Imagine a tasting room pouring Florida’s Cigar City Jai Alai IPA, North Carolina’s Green Man ESB and California’s BJs Harvest Hefeweizen—but the beer didn’t arrive on the back of a truck; it was all brewed just a few feet away. It’s one of craft beer’s newest concepts created by Brew Hub, a large-scale partner-brewery and incubator, which opened earlier this month in Lakeland, Fla.
The brainchild of three industry veterans—CEO Timothy Schoen, a former V.P. at Anheuser-Busch; president Jerry Mullane, a former senior exec at Anheuser-Busch; and chief brewer Paul Farnsworth, a longtime brewer and craft brewery consultant—Brew Hub will essentially make it easier for breweries to expand both production and distribution; in turn, that means drinkers throughout the region will have greater access to beers from at-capacity breweries like Cigar City. In its first year, Brew Hub plans to brew a collective 40,000 barrels for Cigar City, Orange Blossom Pilsner and BJs alone; its initial overall annual output is slated at 75,000 barrels; the brewery’s also partnered with Green Man.
But Brew Hub goes beyond just partner brewing: The facility also provides consultation for branding, distribution, sensory evaluation and recipe development. Basically, it’s a one-stop shop for breweries new and old.
The launch of the Florida facility is just the beginning, and has the potential to seriously impact the rate of craft beer’s growth and distribution, which means it will also impact which beers you’ll be able to pick up at the store. Brew Hub’s working toward building a network of five facilities servicing regions throughout the country, each a carbon copy of the facility in Florida.
“We’re expanding not only our capacity [here], but also the footprint,” notes Schoen. “Lakeland will be replicated in size and capacity and it will operate as a brewpub B&B—brewing and business services.”
This week, the company announced it was opening a second facility outside St. Louis in early 2016, with an initial production capacity of 75,000 barrels, but the potential to increase that to 200,000. That would put the facility around the same capacity as, say, Founders, which is the 26th largest craft brewery in the country. The company’s currently in talks with Midwest breweries, as well as its Florida partners, which it might bring to St. Louis; that means Midwesterners could have access to Cigar City sometime in 2016!
While you might find more cans and bottles on shelves from partner breweries, Brew Hub also offers an onsite experience via its taproom. At its Florida facility, drinkers can belly up to the bar anchoring a 3,500-sq.-ft. tasting room, talk beer with the Cicerone-trained staff, and use the in-house smart-phone app to read about what’s on tap—an app that will eventually double as a savvy marketing tool allowing Brew Hub to gauge which beers are going over well. Chief brewer Farnsworth is also planning on developing a line of house beers on an 8-barrel pilot system, with hopes of graduating recipes to the brewery’s main 100-barrel system (the branding is TBD).
We’ve seen smaller incubators come and go, and established breweries rent out tank space, but nothing of this magnitude and scope has ever been attempted in the craft beer industry. How it factors into the great craft beer debate, well, we’ll just have to wait and see. If successful, this could be a gigantic boost for small-to-mid-size breweries, which are lining up to get in on the action: Schoen says he’s receiving near-daily calls from interested breweries around the world.