This past Fall, when I first started drafting this particular blog post we had just installed our 13th and final fermenting tank. That tank was a 40bbl tank and we treat it like a 45bbl tank when we run our lower yield pale ales through it (i.e. mostly Fantasy Factory). In this configuration the brewery should find its peak capacity around 15,000 bbls. I can remember quite vividly standing in an empty room and debating the finer points of our layout with Ryan. Many times it would be after midnight before the tape measure would come out (the tape measure has become a bit of a joke around the brewery…it usually means we’re going down a rabbit hole for at least an hour.) We would dream about what all of the tanks would look like and how much beer they could make. I would pull out my phone calculator and start projecting the revenue for each tank. Ryan’s eyes would get big as we added up the amount of brews that would equate to every week. …There have been many different “best” plans measured down to the fraction of an inch. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that perfection is not a result at all. It’s the process. Embrace the process!
In 2017 we produced 10,578 bbls so we have some room for growth before we reach our 15,000 bbl limit in this current facility. One of the most common questions I hear is, “When are you guys building a new brewery?” My answer lately has been, “As long away as possible!” We have put a lot of design and dollars into this current facility and every time Ryan and I challenge ourselves to find more room, we have found more room. In fact, we have usually found that we will add something that really helps the whole team while also creating more space, or at least better flow of the space. More recently, those windfall opportunities have become rare but our latest problem has led us to determine we can add a 14th fermenter to handle our small batch beers, grow our barrel aging beers and help develop our sour beers.
The ‘problem’ we are solving is that we have exceeded our cooling capacity and we need to buy a new chiller plant. This is a bummer and will cost us tens of thousands of dollars, but this affords us the opportunity to eliminate all of the inside equipment associated with the old system and consolidate new equipment on the roof. A beautiful 50-75 square feet of floor space will open up! Ryan and I were in a meeting with the engineer looking at our existing glycol reservoir when it clicked for both of us – we could fit another fermenter in the brewery! We looked at each other and kind of laughed (more of a snicker like “of course we’re going to put more shit in here…”). Solving our cooling problem and finding the space for this new tank will solidify our core brewing capacity around 15,000bbls while always being able to play with canning, small batches, barrel aging, sour beers, experiments, distilling wash… Wait, did you say sour beers?
Yes, we are forging into the sour beer universe with great curiosity. We will boldly go where we…probably…should have gone 12 months ago. But, alas, the last 6 months has provided enough clarity and stability that the creative juices are flowing more freely. We initially wrote-off the sour movement as we tend to shy away from the stomach-acid sour beers. More recently we realized that there are a whole host of sour beers that we have always liked but denied them their due respect as sour beers. Ryan has recently challenged himself with developing a house-blend of microbes and an approach to make fruit sour IPA’s. We have started to play with different yeast concoctions against our base malt profile for Fantasy Factory. We sent a single batch of Fantasy Factory wort over to Levi and Andrew at the Funk Factory, and we have started to source the equipment we want for our very own sour facility that we will hermetically seal in the middle of our warehouse. Much more to come on this experiment from Ryan… But rest assured the R&D lab is alive and well at K4!
So 2018 begins our pre-adolescent phase as a brewery. We now cover the entire state of Wisconsin but are far from fully saturating our product throughout the state. We have much work to do at home to continue to earn the craft beer drinker’s attention. We have re-invigorated our efforts at the taproom to try to add more value to anyone that visits us. There are regularly beers at the taproom from our pilot system that exist nowhere else. We are challenging ourselves to grow both creatively and operationally. We are getting much more serious about our formal QC program and we are trying to make room for more people to get involved in operating the brewery day-to-day. We have, call it, 4,000 bbls of beer to work with in the immediate future to bring more K4 into everyone’s lives in Wisconsin. Cans of Fantasy Factory in 2018 will likely gobble up a big chunk of that capacity and in the rest we will play!