Alementary Brewing Makes Its Next Move
Alementary Brewing’s Blake Crawford, in the new brewhouse, Hackensack, NJ
By Tony Forder, firstname.lastname@example.org
So you have a successful microbrewery with a tasting room and a small self-distribution print. A couple of your flagship brands are getting to a wider audience than your immediate craft beer fans.
It’s time to consider the next step, which is what Alementary Brewing Co. did, albeit a little sooner than originally anticipated.
Fortunately for them there was an empty building just across the lot from their location in Hackensack. They acquired it, set about ordering equipment and began the buildout. Most breweries have construction horror stories concerning delays; Alementary’s was a bit different. As they were nearing completion, they got caught in the infamous government shutdown of 2018-19; they couldn’t get a license to operate their new brewery. They were however able to garner significant publicity as an example of a business that got caught in political crosshairs.
With an 11,000 sq ft footprint, they basically sought to triple their capacity (at least for the moment) from 1,900 barrels in 2019 to an estimated 6,500 barrels in 2020. They installed a 15-bbl 4-vessel brewhouse, and eight tanks – five 30 barrels and three 15 barrels.
They extended glycol lines to accommodate another bank of eight 30-bbl tanks which can be slipped into place when the time comes.
“We purposely overbuilt,” said Co-owner Blake Crawford. “In here we’re spread out, we’re not working elbow to elbow (as in their original 7-bbl brewhouse).”
All the equipment was purchased from American Beer Equipment in Lincoln, NE with whom Alementary has established a level of comfort. “They have excellent customer service,” said Blake. The extra vessel in their brewhouse (4 vs the usual 3) features a cold liquor tank (water) in additional to hot, which enables them to knockout lagers year round.
It’s not fully automated, but just about, and user friendly, capable of doing four brews in a normal working day with overlapping shifts.
“The drain valves are manual…just in case!” Blake said. He likes the elevated rakes in the mash tun – “Really helps with those heavy stuck mashes!”
They have a smart new bottling line – oops, I mean canning line, no one bottles any more and can do 90 cases an hour instead of 40. Cool keg washer too that can go three times faster than before. Grain handling, well it’s still manual milling – “The auto got cut out of the budget,” said Blake. “We’ll get to it!”
Expansion doesn’t necessarily mean hiring more people. In fact, Blake said they are actually down one from original brew staff, although they did hire an extra driver. About the time they began their expansion their head brewer left. Instead of replacing him, they promoted assistant brewer Chris Pzonek to lead brewer and Tim Lafleur to lead cellarman. Blake assigned himself back to hands-on brewing.
“They are my lieutenants,” he said. “Between the three of us, we coordinate everything that happens here.” Lest we forget Blake’s partner, Mike Roosevelt runs the business end of things – when he is not engaged in labwork.
Naturally the new facility is geared to their flagship products – Hackensack Lager, their popular pilsner and A Game, their IPA. To go along with their expansion they have new distributors in New York and in Eastern PA. New markets sometimes bring surprises. At a recent PA launch their cream ale, Spotted Dog, went over surprisingly well – so now the distributors wants more of that, necessitating an adjustment in the brewing schedule.
They’re still using their original 7-bbl brewhouse across the street making the wide range of beers their fans have been accustomed to in the tasting room. One of their starting beers, Mr. Stevens, was struggling as an English Mild. They recently changed the name to Session Porter and tripled sales, and it’s been their No.1 seller in Manhattan.
Looking ahead, Blake sees craft beer at somewhat of a crossroads. With 8,000 breweries operating in the US, he says, “There’s just not enough craft beer drinkers if everyone’s going to survive.
“We need to find new drinkers. As an industry we need to speak to people – not just non-craft drinkers, but non-beer drinkers,” he said. While he says Hazy IPA’s are here to stay there is definitely a trend towards moderate-to-low ABV options. He sees women as the fast growing demographic. “And it’s not all the pink fruit drink. They’re drinking the lighter IPAs,” he said.