Robert Nowaczyk, left, and David Johnson with Fireman’s Brew beer at the company’s Canoga Park office.

Robert Nowaczyk, left, and David Johnson with Fireman’s Brew beer at the company’s Canoga Park office. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

Beer maker Fireman’s Brew Co. is spreading like wildfire.

In the last 10 months, the Canoga Park company expanded its distribution beyond California’s borders, to Arizona, Colorado and Illinois. The new year brought distribution deals in Nebraska, Nevada and Rhode Island, and this month, the company announced it has signed contracts to expand even farther, to Iowa, Oklahoma, Virginia and New York state.

David Johnson, chief operating officer for Fireman’s Brew, said the company wants a presence in all 50 states.

“Our goal has always been to become a national brand,” he said. “It’s finally starting to come to fruition now. We’re in 11 states and we’ve got 39 more to go.”

Fireman’s Brew began getting attention from major beer distributors shortly after the company landed an order from Compton supermarket chain Ralphs in late 2011.

“Getting into Ralphs was a game-changer for us,” Johnson said.

To keep the momentum going, Fireman’s Brew recently bulked up its leadership team, hiring Don Lake, a 30-year veteran of the beer industry, as executive vice president of national sales.

Lake, former president of Warsteiner USA, the U.S. arm of German beer company Warsteiner Gruppe, is already working to nail down distribution contracts in New Jersey, Florida and the Pacific Northwest. He said the plan is to grow the beer brand’s visibility on the coasts before focusing on states in between.

“We will be shortly hiring field managers and putting them in key places,” he said.

To fund the company’s latest growth spurt, Fireman’s Brew in January announced a $5 million private stock offering to California residents, with shares selling for 80 cents each. The offering, the third for Fireman’s Brew, will close in September. The minimum purchase is 6,250 shares for $5,000 for qualified investors.

Johnson said a previous offering that yielded $835,000 was instrumental in getting the company’s initial out-of-state expansion efforts rolling. Fireman’s Brew invested the money into expanding their brewing capacity in Ukiah, giving the company the means to make six times more beer in a single batch.

But nationwide expansion isn’t cheap, particularly for a small beer company.

Julia Herz, program director for the Brewers Association, a craft beer trade group in Boulder, Colo., said shipping to the East Coast will be a challenge for the West Coast microbrewery.

“It’s very expensive to ship beer,” she said. “It’s heavy.”

It’s also perishable. Most mass-produced beer is flash pasteurized before shipping, ensuring a longer shelf life. But smaller batch craft beers are often unpasteurized for optimal flavor. That means a shorter shelf life and the need to use expensive refrigerated trucks for shipping in warmer weather.


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