VIDEO: Ninkasi’s Ridge Talks Expansion

Another week went by and yet another brewery announced big expansion plans. This time it was the Eugene, Ore. based Ninkasi Brewing.

The rapidly growing company, currently ranked 32nd on the Brewers Association list of top U.S. craft breweries by volume, announced during last week’s Craft Brewers Conference that it would be investing between $15 and $18 million on a 70,000 sq. ft. expansion. The additional investment consists of re-invested profits, grants and traditional bank loans.

Ninkasi co-founder and CEO, Nikos Ridge, said the expansion is necessary in order to keep up with the demand the company is seeing in local markets.

“It’s not overaggressive for what we are trying to do,” Ridge said. “We are nearing our current capacity and demand is already outpacing what we had initially forecasted.”

The initial expansion phase, which is scheduled to begin this summer, will take place over the next 18 months and bring total brewery capacity to 250,000 barrels over time. Ridge said a new 80-barrel brewhouse and four, 480-barrel fermentation tanks have already been purchased and ordered.

Ninkasi grew from 33,000 barrels in 2010 to 57,000 barrels in 2011 and Ridge doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. He projects the company will produce 75,000 barrels this year and 95,000 in 2013.

So how is he doing it? For Ridge, it’s all about regional growth. According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, Ninkasi ranked third behind Craft Brew Alliance and Deschutes for barrels sold in Oregon through February of 2012. And according to Marty Ochs, National Sales Director for the company, there is plenty of room to grow.

“The perception is that we dominate the Northwest, but there is so much more grow,” he said. “We are nowhere near the ‘S’ in saturated.”

The brand is currently only distributed in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska and San Francisco but Ridge’s next move will be to expand across the remainder of Northern California. After that, he might look to the mountain states, but not at the risk of shorting existing markets.

“We need to serve our customers at home first,” he said. “We want to become a nationally recognized brand, but not necessarily distributed everywhere.”

When asked if he thought the brand was already recognized on a national level, Ridge humbly responded, “I think we are getting there.”

And as for the recent trend of adding markets in the Southeast and Northeast, Ridge said there is no rush.

“I think people get paranoid that they aren’t in certain markets and think the opportunity won’t be there when they do arrive,” he said. “We aren’t really concerned about that. We don’t think we will be behind the curve.”

Ridge said the growth means Ninkasi will make new-hires. The company expects to hire 10 additional employees in 2012 and 20 in 2013. It currently employs about 70.