Ohio-based Fat Head’s Brewery finally broke ground today on a $12 million destination brewery that will double the company’s production capabilities, enabling it to produce as much as 60,000 barrels of beer annually.
Plans for the new facility, located about 15 miles southwest of Cleveland, were first revealed last November by Crain’s Cleveland Business. At the time, Fat Head’s brewmaster Matt Cole said the larger brewing space could open as early as last month, but that timeline has since been pushed back until early 2018.
Fat Head’s, which produces most of its beer inside of a 35,000 sq. ft. brewery in Middleburg Heights, will relocate its operations into a much larger 125,000 sq. ft. building that is being developed by Interstate 71 Partners and is located about one mile away from its current facility. The brewery will initially lease and occupy about 75,000 sq. ft. of space, according to sales and marketing director Bill Wetmore.
“Really, for the first time at the brewery, we will be able to deliver the experience for the visitor,” he told Brewbound.
The new location will include a 250-seat bar and restaurant, as well as a new pilot brewery, bottling and packaging equipment and a distribution center. A “state-of-the-art” German-made brewhouse is also expected to be installed in early 2018, with beer from the facility hitting retail shelves by May 2018, Wetmore said.
Last year, sales of Fat Head’s beer increased 13 percent, to 25,000 barrels. Wetmore said the company is projecting sales of about 32,000 barrels this year.
“The initial capacity [of the new facility] will be about 60,000 barrels or so,” he said, adding that Fat Head’s plans to gradually scale production.
“Eventually we could hit 125,000 barrels per year by adding more tanks,” Fat Head’s founder Glenn Benigni added in a press release. Benigni founded the company in Pittsburgh in 1992 and first expanded into the Cleveland area in 2009 with the help of brewmaster Matt Cole.
The new brewery will initially feature eight 440-barrel fermentation tanks, according to Cleveland.com and be capable of housing 24 more.
That added capacity will allow Fat Head’s to expand production of its core lineup, including Head Hunter IPA, Bumble Berry honey blueberry ale and Sunshine Daydream session IPA, which together account for about 80 percent of the brewery’s volume, Wetmore said. He added that “Sunshine Daydream” was the company’s “fastest growing beer,” and credited the uptick in sales to “great exposure” as a featured draft beer during Pittsburgh Penguins home games at PPG Paints Arena, as well as a recipe tweak with “some slight hop profile optimizing.”
The increased capacity will also allow Fat Head’s to expand its portfolio of seasonal releases and institute a barrel-aging program, which the brewery has been unable to execute due to capacity constraints.
“It’s really unshackling us a bit from some constraints and empowering us to do some things that are particularly interesting for us as craft beer lovers and for the community at-large of craft beer lovers,” Wetmore said. “There will be an innovation pilot brewery onsite, so that’s going to allow us to unlock a little bit of creativity and experimentation and incubate new beers for the future.”
The extra production runway will also allow Fat Head’s to better service its existing markets, while simultaneously enabling the company to distribute beer to new territories beyond its current three-state footprint of Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
“The capacity expansion is going to allow us to break into some new places, which is exciting” Wetmore said. “We have not identified or prioritized any markets at this point. That will probably be decisions that we make in the first quarter, first trimester of next year.”
Earlier this year, Fat Head’s stopped distributing its beer to the state of Florida, citing volume limitations and a need to retrench in midwestern markets.
Wetmore said he expects more consumers will become familiar with the Fat Head’s name now that the brewery, and its logo, will be visible from the heavily trafficked Interstate 71. The existing production brewery is located in a warehouse park where Wetmore said “you have to know we’re there to find us.”
“We’re going to have big beautiful branding, and the brewery will be visible right from one of the major thoroughfares,” Wetmore said. “So we’re going to get a lot of visibility from the freeway.”
Upon completion of the new brewery, Fat Head’s will close its current production facility and Tap House in Middleburg Heights, which it has leased since 2012. Wetmore estimated that the new brewery will create 74 jobs.
Fat Head’s will continue to operate its brewpub in North Olmsted, and the company also plans to open a brewpub in Canton, Ohio, later this year. The company currently operates outposts in Pittsburgh, Penn., and Portland, Ore., and it has stated plans to open a brewpub in Charlotte, North Carolina. However, Wetmore said those plans have yet to be finalized.