As the country passes 8,000 operating breweries, the number of them opening secondary taprooms is growing with noticeable frequency. Some brewers who face the opportunity to expand would rather not open another brewery. The taproom model, basically an outpost for a brewery, has become a popular option because it gives a brewery a guaranteed account and a chance to grow a regional footprint, connecting with customers who want the brewery’s beer but might be just a little too distant to enjoy it regularly.
That’s the case with breweries such as Odell Brewing Co., which opened a taproom and small brewery in downtown Denver, a good 90-minute ride from its home in Fort Collins, Colorado. And the brewery recently announced plans for a second taproom in the city. Also in Colorado, Greeley-based WeldWerks Brewing Company is opening a taproom in Colorado Springs, more than 2 hours to the south. That town is also home to an Oskar Blues Brewery taproom.
This is, of course, nothing new. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. opened a taproom—the Torpedo Room—in Berkeley, California, more than 5 years ago as a way of having a focal point for its brewery in the Bay Area. Samuel Adams is planning a new location in tourist- and worker-heavy downtown Boston to help with visibility and add to the bottom line. Anheuser-Busch InBev has been busy adding taprooms based on their existing brands—especially 10 Barrel, Goose Island, and Golden Road—to help widen their footprint. Stone Brewing operates a taproom in Shanghai that is every bit as bombastic as the Southern California brewer is known for. All of these moves increase visibility for the overall brand and help brewers stay top of mind in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
There are also some breweries that are choosing to take over brewery spaces that have fallen on hard times. For instance, in Indiana, Sun King Brewery, which already operates a brewery in downtown Indianapolis and a distillery to the north, recently announced that it would be taking over the space that once housed the Thr3e Wise Men Brewpub. It’s in the Broad Ripple neighborhood, not far from Sun King’s existing headquarters but far enough away that the owners aren’t worried about the two locations cannibalizing business from each other.
“We already work with an abundance of nonprofit and community organizations throughout the area, and this gives us the opportunity to have a greater presence and truly be a part of the Broad Ripple community,” says Clay Robinson, Sun King cofounder and owner.
Some breweries, such as those in New York who operate with a farm brewer license, are allowed to open satellite locations and are taking advantage of local laws. There are similar laws in Virginia and Nebraska. Others just see opportunities across state lines to grow without having to worry about the traditional distribution model.
I talked with brewers from around the country and asked them how—before, during, and after the expansion—to keep positive momentum going and about the benefits and pitfalls of operating multiple locations.
Spencer Nix, CEO and Cofounder, Reformation Brewery, Atlanta, Georgia
“Each of our two brewery locations is designed to fulfill a unique role in our company while also meeting a community need. We don’t force personalities into each venue. The taproom experience naturally takes on a personality that fits the community it serves.
“We look for staff members who buy into our values and vision. Our crew is the secret sauce in delivering brand experiences that matter to our customers. Our locations are more than outposts for us. Each serves a unique function in the company. Our Woodstock location is our primary research and development workshop whereas Canton is a production foundry.
“The scale of each operation is completely different, and the taproom experience connected to the brewery fills a community need. Staffing changes based on function, size, and the community opportunity.
“To illustrate: our Woodstock location operates two separate bar experiences plus a huge outdoor recreation area. The Canton location boasts one large beer bar and a private event room. Both fill the need in the communities, but how they are used and experienced is unique.
“We have different expectations in terms of consumer traffic, event programming, and number of products produced at each location. We also adjust public hours to fit the expectations and demands of each community we serve. Ultimately, we view our brewery locations and craft beer as a whole as an amazing platform to connect people and ideas to make communities better. We believe why you drink is just as important as what you drink, and each location is designed around creating moments to savor and celebrate one another.”
Kyle Hurst, President/Cofounder, Big aLICe Brewing Co., Long Island City, New York
“Big aLICe is primarily an on-premise model with limited distribution, so a second location for us allows increased retail sales without the additional overhead of the brewery. Also, with the overall growth in number of breweries and consumers wanting to drink and support local, a second (or more) location can actually help you be local to more than one area. Having a brick-and-mortar location gives you an advantage over someone who is only distributing in that area when it comes to being ‘local.’ With that being said, I also feel it’s important for each location to have its own personality while still being on brand. Otherwise you run the risk of appearing to be a franchise, which will turn off that ‘support-local’ crowd.
“As far as staffing goes, for a couple of reasons, we try to overlap employees so they work at least a little in each location. I want all employees to feel a part of one team so there’s not an ‘us’ and ‘them’ between the two locations. Doing this also creates a sense of inclusion so that the customer experience is better and more transparent as one company. I want our staff to be using ‘we’ instead of ‘they’ when talking about the other location.”
Chris Burns, Brewery President and Co-owner, Old Ox Brewery, Middleburg, Virginia
“We’re primarily a distribution brewery in draft and package formats, and when we came on the scene 5 years ago, the concept of brewery tasting rooms was still very new and fresh in Virginia. The laws had just changed to allow brewers to have tasting rooms where they could serve pints and to-go beer without food. Because of that, our business model has been focused on distribution, and it’s still our primary focus and something we’re very proud of and have put a lot work into. But brewery tasting rooms have become popular community hubs, and what we realized is that being a 30bbl brewhouse in Ashburn didn’t allow us the flexibility to produce the limited releases and experimental products that our tasting-room audience was interested in trying. We just didn’t have the ability to do that with our size.
“We installed a 5-barrel brewery about 35 minutes away in Middleburg. When you come in, you still see and recognize the Old Ox identity and can identify our space as uniquely ours, but the personality is different and geared toward the on-site experience.
“We wanted to pick a second location that was close enough for us to manage both but far enough away that it wasn’t going to take away from our current audience. It works out because each is different. Ashburn is a small bedroom community, so we have a lot of locals and repeat customers. Middleburg attracts a lot of visitors and day-trippers, so there isn’t as much return business from the same people. That’s meant that we need to change how we communicate each to the world. For Middleburg, it’s about Google, Internet searches, and being involved with people looking for day activities. For Ashburn, it’s about our Facebook community and email newsletters to keep our regulars engaged.”
Brian and Kris Wilson, Co-owners, The Proper Brewing Company, Quakertown, Pennsylvania
“We heard about Throwhouse Axe Throwing in town, and the idea of having a taproom associated with it made sense. So we reached out, they were receptive, and it all came together quickly. This was a smart thing because it helps both businesses.
“We’ve heard all the jokes about drinking and axe throwing, but this is really a better option than a BYO place. Our staff is trained to keep an eye on alcohol consumption, and a coach shadows everyone who throws.
“Our original location is a brewery and restaurant, so even though the new taproom is 2 miles away, it’s not really competing with us. In a lot of ways, it’s helping us. The Throwhouse location is on a busy highway, and a lot of people pass by and see our name. There are townspeople who didn’t know about our brewery before this.
“The partners with Throwhouse wanted to sign a 5-year lease, but we only did 2 years. We want to see how it goes, and if it takes off, we’ll be happy to stay around. Since we did a lot of the work ourselves, there was little risk but the potential for good things.”
Thad Aerts, TapRoom Manager, Boiler Brewing Company, Lincoln, Nebraska
“We don’t use a distributor at all, and here in Nebraska there’s a statute that allows breweries to open up to five locations if you self-distribute, so we’re opening our second location to start taking advantage of that. Our original location is in the basement of what used to be a post office and federal courthouse. It’s in the old boiler room; hence our name. Where we are located downtown, there’s no designated parking. There’s a parking garage and street parking, but nothing dedicated for us, so that keeps a lot of people away.
“We decided to go into a newer development across town that has parking and that will bring in the people who will just never go downtown. It’s actually really close, like 150 yards from Zipline Brewing Co.’s taproom and near a craft-beer bar that sells only Nebraska beer as well as another brewery. You can park your car and walk directly to all of them easily, so it’s exciting to be part of a brewery district like that.
“It’s important for us to keep our culture alive, though. There’s an aesthetic that came with our original location, and we tried to keep that going into the new space. Staff is really the most important, however. We’re not trying to create a second culture; we’re expanding on the one we have. We’ll be cross training staff so that they know both places and can bring that feeling to our locations and help build the vibe that we want.”