Cape Ann’s sole brewery has taken the East Coast by storm, its beer sailing into the hands of connoisseurs from the black fly-infested swamps of eastern Maine and south across the Mason-Dixon Line.
“The way it’s been going lately, we’ve been running out,” said Cape Ann Brewing Co. president Michael Beaton, 42, who, with his business partner, brother-in-law and brewmaster Jeremy Goldberg, 31, boiled up the first batches of Fisherman’s Brew just three years ago.
“If things keep going the way they have, we may have to move to another building in a few years. We might even have to open another brewery in another state,” he said.
Production at Cape Ann Brewing has doubled every year, from the first year’s 295 barrels to last year’s 1,300 barrels. By the end of next month, almost 2,000 barrels of Fisherman’s Brew, India Pale Ale, ale and seasonal beers will have been brewed, kegged and bottled. A barrel is equivalent to 31 gallons, or two half-barrel kegs, which are the standard dispensing units under a commercial bar.
The problem with such rapid expansion, Beaton said, has been a chronic whistling for more beer from distributors wherever Fisherman’s Brew can be found. That is Massachusetts, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Connecticut, Maryland and, later this summer, Rhode Island. Beaton and Goldberg just cannot seem to keep up with demand.
The eight conditioning tanks, four fermenters and one each of boiling and steeping kettles here in Gloucester simply are not enough to satiate beer drinkers’ craving for the brewery’s plenitude of selections. A couple of years ago, Goldberg and Beaton had to contract with nearby Mercury Brewing Co., makers of Ipswich Ale, to produce 60 barrels of beer for every 20 here in Gloucester. Mercury Brewing also does all the bottling of Fisherman’s Brew, whereas the Gloucester plant does only half-barrel and quarter-barrel kegs.
“If we could get a couple more conditioning tanks and one more fermenter,” Beaton said, “we could dramatically increase our capacity.”
But that would cause a problem in the Gloucester brewery, located on Commercial Street, across from St. Peter’s Square. A single conditioning tank, which holds 20 barrels, is the size of a Dodge Caravan. A fermenting tank is more like a Chevy Astrovan.
Just trying to fit three more of those tanks in the back room of Goldberg and Beaton’s brewery would take some creative placement. The last thing they want is to have to move into the front room of their establishment.
That front room is where Goldberg and Beaton have already built a fancy hardwood bar, designed to look like a ship’s hull and with a quarter inch of varnish on the bartop, and enough German beer hall-style, rough pine tables to seat up to 60 people. The hope, they say, is that the zoning board will soon allow them to open their “tasting room” to the public.
The secret to their success, Goldberg says, is frequent sampling.
“We have to sample our product pretty much daily. Quality control is an important part of this business. You can’t just look at the specific gravity or at the color — you have to taste it,” he said. “There’s a secret to it, I guess. There’s a significance.”
“When we built the place, we did it with the idea that we would grow into it,” Beaton said. “Everybody used to say we’d be surprised how quickly we grew out of this place and we were like, ‘That would be nice.’ We didn’t figure it would occur this fast.”
“Am I surprised by our growth? No. We’ve been making a good product and there’s a demand for it,” Goldberg said. “There’s demand for good beer. We’re not really competing with Budweiser. While we’re sort of competing with the other microbreweries, there’s a feeling in the industry to just make really good beer. There are more and more people discovering its joys. As people start demanding better food and entertainment, they start demanding better beer and that’s what this beer is supposed to be: bold, flavorful and different. It’s supposed to offend the palate and make it step up and say, ‘Whoa.’ So, if anything, I’m surprised that we’re not growing any faster.”