Heavy demand for Heavy Seas beer drives expansion of Halethorpe brewery

Taps with beers ready for sampling are seen in the welcoming area at Clipper City Brewing.
Taps with beers ready for sampling are seen in the welcoming area at Clipper City Brewing. (Staff photo by Brian Krista)

Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, the flagship beer of Clipper City Brewing Co., hasn't stayed on shelves of stores across 18 states and Washington, D.C., for long.

The thirst of beer drinkers for the India pale-ale-style beer showed no signs of diminishing this year as it made up nearly 50 percent of the brewery's sales, according to a company spokeswoman, Kelly Zimmerman.

To meet the demand, the Halethorpe-based brewery stopped production of its imperial cream ale, called Davey Jones Lager, until next summer.

The brewery, which has been in the industrial park on Hollins Ferry Road since December 1995, also decided to make its saison, Red Sky at Night, available only in sampler packs.

Unable to satisfy beer drinkers up and down the East Coast and as far west as Michigan, the brewery, begun by former Sisson's owner Hugh Sisson, began a two-year expansion July 1.

That's good news for more than fans of the brewery's more than a dozen styles, which are divided based on alcohol content into three categories: Pyrate Fleet, Clipper Fleet and Mutiny Fleet.

The expansion likely means a boost in its employment from its current total of 36, Zimmerman said.

In its second expansion in less than a year, the brewery added 15,000 square feet to become a 40,000-square-foot facility, enabling it to more than double its beer production through increased speed and more fermenting equipment.

"More space translates to better efficiency of current procedures," Zimmerman said. "This translates into more jobs and paid taxes into our community."

In August 2011, the brewery added 10,000 square feet of space to its 15,000-square-foot facility for shipping and receiving, Zimmerman said.

After that expansion, the company added one full-time and six part-time workers to fill positions in the warehouse on the production line and making the beer, Zimmerman said.

As it grows, the brewery expects to add employees at a similar rate to what it did after the first expansion as it fills needs, Zimmerman said.

The most likely positions created through the expansion are as warehouse workers and brewers, she said.

That's good news for area workers because the company makes an effort to hire local employees.

Only one of its three dozen current employees was hired from out of state, Zimmerman said.

According to a newsletter from the brewery, the expansion should allow it to brew more of its winter seasonal, Heavy Storm.

In 2010, the brewery produced 17,000 barrels of beer. Each barrel holds 31 gallons.

After its first expansion, the brewery transitioned from a single-shift brewing schedule to one that operates 24 hours a day for five days a week, Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman estimated the brewery would be able to produce 80,000 to 100,000 barrels per year once the expansion is completed.

Despite the increase in production accompanying the expansion, Zimmerman said the company has no plans to increase its distribution range for at least the next 18 months.

So that means those outside the mid-Atlantic region will have to do without.

Sharing a neighborhood with companies such as Bakery Express and Alberee Products on Hollins Ferry Road, Clipper City Brewing sits in a corridor of the southwestern portion of the county that has seen a recent resurgence.

Kaiser Permanente, a 67-year-old nonprofit health care provider, will have a 130,000-square-foot facility open in spring 2013 near the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Lansdowne Road. The new facility is expected to bring 200 jobs.

Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development, said the area's success can be attributed to one specific advantage.

The proximity of the businesses to Baltimore and Washington and the abundant highways and railroads in the area provide a distribution advantage, Cohen said.

"I guess in the economic development world, you'd call it transportation-advantaged," Cohen said.