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Ithaca Beer Company moves ahead with brewery expansion

Bartender+Jack+Storer+serves+a+house+brew+at+the+Ithaca+Beer+Company+taproom.+%C2%A9+Ithaca+Week+2015%2C+Emily+Masters+and+Steven+Pirani
Bartender Jack Storer serves a house brew at the Ithaca Beer Company taproom. © Ithaca Week 2015, Emily Masters and Steven Pirani
By Emily Masters and Steven Pirani

Three months into its brewery expansion, Ithaca Beer Company has laid the concrete foundation and began framing the new building. The project aims to bump production and expedite packaging.

The expansion will more than double the space for the regional craft brewery, which now operates in a 17,000 square foot building, said marketing director of the brewery Gregg Stacy. The new 24,000 square foot building will primarily house an updated bottle-line and other production equipment.

“We’re pretty much at capacity as far as our production,” Stacy said “It is, literally, a bottleneck. We can make plenty of beer, and meet all of our projections, but we just can’t bottle it or keg it fast enough.”

The expansion will replace an antiquated bottling system that is not fully-automated. Currently, staff members tape boxes and move bottles into cases, Stacy said. The new system will make bottling and kegging more efficient, he said.

“This is going to be our first high-tech thing, our first high-tech toy,” said Erik Caron, a draft specialist and event coordinator at Ithaca Beer Company.

The company broke ground in July after construction was slowed by ground concerns.

“As in every construction project, we ran into a couple of snafus,” Stacy said. “In our case, it was a little of work we had to do on the earth beneath the space just to stabilize here and there.”

Stacy said the building should be completed by January 2016 and the company will then start installing new equipment in the space.

“Obviously we are a production brewery, so we really need to be getting to a point where we can just build everything out and then convert over to the new equipment,” Stacy said. “We’ll lose very little time. Maybe a day or two, that would ideal.”

In addition to doubling the space, the expansion will also double the brewery’s beer-making capabilities, Stacy said. But for now, the company will opt for slower growth by brewing 10 to 15 percent more beer next year, he said.

Ithaca Beer Company currently brews about 27,000 barrels of beer per year, he said.

“We’re not trying to knock ourselves out,” Stacy said.

Stacy said the expansion will help the company expand into more population dense areas in the nine states they currently distribute in — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland, as well as the District of Columbia.

Paul Leone, the executive director of the New York State Brewers Association, said the most rapidly growing demographic of craft beer enthusiasts are people in their 20s and 30s.

“You’ve got two universities right there,” Leone said. “I think that the whole Ithaca vibe, and the whole young vibe, plays perfectly into the craft local movement. That’s why Ithaca is perfectly situated right where it is and another reason why its doing so well.”

Stacy said he believes the local food and slow food movements have fueled a resurgent passion for brewing and drinking craft beer.

“There are so many styles of beer now that didn’t exist, were not available to the public, in the 1980s and 1990s,” Stacy said. “And now you can put out some pretty obscure stuff and have a number of people out there who know exactly what it is, who will be your biggest critics and biggest fans.”

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