As a beermaker, Jeff Garwood says it doesn't get much better than Wisconsin.
Garwood's slate of Big Bay Brewing Company craft beers have been lining liquor and grocery selves and on tap at local taverns and the Shorewood tasting room for roughly two years now — with a four month gap between Big Bay debuting and the tasting room opening.
But recently, Garwood has expanded Big Bay's reach to Minnesota, shipping the craft beers to the twin cities.
“The most important state to us is Wisconsin; it’s our home, it’s a great beer state,” said Garwood, co-founder of the brewing company.
Being a microbrewer, Garwood says Big Bay doesn't necessarily have a marketing budget, so the tasting room serves as a way to get Big Bay beer into people's hands and boost brand recognition.
“You get instant feedback,” he said of the tasting room. “The feedback has always been positive for us.”
Garwood is also exploring placing Big Bay beers on selves in independent liquor stores and grocery store chains in northern Illinois.
The imagery behind the Big Bay brand fits in with the Minnesota area; and with the vacation traffic from Illinois to Door County — where Garwood says Big Bay has been a big hit — Big Bay could do equally well just to the south.
“A lot of the Chicago-land people are looking for our product,” he said.
Big Bay had pretty flat growth last year, Garwood said, but it was a capacity issue, which they fixed this year.
“As we fixed the capacity issue, we could start looking at expansion,” he said. “We would have loved to grow faster in 2012, but sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward.”
Big Bay unveiled its winter season beer, Portside, in December, and saw a lot of interest immediately.
“Our distributor was out of product by the first week in January," he said.
Its summer wheat beer, Summer Tide, will be back once the warm weather rolls back around, Garwood said.
This year's goal is to double the amount of barrels Big Bay brews, compared to last year, bringing its production to 2,400 to 3,600 barrels in 2013.
"When you look at some of the other brewers in the state, we are a huge underdog, but that would be good growth for us," he said. "We would be very pleased with that; I believe we can hit those numbers.
“I think even if we weren’t expanding, we would hit those numbers in Wisconsin."
Big Bay’s tasting room is open to the public and Garwood said is a great way to taste the microbrewers four beers and test some of the new brews on the horizon.