Production is numbers game
Grand Rapids has proudly touted its Beer City moniker for several years now, and in that time, the craft brewing market has continued to rapidly expand.
But with craft brewing exploding and new breweries popping up all around the country, the question has become whether the market can handle the boom, or if it will begin to stagnate.
Luckily for area brewers, the demand isn’t going anywhere.
According to Business Journal research, most local breweries increased their production in the last year.
Saugatuck Brewing Co. saw a nearly 64 percent increase in barrels produced, jumping from 6,600 barrels in 2014 to 10,800 in 2015. Brewery Vivant’s production went up about 11.3 percent, to 5,320 barrels a year. And Grand Rapids’ flagship brewery, Founders Brewing Co., saw its barrelage leap from 193,356 in 2014 to 273,000 this past year, a 41.2 percent increase.
The increase in demand has several breweries starting to bump up against their production capacities, including Brewery Vivant, now in its fifth year.
Jason Spaulding, who co-owns Brewery Vivant with his wife, Kris, said this past summer that a spike in orders exceeded what the East Hills brewery could produce. That spike encouraged the Spauldings to get smarter with the space they have — a former funeral chapel in the heart of a historic East Hills neighborhood — and Spaulding estimates Brewery Vivant could now produce about 8,000 barrels a year.
Spaulding said he expects to “grow into” the increased volume over the next few years, when Brewery Vivant will hit its capacity ceiling once again — which is perfectly fine by him.
“Our vision has always been to become a destination brewery where people will have to seek us out — travel to Grand Rapids to get all the beers we choose to brew,” he said. “Our goal has been to brew whatever volume we can on this site, and at some point know that we will hit a maximum capacity threshold.”
Also nearing its production ceiling is Mitten Brewing Co., which produced 1,026 barrels of beer through November — an increase of 62.8 percent from 2014’s 630 barrels produced.
Max Trierweiler, who co-founded Mitten Brewing Co. with Chris Andrus, said the brewery would probably tap out at about 1,300 barrels a year, but expansion is in the cards if that threshold is hit.
“It’ll be a while before we consider putting a cap on those things,” Trierweiler said. “If an opportunity arises where we can grow, we will, to an extent. Obviously, the time and place dictates when that would be, but right now, we’re still looking at adding more fermenters, and as soon as we can get it in, we’re toying with the idea of canning,” Trierweiler said.
“We’re looking to grow, and nothing’s going to stop us until we see those red flags.”
New Holland Brewing Co., which produced about 36,000 barrels in 2015, could expand to produce at least 100,000 barrels in its existing facility, President Brent VanderKamp said.
“We have the ability on the campus to continue to grow,” VanderKamp said. “I’d hesitate to put a barrelage number, (but) probably 10-fold — we can grow on that space.”
While there’s still a number of questions about the rate at which craft brewers are growing, and when that ceiling for market saturation might be hit, it doesn’t appear to be anywhere in the immediate future. And for brewers who call Beer City home and have a passion for what they do, that’s very good news. For those that don’t — that ceiling might be a little lower.
“I find that people with passion add to the culture of craft beer, while those without that passion, and just thinking of it as a business opportunity, tend to just extract from it,” Spaulding said.
“Eventually, craft beer enthusiasts can sniff this out, and those without that passion will fade away.”