Tapping into the Craft Beer Market

Standing behind the recently installed bar, Sean Kiser lifts a glass marked with the Eclipse Company Store logo to one of the beer taps as “Listen to the Music”...
Max Catalano

Standing behind the recently installed bar, Sean Kiser lifts a glass marked with the Eclipse Company Store logo to one of the beer taps as “Listen to the Music” by The Doobie Brothers plays in the background. He raises his left arm — appropriately tattooed with the word “home” with the outline of Ohio as the “o” — to pull the lever as his other hand tilts the glassware to achieve the perfect pour. He hands the drink to a waiter who delivers it to a table of customers. He’s waited for moments like this for years.

“[It’s] finally nice to actually unlock the door and have people coming in,” he says.

Kiser has owned the Eclipse Company Town building for almost four and a half years. He originally intended to use the space as another Kiser’s Barbeque location, but his plans were derailed when the Ohio Department of Transportation considered filling the median on U.S. Route 33, which would cut off quick access to Athens. The Eclipse Company Store became a rental and wedding facility, and Kiser put his business plans on hold until the staff constructed an outdoor concert stage in March 2016.

“As soon as we started seeing that go up, it was like all right, let’s get back to the idea of doing an everyday business,” Kiser says.

Although Kiser doesn’t drink, he wanted to tap into the craft beer market. He and General Manager Brandon Lackey, who experienced the brew craze while he lived in Cincinnati, knew it was the perfect time to create a craft beer hall in Athens.

“[Kiser] always had this vision,” Lackey says. “But when I joined on, us together as a collaborative came up with this idea that we should probably go out and do this because it seems like the perfect time to get it going.”

As soon as the last scheduled rental finished in January, they started renovating the building so it would be ready for opening day on March 14.

They laid new floors, added tables made from local wood, purchased pool tables and built the bar, complete with a mural by local artist Keith Wilde. Kiser says Wilde tried “to make it as Athenian as possible.”

“That’s why you see the hills, kind of representing [the] Appalachian area in which we live and farming and food and communities and music and stuff,” Kiser says. “Just really highlighting Athens.”

Lackey plastered the white pillars with local brewery stickers and plans to add old tin signs to the walls to give the beer hall a rustic look. Classic arcade machines, were added to the second floor, but will continue to serve as a small, 50-person rental space.

In addition to the stage, picnic tables were added to the outdoor beer garden between the building and train tracks to create what Lackey calls a “German hall feel.” They installed a walk-in beer cooler so customers have easy access to drinks. Unlike cheaper drinks at Court Street bars, Eclipse Company Store serves more expensive brews in flights, pints, growlers and snifters.

“Our price points out here are not going to be for students to come out and just get wasted at,” Kiser says. “I mean, it’s going to be anywhere from $4 a pint to up to, some of these beers may cost $15 per beer.”

Eclipse Company Store has 45 taps: 40 for beer and five for sodas and other non-alcoholic beverages, which come in handy for family game nights on Wednesday evenings. Kiser says it’s important for people who are underage or don’t drink to be able to partake in the craft beer world.

Although drinks from local breweries are available, fresh, non-local beers will also be offered from time to time during tap takeovers.

“It’s a way to really highlight one of the distributors we have,” he says. “… It’ll be like an introduction to something nobody’s seen or had, so just new freshness.”

For a tap takeover, a brewery serves its beers on five taps for as long as the kegs last. On the day of each takeover in what Kiser calls a “one-night celebration,” the brewery will visit Eclipse Company Store and allow guests to sample their beers and learn about their operations. The first to take over was Deschutes Brewery from Portland, Oregon, which visited the beer hall on opening day.

“They had a great turnout, and everyone loved the beer,” Deschutes Marketing Manager Nikki Ghent says. “… The food was great, and the customers all seemed excited to be there. And many were inquisitive about Deschutes when I was walking around introducing myself.”

The beer hall also holds tap battles where two breweries compete for the title of most popular brew. At parties centered around the faceoff between two beers or breweries, Kiser says attendees try each brew and vote for which one they like best. Although the losing drink won’t leave the taps forever, the more popular brew could stay for much longer.

“What we’re really looking to do here is being able to keep our lineup fresh,” Kiser says. “So, we won’t really go with specific beers and keep them all the time.”

Kiser hopes to draw in students and residents of The Plains and Athens, as well as out-of-town visitors. In addition to happy hours and other discount events, the beer hall also hosts Thursday night pool tournaments. Instead of creating a bar similar to those on Court Street,Kiser encourages his customers to stay for the food, music, fun and beer samples.

“We really want this to be kind of a tourist, day trip kind of place,” he says.

Although Kiser may craft the beer hall’s burgers and wings with Kiser’s Barbeque sauce and hold an occasional barbeque buffet, he is set on making the Eclipse Company Store a separate business. That means splitting his time between the Kiser’s on East State Street and the new beer hall. His attention will be focused on the new business for now so he and the staff can create a schedule for upcoming beer elections to keep the menu fresh.

“This is going to be pretty much what brew week is every day,” Kiser says.” So, we have the ability for people to experience different crafts and really enjoy the beer.”

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