Stumptown announces expansion plans

At tiny Stumptown Ales brewery, where demand has outstripped supply since the day it opened, the outlook for beer availability has taken a decided turn for the better.

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Stumptown Ales co-owners Jonathan and Cindy Robeson

The owners of the Davis, WV, brewpub say they recently placed an order for a much larger brewing system.

“We ordered a 10-barrel brewing system with two 10-barrel fermenters to go with the two 5-barrel fermenters we currently have,” says Jonathan Robeson, co-proprietor and head brewer at Stumptown Ales.

Starting from a tiny base, Stumptown’s story is one of rapid growth. In August 2015, Stumptown Ales opened with a half-barrel system. Then in February 2016, they jumped up to a 2.5-barrel system and some larger fermenters. Soon, with the new 10-barrel system, the brewery’s capacity will enlarge by a factor or four or more.

Happy to find an Ohio-based brewing equipment manufacturer

A BCast Heritage brewing system set up similar to the one ordered by Stumptown.
A BCast brewing system similar to the one ordered by Stumptown. (Complimentary photo)

The new brewery equipment was ordered from BCast Stainless Products out of the Columbus, Ohio, area. BCast is part of the Heritage Equipment Company, an over 30 year-old firm best known for producing dairy industry equipment.  Around two years ago the company began manufacturing brewery equipment.

Stumptown had been shopping for a new brew system pretty much ever since they installed their current 2.5-barrel system in February. They found several nice systems they liked from big-name manufacturers but discovered that those systems in the size they needed were cost prohibitive. Then in April, while attending the trade show at the Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia, Stumptown assistant brewer Jeff Melnick met the BCast folks.

Jeff Melnick reviewing a BCast brewing system in Ohio.
Jeff Melnick reviewing a BCast system in Ohio.

That meeting began a dialog that ended up in a purchase order. The Stumptown guys were impressed with BCast’s experience, quality and price. They were able to get a good looking platform system from a quality US manufacturer for a very affordable price.

With its solid track record and good cash flow, Stumptown obtained an equipment loan through a local Tucker County bank. It’s great to see a local financial institution in WV exhibiting faith in a small brewery business.

The Stumptown folks are hopeful that the new equipment will be delivered by the end of August. Adding in set-up and testing time, new beer could be in the market by the end of September. No one should be surprised, however, if that schedule slips a bit given the fluid nature of equipment delivery dates these days.

Looking back , looking ahead 

“It’s been great,” Robeson says about his brewery’s first 10 months. “It’s what we were hoping for, but you never know until you actually do it.”

Robeson stands in front of his current 2.5 barrel brewing system.
Robeson stands in front of his current 2.5 barrel brewing system.

Demand has not let up since day one. Their current 2.5-barrel system simply can’t produce enough beer even with them brewing multiple times each week.

“We ran out of beer again last weekend just selling by the glass and the growler,” he said.

When the expansion project is fully complete, Stumptown expects to have enough product to begin some self-distribution to other accounts.

“We should be able to do some limited distribution by the end of this year,” says Robeson.

New distribution would begin with accounts in the Canaan Valley, Davis, and Thomas areas. Next, they would add a few select craft beer accounts in Morgantown, Huntington, Charleston and other cities. Beyond that, increased distribution will depend on Stumptown adding more fermenters to their operation—something they have space for and would anticipate doing as cash flow allows.

‘We don’t want to be a one trick pony’

“We’re known for our IPAs but there’s a lot of people who love our porters and stouts,” Robeson says.

His business partner and wife Cindy will tell you that her favorite Stumptown beer is the stout. It’s brewed with some added coffee beans from a Thomas, WV, roaster.

“We don’t want to be a one trick pony,” says Robeson. “We want to be known for interesting, unique and flavorful beers.

“We’re going to expand into some new styles for us, some Berliner Weisses and Goses. (He already had a Berliner in the fermenter.)

They also want to learn to produce barrel-aged sours and will experiment with a few barrels of beer aging in Jonathan’s basement.

“Maybe in a year or so, we’ll have some small, limited-release bottles of barrel-aged beer,” Robeson says.

But still, not to lead you astray, Stumptown is first and foremost an IPA brewery.

“I like our IPAs,” says Melnick. “That’s what I get excited about. I like our style because we’re not super bitter but we’re very hop heavy.”

Like most of today’s hot IPA breweries the Stumptown brewers like their Mosaic, Galaxy, and Citra hops a lot. But there’s more to them than that.

Learning, improving, learning some more

Even though they brewed credible beers from day one, the Stumptown brewers continue to tweak their recipes and processes. They admit they’re learning every day.

“We’ve modified our hop schedule and I think that’s made our beers taste better,” says Melnick.

Robeson agrees and provides an example.

“Our Six Legged Frog is double hopped with Galaxy out the wazoo,” he explains. “Galaxy is a very fruity hop, but we’ve learned to add a little bit of Columbus in the dry hopping to round out the flavor. With these super fruity hops they need to be cut a little bit.”

Running a pilot batch of double IPA on the Sabco.
Running a pilot batch of double IPA on the Sabco Brew Magic.

The day I visited, the guys were busy on the little Sabco Brew Magic brewing up an experimental batch of double IPA.  They were trying to develop a hack that would create a drier beer than their current recipe. Experimentation, it’s what good brewers do.

“Maybe it’s personal taste,” says Robeson, “but it’s also what seems to be the preferred style these days—not to have much residual sweetness in these beers.

“Let the hops do their thing and have a nice clean dry finish. There’s a bit of an art to doing that. We’re experimenting with step mashing today and messing around with the recipe to see if we can accomplish what we want to.”

We wouldn’t want to leave the IPA discussion without dealing with the clarity line.  Where does Stumptown fall on the clear-IPA/murky-IPA dichotomy?

“We do both, and we like both of them,” Robeson asserts. “Our Bewildered Hippie is more of the West Coast style—real dry and clear. Our Six Legged Frog is more the Northeast style. It looks like a big glass of yeast, but when people taste it, it blows their minds.”

Stumptown ales

You can sample these and other Stumptown beers every Thursday through Sunday at their brewpub in downtown Davis. Cloudy or clear, IPA or Stout. It’s your choice.

Brewery website link

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