Ten years ago, Founders Brewing Co. moved to Grand Rapids, Mich. Since then, the now 20-year-old company has overtaken a full city block with its Grandville brewery and taproom. Outgrowing its space and with no room to expand at the location, last year Founders decided to expand beyond its main brewery to its own satellite facility on Hynes Street.
Previously a multi-tenant manufacturing building, the facility was purchased by Founders Brewing in January 2016. After gutting the facility and rebuilding it as a warehouse/distribution center with a brewery, the company opened the Hynes Street location in August 2016, says Brad Stevenson, chief production officer at Founders Brewing.
The majority of the 192,000-square-foot building is dedicated to storage, featuring 1.5 acres of cold-storage space, which was an essential aspect of the expansion. “There’s no storage at the main site brewery for finished goods. Every load that comes off the packaging lines needs to immediately be trucked over to the distribution center,” Stevenson says. “… Our product is neither filtered nor pasteurized, so cold storage is critical, and we’ve always been up against the battle of what we can make based on the limit of cold-storage space, where now, we have enough cold-storage space to not have to worry about that for a while.”
The Hynes Street facility, which is located within a mile of Founders’ Grandville brewery, handles all distributor operations and utilizes 20 loading docks, Stevenson says. The company also runs its own trucks between its facilities, bringing finished product to Hynes Street for storage and returning to the Grandville facility with empty kegs, packaging materials and bagged grains, which also are stored at the Hynes Street warehouse.
The brewery portion of the facility accounts for 33,000 square feet of the Hynes Street building. This is a smaller-scale version of Founders’ 80,000-square-foot Grandville brewing facility, Stevenson explains.
“The single largest benefit has been to be able to take this beer that we’ve been doing, this beer style, barrel-aged beers, we’ve been doing this for 15-plus years, [and] it was invented to be something crazy that we’d do one batch of in a year. Now, it’s become this high-volume thing for us. It was never going to play nice in the sandbox with a production mindset or a production need. That is now quarantined. We’ve taken barrel aging and all the monkey business that goes along with it, and we’re able to put it off at the [Hynes Street] site and address it in a different fashion.”
With its growing barrel-aging operations, Founders saw the opportunity to solve one of the biggest barreling challenges it faced. With only four loading docks and limited space, barreling operations were difficult at Founders’ Grandville facility.
“The action of filling the bourbon barrels out of the tanks is enormously labor-intensive and space-hogging. When we do that exercise here at the main brewery, the only floor space we have to do it in is our loading docks. … So we clog up our docks,” Stevenson explains. “In the year that we’re in, there are 190 barrel-handling days. I can’t have 190 days out of the year with the docks clogged up, so we moved [barrel aging] over to the Hynes Street brewery.”
This new model has allowed Founders to place a renewed emphasis on its barrel aging program. Upon the announcement of the expansion, the brewer also announced the launch of a new series of barrel-aged beers. The Barrel Aged Series features six limited-release, barrel-aged beers, which are available in market at various times throughout the year.
“Traditionally, we released two different barrel-aged beers in package format each year. Each spring, we release KBS, and each fall we release Backwoods Bastard. … In essence, the Barrel Aged Series means that Founders is releasing six barrel-aged beers every year when we used to do two,” Stevenson says. “Two of the six will be KBS and Backwoods Bastard. Four of the six every year are rotators, and they’re new and surprise beers each time.”
For the inaugural year of its Barrel Aged Series, Founders announced four of its six limited-availability, barrel-aged brews: Frootwood, which launched in February; KBS, its April release; Doom, which launched this month; and Backwoods Bastard, which will launch in November.
Yet, barrel aging wasn’t the only inspiration for the Hynes Street brewery. “We came up with a concept of let’s build a brewery over there for several reasons, but primarily, we’ll move all barrel-aging activity over there, which means all barreling, barrel filling and emptying, can be done there,” Stevenson says. “Secondarily, it’s redundant. The brewery does not only make barrel-aged beers, it can also make any of our beers, so now we have a redundant facility as an insurance or catastrophe plan; then thirdly, it has additional capacity.”
Now that it is settling into its expansion, Founders is ready for the future. “I think the future of Founders is to take the beers that we are so passionate about to an ever-widening audience,” Stevenson says. “If you look at beer consumption, there’s still a lot of people that don’t do the craft beer thing, so I think our future is to be one of those staples or those brands that just says to people: ‘There’s quality behind this. Try it. Explore a little. You’ll like it.’ Founders’ future is just to be one of those premier brands that’s all over and available for people who really enjoy beer to enjoy.” BI