Over the past several months, we’ve been undertaking a relatively large expansion to our brewing facility. We had a massive cooler at production that, since we’ve opened Cape Beverage in Egg Harbor Township, we no longer really need.
So, it only makes sense to tear it down and make more space for brewing! And, over the past several months, we’ve been doing exactly that: repurposing that large, empty room as “Cellar 4”.
Expansion has long been the name of the game around here: we began with one 1,500 square-foot unit in the Tasting Room building, expanded to three units, added a 30,000 square-foot brewing space across the street, took over yet another unit, moved the Beer Garden out to encompass more space, and now we’re doubling our brewing capacity.
“Like most breweries, we added capacity as we needed over the years to keep up with the rapid growth we have been fortunate enough to experience,” James says.
And that growth hasn’t really slowed down much in recent years. With Cape Beverage opening more accounts every day — as well as our expansion into new territories –, it’s occasionally a trial for production to keep up.
“This expansion will allow us to react better to the orders that are coming in from Cape Beverage,” Brandon says. “You know, I have to say no at certain times of the year because our orders exceed our physical capabilities to brew beer. This gives me the opportunity to not say no.”
Capacity aside, our system needed an upgrade simply to make things more efficient. Things can get a little hairy in production, particularly when you’re brewing on a Frankenstein of a system. We’ve upgraded several times over the past few years, but we still find ourselves having to shuffle around equipment to get things done.
“Unfortunately, this often leaves you with a brewery layout that is less optimal than it could be if it were to all be built at once,” James says. “With this new expansion, we have the opportunity to do just that!”
So, where our gigantic cold box once stood, we’ve added drainage and piping and equipment and 25 new tanks.
“Twelve 30-barrel fermentation tanks and thirteen 60-barrel tanks,” Brandon explains. “We’re roughly doubling our capacity. We’re going from 25,000 barrels a year to 50,000.”
That’s a significant expansion, and it’s all taking place inside a large room that had already been purposed as a cooler. As such, this project has been tested, prodded, twisted up and thrown away, flattened out and made usable, erased, drawn again, and, finally, implemented, with the tanks having recently arrived and moved in.
“Right now, we just got the tanks in the room to see if we could,” Brandon says. “I’ve measured, like, five times and changed the layout and all sorts of things, but they actually fit with room to spare. We did have a Plan B if we needed to put a tank in the existing area. We had a Plan C, too.”
In addition to converting the cooler, we’ve been adding new hard piping throughout the entire facility.
“With this new hard piping layout,” James explains, “we will no longer have to drag hoses all the way across the brewery to make some of our tank connections. This means our team will have to spend less time setting up tasks and less time looking for the parts they need. This also prevents what I like to call the ‘hose spaghetti’ that often clogs up our cellars when we have several tasks to do in the same area of the cellar.”
This new system will also have a centralized glycol control system. Throughout our current system, the temperature of each tank is controlled directly at the tank, meaning that we physically have to go to each tank to take a reading or change the temperature.
“With the new system,” James says, “we will have one panel that will show all of the tanks and their temperatures in a centralized location. This will help us manage tank temperatures in a more time-efficient manner.”
We’ll have better yeast management, as well. We don’t have to tell you how important yeast is to the brewing process, and the ability to better care for our yeast increases efficiency.
“We currently measure our yeast by volume,” James explains. “The yeast flows through a flowmeter to measure the amount of liquid being transferred into our yeast tanks, and the problem with this is that yeast produces CO2 during fermentation, so harvesting yeast can get quite foamy when it experiences any kind of agitation.”
That foam can cause our flowmeters to kick back an inaccurate reading, so, in order to know what’s really going on, we’d have to harvest our yeast slowly.
“With the new yeast tanks,” James continues, “we will be measuring by weight. This is the most accurate way to measure yeast harvest, and it eliminates a lot of the headaches we have with our current process.”
So, we’re not only designing this cellar to brew more beer, but we’ve also got an eye on efficiency, as well.
“It’s a brand new cellar and it is designed to work with less energy, less manual labor than what we’ve been doing,” Brandon says. “We’re not going to be dragging hoses everywhere: there’s stainless steel piping and tubing. It’s a completely different beast than our existing cellars.”
In addition, we’ve built this cellar with cleanliness in mind. While Brandon and James are fanatical about cleanliness in our current cellars, like your mom always told you, things can always be cleaner.
Or, in this case, cleaned more efficiently. We’re adding a new CIP skid. “CIP” means clean-in-place, and when you’re dealing with a 15’ tank, it definitely makes more sense to clean it where it is than run it through a dishwasher. Currently, we set up a little reservoir and a loop for each tank we clean, but the new system will be more efficient. Right now, our cleaning chemicals just go down the drain.
“With this new system, we will essentially have chemicals on-demand,” James says. “This system stores, heats, sends, and receives chemicals to various parts of the cellar, allowing us to reuse chemicals for multiple rounds of cleaning. This saves water and chemicals, and it also cuts down on setup time significantly.”
Since the room had previously been a cooler, we wanted to cover the sprayed-foam walls with something that would be a little more useful for us.
“We lined the entire cellar with washdown panels over the walls,” James says. “With the stainless steel trench drains in the floor, we’ll be able to clean up our mess almost as quickly as we make it!”
The folks who work in the cellar here aren’t yet sure what to make of this expansion. James says that the scale and amount of change is intimidating for a lot of people.
“While the team is overall excited to see the continued growth and be able to learn something new,” he says, “change is scary. This will definitely bring a new set of challenges as people will have to relearn some of the processes that they have been performing for years. Overall, once everyone is able to get hands-on with the final setup, I expect they will really enjoy the improvements we are working on.”
Nonetheless, he’s looking forward to getting to work once the expansion is complete.
“I am personally really excited for the expansion,” James says. “This is a huge undertaking as we are not only doubling our capacity, but we are also bringing our process to the next level.”
Brandon has much the same thoughts.
“I know I’m personally pretty psyched,” he says. “And I’d say the team’s pretty excited. I’d say there’s probably some trepidation around it because they’re not sure what’s going on. Right now, it’s just a room with some tanks, and it’s kinda hard to see what’s happening. And, yes, there’ll be a learning curve, but once they realize they don’t have to drag hoses around quite as much as they do now, they’ll be pretty psyched.”
We’re running a little behind schedule with the project, mostly thanks to issues with COVID, but Brandon is pleased with how things are progressing.
“The tanks were moved into the room and stood up, but we still have a ways to go,” he says. “We have the cooling system yet to install, process piping that has to get run into the area. We’re hoping to begin to fill these tanks by the second week in April, but it’ll most likely be later than that.”
Even still, Brandon’s not yet sure exactly how we’ll be using these new tanks.
“I’m sure we’re going to throw everything we possibly can at them,” he says. “Our cores are taking up more and more of our capacity. The schedule is also impacted by whether we do lagers, we do ales.”
His initial plan is to build up some inventory, giving us some flexibility to handle a surge in demand.
“We never have inventory,” he says. “Everything we produce goes right out the door a day or two within being packaged. This way, we’ll actually have some inventory to respond to upticks in sales, leading to fewer out-of-stock issues.”
Brandon is also hoping that it leads to more variety, or, at the very least, more volume of planned variety.
“Hopefully, it will allow us to produce more volume in those Tasting Room-Only releases that end up being super popular,” he says. “Instead of only being able to give our customers 15 barrels or 200 cases or whatever that works out to be, we can give them, potentially, double that.”
We know that will be music to the ears of our fans who spend hours driving down here for a Tasting Room-Only release that we sell through in an hour, causing them to leave empty-handed.
Because, at the end of the day, this expansion puts more beer into the pipeline.
“It gets more beer into the hands of our customers,” Brandon says.
What more could we possibly want?
In the meantime, we’ll be sure to get these tanks filled and more beer to you. Stop down to the brewery to taste the fruits of this expansion, or check our Beer Finder to find a retailer near you!