The Brewer’s Art, a brewpub in Baltimore, had a good problem. It couldn’t produce enough beer for its devoted fans. Fortunately, craft brewers love to work together, and the folks at The Brewer’s Art approached Sly Fox Brewmaster Brian O’Reilly to help them make more beer. This arrangement is called contract brewing, but in the close knit world of craft beer, the contract is more like a “production collaboration”.
D.L. Why did you get into contract brewing?
B.O. Our friends at The Brewer’s Art and Southampton Publick House asked us to. And we had the capacity to do so. Initially, it was just draught and 750 ml bottles, but eventually cans as well.
D.L. In addition to The Brewer’s Art, who else do you currently contract brew for?
B.O. Kelso Brewing, Mikkeller, Bay Brewing, Battle Road and Queens Brewing.
D.L. What do these brewing contracts entail? Are you a big part of the process?
B.O. We are very involved. When we design or redesign the beer, we work on formulation and the finished analytics. A few of our partners have brought us finished beer, brewed at their brewery, which we are then able to measure for bitterness, alcohol, attenuation and color. That can be a big help if we’re trying to flavor match. Every now and then, we help with formulation, if that’s what the brewer wants and we are always trying to assist our partners in adapting their recipes to our equipment.
D.L. How does contract brewing benefit Sly Fox?
B.O. It helps pay the bills. We are able to grow more quickly and justify new, better equipment sooner. We have a beautiful, state-of-the-art can filler that we were able to purchase, partly because of our contract business.
D.L. Should consumers care whether or not a brewery’s beers are contractually brewed rather than produced in-house?
B.O. I think people are looking for authenticity. It’s possible for a contract brewer to create a brand that’s independent and authentic even if the brewer doesn’t own a brick and mortar brewery. Mikkeller comes to mind. They certainly have their own direction and feel independent of the brewery they contract with.
But, I do think it helps to have a home for the beer. There is something about drinking the beer right at the brewery and interacting with the people. And because we do some brewing for them, The Brewer’s Art has been able to expand distribution and the number of beers they make at their brewery. I think beer drinkers get a great feel for their brand when they visit the brewery and restaurant in Baltimore.
D.L. In the future, will you produce more contract beers?
B.O. Probably. We are constantly reevaluating our capacity and the growth of our own beers. If we find a good partner, and we have the ability to get it done, we will.