It’s been a little more than a year since the Rhinelander Brewing Company reintroduced the Rhinelander Export Lager “Shorty” (7 oz) bottle back to the open market, and while sales of the “new” product with a decidedly retro flare haven’t approached the lofty goals put in place by company management, ‘Shorty’ is slowly building a devoted following, not only in the Northwoods, but nationwide.
Last year, Jyoti Auluck, the President/Owner of Rhinelander Brewing Company, served as the Master of Ceremonies for a party unveiling her company’s newest product. According to Auluck, the project took more than two years of hard and often frustrating work to complete, requiring a sizeable capital investment, including creating brand new molds for the Shorty style bottle, creating a retro label design, equipping Monroe-based Minhas Craft Brewery to package the unusually shaped Shorty bottle, and most importantly, working diligently to perfecting the recipe and creating the taste of the original Rhinelander Shorty beer. After that, it was up to Brenda O’Rourke of Rhinelander to sell the fledgling brand with the familiar name.
According to O’Rourke, Rhinelander Brewing Company’s Marketing Coordinator, sales of Rhinelander Export Lager, including the “Shorty” bottles, has been steady. In fact, the initial buzz on the product last summer was too much for the company to handle.
“Last summer we did almost too well,” said O’Rourke. “We ran out of stock, and had to wait several weeks for the brewery to catch up. It was one of those good, yet frustrating problems.”
Last September the company took another step toward growing their brand, introducing four “Rhinelander Craft Brews” that add a twist to the traditional Export Lager taste. They include Chocolate Bunny, Mystical Jack, Imperial Jack and Thumper.
“The other craft brews are doing really well, too,” said O’Rourke. “The trend right now is to offer different flavors, and that’s what we’re doing. The response has been great.”
Auluck, who has a background in finance and retail beverage sales, purchased the historic Rhinelander brand due to its untapped potential in the beer market. She said last year that while the down economy has hindered business expansion, the popularity of “retro brews” such as Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon made the Rhinelander brand name a potentially profitable purchase.
“Retro brands are making a huge comeback in the beer market right now,” said Auluck last June. “The older generations want to remember the beers that they drank when they were younger, and the younger generations are looking for something different. I’m very optimistic about the future of this brand.”
O’Rourke has been able to get the Rhinelander brand out there, too, not only in the upper midwest but all over the country. The Rhinelander Shorty can be found not only in hundreds of Northwoods establishments, but also in taverns as far away as southern Indiana, Kansas and Nebraska.
“You can find our beers all over the place now,” said O’Rourke. “We have every bit of Wisconsin covered, and have worked very hard in the last six months to expand to other states. The goal is to get that ‘Rhinelander’ name out there as much as we can.”
Auluck said last year that she hoped to increase sales volume to the point where opening a Rhinelander Brewing Company brewery in the city will make sense. She said the company would need to brew 30,000 barrels annually to justify building a brewery in Rhinelander.
“Right now we are at about 5,000 barrels, but that number is increasing,” said O’Rourke. “It hasn’t grown as fast as probably a lot of us wanted it to, but it is going in a positive direction. I know that Jyoti still has the ambition to build a brewery in Rhinelander.”
The historic Rhinelander Brewery closed its Ocala Road plant in 1967, following an 85-year run. The Joseph Huber Brewing Company purchased the Rhinelander brands as well as their recipes, which they soon changed. Despite a precipitous drop in sales volume, the beer has been continuously produced in Monroe for the last 42 years.
Editor’s note: For more information on the Rhinelander Brewing Company, visit rhinelanderbrewery.com.