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Expansion brewing: Craft beer maker to open production facility

Eric Ross, co-owner and general manager of Kannah Creek Brewing, pours a glass of Lands End Amber at the company’s brew pub and restaurant in Grand Junction. Kannah Creek plans to substantially expand its operation with the

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Eric Ross describes the dilemma of the craft beer industry. Those operating brew pubs and making beer on a small scale want to expand production and test their products in a bigger marketplace. Those working at production facilities yearn for the creativity and flexibility that comes with brewing beer in smaller batches.

Ross counts himself as a fortunate exception in that the co-owner and general manager of Kannah Creek Brewing Co. soon will enjoy the proverbial green grass growing on both sides of the fence. Even as the Grand Junction enterprise begins the seventh year of operating a brew pub and restaurant, construction is under way on a facility with the initial capacity to increase production by a factor of six as well as bottle beer for local and regional sales.

The expansion reflects the same ambition that goes into making beers that have won national and international awards, Ross says. “We’ve always been striving to improve, not being satisfied with where we’re at at the moment.”

At the moment, Kannah Creek operates a brew pub and restaurant on 12th Street that serves a variety of beers that complement such fare as pizza, sandwiches and soups.

The operation will expand significantly with the scheduled opening in May of a production facility under construction near the intersection of Ninth Street and the Riverside Parkway.

At 14,000 square feet, the production facility will be more than three times as large the brew pub and restaurant, Ross says.

The production facility will include a grain silo, fermentation and conditioning tanks and equipment to bottle and keg beer, Ross says. Ample storage space and a large cooler will accommodate raw materials and finished products, he says.

With an initial capacity of 6,000 barrels a year at the new facility, Kannah Creek will be able to increase production six fold over the 1,000-barrel a year capacity at the brew pub, Ross says.  A barrel is equivalent to 31 gallons.

In addition to the production line, the new facility will include a tasting room in which customers will be able to sample beers, fill growlers and purchase products. The facility also will include a small restaurant and patio.

While Kannah Creek currently employs about 40 people at its brew pub and restaurant, Ross expects staffing to increase by another 20 when the new facility opens. Additional staff will be hired as production increases.

That production will initially concentrate on Lands End Amber and Standing Wave Pale Ale, two award-winning beers that constitute best-sellers for Kannah Creek. Those beers will be sold in bottles and kegs to liquor stores, bars and restaurants on a local and regional basis, Ross says.

The new facility will enable Kannah Creek to not only produce beer on a commercial scale, but also continue to craft beers on a smaller scale at the brew pub, Ross says. In fact, the brew pub will serve as a kind of pilot system in developing beers that could later go into commercial production. “It will free us up to be a lot more creative here.”

It’s no coincidence Kannah Creek Brewing is expanding in the midst of rapid growth in the craft beer industry in Colorado, Ross says. According to the results of a study conducted by the University of Colorado, craft brewers in the state employ nearly 6,000 people and general $446 million in annual economic benefits.

Ross said the trend has generated increasing demand for craft beers, but also increasing competition to satisfy discerning customers. “It forces everyone to be at the top of their game and make better and better beers.”

With its growing operation, Kannah Creek Brewing plans to do just that, he says. 

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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