Heavy Seas Brewery is expanding but will continue to be a nice place to visit while still helping the craft brewing industry. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun video)
In March, Heavy Seas Beer announced a significant new hire.
Dan Kopman, co-founder of St. Louis' Schlafly Beer, was named the CEO, and founder Hugh Sisson would shift to a managing partner — still active and full-time, but not "running the show," as the latter put it last week.
That was only the start of major changes.
In the coming months, the Halethorpe brewery will add 20,000 square feet via an adjacent building to its current 40,000-square-foot facility, which will allow a reorganization of its operations. Most visible to consumers will be a completely renovated taproom, approximately 10 times the size of the current space.
The news signifies a reinvestment into an increasingly important aspect of Heavy Seas that was due for an overhaul.
Expected to be completed in the first quarter of next year, Heavy Seas' new 5,000-square-foot taproom will include more seating, the ability to host private events, a larger deck outside and an increase of taps from eight to 16, Sisson said. Transparent walls will allow visitors to watch beer being packaged and brewed from their seats.
Heavy Seas will also install a new small-batch brew house for experimental beers, the majority of which will stay in the taproom.
The project, which includes building a bridge between the current building and the new space — will cost between $1 million and $2 million, Sisson said.
"We're preparing for what hopefully will be the next phase of our growth," Sisson said, knocking on the mahogany bar top.
Founded in 1995 as Clipper City Brewing Co. and then rebranded as Heavy Seas 15 years later, the brand is one of the most prolific craft-beer brands on the East Coast, producing between 4,000 and 6,000 cases of beer per day, Sisson said.
With an emphasis on production, Heavy Seas created its taproom a few years ago as more of an afterthought. When Kopman first visited, he wondered why there was a room full of patrons, laughing and chatting over pizza and pints.
"I was like, 'What's going on here? It's kind of an office. It's just a room. It has a nice bar. The beer is very good, but what was it?'" he said. "What I noticed was the interaction between the taproom staff and customers. … I saw a lot of people smiling."
The hope is, with more space, to build on that neighborhood-hangout atmosphere, while never forgetting what got Heavy Seas to this point.
"It starts with beer quality," Kopman said. "We can't do anything else if we don't have that."
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But its best seller remains its flagship, Loose Cannon, a well-balanced American India Pale Ale that packs a deceiving alcoholic punch at 7.25 percent ABV. There's also TropiCannon, the citrus IPA Heavy Seas made a core beer this year due to its popularity, and the bold Double Cannon IPA. The trio makes up the "Cannon Family," which Sisson and Kopman believe will expand the brand's reach in other markets. (Heavy Seas beers are currently sold in 18 states and Washington, D.C.)
"Being able to go to a sales team or a retailer and say, 'Here's your Cannon shelf set,'" Sisson said, "they go, 'Oh, I get it. Bingo.' That's powerful."
Not everything has been a hit. CrossBones, a mild session IPA introduced in 2015, was supposed to be the brand's next star. But it never caught on and will be discontinued after this year, Sisson said.
The occasional swing-and-miss comes with the territory of craft-brewing, and Heavy Seas' momentum remains forward. Sisson and Kopman are particularly excited about the pending arrival of the Guinness brewery coming to nearby Relay next spring.
"Between their facility and our facility here, we can become this part of Baltimore County's anchors for beer tourism," Sisson said.
Guinness coming to the area required a change in state law, increasing the number of barrels of beer sold by breweries each year from 500 to 2,000. Heavy Seas was planning to upgrade its taproom regardless of legislation, according to Sisson, but the new law convinced the company to scale up the plans.
"Cooler heads prevailed at the powers that be, and they finally decided that maybe it made a little sense" to increase the barrel limit, Sisson said.
Now comes the hard part: Rearranging administrative offices, knocking down walls and removing the current ceiling of the taproom to make way for the new space. The plan is to keep the taproom open as construction takes place, and even Sisson and Kopman aren't sure of the exact logistics to make that work. But they're going to try, because they realize the Heavy Seas taproom has become a meeting place for city and county residents alike.
"At a time when the world is homogenized so much of the time, local breweries are a huge part of what is happening around the United States in terms of making communities unique again," Kopman said. "We really want to enjoy what it is to be a local brewery."
If you go
Heavy Seas Beer is located at 4615 Hollins Ferry Road, Halethorpe. It is open 3 p.m.-10 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Call 410-247-7822 or go to hsbeer.com.
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