Stormcloud Brewing’s Forecast: 100 percent chance of growth
By Ross Boissoneau | March 10, 2018
With demand at the Frankfort brewpub and retail outlets exceeding even its founders expectations, five-year-old Stormcloud Brewing Co. has opened a (giant) second facility and tasting room just a mile from its first. Northern Express goes inside.
When Rick Schmitt and Brian Confer opened Stormcloud Brewing Company in downtown Frankfort in 2013, they were taking a chance. Another brewery in another small northern Michigan town — would it make it?
Not only has Stormcloud made it, it turns out its founders didn’t plan big enough. The twosome has just opened a new production facility on the other side of Frankfort, which offers greater capacity and plenty of space for more if they need it.
Expanding the footprint wasn’t really part of the plan. “Not necessarily,” said Confer when asked if it was their original goal. If it had been, he said, “When we put together a business plan we would have included this, too.”
But once the pair had made the decision to add a second, larger brewing facility, he said it was only logical to include a small tasting room there as well, even though it’s just a mile away from their first. The two partners say they are not worried about cannibalizing their own customers. “It’s crowded in the existing pub, especially for those who just want to sample and buy beer. We sell more food than beer. That wasn’t our model when we started. Plus, parking can be an issue [at the downtown location],” said Schmitt.
Most importantly, the new facility will more than double Stormcloud’s brewing capacity, with plenty of room for growth, should it prove necessary. (Hint: They think it will.) Stormcloud's downtown Frankfort brewery today has the capacity to brew 1,200 barrels annually. At the new facility: “We can do 4,000 barrels. Plus there’s room for further expansion. We’re already set for the next round — 10,000 (barrels) are possible here,” said Confer.
Beyond the crowds downtown, the demand for Stormcloud beer offsite and downstate has made the growth necessary, and in return, the brewery is preparing to not only feed the demand but also stoke it.
The new facility will house an automated canning line, which will can the brewery’s two most popular beers, Rainmaker Ale and Whiled Away IPA. The company also plans to hand-bottle a selection of its traditional Belgian ales in small quantities. The downtown Frankfort facility will continue brew small batches as well.
Rainmaker and Whiled Away IPA are two of the eight beers Stormcloud regularly keeps on tap. Then there are eight others that rotate seasonally, plus various specialty beers. They might even include beers developed by home brewers, such as Arruda’s Doppelbock and Priddle’s Porter, winners in Frankfort Beer Week’s homebrew contests in 2017 and 2015 respectively. All told, Stormcloud has crafted over 100 beers since its inception.
Its distribution footprint is still in the early stages but will include 19 Spartan stores, Blarney Castle convenience stores, and five Meijer stores in northern and western Michigan, with distributors seeking more. All told, they anticipate 140 points of sale.
The facility itself is striking, a blend of mid-century modern and industrial. It was designed by Byce & Associates of Kalamazoo, which also has provided architectural design and engineering for Bell’s Brewery and Imperial Beverage, as well as universities, retirement communities, nature centers, law enforcement facilities, and a host of other uses. “It would have been easier and cheaper to build a pole barn, but we wanted Benzie County to be proud of it. We wanted to build something everyone would be excited about,” said Schmitt.
That sense of pride and responsibility extends to the use of solar panels to provide electricity. “It should largely power our tasting room. It’s the right thing to do,” said Schmitt. He and Confer anticipate opening the tasting room Memorial Day weekend. It will be smaller than the downtown Frankfort brewpub, but there will be room outside for those who’d like to quaff a beverage while enjoying nature: a beer garden, if you will. Beer enthusiasts may even want to check out both Stormcloud facilities, as the tasting room at the brewing facility will often offer brews not on tap at the brewpub.
Confer and Schmitt been heartened and gratified by the response they’ve gotten from friends and customers, though they don’t exactly say they’re surprised. “We couldn’t be more pleased. We are two years farther ahead [of their initial projections], but we dream big,” said Schmitt.