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ITHACA, N.Y. — Keep your hands on your mugs, beer fans, because at the Ithaca Beer Company, business is hopping.
Work is currently underway on a major expansion at their production facility and tap room, located at Ithaca Beer Drive, just south of the intersection of Elmira Road and Five Mile Drive in Ithaca town.
Drive by now and you’ll see all the sights and sounds of industrial construction – metal stud walls being erected, windows being fitted, and sheets of corrugated steel being hoisted to the roof of the new wing.
“The physical building should be completed in the next month or two. Then there’s the wiring and plumbing, and the bottling equipment will be on-site by March,” says Gregg Stacy, marketing director for Ithaca Beer.
The $7.2 million expansion will create an additional 23,800 SF of warehouse and production space for use in beer packaging, a new bottle line, and barrel-aging capacities. The company applied for and received a standard 7-year tax abatement from the Tompkins County IDA to help cover the costs of its current expansion.
Stacy says that the expansion is less about increasing growth and more about keeping up with the already strong demand for Ithaca Beer brews.
“Really, the expansion is giving us the capacity to grow bigger if we choose to, but mostly it’s accommodating the production we already have. We’ll brew 27,000 barrels this year, but our bottling and kegging are much slower than our brewing ability, and it’ll give us more space for those things. We’re very measured and conservative in our growth, which is important given the industry’s volatility. We’ll have the new bottling line and more room for packaging. We’ll have a bigger cooler for finished products, which will also be an asset.”
Founded in 1998 just a short walk away from their current location, Ithaca Beer has been on the forefront of the craft beer movement that has taken hold in recent years. The company completed their previous expansion in 2012 and now employs 40-45 people year-round, with another 30 seasonal service staff during the summer tourism season. The expansion will add another 22 full-time jobs over the next three years, according to the company’s application to the Tompkins County IDA.
Stacy attributes much of the growth to increased consumer interest in locally-grown, handcrafted foods and beverages.
“Craft beer is now well-established, a lot of people didn’t think it was going to be a real thing, just a fad. I really think in the long view, the macro beers, what we call the big companies, those beers are an aberration. The beers we’re brewing today are more traditional, the kind they made from the dawn of time into the 1940s. People are coming back to real bread, real cheese, real beer. People are interested in flavor and quality rather than quantity.”
One thing that Stacy emphasized was that Ithaca Beer has no plans to become the next big beer maker, preferring to focus on expanding their offerings in their current markets, rather than reaching out beyond the Northeast.
“We see a lot of other brews growing, it’s now a billion dollar industry. Dome of the models for bigger brews is just to get huge. That’s not us. We’re looking at only 7-10% growth, where many places look at 30%. We’re not too small, and not too big, and we like that. We’re focusing on our top wholesalers and developing those relationships further, rather than expanding territory. Wegman’s is great for us, we have some great wholesalers, and we want to have more beer varieties and quantity in our current wholesalers and grocers.”
And as for new products waiting in the wings? “We’ll be looking at canning and innovating new products, but nothing too crazy. More like new double IPAs rather than bacon extracts and hard sodas.”
According to Stacy, Ithaca Beer couldn’t think of a better place to be than the city of gorges.
“It’s our home. We’re not that in the middle of nowhere, transport isn’t that big of a business challenge for us. Being in the Northeast is a big asset, there’s many opportunities in our backyard. Our taproom is an embassy, we get a ton of visitors for the beer and to see how it’s made. People like to touch and see the brand, our taproom is a strong revenue generator. We’re like the Vermont of Central New York, it’s pretty magical. People get it, and we do a good job getting the message out.
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