Short’s expands to keep up with sales demand

Short’s was featured today in the Traverse City Record Eagle. Here is the article below:

Short’s expands to keep up with sales demand
By Bill O’Brien
[email protected]

TRAVERSE CITY — These are busy days for Joe Short.

The Antrim County businessman has become the face of northern Michigan’s craft beer industry and is expanding Short’s Brewing Co.’s brewing and bottling plant in Elk Rapids, as well as renovating its original tavern and microbrewery in downtown Bellaire.

He’s trying to keep up with Short’s Brewing’s 30 to 40 percent annual sales growth for its 30-some varieties of hand-crafted beer, and to accommodate more patrons at its popular pub.

“Last year, we were the fastest-growing alcohol producer in the U.S.,” said Scott Newman-Bale, the company’s chief financial officer. “Next year, we’re going to push it even further.”

Short launched the business in 2004 in a century-old hardware store in downtown Bellaire. Since then, the company built a solid reputation in northern Michigan and beyond for creating unique beers. Production expanded from 2,000 barrels in 2008 to an estimated 8,000 barrels this year, and will boost that number with upgrades at the Elk Rapids plant.

Short’s products also can be found at about 1,400 retailers around Michigan.

“It’s really starting,” Short said. “The masses are really becoming aware of our products.”

Short purchased a shuttered manufacturing plant in Elk Rapids two years ago and converted it to a brewing and bottling facility. Its $1.2 million upgrade includes installation of four 100-barrel fermenters to increase production. The company also is improving its laboratory for expanded testing and better quality control, and adding a pasteurization system. The company also made several energy-efficient upgrades.

“I think we’ve rebuilt about half of it so far,” Short said.

In downtown Bellaire, the company is pouring $150,000-plus into microbrewery renovations. It’s installing larger ovens, expanding its delicatessen, creating more cooler and storage space, and renovating restrooms to keep up with more customers and food sales.

“We never anticipated doing the kind of food volume that we’re doing right now,” Short said.

Bellaire village President David Schultz described the company’s economic impact as “phenomenal.”

“You can’t tell what time of year it is anymore on the weekends because of all the bustling and activity,” said Schultz, who owns Bellaire Bed and Breakfast.

“I can tell you Bellaire is one of the pub vacation stops,” Schultz said. “We’ve had people from all over the state and the Midwest … the sole reason they’re in Bellaire is because of Short’s.”

Short’s success is part of a statewide growth trend in the craft beer industry. Michigan’s breweries, microbreweries and brew pubs sold more than 131,000 barrels of beer in 2009, according to sales data from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. That’s just more than 2 percent of the 6.3 million barrels sold in the state by out-of-state brewers, including beer industry giants like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors.

Sales of Michigan-made beers increased 10 percent annually over the past two years, said Scott Graham, executive director of the Michigan Brewers Guild in Lansing.

“In Michigan, we continue to outpace the national trend,” Graham said. “There’s still a lot of room for growth.”

There are close to 80 micobreweries, brew pubs and breweries in Michigan, Graham said. They’re scattered from Calumet in the far reaches of the Upper Peninsula to the city of Sturgis near the Indiana border, and from the shores of Lake Michigan to the east coast near Lake Huron.

“It’s not so geographically clustered like the wine industry is,” Graham said. “We’re all over.”

Dozens of beer makers recently expanded capacity, he said, similar to the work going on at Short’s.

“We’re seeing almost every microbrewery in Michigan going through some sort of expansion in the past couple of years,” Graham said.

Lance Binoniemi, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, said more taverns across the state feature Michigan-made beers in bottles and on tap, in addition to mass-produced national brands.

“Anecdotally, we have heard from a lot of our members that adding these craft beers has really helped their sales,” he said. “I know that Short’s, especially, have become very popular.”

Newman-Bale said Short’s long-term plans include expanding into production of canned beer to make its craft brews more accessible at places like golf courses and other recreational attractions. He said there’s still plenty of room to grow sales in Michigan.

“I think we’ve still got a long way to go to max out in Michigan,” Newman-Bale said.

Short hasn’t set any specific sales or production targets. His focus is getting through the tavern and production facility renovations so he can spend more time with his wife, Leah, and the couple’s 10-month-old son.

“I really bit off a lot this year,” Short said. “Growth is painful, and providing the infrastructure to grow is painful.”

“But all the hard stuff is going to be done pretty soon.”