Beer Man

New Belgium, maker of Fat Tire, plans a second brewery on the East Coast

Two of the nation's biggest craft brewers, both based in California, have revealed the details of some major expansion plans in the past couple of days, and Colorado's New Belgium Brewing, the country's third largest craft brewer, could be close behind.

New Belgium is just three to five years away from reaching capacity at its existing facility in Fort Collins, which is capable of brewing 900,000 barrels of beer each year. That fact, coupled with the company's major East Coast distribution plans for the fall, means that New Belgium needs to find a second place to make beer, says brewery spokesman Bryan Simpson.

"The goal now is to have something decided and under contract by the end of 2011, somewhere between here and the East Coast, probably closer to the coast," he says. "If you think about potential growth, there is a lot of territory out there."

New Belgium has narrowed the search down to about six sites, but doesn't want to reveal yet in which states they're located. The new brewery would probably produce most of New Belgium's lineup, and include a taproom and possibly a restaurant. (Update and clarification: Simpson says a restaurant is not out of realm of possibility, but that it is unlikely.)

On Tuesday, California's Sierra Nevada Brewing revealed that it is considering a town in eastern Tennessee for a second large brewing facility to serve the East Coast. Sierra Nevada, which is the second largest craft brewer in the nation, according to statistics provided by the Boulder-based Brewers Association, would also open a taproom and restaurant; the company is considering three East Coast locations.

And then on Wednesday, Escondido, California-based Stone Brewing revealed a $26 million, multi-pronged expansion plan that would include a 400-seat restaurant in San Diego, along with a second, smaller brewery and film-screening area, a farm and a store. The nation's fourteenth largest craft brewer also wants to double the size of its current facility, something that would enable it to brew 500,000 barrels a year. Stone is also searching for a site in Germany or Belgium in which to open another brewery.

New Belgium and its Fat Tire flagship have achieved cult-like status on the Eastern Seaboard in recent years -- similar to Coors in the 1970s -- because it hasn't been available there. But earlier this year, the company announced plans to begin distribution in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Before now, it hadn't been sold east of Indiana or north of the Carolinas. New Belgium is currently in 27 states.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes