YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – There’s now a sign outside the new home of Penguin City Brewing, an old warehouse on the east end of downtown Youngstown. What started three and a half years ago is now sold in 400 locations.
How did it grow so fast and what was it like along the way?
Monday afternoon inside their cavernous warehouse, Richard and Aspasia Bernacki walked down the steps that will someday separate their brewery from the taproom and dining area.
“This is a bit unreal when we’re standing in this giant warehouse and we can say this is ours,” Richard said.
Unreal because the idea of pouring a glass of Penguin City Beer began not long ago in the summer of 2017.
“It’s my love of beer and enthusiasm for it that kind of was the catalyst for it,” Richard said.
But neither had more than a rudimentary idea of how to make beer. Once they settled on the name Penguin City, they spent a year researching, going through 15 recipes before deciding on a brew.
“Aspasia told me that’s it, you gotta stop. We’re never going to make any beer if you keep messing with this. So that was it,” Richard said.
There was also the branding, which was pure Youngstown — the can done in Mill Greens green, the red and gold of the original Youngstown College and a Golden Dawn schooner. Plus the slogan, “Tough times don’t last, tough cities do.”
“We wanted this beer to be not about us — for the people of our Valley. That was very important. We want this to be something that they could come along for the journey,” Aspasia said.
Their first batch was 31 barrels. It sold out in two weeks.
“No one besides us thought it would take off the way it did. Everybody said, ‘OK, yeah, brew a small batch and it’s going to take a while to go through that.’ It didn’t work out that way,” Richard said.
Not everything has gone smoothly. Penguin City tried a hard seltzer, which wasn’t exactly what they wanted, so production stopped and the recipe is being reformulated.
But, a deal with YSU to sell Penguin City at football and basketball games has worked out.
“You know, you have to have those downs. You have to have everything fall apart to prepare you and to make you stronger, which it has,” Aspasia said.
“The manufacturing of the beer, the distribution end, the sales. We’ve had to learn so much and made plenty of mistakes. We’ll make more, but because it’s so new to us, it’s very stressful,” Richard said.
Penguin City’s first batch was 31 barrels. Now, it’s up to 125. When the new brewery opens this summer, the plan is to do 200 and eventually get to 5,000 barrels a year.
Currently, it’s only distributed around Youngstown but there are plans to expand it into Pennsylvania and West Virginia.