In 1991, we bought an abandoned turn of the century building, a 32,000 sq ft building occupying about an acre of land, brought it back to life and opened The Schlafly Tap Room. We chose this location because we wanted to make something happen in a place where everyone, except for a few persistent believers, said it would not work. We brought to St. Louis traditional European beer styles and the foods that accompany them long before terms like craft beer and gastro pub became part of our day to day lexicon.
Twelve years ago, we bought a vacant 35,000 sq ft grocery store on 3 acres in Maplewood. We chose this location because we were exhausted looking for a building for a second Brewery in the City, and when we discovered the building in Maplewood, we, along with the help of many others, made it happen. In 2004 we completed the renovation and construction of the brewery, restaurant, beer pavilion and vegetable garden that is known today as Schlafly Bottleworks, a very “green” place focused on all things local; our traditional and innovative Schlafly Beers and foods that feature ingredients from local growers and our own garden. A place with a farmers market, hooked on recycling and solar panels.
Today we are out of room to significantly expand brewing operations. We will brew about 47,000 bbls this year at Bottleworks and 2,000 bbls at the Schlafly Tap Room. In total we will produce 55,000 to 60,000 bbls in 2013. The balance of the total is coming from agreements with a new brewery in Nashville TN and another in Iowa City, IA, together with an existing brewery in Stevens Point WI. So, what’s next?
As has been reported, we are planning a new brewery for Schlafly Beer in St. Louis. We have to plan because such a large project will take four years to complete. We are prepared to go to parts of our area where others see no potential; where others see decay. However, this time we are neither looking for a building on 1 acre nor on 3 acres. We want 40 acres. In the long term, a big brewery with many new buildings could put all 40 acres to use.
The search for the land is challenging. The search area includes St. Louis City and County. The search is on in areas with significant amounts of vacant land. The challenge is going to be assembling the amount of land at a price that will allow us to build what we need to build within a budget that makes sense given our relatively small size. If we can’t acquire the right site in the City or County, we will have to look elsewhere. We will generate some new jobs but not thousands. The growth of sales for Schlafly Beer will determine the number of jobs created. We are not moving jobs to St. Louis, we are building on the jobs we have already created: 200 today. Our goal is to purchase the land by the end of 2014 but, if we haven’t found the right site at a price makes sense, we’re prepared to wait longer. We will have one shot at getting this right, so we have to be patient. Therefore, if we are able to find the right site at the right price and our sales continue to grow, we could be opening a new brewery in 2017 or 2018.
So, before we start thinking about brewing in a new brewery, we have to build a bridge to that new brewery. And our real focus is on the components of that bridge: current production capacity, operations capacity and sales capacity. We have invested over $1.6m this year in new equipment at the Schlafly Tap Room and Schlafly Bottleworks, as well as our partner brewers to improve quality and quantity. We will continue to invest in the resources needed to grow our sales over the next few years. Our primary goal is to grow our sales at home by working with our distributor partners in the St. Louis area: Major Brands and Koerner Distributors. In addition we will work with our distributor partners in the region – 300 miles from St. Louis, excluding Chicago. And we will continue to seek our place in the craft beer markets in the Washington DC and New York City metro areas. If we are successful in building the bridge, we will earn the right to make this new brewery a reality.
Many thanks to everyone who has believed in and enjoyed Schlafly Beer for the past 22 years. With that said, I am off for a pint of Oktoberfest.