COLUMBIA TOWNSHIP, Ohio - Fifty West Brewing Company is cooking up a $1.5 million expansion that will initially increase its brewing capacity to 7,000 barrels annually, a five-fold increase over current levels.
Owner Bobby Slattery said the Columbia Twp. brewery is trying to keep up with surging demand for its products, including Penny Pilsner, Blaketoberfest lager and Punch You In The EyePA. The expansion will allow the brewery to ramp up production to more than 30,000 barrels per year in the future.
“We’re going to get to all these bars and restaurants that have been calling us for it,” Slattery said. “The way it works now, we send out a list on Sunday night to all the vendors. By Monday at 2 o’clock, if you haven’t ordered, you’re not getting beer that week.”
Cincinnati’s craft brewing industry is on the upswing, with multiple breweries expanding their production and distribution capacities and the region’s largest grocery chain devoting more space to local brews.
Rhinegeist, for example, announced a $10 million expansion in May that enables its production capacity to reach 50,000 barrels. MadTree Brewing is boosting capacity to 19,000 barrels with an expansion announced last June.
“The demand is coming from everywhere,” said Todd Wiggs, beer and wine manager at Jungle Jim’s International Market. “It’s not just the beer geeks but this locavore movement that’s pervasive across beer, wine and food. It’s huge right now.”
Wiggs has 40 beers on tap at Jungle Jim’s and he likes to have two of those taps flowing with Fifty West beer.
“They’re creating a category of beers that are interesting, unique and off the beaten path,” he said. “Our customers can’t get enough.”
He thinks Slattery could stoke additional demand by canning its better beers, like One Way Street, California Common and Eleanor, a “Belgo-American” blonde ale.
“If they were to release in package, I would buy boatloads more,” Wiggs said.
Slattery said packaging is an option in the future, but for now he wants satisfy growing demand without losing Fifty West’s small-batch approach to brewing beer.
“We’re making the conscious decision to stay draft-only for the time being,” he said. “Everybody wants us to go into package, but if we do that we feel like we can’t produce enough. We’d kind of be in this weird space where we produce enough to do package but fall short on the draft side. So we decided, 'Let’s just do what got us where we are.' We’re going to brew really great beers.”
The expansion will relocate brewery operations across the street from the former Heritage Restaurant site on U.S. 50. That will enable kitchen improvements and a larger restaurant operation, while the brewery becomes an anchor for recreational developments along the Little Miami Scenic River Trail.
As WCPO reported last month, the Slattery family is funding a $26,000 extension of the bike trail so it links to Mariemont Crossing, a cluster of Wooster Pike businesses that offer sand volleyball courts and rental canoes, kayaks and bikes.
“This is going to be a unique opportunity to create events around different activities,” he said.
At the same time, the new brew house will be expandable to the west. Ultimately, Slattery thinks the site is big enough to accommodate production if up to 32,000 barrels annually, more than enough to satisfy a canning operation and experiment with small-batch beers.