Leaving his engineering career to pursue craft brewing was a natural progression for Blue Earl Brewing founder Ronnie Price
Making music has always been at the core of Ronnie Price’s life, and he’s combined that love of music with another outlet for his creative nature — brewing beer.
Price is the owner and operator of Blue Earl Brewing in Smyrna and, like so many professional brewers, Price started out as a home brewer whose focus was to make good beer to share with friends. But those friends kept commenting on how good it was and encouraged him to mass produce it, and when Price won several awards (locally and nationally), it planted the seed that eventually grew into Blue Earl Brewing.
Price, 55, went to William Penn High in New Castle and then the University of Delaware, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. That led to a job in the manufacturing industry and a six-figure salary, so life was good — but not complete.
Again, like so many professional brewers, Price wasn’t satisfied with sitting behind a desk in a 9-to-5 setting. He wanted to be his own boss. And that was the motivation that led him to make the hard-but-easy decision to leave his well-paying job and start his own brewery and tap room. So, he decided to start a new life in a new town, even though that meant new risks.
Price was also a semi-professional musician who played bass guitar and drums in several local bands with decent local followings, but, in his own words, he realized “I’m not going to be the next Billy Joel’’ and scaled back his playing. However, Price used that love of music — especially the blues and jazz — in his next career as a brewer.
When Price started his business on Artisan Drive in Smyrna in 2014, Blue Earl was the seventh microbrewery in Delaware. Today, there are almost 30. In his first year in business, Price produced 200 barrels of beer; in 2021, he estimates his company will produce 1,200 barrels.
For more information on Blue Earl Brewing, call 302-653-2337 or go to BlueEarlBrewing.com.
O&A: You went to high school in New Castle and college in Newark — how did you end up in Smyrna?
Price: “I was living in Bear, but wanted to get out of there and I wanted to open my own brewery. It was really my wife who pushed for me to start in Smyrna. She was the catalyst, because of its central location and because
the area was really starting to grow. So, I wrote up a business plan and pitched it to the mayor and city council. And they voted on it and shot it down.”
O&A: Why did they shoot it down?
Price: “They said they didn’t want to turn into a booze town. I didn’t understand it, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it, so I went to Plan B.”
O&A: What was Plan B? And how did you end up returning to Plan A?
Price: “I went to Middletown and talked to Mayor [Ken] Branner, and he welcomed me with open arms. He said they had plenty of open properties and we would be a real asset to their town. And that same day, I got an email from the town manager of Smyrna and he said the town council regretted their vote, and would you please come back? He said they had an open property that was a great deal — it was almost virtually rent free. I really appreciated how Middletown welcomed us, but the deal in Smyrna was too good to pass up. And the town of Smyrna has been a wonderful partner ever since.”
O&A: Why did you decide on such a heavy blues theme?
Price: “I never really considered any other kind of theme, because I love the blues and jazz so much and music has been such a big part of my life, and still is. I just love creating things, whether it’s music, beer or food, and it just seemed natural to combine all three things.”
O&A: What do you think about the craft beer scene in Delaware?
Price: “We’re behind a lot of other states, per capita, but that’s changing and more and more breweries and tap rooms are opening, and I think that’s great. I love it. And you obviously have to give Dogfish Head and Sam [Calagione] a lot of credit for that. They showed that you can produce a quality product in a small town in a small state and be successful if you do things the right way. That’s why we’ve always tried to do and what we’ll always try to do. I’m certainly not saying well be as successful as Dogfish Head, but we’ll try to follow the same path.”
O&A: With all the competition out there, what do you think is the key to success in selling your beer?
Price: “Actually, there are three keys — what I call the trifecta of brewing. First of all, you have to have recipes for the liquid. If you don’t have a quality product nothing else matters. Second is to have a name that’s really
catchy and colorful and easy to remember. And to complete the trifecta, you have to have amazing artwork, something that grabs the attention of the consumer. Because there are so many craft beers out there when you go into a liquor store, you have to have the artwork that draws them to your product in the first place. If you have all of those things, if you’re successful in all of those things, you’re going to knock it out of the park.”
O&A: Now you have added an eclectic food menu, once again based around a blues and jazz theme. What made you decide to offer food as well as beer?
Price: “That was always part of the plan. To me, they go hand in hand — good food and good beer. At first, we had food trucks in front of the place and we did that for four years. But I always knew that I wanted to have our own kitchen and serve good food, food that would complement the beer we sell. We wanted to feature fresh, local food that would really complete the experience of coming to visit us. And, so far, the response has been great.”
O&A: In the last few years you’ve added new recipes and, of course, started serving your own food. Where do you see Blue Earl Brewery in a few more years?
Price: “Ironically, the thing that hurt our business so much in the past will help it in the future. When the pandemic hit, we had just started to make a real profit, and when that hit and everything got shut down, I thought to myself ‘We’re screwed. We’re done.’ Then President Trump and the government pushed a lot of money into the hospitality industry with low-interest loans and grants and we applied for that, and we got approved for a substantial amount of money. So, we re-formulated and went out and doubled our capacity at the brewery and fixed up our kitchen a little bit more, brought in new equipment. So, [the pandemic] was a blessing and a curse — essentially, it set us up for the next five years.
“And in the next 10 years, I want to establish two or three new brew pubs in Delaware. I’ve got to find the right properties and I’m already working with a commercial real estate company. And I want to expand our brand — we’re already in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania and I want to expand into New Jersey, and eventually even Virginia and Ohio. So, we’re not just sitting still. As long as I’m in this business, I want to grow and improve and make Blue Earl Brewing a rewarding experience for everybody.”