Expansion May Be On Tap For Craft Beer Maker A provision in the federal stimulus bill waiving the closing costs of an SBA loan allowed a Colorado brewery owner to buy an additional beer fermenter, which increased the amount of beer he could brew. More beer led to more jobs and more customers, and now Kevin DeLange is looking for more space.

Expansion May Be On Tap For Craft Beer Maker

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There is no recession at the Dry Dock Brewing Company. This beer-maker in Aurora, Colorado is the next place we visit in our series on small businesses.

Reporter Kirk Siegler from member station KUNC has the story of a brewer that's expanding, thanks to loyal customers, a tasty product, and a bit of help from the federal stimulus bill.

KIRK SIEGLER: For Kevin DeLange, the fermenter is where it all comes together, his extra special bitter ale, and lately his profits.

Mr. KEVIN DELANGE (Owner, Dry Dock Brewery): And then it will spend the next two weeks in the fermenter, and that's when the yeast really works its magic. It eats that sugar and turns into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

SIEGLER: And then beer, which DeLange can make a lot more of now that he's bought a sixth fermenter at his modest brewery. Dry Dock is tucked away in a strip mall in the Denver suburb of Aurora. DeLange beams as he stands next to the shiny silver 15-foot-high tank.

Mr. DELANGE: The primary bottleneck is the number of tanks that you have to actually ferment the beer, so you can only make as much beer as you have room to put it to ferment at one time.

SIEGLER: DeLange expanded his successful brewery into this new bigger space this past summer. The federal stimulus bill helped him get a waiver on the closing costs of his Small Business Administration loan. All he had to do was promise to reinvest the money in his business and the $20,000 he saved just happened to be the cost of the new fermenter.

Mr. DELANGE: That single fermenter probably created a half a job.

SIEGLER: But DeLange says it's creating ripple effects across his business. He hired that half-time brewer because there's more beer to be made.

Mr. DELANGE: And then more customers come in, we need more bartenders. We've gotten so busy that now I need a full-time bar manager to handle that.

SIEGLER: And possibly a new bookkeeper so that DeLange can concentrate on strategy and marketing. All this is quite a milestone for a business that has just seven full-time staffers. One of those is head brewer Bill Eye. He was hired on this summer.

Eye was lucky to score the gig. Earlier this year, he was laid off from a larger chain brewery nearby.

Mr. BILL EYE (Head Brewer): It's kind of like I'm an IT guy and there's so many firms out there. There's a limited number of breweries in the city, and where I was looking for a job, I talked to everybody. And when I say everybody, we're talking 15 places, 10 places. I mean there's just not that many breweries.

SIEGLER: But Eye still figures the so-called craft brewing industry is fairly recession-proof and if Dry Dock is any indication, beer drinkers are staying loyal even in tough times.

Take regular Tobin Anderson - he's sipping an India Pale Ale in the brewery's spacious new bar during a busy happy hour. At 6.4 percent alcohol by volume, he says an IPA goes a lot further than a domestic like Coors or Bud.

Mr. TOBIN ANDERSON: I need to get more bang for your buck.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGLER: And Anderson says he doesn't mind paying a premium four bucks a pint.

Mr. ANDERSON: You know, it's excellent beer. You know, you pay a little more, but it's worth it to me, plain and simple.

SIEGLER: Down the wood-paneled bar, owner Kevin DeLange is pouring a sample of Bismarck Alt, which won a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival this fall.

Mr. DELANGE: The alt beer's a German style. It's amber in color, really clear. It has a little bit hot bitters in the finish.

SIEGLER: Dry Dock also won Small Brewery of the Year at that festival. DeLange thinks that was due to the brewery's impressive four-year run. Sales have grown by at least 30 percent each year.

Mr. DELANGE: Cheers.

(Soundbite of clinking glasses)

SIEGLER: DeLange is already looking at expanding again - possibly into a warehouse space so he can start bottling and shipping beer around Colorado.

For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver.

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