Sunday, January 08, 2012

Blessings for Heavy Seas

Heavy Seas Brewing may have crossed a 'craft' brewery Rubicon in 2011.

Clipper sign

The brewery was known as Clipper City when it opened in 1995 in an industrial park just south of Baltimore, Maryland. Fifteen years later, in 2010, Heavy Seas sold just north of 20,000 barrels of beer. That's the equivalent of 6.6 million 12-ounce bottles of beer on the wall.

To put things in perspective, however, the brewery failed to even crack the top 50 U.S. 'craft' breweries list that year, as compiled by the Brewers Association —an advocacy group for most U.S. breweries of less than 6 million barrels annual production.

It was another Maryland brewery that did, and which has for several years prior. Flying Dog Brewery (in Fredrick, Maryland, but originally from Denver, Colorado) produced 60,827 barrels in 2010, placing it at the 28th position.

Grist case
Now, 2011.

To facilitate its growth in production, Heavy Seas increased its physical plant size by 50%, expanding into the adjoining building, adding an additional 10,000 square feet. Prior to that, the brewery packaging staff would daily move hundreds of cases of beer from the brewery outside to a separate warehouse down the street.

Lagering tanks

In the expanded space, Heavy Seas has 17 fermenters (twelve 100-bbl., five 150-bbl. tanks), 5 bright beer tanks (four 100-bbl, one 200-bbl tank), and four 150-bbl. horizontal 'lagering' tanks (in which Loose Cannon Hop3 IPA —the brewery's flagship beer— is dry-hopped and matured), and, of course, a bottling line and brewhouse. Additional space is utilized for packaged beer, offices, tap room, laboratory, casks, and oak barrel-aging.

Bottling line @Clipper City

To further handle the surge, the brewery is selling the space-hogging lagering tanks, and installing three new 200-bbl fermenters and another 200-bbl bright tank in their place. Future plans include expanding into yet another adjoining building and replacing the original 50-barrel kettle and brewing vessels with a new 100-barrel system.

Greater Pumpkin 2011 (03)

When the 2011 numbers are officially released, Heavy Seas' volume will be seen to have increased by 50% —a hefty rate of growth in a dismal economy— to approximately 30,000 barrels of beer for the year. With that, there is indeed the possibility that Heavy Seas will crack the Top 50.

Here's Hugh Sisson —the founder and Managing Partner of the brewery— delivering his hilarious blessing of the beer. After watching, you'll believe that Sisson's degree in college was theater ... which it was.


  • Heavy Seas has licensed its name to a restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland. The Heavy Seas Alehouse will open on 15 February 2012. More from the blog, The Original Beer in Baltimore here and here, and from CityBiz, which has news of the restaurant's award-winning chef (but no menu, yet).
  • According to the Brewers Association, the largest U.S. 'craft' breweries, at Nos. 1,2,3, respectively, were Boston Beer Company with 1,868,471 barrels, Sierra Nevada at 786,288 bbls., and New Belgium at 661,169 bbls., The Association doesn't consider American-owned Yeungling a 'craft' brewery (because the brewery uses a lot of corn in its beer). If it did, however, Yuengling would rank first. At #50 was Ninkasi Brewing Co. with 30,310 bbls.
  • A barrel is not a keg; it's not even a physical container. Rather it's a unit of measurement used by breweries, oil companies, etc. In beer's case, a barrel equals 31 gallons, or 13.78 cases (at 24 bottles of 12 fluid ounces per case). More volume equivalents: here.
  • A bright beer tank, from the Oxford Companion to Beer, is a "dish-bottomed pressure-rated temperature-controlled tank used to hold beer in preparation for packaging. The term "bright" refers to "bright beer," beer that has been rendered bright (clear) by filtration, centrifugation, fining, and/or maturation."
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virgina— I sell the beers of Heavy Seas.

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