Crooked River passes for the masses

Last summer, Crooked River Brewing Co. was on its death bed. Last month, the brewery unveiled a new product, a splashy advertising campaign and an eyebrow-raising marketing campaign.

Expansion Draft — released in a shower of media attention on the day of the new Cleveland Browns’ expansion draft — is Crooked River’s first new product since last August, when the company avoided liquidation with a $700,000 last second gulp of cash.

What makes the new beer so daring is that it’s precisely the product that makes most microbreweries (and craft-beer enthusiasts) turn up their noses: cold-filtered classic American beer. If the terminology sounds familiar, you’ll find similar words on cans of Budweiser and Miller High Life.

“Before we were hitting the smaller markets,” says majority owner David Snyder. “Now we’re going after the Budweiser drinkers.”

So, will beer-swilling Browns’ fans pay a premium price for a gulping-style brew? In the first weeks after the NFL expansion draft, the answer seemed to be yes. According to Snyder, sales were on pace to meet the hoped-for 9,000 cases by the end of February.

Snyder, who put $500,000 of his own money into the August rescue of Crooked River, plans to keep the company moving forward this year by launching new products (“Perhaps a wheat beer,” he says), and by re-labeling some of the existing beers.