Fast-growing, Seattle-based Reuben’s Brews is hoping a newly opened production facility will finally help the company meet demand for its beer.
Over the weekend, the 7-year-old craft brewery officially opened an 11,000 sq. ft. brewery and taproom in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. The facility is located about half-a-mile from its existing 20-barrel brewery and tasting room, which will now focus on innovation beers.
Adam Robbings, who started Reuben’s Brews in 2012 with his wife, Grace, told Brewbound that the multi-million dollar project required a “total renovation” of the 70-year-old structure, which now features a 30-barrel brewhouse and about 25,000 barrels of initial capacity. The company will eventually have the ability to scale to 35,000 barrels, Robbings said.
Robbings declined to share how much the company invested in the expansion project, but he said the couple financed it through retained earnings and a bank loan.
“Basically, we’ve just been reinvesting everything,” he added.
With the new facility online, Robbings is hoping that consolidating production of its core offerings under one roof — the company had been operating four separate facilities — and the additional brewing capacity will help alleviate the game of “whack-a-mole” caused by rapid growth and out-of-stocks at off-premise retailers.
“Now, if we run out, it’s on me because I didn’t get another tank in when I should have,” he said, adding that he’s already ordered three more fermentation tanks, which are expected to arrive by early May.
Reuben’s Brews will need those extra tanks to meet — and possibly exceed — Robbings’ projected output of as much as 21,000 barrels by the end of 2019.
Last year, sales increased 55 percent, to about 14,200 barrels, up from 9,200 barrels in 2017. The company brewed 140 different beers. According to Robbings, 80 percent of the company’s beer was sold in the Seattle/Tacoma market, with the rest was sold throughout Washington state, northern Idaho and the Portland, Oregon, metro area.
“Just not running out of beer will be a big benefit,” he said. “And adding in another year-round beer is another big benefit for this year. Those alone I think will get you to 18,000 or 19,000 [barrels]. And then we’ve got a lot of new points of distribution as well.”
Indeed, Reuben’s Brews is adding a new year-round offering, Hazealicious IPA, which Robbings said wasn’t possible in the past due to capacity limitations. Hazealicious, a New England-style IPA, is expected to become Reuben’s Brews’ No. 2 brand, behind flagship Crikey IPA.
Last year, Crikey IPA accounted for 39 percent of Reuben’s Brews’ production. This year, as a result of the additional space, Robbings has forecasted 25 percent additional growth for the brand.
According to Robbings, 6-pack cans drove last year’s increase in sales. Citing IRI multi-outlet and convenience store data, Robbings said Reuben’s Brews’ volume sales were up 110 percent at off-premise retailers. Volume sales of Crikey IPA 6-packs were up 130 percent, while 6-packs of its rotating IPA series and Pilsner grew 156 percent and 700 percent, respectively.
Robbings is projecting sales to continue their upward trajectory as 6-pack cans of Crikey IPA and the company’s seasonal IPA are now available in Washington Safeway stores as part of spring resets, while Hazealicious 6-packs have received placements in QFC and Fred Meyer supermarkets.
Selling more beer to the Portland metro area is also a priority in 2019, Robbings said. The company has hired Rob Schwenn as its first sales rep in Oregon, and Robbings believes Portland can account for as much as 10 percent of the company’s business in the future.
“We launched Portland in May 2016, but didn’t have a lot of beer behind us,” he said. “Only this year, with our new brewery, are we able to have the beer to request set positions.”
To keep up with all of the growth, Reuben’s Brews has hired additional staff, growing from a handful of workers when it opened seven years ago to 28 employees this year. Last October, the company added Matt Lutton, a former sales rep at Washington beer wholesaler Northwest Beverage, as its marketing manager.
Additionally, Reuben’s Brews recently gave an undisclosed equity stake to head brewer James McDermet and production manager Mike Pfeiffer, who is also Grace’s brother. Robbings described McDermet’s and Pfeiffer’s share of the company as “very small,” adding that he and Grace still “own well over 90 percent.” He described the equity offer as a “thank you.”
The Robbings are also exploring a potential employee stock ownership program, he added.
“In principle, we want to recognize those who have made us who we are,” Robbings said.