Hayburner, Deep Cut, Fip, Packet, Excavator, you know the names, you love the beer. The problem is, Big Ditch Brewing was running out of the room necessary to keep a consistent stockpile of fresh beer, a problem satiated by a recent expansion that involved the addition of two new 60 barrel fermenting tanks, their fourth expansion project in under four years. The good news is, Big Ditch can now brew and store more beer, which means more great beer for all of us. It’s a win-win.
The brewery was at approximately 14,000 barrels capacity before the addition of the new tanks and now sit at around 17,000 barrels, or approximately a 20% increase in space. Factoring in yield and other factors, the total numbers will be less.
“It will be enough to allow to us to grow this year a little more comfortably,” says Big Ditch President Matt Kahn, who admits that he still believes things will be a little tight come summertime. “But it would have been impossible had we not added these tanks.”
Big Ditch started discussing adding more tanks to their brewhouse last summer when they began running into an issue of declining space to put beer. Kahn says that they just plain ran out of room and needed to revise their process moving forward.
“Sometime during last summer we were really running into problems where we just couldn’t churn out batches fast enough,” Kahn says. “Basically it was due to having some batches stuck in tanks. As of late summer we had 11 fermenters, and it takes about two weeks to turn around a batch, which means we could fill up about five tanks a week, which a lot of times would be fine but not always. If we wanted to do three batches of Hayburner, and two different other things, say a seasonal or Low Bridge or Excavator, or a one-off of something, we just could not get it all through and we were just getting stuck. We’d have to brew, shut down and wait a day until the batch is ready and then we’d empty that tank and start up again. It was on and off like that.”
Kahn and the rest of his brewing team decided that they could not go into another summer utilizing that process. “If we want to continue to make beer at the same rate or more next year we have to start looking at adding more tanks.”
“Last summer we decided that if we wanted to continue to grow and max out what we can do at this facility, we put together a project to maximize our resources. We looked at the layout and thought that we could add in two more fermenting tanks, which definitely makes it more crowded in the brewhouse, but it’s still workable for us.”
He adds that in the process of deciding on adding more tanks, they discovered some inefficiencies in their brewing system, something they corrected with some new brewhouse pieces. To address some issues with carbonation, they installed a new inline carbonation system.
“We were doing what most breweries our size do and transfer beer into a tank and carbonate it in the tank, which could take up to a few days to do. That would slow things down. We’d come in in the morning and be ready but the beer wouldn’t be carbonated yet, which would cause us to be down for a whole day waiting sometimes, so that was inefficient for us. There were other little things that we had, like our water system was shared between the brewery and our packaging room, which meant we could brew or wash kegs but we couldn’t do them at the same time.”
To address the carbonation side of things, they installed a new inline carbonation system, which takes carbonation from around two days down to five hours. “That helps us to optimize things.” Big Ditch also worked to optimize their beer transfer process and installed a new cleaning unit.
“Another thing that we did was we measure the flow rate from the mash tun to the kettle now, which we didn’t use to do. A lot of breweries our size come with what’s called a grant, which is basically like a sight glass where you can see the liquid going through, so you try and control the levels and valves, so we have been using a grant for forever, now we got rid of that. Now we just have a flow meter there so we can optimize how fast we transfer beer over so we can get a nice, uniform transfer, which has increased our yield around 2%, which is nice.”
As far as remaining space at their current location, Kahn says it’s a concern, because thanks to this latest expansion and some other things he has in mind, they are basically out of space. With Resurgence Brewing and Community Beer Works announcing major expansions to new spaces, does this mean that Big Ditch could join them?
“We can’t grow anymore at this site,” he says. “We will see how it goes this year and from there we will decide what we are going to do next. It’s just too soon to say. It’s a big choice to go up from here. I’m not sure if we are ready to do that yet.”
“We’re gonna make a lot of beer this year,” Kahn says, which should be music to all of our ears.
For more information on all things Big Ditch, visit http://www.bigditchbrewing.com/.
Brian Campbell is a co-founder/Brand Manager of the BNBA’s enthusiast arm, Buffalo Beer League, and writes the weekly Buffalo Beer Buzz column. If you have beer news that should be included in the Beer Buzz, Brian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter (@buffbeerleague), Instagram (@buffalobeerleague), Facebook (@thebuffalobeerleague) and www.buffalobeerleague.com.