Clean, consistent, quality beers pan out; Stark County brewery’s straightforward approach fuels growth … and national recognition.

People throughout Stark County love to drink handcrafted beers brewed by Royal Docks Brewing Co.

It turns out that people all over the state of Ohio — and beyond — do, too.

Last month, Royal Docks ranked No. 5 on the Brewers Association’s inaugural list of the fastest-growing small and independent craft brewing companies of 2017.

The Brewers Association, a Boulder, Colo.-based trade group representing more than 4,000 small and independent American breweries, based its list on percentage growth of production volume from 2016 to 2017.

Royal Docks brewed about 2,300 barrels of beer in 2016 and approximately 3,200 last year. A barrel is 31 gallons of beer.

“Growth is fine, but we place our focus squarely on brewing clean, consistent, quality beer that’s easy to drink,” said Royal Docks’ brewmaster Dave Sutula. “If your position is right, it’s a reflection of who you are and what you do. Stay true to it, and good things will happen.”

According to Royal Docks’ website (docks.beer), the brewery is “jazzed about making good beer … and sharing it with our friends and neighbors.”

Royal Docks Article Body Photos

Focusing on this simple, foundational business philosophy is precisely why Royal Docks has seen early success.

John Bikis and Sutula opened the doors of Royal Docks’ kitchen and taproom in Jackson Township’s Marketplace at Nobles Pond in September 2015. All beer had been brewed there until demand exceeded production capacity.

Continued growth called for the opening of a new brewhouse and cannery earlier this month within a stone’s throw of the kitchen and taproom. The new production facility is 24,000 square feet and features a 60-barrel, Italian-made Simatec brewing system.

Sutula expects to brew nearly 5,000 barrels of beer in 2018. The five-year goal is 10,000 barrels. That translates into a lot more people getting a taste of Stark County.

The kitchen and taproom will remain fully operational. Smaller batches of experimental beers will be brewed there. The brewhouse and cannery will not be open to the public initially, but eventually will be.

Sutula said a deal with Heidelberg Distributing has helped get Royal Docks beer “from Youngstown to Toledo and from Cleveland to Athens, even into Columbus.” The brand soon will be available in the Cincinnati and Dayton markets, which means that Stark County beer will now be for sale in every major Ohio market.

Royal Docks has reached distribution in about 4,000 bars, bottle shops, grocery stores and other retail locations in Ohio through Heidelberg. Soon, there will be six Heidelberg trucks wrapped with Royal Docks graphics showcasing Stark County pride throughout Ohio. The brewery also has a fleet of its own vans locally.

The brewery has produced roughly 60 different beers since 2015, and has released 15 beers in cans for retail sale. New 2018 spring can releases include Leatherhand (an IPA), Backyard Crusher (a Shandy-like summer drinking beer), Daemonium (a Belgian-style tripel), and two popular returning beers, Pendragon (a Rarewit) and Crime of Passion (a fruity IPA).

Royal Docks employs approximately 31 people and will be hiring more as it continues to ramp up at the brewhouse and cannery.

Those local people compete with national craft beer brands including Dogfish Head Brewery and New Belgium Brewing Co., regional brands like Fat Head’s Brewery and Platform Beer Co., and other local breweries including Shale Brewing Co and Thirsty Dog Brewing.

But, Sutula says Royal Docks won’t roam far from what’s working, or its Stark County roots. The brewery will continue to work closely with other Stark County businesses and support local charities.

“We get involved here in Stark County,” he said. “We’ve provided a lot of support, and we’ve gotten a lot, too. Working together helps us build a stronger community.”

Sutula will be happy if in five years the new brewhouse and cannery is humming right along, brewing and canning beers that the people of Stark County — and beyond — love to drink.

If Royal Docks isn’t the biggest brewery around, that’s OK.

“As long as our employees are satisfied with their work, are able to work a ten-hour day, and get to spend quality time at home with their families, that will be a great success as far as I’m concerned,” Sutula said.

That’s the kind of Stark County success that tastes just as refreshing as a cold Backyard Crusher on a mid-summer day.