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Murrysville-based Rivertowne Brewing growing by leaps, bounds and hops

| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Murrysville Star
James Alexsander and Dale Walters put the finishing touches on the beer before packaging.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Murrysville Star
Chris Raffert pours a draft in the tasting room at Rivertowne Brewing’s Murrysville brewery.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Murrysville Star
Rivertowne Brewery is expanding its business.

Having expanded into West Virginia at the end of 2013, Murrysville's Rivertowne Brewing looks to continue its momentum by having its beer flow into two more states within the next couple of months.

Thanks to new distribution deals in North Carolina and New Jersey, the colorful cans of Rivertowne beer will be sold in six states — including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida — by the end of first quarter of 2014. With consumers thirsty for craft beer, the brewery has been growing by leaps, bounds and hops.

Rivertowne — which operates four restaurants, including a Monroeville brew pub where it used to brew all of its beer — opened its beer factory along Old William Penn Highway in December 2012. Since then, the company has been working to expand its name recognition and the reach of its product.

Last month, the brewery installed a new can-labelling machine to give the baby brewery more flexibility in producing smaller batches and also the ability to print specialty cans in short notice, said company brand manager, Megan Emanuel. Without the machine, the company missed out on taking advantage of the Pirates fever that swept through the region this fall in part because of the amount of time it took to design and print a can out of house.

The company also hired an additional brewer, an event coordinator, two sales reps, and two beer production line workers.

The facility has the potential to produce 53,000 barrels annually and more if the company uses off-site storage. The company produced nearly 10,000 barrels in 2013 — which is about three times as much as it brewed as 2012— and plans are for it to brew about 15,000 barrels in 2014.

The 53,000-barrel annual capacity is large enough to service a region like Pittsburgh, said Peter Reid, publisher of Modern Brewery Age magazine.

“Once you get past 30,000 barrels, the venture becomes more profitable and you can serve a regional market at that level,” Reid said. “There are a lot of components to it. You don't want to throw your beer out on the market; you need seedlings first.”

Aside from expanding its distribution network, Rivertowne made several marketing moves to attempt to take full advantage of the brewery's potential volume.

With about a million more barrels of craft beer expected to be available to consumers in this year, it's imperative that craft breweries do what they can to grab the attention of customers, Reid said.

Marketing beer in Pittsburgh goes beer-in-mug together with sports. In 2013, Rivertowne bought the naming rights to the Hall of Fame Club at PNC Park and opened its own branded bar in section 106 at Consol Energy Center.

The company also does what Reid called “within the sight of your smokestacks” marketing by reaching out to communities and holding fundraisers.

“With opening the brewery, we did heavy marketing in the local Pittsburgh area,” Emanuel said. “But probably more than that, we do a lot of community involvement things with the local chambers and rotaries and sponsor several charity events and golf outings and had several big events on our own.”

Last April, the brewery hosted a Pro-Am Rendezvous, a competition that attracted 24 amateur brewers. The party brought together 350 people and proceeds were split between a local homeless shelter education fund and fire departments. A Craft-Brew Rendezvous is being planned for May 30.

For a recent kick ball tournament, Rivertowne worked with the Monroeville Rotary. Proceeds from the event purchased three electric bicycles designed for handicapped children. Last July, a Rivertowne golf outing raised money for the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation.

“One of our employees has a son who is 2 years old, and he has hemophilia, so that hit pretty close to home for us so we decided to put efforts toward helping him and supporting the hemophilia community,” Emanuel said.

It's part of Rivertowne's owner's philosophy.

“That is Christian Fyke, our owner. He believes that that is the number one contributor to the success of the business,” Emanuel said.

Bob Pajich is a contributing writer with Trib Total Media.

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