Clipper City brewing

A view of "fermenter alley" shows some of the brewing tanks at Clipper City Brewing on Hollins Ferry Road. The craft brewery has been in operation at the location since December 1995. (2012 file photo / August 1, 2012)

For beer lovers in the area, there is good news: Clipper City Brewing Company will soon be producing more beer.

Workers at the brewery in Halethorpe are busy this week preparing for a $2 million expansion, which provide the space and equipment for the company to produce more of their pirate-themed Heavy Seas line of beers, lagers, ales and stouts.

Deliveries of equipment are being unloaded at the warehouse located at 4615 Hollins Ferry Road and the new brewing tanks are expected to be up and running by August, said Christopher Leonard, operations manager and brewmaster.

The expansion on the site involves dismantling mezzanines, disconnecting plumbing and electrical wires, demolishing office space and making a variety of other changes to the building, Leonard said.

"It's been very, very busy, just from a brewing perspective. I'm very excited to see the new equipment," said Chris Schultz, an Arbutus resident and brewing team leader at the company.

The cavernous warehouse on Hollins Ferry Road produces thousands of gallons of beer each day, yet was struggling to keep up with demand, which is why new equipment was installed in the building last week, Leonard said.

The expansion will allow the growing company, which was founded 1995, to increase their production from 200 to 480 barrels per day, Leonard said.

"Our sales have outpaced our production, and since I've been here, we've increased our production by about 15 percent, but we're going to be able to increase it 100 percent, plus we'll have no problem supplying people," Leonard said, surrounded by the whir of machinery.

Leonard said the changes will allow the company to produce more of the beers they currently make such as Peg Leg Imperial Stout, while also producing new beers.

"We're going to expand the beers we make and expand our portfolio a little bit," Leonard said.

"We've been firing on all cylinders and although morale has been high around here, there has been a little bit of a strain brewing at absolute capacity," Schultz said. "We're not going to have to brew at full capacity anymore. So it's going to take a little bit of the workload off the employees that we have."

The company will also switch from a 3-vessel brew house to a 5-vessel brew house, which will allow for more continuous production, Leonard said.

"I'm really excited to see the quality of beer in the brew house," Schultz said. "We already make what I think is pretty high quality product, but things are only going to get better on the new system. The quality of the beer will be better, the flavors will be a little sharper and less muddled."

For other employees who oversee quality control in the company's laboratory, the expansion has created a different kind of challenge.

"In the process of the expansion, there is a greater risk of things that we hope don't happen to the beer, of happening," said Lynne Sigler, 65, a lab technician who lives in Halethorpe. "One of our primary goals here in the lab is to monitor the beer for bacterial contamination that can have an affect on the beer's flavor.

"When you're doing an expansion like this, you run the risk of kicking up the organisms, and getting them in there," Sigler said "We, as the lab, have to monitor the samples closely."

The company is always thinking about future opportunities, Leonard said.

"We're always looking at the next project," Leonard said.

"A canning line is probably in our future," he said. "It's in high demand right now, and we're done some canning, but it's extremely difficult to manage while the expansion is going on."

Cans have become more popular recently because they're easier to carry than glass, cheaper to produce and beer lasts longer in a can, Leonard said.

Baltimore City native Hugh Sisson, the Heavy Seas founder, said the company expects to expand its physical plant and add additional markets in the future.

For the present, however, they are focusing more attention on the markets they currently serve. Their products are sold in 18 states, with a greater focus on 11. That will change.

"We will try to bring the focus back to those seven states," Sisson said.

"We're driven by trying to drive deeper into our existing footprint than trying to tack on a bunch of new markets," he said.

Sisson said being "production capacity constrained" the output for the last two years.

With the company accept sales orders for more beer than it can make, it begins to erode customer confidence in the brand, because customers weren't able to get their orders filled, Sisson said.

Along with the expansion, the company will also offer additional hours in the tasting room at the brewery and more brewery tours.

Tours now only available on Saturdays and Sundays will be offered seven days a week.

The tasting room, which is now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and outside deck, will be open every day before the end of the year.