent to brewmaster Brian O'Reilly by USBTC Co-founder Jeff Glor.

The awards are part of a continuing pattern of recognition at USBTC competitions since the brewery's packaged products were first entered in 2006. In the Summer 2007 judging, Saison Vos was selected as the best Saison the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast regional judging and Phoenix Pale Ale was given an Honorable Mention in the Pale Ale category. For Summer 2006, Rt. 113 IPA was named the best India Pale Ale in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast Region.

The United States Beer Tasting Championship is a semiannual event that strives to identify the best tasting beers in the United States. The competition is held in multiple stages, beginning with a series of field trials wherein judges sample beers of similar styles and select the best to advance on to subsequent rounds. Field trials determine regional winners in each category and the top beers are then pitted against each other in order to name a national grand champion. The USBTC is held each year in two separate sessions, one in July (for spring/summer beers) and one in December (for fall/winter beers).

Originally Posted February 26, 2008

The initial shipment of beer kegs produced by Geemacher LLC, a partnership between Sly Fox Managing Partner John Giannopoulos and Christian Messmacher formed last spring, arrived from China in January and the 850 units (500 half-kegs, 350 sixtels) are now in the hands of their purchasers: Sly Fox itself, Yards Brewing of Philadelphia, Otto's Brewery & Pub in State College, Butternuts Beer & Ale in New York, Court Avenue Restaurant & Brewing in Iowa and Mission Brewery in San Diego.

A second container of pre-sold, embossed kegs shipped February 21, Giannopoulos said, adding that Geemacher hopes to introduce quarter-kegs into its line before year's end and is "really hoping to do firkins before the year is out as well. That's a pretty underserved segment of the market." The company is currently booking orders for the fifth container of kegs.

The first Geemacher kegs actually arrived in the U.S. in October, production samples which were tested by Tosca, Ltd. in Green Bay, Wisc., one of the country's leading companies servicing and managing returnable containers.

Geemacher's manufacturing partner is an ISO-9002 certified stainless steel manufacturer located in Penglai in northern China. Currently, all kegs are embossed at the factory but Giannopoulos and Messmacher are in the process of developing a piece of equipment which will allow them to emboss already assembled and formed kegs in their Royersford warehouse.

"Kegs at the factory are embossed while the metal is still flat, so it's a bit tricky figuring out to do it on a curved surface." Giannopoulos said. "Our business plan is to cater to craft brewers and we want keep a inventory of blank kegs in our warehouse so that, when someone calls and needs 50 of them right away, we can emboss the buyer's name right there and ship them out within two or three days." "While we are hearing that our prices are a little lower than those of our competitors," he noted, "we're not selling on price, but on service."

The new company was created to meet a clear market demand. The rising price of stainless steel, an increase in stolen or non-returned kegs by customers who then sell them for scrap, the loss of the major US manufacturer of kegs last year and the need arising from the growth of the craft beer segment in recent years have made it both expensive and difficult for breweries to buy additional cooperage.

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