How Do You Manage at Max Capacity?

Growing pains are rough. Even as your brewery grows, the challenges never stop.

“We are certainly figuring out a lot as we grow …maybe more as a business than as a brewery,” said Wiseacre Brewing co-founder Kellan Bartosch, who opened in Memphis in 2013 and is now approaching 21,000 barrels in just four years. “I say that because my brother (Davin) and I worked really hard to know brewing and the beer industry before we opened, but we had never run a business before and that is just really really tough. I’m not saying it is bad or something, but it is challenging … like lose sleep at night challenging at times.”

Bartosch said the brewery made plans to grow over the years and 20,000 barrels wasn’t out of the question. But that was a Year 10 idea, not a Year 4. So even as the brewery recently added Huntsville and Auburn, Alabama to its list of territories — which include eight states mostly in the southeast and the cities of Chicago and Philadelphia — the brewery is looking to expand since it is now at capacity.

“We have the same brewhouse we started with, so all of our expansions have been by adding to the cellar,” Bartosch explained. “We have a full time staff of 22 and our brewery operates from 5 a.m. sometimes until 3 a.m.”

The biggest reason Bartosch said Wiseacre has grown is because of its Pilsner, Tiny Bomb, which won a GABF Gold along with honor honors since debuting.

“The category has picked up a lot of respect recently, but my brother was in love with Pilsners a decade ago,” he said. “He developed Pilsners for years and the first time he ever made Tiny Bomb in Memphis it was better than any he had ever made in Chicago. Memphis has the softest water in the country which is perfect for the style … we can confidently tell people across the country it is one of the best pilsners in the world.”

That has meant explosive growth: 515 percent in 2014, 108 percent in 2015 and 56 percent in 2016 along with adding nearly 2,000 barrels by the end of 2017.

“The last market we added was Chicago in October, 2016 and we just added Huntsville/Auburn last month … so basically a year later,” Bartosch said. “We probably could have added those markets (or maybe even a few more) when we added Chicago, but since we are maxed out on capacity we wanted to be conservative to stretch ourselves too thin.

“Huntsville and Auburn are great places to sell beer, but they are not giant markets in terms of size that would put a strain on our ability to deliver beer to a new market while keeping up with sales elsewhere. We plan to add the rest of Alabama — along with a ton of other markets — when we feel safe about being able to do it without rocking the boat.

“Supply and demand is tricky. Beer sales go up and down with the seasons, tap handles are lost and gained, consumer choice can be fickle…it’s very hard to predict. What do you do when you expect to be up 12 percent in a market but you end up down 4 percent? Or the opposite if you expect to sell 11,000 cases in a city but instead you sell 22,000 cases?  Both of those scenarios affect not only the market at hand but also how we work with all of our other markets.  That all effects our production schedule and how we package.

“Keeping beer fresh is more important everyday so you don’t want to sandbag on inventory. I think we’ve done a very good job at figuring this out just by caring about it all greatly. Every time you add a new market or add capacity at your facility the entire equation changes again. You have to sit there everyday and try to figure it out.”

There’s got to be great communication and Bartosch said having an incredible staff is key.

“From the brewery side we are doing great,” he said. “From the business side, we desire to be a better business for our staff and for Memphis. We’ll keep working hard on all fronts. We just had our fourth anniversary as a brewery and we plan on being around for a long time, so we’ve got time to keep figuring it all out.”

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