Monday, April 25, 2011

Turtle Stone picking up momentum

There's a tailwind for Turtle Stone Brewing that's giving the planned South Jersey brewery some new momentum.

Ben Battiata, who's developing the enterprise with his girlfriend, Becky Pedersen, says they've worked out a deal to buy a 9,000-square-foot building in Cumberland County. They've already moved into the site the fermenter and bright beer tanks they bought a couple years ago.

Their 15-barrel brewhouse, picked up from a closed Rock Bottom brewpub, remains in storage in Oregon. The brewhouse will be shipped to New Jersey once he and Becky close on the building, located on the Boulevard in Vineland. Their site is a couple of miles south of where Blue Collar Brewing made pale, blonde and Scotch ales, in addition to a porter and Bavarian lager, before closing shop around 2004.

Finding a viable building was a long time in coming for Turtle Stone, and Ben expressed some relief Monday night at landing a site that will fit current needs and those down the road.

"That was the biggest thing holding us up, finding a place that allows us to grow, because I do anticipate some growth," he says.

The brewery will most likely make use of just over half of the building's space, with the remaining 4,000 square feet to be leased out.

Aside from closing on the building, there's other work to tackle, Ben says, namely paperwork: squaring away Turtle Stone's brewer's notice with federal regulators and getting licensed by the state. Wrap into that securing the blessing of Vineland officials, who Ben says support the project.

"Everybody's pretty into it. Originally, they were hoping we'd do something downtown, be part of their revitalization," he says.

Ben envisions getting the brewing equipment installed over the next couple of months. Turning out the first batch of beer depends on how quickly regulators can give the green light. But striking that first mash could happen in the fall, or perhaps a little sooner.

A stout (think American-style at 6% ABV with a hop presence) and a honey blonde ale (accentuated with green tea and jasmine flowers) are still part of the game plan, but Ben says "I've got couple other recipes I'm working on."

He plans for the beers to be available in draft, then bottle and says the to-do list includes scouting for packaging equipment.

The recent growth in the craft beer industry isn't making that easy, though. "The market for used equipment has kind of dried up. I definitely got my (brewing) system at the right time. I'd probably be paying twice as much for it now," he says.

Turtle Stone has been a pursuit of Ben and Becky for five years now (Becky will handle the business side and marketing, while Ben will deal with brewing). Ben took the brewing course at the Seibel Institute of Technology in Chicago in 2007, spent subsequent years networking and last year hit the Craft Brewers Conference when it was held in Chicago.

He passed on last month's 2011 conference held in San Francisco. "It was right in middle of getting this deal down for this building," he says.

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