It’s official. Sierra Nevada is heading for North Carolina.
The venerable craft brewer — the second-largest in the U.S. — announced plans today to build an East Coast brewing facility in Mills River, a town 12 miles from downtown Asheville –nicknamed Beer City USA.
North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue joined Ken Grossman, the Chico, Calif.-based brewery’s founder and owner, and other Sierra Nevada executives today for the official announcement.
Sierra Nevada’s official press release quotes Grossman, saying:
“We are thrilled to have found an ideal location in western North Carolina for our second brewery. The beer culture, water quality and quality of life are excellent. We feel lucky to be a part of this community.”
Brewbound discussed the announcement with company spokesman Bill Manley.
“It was really a ‘perfect storm’ of things that we were looking for,” he said. “Asheville is so similar to Chico and we always toyed with the idea of the Asheville area. You really couldn’t ask for a more pristine location.”
Manley cited factors such as water quality, craft beer culture, access to outdoor activities and a welcoming vibe from other local craft brewers as reasons that eventually led the company to choose the Mills River location.
So what all can you now expect from the country’s second largest craft brewer?
Manley said that initial plans for the Mills River site include a 200-barrel brewing system similar to the one Sierra Nevada operates in Chico. The total annual brewing capacity will be 300,000 barrels.
The plans are for the site, a 90 acre plot of land along the French Broad River, to include a restaurant and tasting room. Additional plans for outdoor dining, a garden, hiking trails, kayak moorings and a music hall have been discussed internally but not finalized.
Manley said the company plans to invest about $100 million into the construction and build out, which is currently scheduled to begin this spring. Manley said the construction will take between 18-24 months.
The big news comes at a time when the craft beer scene is exploding. The Brewers Association recently reported that 1,949 breweries were operating in the U.S. as of Dec. 31, 2011. That’s up from 1,689 in 2010. That announcement followed news from earlier in December that craft retail dollars were up 16.3 percent and volume growth up 14.3 percent from a year ago.
And Manley said timing couldn’t be better.
“The momentum was growing so much over the last five years that we had to do it,” he said.
That momentum includes producing almost 100,000 more barrels in 2011 than the company did in 2010. Manley estimates that the company will report production of 875,000 barrels in last year, up from 786,000 in 2010 according to Brewers Association records.
So what’s driving the growth? None other than Sierra Nevada’s hoppy offering Torpedo, Extra IPA.
Manley said Torpedo‘s sales volume is up 53 percent for the year, according to IRI scan data.
But momentum aside, Manley said the biggest upside to having a new location will be alleviating pressure at their current facility.
“Once it’s online, it’s going to take a lot of strain off the facility in Chico,” he said. “Distribution is also a huge factor for us. We want to be able to deliver better, fresher beer, faster and its getting pretty hard to service the East Coast the way it needs to be serviced as it becomes a larger portion of our business.”
The craft brewer plans to create 95 full-time jobs and an additional 80 part-time jobs. Brian Grossman, Ken Grossman’s son, will be the Co-General Manager alongside current logistics manager Stan Cooper.