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Dry Dock Brewing Co.

by Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek on May 1, 2016, 10:20 am MDT

www.drydockbrewingco.com

Aurora, Colorado

Founded: 2005 (Brew Hut founded 1995)

Privately owned

Employees: Dry Dock: 50; The Brew Hut: 13

Co-founder and "Numbers Girl" Michelle Reding has guided the brewery to a forecast for 20,000 barrels in 2016 as they expect a hit in the new Sour Apricot Blonde.

Reding started Dry Dock with her now ex-husband Kevin DeLange. While married, they changed careers and bought The Brew Hut, a homebrewing supply store in Aurora, in 2002.

"I was working in the corporate world as an actuary and Kevin was tired of his corporate job," says Reding. "We were looking to buy a business and The Brew Hut was the right one.

Reding and DeLange, and avid homebrewer, launched Dry Dock in 2005 on the advice of the store's previous owner, Scott Newcomb.

"His goal was to open a brewery," says Reding. "He knew the laws in Colorado allowed a tasting room. When the space next door was available, we knocked a hole in the wall."

It was initially the first of its kind: a brewery with a manufacturing license and a taproom and a business plan centered on selling pretty much all of the beer onsite.

Now that such operations are the norm most every neighborhood in Denver, Dry Dock pioneered a business model and won Small Brewery of the Year at GABF in 2009. Seven years later, the brewery is a model for scaling from a taproom into a regional brewery.

At South Dock, onsite at The Brew Hut in southern Aurora, production peaked at 3,200 barrels in 2012 with a round-the-clock schedule. Then a new production facility, the $3.5 million, 23,000-square-foot North Dock, opened on the other side of the city in 2013, and total production immediately nearly quadrupled to 12,000 barrels for the year.

While South Dock's output is now a steady 1,300 barrels a year as a pilot brewery, Dry Dock's growth curve is notably impressive. After hitting 16,000 barrels in 2014, North Dock brewed 18,000 barrels in 2015. Reding expects that number to hit 20,000 in 2016. "We have more demand than supply," she says.

The brewery's success has surpassed Reding's wildest expectations. She expected South Dock to emerged as a fun neighborhood hangout, sure, but scaling production to six year-round cans in a little over a decade, no. "I never imagined North Dock," she says.

But one beer has particularly helped fuel the growth: Apricot Blonde. "Over 60 percent of our sales is Apricot Blonde," says Reding. "It's a fantastic beer -- I call it a gateway beer. It's a nice approachable beer." It's also won several medals at GABF and the World Beer Cup.

She has big hopes for the brewery's sixth year-round can, due out by the end of May, Sour Apricot Blonde. The kettle-soured version of its bestseller is likewise "an approachable sour," says Reding. "Our South Dock Head Brewer Tim Evon had been experimenting with kettle sours and because of his success, we just had thought it was a natural fit in our portfolio to go into cans."

That portfolio also includes cans of Hop Abomination and Vanilla Porter, second and third in sales, and 22-ounce bombers, including the barrel-aged Signature Series.

Dry Dock has used canning lines from Wild Goose since opening the production facility and currently employs the new-for-2015 WGC 600. "We love them," says Reding. "We certainly have put out a lot of cans on that in a short amount of time."

On the heels of adding tanks to take North Dock's annual capacity to 23,000 barrels in March, The Brew Hut expanded to include a kitchen and 40-person classroom in April. There are plans for not only brewing classes and workshops but also winemaking, cheesemaking, and beekeeping classes.

Reding is quick to give credit to the booming industry as well as local support. "We're in record times and very interesting times in the craft beer industry -- I never expected that."

"The Brew Hut and our ties to the community have helped us quite a bit," she adds. "The City of Aurora has been great to us." In fact, Dry Dock is celebrating the 125th anniversary of the founding of Aurora with Aurora Ale this spring.

And it's not just Dry Dock's home city. It's the entire state. The brewery sells exclusively in Colorado -- and has yet to even enter the Four Corners area. "Our goal is to stay in Colorado only as long as possible," says Reding.

Another key to the company's success has been Reding and DeLange's ability to maintain a good working relationship after their divorce in 2012. "We make it work because we want it to work," says Reding. "We both bring different strengths to the table and we recognize that."

Favorite beers: "My favorite beers at Dry Dock are always our Signature Series -- anything aged in a whiskey barrel, man!" says Reding. "I love Anderson Valley's gose. I always like pumpkin beers. Avery’s Rumpkin, that's one of my favorites."

Challenges: "Keeping up with demand," says Reding, noting that Dry Dock has financed its growth with SBA loans. "We're constantly in a state of expansion."

"Another challenge is staying fresh and relevant," she adds. "There's a lot of competition now."

Opportunities: Sour Apricot Blonde. "I think it's going to take off," says Reding. "I'm more worried about production than selling it. If it takes off like we're thinking, it's going to be a crazy summer."

The Brew Hut's new classroom represents another opportunity. "The options are limitless," says Reding.

And once Dry Dock starts selling beyond Colorado state lines, Minnesota and Iowa are on the "short list” for second and third states. No small factor: Reding and DeLange are both from Iowa, and that's no small factor in the decision. "We don't always look at return on investment, we look at return on fun," Reding says.

Needs: Hops. "I just got an email about what’s sold out and what we're on the waiting list for," says Reding. It's not all bad news, she notes, but "we might have to adjust a recipe and substitute a hop here and there."

Another: "We're always looking for experienced staff. We're finding more experience brewers out there." Reding says Dry Dock also regularly promotes from within, noting, "We have a lot of people who want to grow and learn."

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