It takes a lot of steel to brew craft beer

Steel going up at Jackie O's
Once begun, the steel went up rapidly at Jackie O’s Brewing Company in Athens, Ohio. The expansion dwarfs the existing production facility seen in the back.

Before the beer flows out, the steel must go up. For evidence of this, look no farther than the expansion project now underway at Jackie O’s production brewery in Athens, Ohio. The expansion will add 6,800 sq. ft. of new production space.

This major investment, likely valued at well in excess of a million dollars, will allow the brewery to grow from its current 9,000-barrel annual production capacity to a capacity as high as 35,000-barrels annually. Although to reach the 35,000-barrel level, the brewery would need additional tankage and brewhouse equipment beyond that which they will initially install in the expanded space.

Steel bones are up at Jackie O's brewery
A day or two two after the photo the photo at the top of the page was taken, the steel skeleton was pretty much complete, as is seen in this photo that was posted on Jackie O’s Brewery Facebook page.

The expansion broke ground in August, and things progressed rather slow at first. Now the pace has picked up considerably. In mid-October, the steel framework went up quickly. It was a welcomed sight for Brian Cornelius, who assists brewery owner Art Oestrike with overall business operations.

More steel beams are up at Jackie O's
Another week or so later, even more steel is up at Jackie O’s production brewery.

“The big legos are going up right now, and we’ll fill it in over the next 3 or 4 months,” Cornelius said.

Brewery outgrew existing space

A large addition is being built
A large addition being built on the rear of Jackie O’s existing production brewery.

At the current 2,400 sq. ft. production brewery, Brad Clark, Jackie O’s head of brewery operations, said they’ve only been brewing there for a bit over two and a half years yet are hitting the equipment’s capacity limit. They are having a hard time keeping up with demand for their beer.

“We are on track to do about 9,000 barrels this year at this location,” said Clark this past summer, while adding that it’s a lack of fermentation space keeps them from producing more.

Pretty much ever since they opened it, Jackie O’s has continued to add equipment to the production brewery building until it is bursting at the seams.

“There’s no more room (in the existing brewery) to grow right now,” said Clark. “The expansion will free up some space and allow us to grow a lot more.”

Brad Clark, who oversee all brewing at Jackie O's, says that the existing brewery is reaching its maximum brewing capacity.
Brad Clark, who oversees  all brewing at Jackie O’s, says that the production is reaching its maximum brewing capacity. With demand growing, the brewery has to expand.

Jackie O’s head production brewer Seth Morton echoed Clark’s observation.

“We’ve shoehorned quite a bit of equipment into that very small space,” he said. “It will be nice to have some breathing room.”

Brewery equipment at jackie O's existing facility
Equipment seems to fill every square inch of brewery floor space at Jackie O’s existing 2,400 sq. ft. production brewery. The expansion project will increase the space by 6,800 sq. ft.

Jackie O’s maxing out production capacity became widely known early this summer when the brewery had to cut back production of several of its beers to devote more production to its most popular brand, Mystic Momma IPA. (Brilliant Stream reported on this last July.)

At at the production brewery, they’ve brewed over 1,000 batches of beer, with the biggest chunk of it being Mystic Mama. Seth Morton says that for the time being they’ve caught up with the demand for Mystic Mama and that production of all Jackie O’s brands resumed a while back. Meanwhile, sales of Mystic Momma continue to be very strong across Ohio.

A big step forward for a small brewery 

Jackie O's brewery chalk board
With the expansion comes increased production capacity for Jackie O’s barrel-aged imperial series. This means less out-of-stock conditions.

Once this brewery expansion is completed, the largest chunk of the new space will be devoted to fermentation tanks. The addition’s 32 ft.-high ceilings will handle taller, larger fermentation tanks, up to a 240 bbl. size. Initially, however,  the brewery will install three 120 bbl fermenters and one 120 bbl bright tank. The 240 bbl tanks would come in a future expansion phase.

“Right now we have nine 40 bbl fermenters. and two 20 bbl fermenters running off a 20 bbl brewhouse,” Morton said, describing the current brewing set-up that maxes out at about 9,000 barrels annual capacity.

The 120 bbl fermenters will increase fermentation capacity by 90% from the current set up, removing the bottleneck the brewery has been experiencing. By our estimates, this step up will take Jackie O’s annual production capacity to around 17,000 barrels. The four new tanks are reportedly already fabricated and waiting to be shipped once the building is completed.

Morton said another nice part of the expansion project will be a dedicated sour beer processing area.

“We’ll keep all the bugs all in there,” he explained. “We’ll have some stainless fermenters dedicated towards sour production, as well as some foeders. Also, we’ll have dedicated processing and packaging equipment for sours.”

This certainly sounds like Jackie O’s is posed to increase production in its sour beer and barrel-aging programs.

Beyond production equipment

Beyond production equipment, the expanded space will offer a  spacious new brewery laboratory with more lab equipment — something that becomes very important to maintaining a consistent product as the brewery increases production. Brewery managers are also pleased that the expansion will add some much-needed office space for administrative work.

Brian Cornelius says he is especially proud that the expansion will allow them to progress in the sustainability part of their mission.

“As part of the expansion, we are installing a solar energy array on the entire roof—about 298 panels,” he said.

He estimates the solar energy will offset their electric utility usage by as much as 40%.

Predicting the next production capacity squeeze

Jackie O's 20 barrel brewhouse.
If sales continues to grow at the current pace, could the 20-barrel brewhouse at Jackie O’s be the next production bottleneck? Time will tell.

When the new tanks are in, filling each of those 120 bbl fermenters will take six cycles of the brewhouse. That seems like a lot more demand on the 20-barrel brewhouse. If demand continues to grow and more fermentation tanks are added, Jackie O’s will surely find its existing brewhouse to be undersized. It’s likely that a lager brewhouse will be a part of the next Jackie O’s expansion project. While brewery staff said there are no plans for that today, they admitted that such an addition would be a natural step in future brewery growth.

The other piece of brewery equipment that will likely hit capacity before too long is Jackie O’s canning line.

“Our current canning machine can do about 35 cans a minute.” Morton said.

In the world of canned beer packaging, that is a modest-sized canning line. Morton agreed that down the road they may need to add on to this once production grows.

Brewery employment will increase

Jackie O's staff prepare for the annual Anniversary Bottle Sale
Jackie O’s staff prepare for the annual Anniversary Bottle Sale that takes place each December. The expansion project will lead to increased employment at the production brewery.

Currently, 12 full-time employees work in the production brewery along with several part-timers. Once the expansion is complete, the brewery anticipates adding several more full-time and part-time staff.

“We’ll definitely need more brewers,” said Morton. “We’ll need more cellarmen, and more packaging techs.”

These new brewery jobs are nice to see in a county that tends to have a much higher than average poverty rate and where the unemployment rate has been running higher than the national average.

Jackie O’s Farm expands too

The brewery operates a separate venture called Jackie O’s Brewery Farm. The farm grows produce served at Jackie O’s downtown brewpub and public house restaurants.

In preparation for the production brewery expansion project, Jackie O’s had to remove a small building from the lot where the expansion would be built. These building materials were salvaged and have been taken to the farm where they are being reconstructed for farm use.

This summer at the farm, Jackie O’s installed a nearly two-acre hopyard. They set a bunch of 8-inch steel posts in the ground that reach 30 feet high. Several hop varieties have been planted. Once the hop yard is in production, the hops will flavor some of Jackie O’s brews.

The farm has already provided produce that ended up in Jackie O’s beer. Such things as raspberries and pumpkins have been incorporated into several beers at the brewpub. Jackie O’s New Growth IPA, a summer seasonal, is flavored with fresh-cut spruce tips taken from the farm in the morning and put in the beer tank that day.

We can only hope to see more of this plow-to-pint as the farm operation matures.

Brewery has positive impact on Appalachia

Jackie O's signature "State of Ohio" beer flight board
Jackie O’s signature “State of Ohio” beer flight board illustrates its commitment to its state and region. The brewery is becoming a major economic force in the Appalachian-region of Ohio.

Jackie O’s brewery expansion is good news for the Athens area and great news for craft beer fans across Ohio and for those in surrounding states who live close enough for an occasional visit. Once it’s completed, more Jackie O’s brands should be in good supply across the state. This should only help grow the brewery’s already strong image and popularity.

Jackie O’s overall operations (production brewery, brewpub, public house, farm, and bakery) employ scores of people and produce a positive economic impact on its area of Appalachian Ohio. It really shows what a group of smart, forward-thinking, hard-working brewery people can mean to Appalachia. Breweries like Jackie O’s not only have the power to increase local incomes and tax revenues, but also the have power to change the things people think about when they think about the Appalachian region.

Thank you Jackie O’s for being such a positive force in our region.

2 Replies to “It takes a lot of steel to brew craft beer”

  1. Hey Charles, thanks for the great article! We’ll take good care of your hat until the next time you make it down. Cheers, Seth.

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