By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | Apr 01, 2016
Rennerfeldt and Alpha co-founder and VP Jon Marco worked together at Norland International in Lincoln, a manufacturer of bottled-water equipment. They helped launch Norland's American Beer Equipment in 2012, then started Alpha two years later and built off an increasingly strong reputation in the industry.
"I wanted to do my own thing and did that," says Rennerfeldt. "We hit the ground sprinting and we've grown like a dandelion ever since."
A lot of that has to do with the industry itself. "The trajectory of the craft beer industry is really strong," he adds. "I had done it once and saw the potential. I know I would have have the autonomy to do things a certain way and to a certain standard that I'd never done before."
Alpha works with a manufacturer in China to source its tanks and works with partners to integrate boilers and other components. "We do the brains: all the pumps, motors, and electronic control systems," says Rennerfeldt. Valve clustering is standard. "It cleans up your process piping," says Rennerfeldt.
He fashions Alpha as a one-stop shop for the growing craft brewery. "We're just going crazy with turnkey systems. We don't want to spread ourselves too thin so we associate with reputable third-party vendors."
The size of the brewhouses Alpha is building range from five to 50 barrels. "We've got a huge project we hope on the Front Range," says Rennerfeldt. "That'll be our first 50-barrel brewhouse."
Beyond brewhouses, grist mills and hoppers are a company forte, he adds. "If there's one thing we know in Nebraska, it's grain." Another focus is "water treatment, which is pretty deeply rooted in our background."
The company also manufactures automated keg washers after initially sourcing them from a third party. "We've already sold 30 of our new design," he says.
Rennerfeldt says sales have far exceeded expectations for the first two years. "In my business plan, where I thought Alpha would be after year three, we tripled that in year one," he says. "So far, we've been able to self-fund our growth."
Colorado customers include Declaration Brewing and Call to Arms Brewing in Denver, Pueblo's Brues Alehouse ("They spent some serious coin turning a jail into a brewery," says Rennerfeldt), and University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where the company installed a seven-barrel system for educational purposes.
At Call to Arms, the 10-barrel, two-vessel brewhouse "involved a lot of customization," says Rennerfeldt. "They didn't have a lot of space so we really narrowed their brite tank."
Not that Call to Arms got special treatment from Alpha: "We customize every brewhouse to the brewer's liking."
Favorite beers: "Nebraska Brewing Company is not my customer -- I'm theirs," laughs Rennerfeldt. "Their IPA is definitely my go-to." He also names Zipline Brewing Co. in Lincoln, Tupps Brewery in McKinney, Texas, and Call to Arms among his favorite breweries. "I'm a hophead," he says. "I'll tell you that right now. I love hoppy beers."
Challenges: "It's people," says Rennerfeldt. "I need more great quality installation technicians. It's not easy to find someone with the right electromechanical background who's willing to travel 10 to 12 days out of the month, and some brewing aptitude." He says he recruits via classified ads and word of mouth statewide in Nebraska, hiring current employees from technical colleges, homebrewing clubs, and everywhere in between.
Opportunities: Canning lines. "That's the next step for us," says Rennerfeldt. After considering making bottling equipment, he decided instead to follow "a trend shift towards cans."
"We saw the opportunity to put technology into linear canning lines the market hasn't seen yet," Rennerfeldt says of Alpha's innovations, but he's not ready to release too many details. "We're getting away from pneumatics and adding more servo motors to improve energy efficiency and precision movement. Canning lines are really finicky, especially linear canning lines."
He pulled back from a launch at the 2016 Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia in May 2016 and is now targeting August for the first installation. "I'd rather get it right," says Rennerfeldt.
Needs: More room. Rennerfeldt says Alpha's 14,000-square-foot facility will soon cramp the company's style. "As we're starting to get into more manufacturing, we're going to need more space," he says. The options include taking over the entire 25,000-square-foot building or building to suit.