Sweetwater Brewing Plans to Expand

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Atlanta-based Sweetwater Brewing Co. plans to quadruple its beer-making capacity to 400,000 barrels a year with a combination of new construction and the purchase of an existing building.
In June, Sweetwater plans to start work on a 49,000-square-foot packaging and bottling facility to link its brewery with a newly acquired 38,000-square-foot structure in the Armour Circle Industrial Park near Piedmont Road. That building will be used to store finished goods, raw ingredients and promotional materials.
Sweetwater has operated out of its existing brewery since 2004. It is already one of the largest independent brewers in the Southeast, and the expansion will make it an even bigger player in the fast-growing craft beer industry.
“Permits are in process and plans are under way,” said Steve Farace, director of marketing. “We’re pretty convinced that the demand is there.”
On paper, Sweetwater can produce up to 100,000 barrels of beer annually if it ran at full tilt. The company produced 77,000 barrels last year.
“The walls are definitely getting tight,” Farace said. “We’re pushing the envelope as it is just to keep up with the existing demand.”
The craft beer industry is growing at a fast pace, according to the Colorado-based Brewers Association, a trade group. Sales of craft beers rose 11 percent by volume and 12 percent in dollars last year. That was a faster pace than in 2009.
With the overall beer industry struggling to grow, craft beers such as those produced by Sweetwater and Athens-based Terrapin Beer Co. are grabbing more market share. The craft industry’s retail sales totaled an estimated $7.6 billion in 2010, according to the Brewers Association.
Sweetwater sells its beer in six states. It is fielding calls from wholesalers in Missouri, Connecticut and other states, who want to know whether the company is ready to ship its beer far outside its Southeast base.
“The quick answer is no,” Farace said. “We’ve been incredibly slow and steady in terms of how we expand geographically.”