High demand is great for a brewery. But when it begins to outpace supply, things get tricky.
Raised Grain Brewing is all too familiar with the conundrum caused by brewing great beers that people want to drink.
“By midsummer we knew we needed to be in a bigger space because, between what we were selling in the taproom and 120 accounts, it was a balancing act to get everybody beer when they wanted it,” said owner and marketing manager Nick Reistad. “We have really good relationships with the retail accounts that we have. So they understood. They’ve been really supportive of what we’ve been doing.”
Added Alex Stanton, Raised Grain sales and distribution: “You build that partnership with accounts. They want to keep buying from you, and it’s tough when you don’t have that inventory consistency. It’s a challenge for your retail partners and draft partners, for sure.”
The Raised Grain crew took a huge step to remedying current and future capacity issues by expanding into a massive new production facility at 1725 Dolphin Drive in Waukesha.
Stanton, Reistad and brewmaster Dr. Scott Kelley took me on a tour of the gleaming new facility a week ago. It’s a significant departure from the existing Raised Grain taproom and brewery (2244 W. Bluemound Rd.), a cozy space tucked into a Waukesha strip mall/business park since the brewery opened in fall of 2015.
“We actually expanded right away,” explained Dr. Kelley. “We started with four fermenters and a bright tank. We added two more fermenters and a bright tank within four months of being open. By the end of the next year we were pretty much maxed out on capacity.”
Raised Grain began brewing at the massive new 20,000-square-foot space at the beginning of the year. It is outfitted with a state-of-the-art ProBrew system that employs digital technology to help automate the brewing process. The new setup amps Raised Grain’s brewing capacity to around 11,000 barrels a year. The capacity in the original space is roughly 1,200 barrels.
“(The system is) very advanced,” said Kelley. “For this size, everything about it is about as state-of-the-art as it gets. I personally believe that technology helps with creativity, not the other way around. Why not be able to reproduce what you want to reproduce and leave the variables that you want to be creative with up to yourself, as opposed to being up to random chance and not being able to control those factors? It’s amazingly controlled. It automatically adjusts. We don’t have knobs to try to hit our temperatures. We can hit it dead on and be very accurate.”
Canning and Taproom Plans
Raised Grain also added an automated canning line to the new space. (Expect to see cans on store shelves in a few weeks.) Ample room also allows for more space for barrel-aging, storage and a sizable taproom, which is in the works but not expected in the immediate future.
“The entire building (at the original brewery location) is 4,000 square feet,” said Reistad. “The taproom is about 1,800 over there. To put it in perspective, our cooler here is 1,300 square feet, which we’ve lovingly named ‘the cooler of optimism.’ We’ve got to build up our self-distribution and continue to grow our brand. A year-and-a-half ago when I bumped into people, they didn’t know that there’s a brewery in Waukesha, and now they do.”
Added Kelley: “The first brewery was a test of concept as much as anything. We knew that you couldn’t really distribute out of there. It’s great for a taproom, but once you start distributing, you quickly realize [it’s not enough].”