In his first two years as a commercial brewery owner Karl Wagenbrenner, of Berkeley Springs Brewing Company, learned a lot about operating a brewery and selling beer. And he feels good about that. Now, looking ahead to Year 3, he wants to move toward wider distribution and a new, larger brewery.
“We’re growing about as fast as we can,” Wagenbrenner said about beer sales and the limits of his current brewing equipment. “We’re not big. We’re a 3-barrel brewhouse, but we’re looking to grow and expand our footprint.
“I firmly believe if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
He wants to grow business both at the Bath Water Brewpub, which is his retail side, and at Berkeley Springs Brewing Company, the production side. They have already seen an expansion in beer and food menu items and in customers at the current location, until it’s size, which seemed plenty big two years ago, now seems cramped for space. Wagenbrenner sees opportunities to expand both the local taproom business and distribution.
Maybe key to both is an existing building just down the road from the current brewery site. He would like to lease that building soon so he can begin the renovations necessary to turn it into his new place.
“It would give us 13,000 sq. ft. to work with inside the building. We’ll have some outdoor seating and possibly an outdoor stage.”
He would like to install a family-friendly, pet-friendly outdoor recreation area. He would increase the restaurant offerings.
“I’ve noticed that the breweries that have a sense of growth also have a sense of family,” he said.
Plans for a larger brewery
At an expanded facility, his top priority would be to add additional fermentation capacity, but he would stick with his current brewhouse, probably for the next year. When financing is secured, however, he hopes to upgrade to a 10-barrel system and a canning line.
“We want our brewery to grow into a destination for Berkeley Springs,” he said.
He also wants to grow his distribution footprint to cover the whole Four-State Region, which is a corridor running from Chambersburg, PA, south through Maryland and West Virginia to Winchester, VA. He then hopes to grow out east and west from that corridor.
“Who knows what the future holds,” he said. “We’re focused on growth and expanding our business.”
He sees the market beginning to get saturated and wants to expand his foothold before others do.
“Two years ago, we were the twelfth brewery in West Virginia, and now there are 25 and more are coming every day. It’s getting a little tough to keep a hold on that tap handle.”
Making a wide range of beer
His beers are not really true to any traditional style guideline. He likes to mix things up a bit and make the beer his own, though he never uses any adjunct grains or commercial flavorings. He feels that one of his main strengths is the high quality Berkeley Springs water, for which the area is famous.
“I make 18 different beers on a 3-barrel brewhouse. I keep usually 8 to 12 beers on tap at our place.”
“We’re putting out two summertime IPAs in Lover’s Leap IPA and Stonewall IPA, both of which are citrus flavor up-front, with low bitterness.”
Other beers he’s brewed for this summer are American Amber, caCapon Kolsch, and Old Oak Stout.
Now making kombucha too
A new product line at Berkeley Springs Brewing’s Bath Water Brewpub is a kombucha. Development of this product was driven by co-owner Denise Wagenbrenner, who kept hearing that it was so good for you. At first, she tried some samples others made, but didn’t like them. Then one of the guys in her local homebrew club brought in some homemade kombucha his wife had made and this recipe got her attention.
“That’s really good,” she said after tasting it. “I want to make that.”
So she worked on the recipe and the process until she got it down, and then began offering it at the brewpub. That’s when BSBC Chai Kombucha was born.
“It gives us a non-alcoholic option to offer here,” she said. “It’s been well-received.”
She makes 5-gallon batches of the Chai Kombucha from a base tea that comes from a tea blend by the local Sage Moon Herb Shop. Seeing the popularity of the Chia Kombucha, she is developing other flavors, such as a Green Tea blend, Herbal blend, Lemon & Lavender, Ginger, and more.
“My husband does not believe in making fruity beers, so this is my way of getting fruit into the bar,” she said with a laugh.
Marketing moves ahead
On the marketing front, the past 12 months have seen Wagenbrenner starting to do the festival circuit and signing up with his first distributors in West Virginia.
“The festivals do a good job getting our name out there, but they are not really cost-effective for the brewery,” he said about festivals outside his distribution area. Still, he plans to continue doing some.
Berkeley Springs Brewing now has two distributors, Martin Distributing in the Eastern Panhandle and Jo’s Globe Distributing in Morgantown. He is interested in adding more once he is sure he can supply the additional beer needed.
The brewery updated its brand logo recently to a cleaner, sharper logo. It’s already appearing on all their growlers, hats, t-shirts, and the like. Wagenbrenner had designed the original brewery logo, so was a little hesitant to change it. They got some help through their local Small Business Development Center, and once he saw the graphic artist’s work, he really liked it.
“We’re just trying to get our name out in front of everybody as much as possible,” he said.
More information at the brewery website.