Creature Comforts to Build Second Facility

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Creature Comforts Brewing Co. in Athens, Georgia plans to invest at least $8 million in the buildout of a second hometown production facility, enabling the company to dramatically increase its brewing capacity. The space is slated to occupy part of 117-year-old mill complex now being reimagined as a mixed-use development. In a statement, the three-year old brewery said it plans to break ground in May and hopes to be operational by October.

WHY IT MATTERS
Though the company only launched in April 2014 and, to date, only serves the Athens- and Atlanta-area markets, it’s already operating a a production threshold of 28,000 barrels per year.

At the new facility, which company co-founder Chris Herron envisions as Creature Comforts’ 36,000 square foot “forever home,” the plan is to open with 50,000 barrels worth of fermentation capacity and ample room to add on to that as necessary. The specs include an 85-barrel four-vessel brewhouse (and room for another) as well as a 240 can-per-minute canning line. But one of the things Herron says he’s most excited for is the investment of a quarter of a million dollars in the build out of an on-site quality assurance laboratory.

“The goal of this is to not just make more beer, but make better beer even more consistently,” Herron tells GBH. “We’re excited we’re gonna be able to keep up with demand better, but we’re also excited we’re gonna have even tighter controls.”

He says the company is primarily focused on getting the best equipment possible right now, but added “phase two” of the project will include the implementation of a taproom, though he doesn’t expect that component to be ready on day one.

To finance the project, the company is using a mix of operating cash and debt, according to Herron. It was also awarded a $475,000 grant from an economic development fund belonging to Athens-Clarke County, which was just approved by Athens Mayor Nancy Denson (D) on Tuesday. Per terms of the grant, the Athens-Clarke County Industrial Development Authority will purchase the equipment and lease it to the brewery for an annual, albeit ceremonial fee of $5 over the next five years, according to Online Athens. Reached by GBH, Athens Mayor Denson says the grant is contingent on a number of things, including promised job creation.

“I’m just delighted that they’re helping provide jobs in Athens,” Denson says. “That’s one of my primary goals as mayor, economic job creation. And they’ve already helped with that tremendously with their original facility.”

On that note, Herron says the plan is create new jobs on the production front, in the lab and cellar, as well as fill a number of corporate positions in financing, accounting, and sales.

“We’ve gone from five employees to about 23 full-time employees, and expect to double that number in the next five years, at minimum, we think,” Herron says.

As far as what consumers can look forward to, the brewery expects to be able to brew 25,000 barrels of Tropicália, its popular IPA, in 2018, which is “nearly double its current output,” according to the company. The company also hopes to see its seasonal offerings become “truly seasonable,” says Herron, “rather than being gone immediately when they hit.” On top of that, it plans to shift limited-release beers over to 60-barrel tanks (they’ve typically been produced in a 30-barrel system).

“Everything should get a pick up is kind of the goal and aspiration,” Herron says.

That’s not to say the company has immediate intentions to spread its reach, however. There are no plans in place to expand distribution to other markets, as the company still sees ample room to grow in both Athens and Atlanta. To that end, we couldn’t help but inquire: Did Creature Comforts ever consider looking elsewhere to expand, considering the legislative climate in Georgia, one of only a handful of states that still disallows breweries from selling their beer directly to consumers?

“We’d rather dig our heels in and help change the laws, as opposed to kind of running away from them,” Herron says. “We’ve always wanted to stay in Athens.”

—Dave Eisenberg