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Pittsburgh Brewing hires new CEO

Monday, July 8, 2013, 11:21 a.m.
 

New CEO Brian Walsh believes Pittsburgh Brewing Co., the maker of Iron City and IC Light beers, can grow again by wooing drinkers who want to reach for an authentic, local brand with a nostalgic appeal.

Named Monday, Walsh takes over the 150-year-old brewery after several tumultuous years that had a CEO come and go and promised gains in production that never materialized. He replaces Rob Matteucci, who was named interim CEO in May.

“In the beverage business today, there's a real push of people buying local,” Walsh said. “The Iron City brands have equity that can be moved back into the business.”

Walsh, 58, comes to Pittsburgh after six years with Long Trail Brewing Co., a Vermont craft brewery that more than doubled volume and revenue under his leadership. Long Trail is ranked No. 27 in the country by volume, according to the Brewer's Association, a Denver trade association. Pittsburgh Brewing is No. 37.

Pittsburgh Brewing, which was bought by New York-based private equity firm Uni-World Capital LLC in 2011, is on track to produce about 90,000 barrels of its brews this year.

That's the same output as 2012 and 2010, the year before Edwin Lozano took over as CEO and promised a 17 percent increase. Lozano abruptly left Pittsburgh Brewing in May. Lozano has said he and Uni-World had a “difference of management and strategy.”

In 2009, before the company moved production from its original brewery in Lawrenceville, it produced 165,000 barrels. In the early 1980s, it produced about 1 million barrels a year.

Walsh declined to offer a specific target for production but said he is “committed to growth.”

Pittsburgh Brewing still is headquartered on Liberty Avenue, but it contracts beer production with the City Brewing Co. plant in Latrobe.

Walsh said he plans to raise sales by better connecting with customers in Western Pennsylvania through more active and aggressive marketing, both in bars and at distributors, in media and with the company's sponsorship of the Pirates.

It doesn't hurt that the Bucs have a winning record and are generating a lot of excitement among fans in Pittsburgh, he added.

Walsh envisions Iron City and IC Light fitting into similar niches in the beer industry as Yuengling, made by D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. of Pottsville, and Pabst Brewing Co.'s Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Yuengling has grown to No. 4 on the list of largest brewers in America by building on its heritage as a regional brewer and the country's oldest family-owned brewery, Walsh said. Pabst, at No. 3, has surged in popularity in recent years on a wave of nostalgia for original American beer brands, he said.

“I think we can play in that market,” Walsh said.

Cris Hoel, a beer industry attorney in Pittsburgh who used to represent Pittsburgh Brewing, said it's been difficult to watch the company decline for the past 20 years through mismanagement. The hiring of Walsh is a positive sign because of his track record in the beer industry, Hoel said.

“People I trust in the industry have a high regard for Mr. Walsh,” he said.

While Pittsburgh Brewing has lost most of its power in the local market, “there is still a reservoir of good will for this brand in the community,” he said.

“If Mr. Walsh can avoid quick fixes and hollow gestures, and rebuilds the brand authentically, I think he can succeed.”

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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