“So you want to build a brewery?”
March 28, 2011
If you have come for a tour lately you will have noticed that we are busting at the seams. Things are rapidly changing here…so I figured a few blogs were ripe. Fourteen years ago we started with two guys, a few tanks and the drive to brew the best beer we could. Days were spent scrubbing, tinkering, and of course brewing. We would entice friends, parents, grandparents, aunts, cousins and or anyone we knew (or they knew) to help us bottle nights and weekends. Then Chris would drive around with a tapped keg in the back of his truck and give samples to local restaurants, scoring only a handful of draft account the first month; Catalano’s, Scott’s Bar and Grille, Coakleys, Market Cross Pub and The Warwick (all still selling Troegs!) Craft beer was just starting to grow in our area so it took a lot prodding, time, and shoe leather. One by one we had converts, I kinda described the awakening to our beer like one of those old zombie movies, we bit one person who would tell (bite) a friend, who would in turn tell another. Slowly we got the word out and started selling more beer and building Troegs as a brewery. Each year we dumped every cent we made back into improvements and purchased more equipment. It took while to hire our first employee (our cousin) and almost three years before we could see the light of being a real company. Fast forward to today and there’s 45 people running the brewery.
The latest chapter began sometime late 2009, right after we crammed as many tanks as we could fit in our fermentation area and maxed them out instantly with our two most popular seasonals; Mad Elf and Nugget Nectar. Both beers can take a very long time to ripen (we say age) along with Troegenator (our second best selling beer) which can take up to 6 weeks.….so each year Chris and I try to figure out how to brew more elf and nugget, but this time we were out of room. We figured we would put tanks outside and then quickly realized that a few more tanks would only put a band-aid on a much bigger issue. At our current growth rate our brew house was going to max out in 18 months, we were already brewing 24 hours a day 5.5 days a week which doesn’t leave much room for growth or maintenance. So we developed a plan to build on our current location adding outdoor tanks, more filtration and a new keg line. And at the same time we started looking throughout Central PA for other alternatives, we figured that we are basically building a new brewery so if we were going to move now was the time. We ended up finding a unique 100,000 sq.ft. warehouse in Hershey that’s located in an area that has enormous retail potential. Every other warehouse that size we found was usually stuck somewhere in an industrial park that no one can find. So we ran the two potential options side by side and eventually pulled the trigger on moving 10 miles down the road. We were worried any changes at our current brewery would only satisfy our capacity a couple of years.
-We were off to the races! Somehow we had to design, engineer and refurbish a building, while keeping our current brewery running…AT THE SAME TIME..it felt like stepping in front of oncoming traffic on a five lane highway! We were used to juggling a lot at once, that’s what you do in a small company but wow this one was a new one for me. Even though we are not even close to being done yet, I’ve gotta say so far it’s been one heck of a ride, and a really fun one at that!
Step 1: Find a contractor and Architect that can take our concept and build it in less than 18 months. Luckily we have some old relationships with a few people so we decided to give them a call. Ralph Klinepeter and his son Mike from Pyramid construction was our first call. They agreed to keep the project under their hat and recommended Dave Maule of Maule and Associates as an architect. First they came to see what we were doing now, then we headed over to Hershey to start talking about what our vision was (which we still didn’t really know). A few weeks later we met again to look at Dave’s first rendition, and to our surprise he nailed it! Usually it takes us few rounds with artists and designers, so maybe we are getting better at describing concepts or maybe Dave just gets our point of view (scary for him), but the outside was spot on. The inside needed a little work. We knew we wanted to design an efficient and flexible production brewery, incorporate some really cool old school brewing techniques and be able to give tours during our peak production. At our current brewery a.k.a. T1 we have to shut down on Saturdays to be able to give tours of the brewery – we’re always bummed to show a static brewery.
Step 2 Find an equipment supplier with awesome technology that has ton of flexibility (and can build a brewery in 18 months)
Our second call was to Markus Lohner in Germany. Markus is one of the owners of BrauKon who’s company helped us expand our current brew house from a 2 vessel to a 4 vessels about 5 years ago. He has worked with breweries all over the world, old and new and brought a unique perspective to our project. Jokingly a few years back over few beers at a brewing conference I remember saying “I’ll call you in a few years for our next brew house” little did I realize how close that call really was. History; our brew house expansion 5 years ago was their first project as BrauKon! I’m not sure if I knew this when I signed the contract but they really came through for us then, and since have grown to a world class equipment engineer + supplier in the Brewing industry.
Markus immediately flew over from Germany, toured the building, threw out a ton of stellar ideas – and committed to 18 months.
Step 3 Call the Bank and borrow and insane amount of money. Enough said, I still have trouble sleeping.
This all happened last summer, time has been flying and a ton of prep work is underway. In the weeks to come Chris and I will try to share our experiences (and photos) with anyone who cares to read about them. This is an exciting time for everyone at Troegs, so our blog “so you want to be a brewer” is temporarily turned into “so you want to build a brewery?”