Eli Fish Brewing Co. is counting on Sanzo Beverage to distribute and promote its core brands, with the goal of introducing Western New York to the independent brewery’s expertise in the craft beer industry and to attract beer lovers to the City of Batavia.
Owners and key employees of the two Batavia businesses announced the joint venture Monday afternoon at the Eli Fish location at 109 Main St.
“We’ve been established as a maker of fine products and for our restaurant in Batavia and we just celebrated our third anniversary,” said Matt Gray, Eli Fish co-owner. “We’ve grown each and every year, and the next logical step is to start this distribution in our own home territory and we’re really thrilled about partnering with Sanzo Beverage.”
Rick Sanzo, owner of Sanzo Beverage, which has been in Batavia since Jan. 1, 1995, said his distribution system is set up for Eli Fish to grow its market share.
“I always told Matt that I would be interested in being a part of Eli Fish if the opportunity every arose,” Sanzo said. “Now, they are making enough beer – they have the tanks to support a mobile canning line – for the hauling of cans and kegs (draft beer). Matty finally let me know that they had the capacity, that they could branch out and we were very interested in branching out with them.”
Sanzo said his company currently trucks beer to Genesee, Wyoming, Orleans, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties and has a group that will distribute it to Erie, Niagara and Monroe counties.
“Batavia is making great beer and Adam (Burnett, the head brewer at Eli Fish) is very well respected in the brewing industry. If we can get it into people’s hands and make Batavia a destination – get people to come here and try the beer – we think it’s great for our community as there are a lot of locally owned businesses that people can go to here.”
Initially, the plan is to distribute three principal brands -- Strange Days, a Scotch ale; Pillow Talk, a witbier (Belgian wheat), and Maple Blueberry Sunshine, a Six Flags Darien Lake co-branded product. The latter is brewed, packaged and sold by Eli Fish for Darien Lake to sell under its name.
“We’re excited about the initial launch of Strange Days, Pillow Talk and Maple Blueberry, both in cans and draft,” said Mark Stark, vice president/craft for Sanzo Beverage. “The nice thing about having a hometown brewery in our network is that if you have the obscure place that is looking for something a bit different, Eli Fish has 23 varieties on tap. We can come and get them because they’re right in our backyard, and we are able to provide these brews to our customers.”
Burnett said that 23 of the 24 beers on tap at the brewery are Eli Fish-made beers, with the other being a cider that is mixed outside of Batavia.
“We have light lagers, pale ales, IPAs (India Pale Ale), stouts, sours, fruited beers and seltzers,” Burnett said. “I try to keep at least two or three of each of those on all the time.”
Eli Fish co-owner Jon Mager handled the brewing on a full-time basis when the business opened, but now assists Burnett.
“I was brewing everything for about a year but working with my other day job (as the owner of Arctic Refrigeration), it started to take a toll,” he said. “I knew Adam from high school and we brought him in full time. Now, I relieve Adam when he needs a break.”
Burnett pointed out that they get all of the malt needed for the brews from Batavian Ted Hawley, who provides it from his Bank Street Road location.
“About 95 percent of beer is malt while hops are minimal,” Burnett explained. “A normal batch of beer is going to be 500 pounds of malt and five pounds of hops. We dechlorinate city water and use salts to make the profile mimic the styles were trying to create.”
Gray said his company has done “very limited self-distribution to a couple local restaurants in town that we have relationships with (including Alex’s Place, which he also owns).”
Sanzo said his drivers will take the beer to restaurants, bars, stores – any venue that has a liquor license.
“They’re already partnering with Darien Lake so that’s a huge sampling opportunity. Maybe this year, the amphitheater will open up again and we can do some sampling there, too,” he said.
Eli Fish also makes Muckdog beer – the official craft beer of the Batavia Muckdogs, who open their baseball season at Dwyer Stadium on June 4.
Gray said he hopes that getting Eli Fish beer to other locales will result in more traffic in Downtown Batavia.
“We’re a community-focused business and we love being downtown, We chose to be downtown for a reason,” he said. “We hope that people who do visit here walk downtown, go to other restaurants and other bars, and go shopping. It helps the entire community.”
For more information about Eli Fish Brewing Co., go to its website – www.elifishbrewing.com.
Photo at top: Jon Mager and Matt Gray of Eli Fish Brewing Co.; Rick Sanzo of Sanzo Beverage, and Adam Burnett, head brewer for Eli Fish; bottom, Adam Burnett stands next to brewing apparatus. Photos by Mike Pettinella.