Sawmill Brewing Company voted America’s favorite brewery
BY TINA L. SCOTT
The Sawmill Brewing Company was voted most popular brewery in America in the Hop Passport 2023 March Brewsanity Tournament that concluded on April 23.
Hop Passport markets breweries, distilleries, meaderies, and cideries by selling digital and paper coupon books to consumers, and this was the company’s first ever such tournament to allow fans and customers to select their favorite brewery in the nation.
The Sawmill Brewing Company ultimately won out over more than 1,200 breweries that entered the competition, co-owner Zach Kubichek said.
The competition was set up in many rounds with breweries going head to head in a March-madness style competition, all competing in an online voting competition in 48-hour voting timeframes, and the winners of each round moving on to the next competition in brackets.
Merrill’s Sawmill Brewing Company first went up against Leinenkugel’s Brewery in the Wisconsin competition, and they started out the underdogs, Kubichek said. They didn’t expect to beat Leinenkugel’s.
But their loyal customers voted, and they did.
After that initial win, the Sawmill Brewing Company advanced to the next round and the next until online votes from their customers and supporters got them into the elite eight in Wisconsin, then the final four in Wisconsin, and then helped them beat McFleshman’s Brewing Company in the State Championship to become the Wisconsin State Champions. Approximately 100 Wisconsin breweries were in the competition.
From there, the Sawmill went on to compete head to head with the top breweries in other states within the region. They won the Regional Championship, advanced to win the Midwest Championship, and finally, against what they thought to be unbeatable odds, they won the National Championship against Common John Brewing Co. of Manchester, Tenn.
“We’ve been pretty much the top vote getter the whole way,” Kubichek said, still sounding amazed. In the end, the Sawmill won by just 208 votes. “Every last vote counted,” he said.
The key to their success and the win was all due to their loyal customers, Kubichek said.
Their social media campaign was strong, their bartenders encouraged customers to vote, and loyal customers and their hometown community led the push all the way to the win, drawing in friends and family to help with the vote.
“It’s been crazy. I can’t believe how many votes we’ve gotten over the last few weeks,” Kubichek said the day after the win.
“We wouldn’t be here without all of you guys,” said Sawmill Brewing Company brewer Ben Osness in a live Facebook broadcast addressing their loyal social media followers.
“This puts Merrill on the map,” he said. “We’re all, you know, hometown kids from Merrill here, trying to make a name for ourselves and trying to do a positive impact on our community, and this is just overwhelming for all of us and so surreal … it’s all because of you guys, and (we) couldn’t be more thankful and appreciative, and it just makes me want to make better beer for you all …”
“We’ve seen this community really rally behind us,” said Maria Schmelling, marketing and public event manager at Sawmill Brewing Company. “We knew we came from a great community, but definitely seeing the numbers, seeing the amount of people sharing it and how far it reached and people messaging us or commenting saying that they told their families in California or other states, telling them that they should vote, and just the amount of votes that we got to first place … that really meant a lot … from around the United States and around the world, we really appreciate all the support.”
“The brewing community is just such a cool, tight knit community,” Kubichek said. He is just greatful to “everybody who supported us along the way.”
“It was really cool to see how much each brewery cared about their brewery and their own hometown,” Schmelling said.
“For this award to come through the brewing community is just … such an honor for all of us,” Osness said.
In addition to a National Championship trophy, the Sawmill Brewing Company wins $1,000 in the contest, to be donated to the charity of their choice.
Kubichek said their loyal customers and voters got them the win, so they will get to decide which local charity will be the recipient of that $1,000. The Sawmill Brewing Company team will pick four local charities and then “will send it out to a vote,” he said.
“Since you guys did all the voting this whole time, we want you to be a part of it, as well,” Kubichek said in the live broadcast thanking the community for their support. Watch the Sawmill’s Facebook page for more information about voting to select the charity.
“There will also be a party that Hop Passport’s putting on sometime this summer,” Osness said. “To be determined, maybe June or July … so stay tuned for that.”
Seven years brewing success in Merrill
The Sawmill Brewing Company will celebrate seven years of successful brewing in Merrill this month, and this win will motivate them to work even harder and be even better as they gear up for summer, the team said.
They are also planning a Seventh Anniversary Party at the Sawmill on Saturday, May 13, with lots of food, live music all day, a lot of seasonal beers and some new releases, and a lot of fun.