After Springfield gained its 10th brewery this summer, another craft beer operation is in the works just southwest of town.
Battlefield City Administrator Frank Schoneboom confirmed Wire Road Brewery is planned for construction on land near Highway FF and Farm Road 172. He said the brewery ownership, Jeff Birchler and Cary Walker, first approached city officials about the concept back in May, and they’re likely just a couple of weeks away from being cleared for a groundbreaking. Secretary of state records list Birchler as organizer of Wire Road Brewery LLC, which was filed in April.
The land was annexed into the city over the summer and rezoned Sept. 1 to commercial from residential, Schoneboom said, adding no development incentives were provided for the owners.
“My first thought was this kind of brewery would be a really good fit in this community given the demographics,” Schoneboom said. “There’s a lot of professional people here at an age where they would enjoy craft beer.”
Schoneboom said the brewery site is less than a mile south of Republic Road and around five miles from Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. It sits near Highway FF and south of a strip mall occupied by a Domino’s restaurant and Battlefield Pharmacy. The brewery plans have indoor and outdoor seating – a priority of the owners – with a possibility of food trucks on-site, Schoneboom said.
“All along, their vision was a ground-up kind of facility,” he said. “There are places where if they wanted to move in, they could. But you’re not going to get that kind of seating in a strip mall environment.”
He deferred additional questions of the project to the owners, who declined to comment. When reached by phone, Birchler said he and Walker weren’t ready to make any formal announcement of plans, but they expect to soon.
To better understand the vision for Wire Road Brewery, Schoneboom said he and the owners this summer visited several Springfield breweries. With stops at 4 by 4 Brewing Co. LLC in Galloway Village and Lost Signal Brewing Co. downtown, as well as others, he said it educated him on brewery operations.
“They wanted to show me what they were talking about,” Schoneboom said. “Craft breweries are a lot different than taverns or bars. One of the things I discovered is these are more places where people congregated for a little while and then left.”
Andy Pearsall, co-owner of Show-Me Brewing LLC, discussed the beer-making process with the trio at his homebrew supply shop and brewery. He said roughly 30% of Show-Me Brewing’s 2019 revenue was generated by the sale of in-house craft beers. Declining to disclose figures, he said the demand’s been rising, as he estimates the revenue portion of 2018 beer sales at 20%.
“We don’t really advertise the tap room. It’s just by word-of-mouth,” Pearsall said, noting the brewery has around 12 taps and 80 beers that rotate. “From week to week, half the board’s different.”
Room to grow
Pearsall said the local craft brewery scene still isn’t saturated. “There’s still room, for sure,” he said, “especially in that area and side of town. The southwest area has a void that could be filled pretty easily.”
It’s a view shared by Tie & Timber Beer Co. LLC co-founder Curtis Marshall. During Springfield Business Journal’s 12 People You Need to Know livestream interview Oct. 20, he cited Statista data showing Missouri as the 29th largest state in craft beer breweries per capita. According to the report, Missouri has 3.1 breweries per 100,000 adults aged 21 years and older. Marshall said that leaves room for growth.
“We personally have not seen negative effects with other breweries coming into the market,” he said.
Brewery market growth also continues statewide. Missouri has 140 breweries in production, ranking 18th nationally, according to the Brewers Association.
While U.S. beer volume sales were down 2% in 2019, craft brewer sales grew 4%, reaching 13.6% of the total beer market, according to Brewers Association data. Last year, retail sales of craft beer increased 6%, up to $29.3 billion – accounting for over 25% nationally of the $116 billion beer market.
State and national growth of breweries, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is encouraging, said Sherry Wohlgemuth, executive director of the Missouri Craft Brewers Guild. The nonprofit has 50 members, including seven of Springfield’s breweries. It only had around 20 members when Wohlgemuth was hired in 2018. Annual dues are $250 for the first 100 barrels brewed.
“We’ve still had a few breweries join during the COVID time,” she said. “That gives us a little hope that things will be OK.”
The first microbrewery to set up shop just outside of Springfield was Back Home Brewing LLC in 2016.
The Ozark venture started as a full-service bar, but began serving in-house craft beers within months of opening, said co-owner Angie Lachner. Back Home has four of its 13 beers on tap at all times. Roughly 25% of sales come from their brews, she said, adding the brewery also offers pub food.
Lachner said Battlefield gaining a brewery would be a welcome sight, as it expands the craft beer footprint. However, she said solely focusing on local beers is unlikely for Back Home, as it has too many regulars who love the food or want other drink options.
“We were pretty realistic that if they wanted to come in for a Diet Coke or a pork tenderloin sandwich, we should have that offered too,” she said. “But for the people that like our beers, that’s all they come for.”
As Battlefield awaits the construction of Wire Road Brewery, Schoneboom said it’s not the only big project the city has recently gained. The Township Senior Living, a roughly $30 million venture, opened in 2019, as did Russell Cellular’s $6 million corporate headquarters.
Schoneboom expects the brewery to provide a unique and desired amenity for the city’s roughly 6,300 residents.
“One of the things that we hear from our citizens all the time is we wish we had a restaurant or a place where we could go to maybe have a beer and congregate,” he said. “From that perspective, this kind of fills a niche here.”
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