Black Frog Brewery is a hidden gem. The Holland-based startup, housed in the garage of owner Chris Harris, has thousands of drivers pass by everyday without the slightest idea of what is fermenting in the area’s newest brewery.
Harris walked down his driveway to offer a broad smile and a strong handshake. “I hope you like beer,” he said. He gave a tour of the small space that he and his father built together on one side of his garage. An insulated fermentation chamber, kept at a steady 68 degrees, is where all the action happens. Returning to the anteroom, stacked bins feature labels such as “Barley” and “Malt.” A 22-ounce bottle sits on a table, sporting a tan label that reads “Amphibian APA.”
He poured a glass for each of us. “I’ve been brewing for four years,” he said. “I started with a little Mr. Beer kit. My wife got me a wine kit earlier, but it just took too long. I made my first beer 30 days later. I thought, ‘Behold! I have made beer.’ Like any new hobby, I threw myself into it. Eventually, I started venturing into my own recipes.”
My sample of Amphibian APA was coffee-caramel colored with a thin layer of white foam on top, full of body and slightly sweet.
“I started working with different grains to see what I liked and settled on sweeter honey malts,” he continued. “I was hooked! But I could never drink all this beer so I started giving it to friends for feedback. Everyone liked it.”
Harris arrived at an epiphany, leading to a question for every hobbyist-turned-entrepreneur: “Man, I wonder if I can make a living doing this?”
In early 2013, he consulted with the local chamber of commerce to develop a business plan. Like most new ventures, the major costs are encountered upfront, and Harris started working overtime at his job with the Social Security Administration to save money. A big break came in July 2013, when Governor Kasich reduced the state brewing license fee from $4,000 to $1,000.
With all the proper documents in order, this “nano-brewery” began brewing on September 1. On October 18, Harris shipped his first order of 10 cases (roughly 100 bottles) to The Andersons on Talmadge Road. The order sold out in a week.
“I couldn’t be more ecstatic! The love everyone has been giving me is amazing. I knew I made good beer, but it’s such a good feeling to have that validated,” he said.
Harris’ process is simple:
he brews what he likes. Thus, the initial Black Frog lineup is the Amphibian American Pale Ale, Froglicious Honey Porter, and Cream of the Frog Cream Ale. These craft beers, part of Harris’ Hometown Series, are available at the Andersons store on Talmadge Road, and will make their way into other Andersons locations soon.
“The Andersons have been terrific partners to work with,” Harris said.
Looking ahead, Harris wants to expand his selection to include more tributes to the Frog City as well as a separate International Series to honor the global craft beer culture. He plans on expanding his humble brewery into a larger space next year to begin kegging for local restaurants and bars. Harris’ long term dream is to move his brewery into a storefront with a tap room where he can have a beer with Toledoans who share his passion.
“I love talking to people. I love drinking beer. This is like living the dream.”