Friday, April 19, 2013

Update: Progress on River Horse move to Ewing

Logo on floor, a little dusty now
For the folks at River Horse Brewing, the finish line for the brewery's ongoing move may include something bigger than making beer in a new location.

"It'll be time for a nap," says Chris Walsh, one of River Horse's co-owners. 

He's joking. 

Sort of. 

Moving the 17-year-old brewery from Lambertville, its founding location in the brick Original Trenton Cracker factory building beside the Delaware River and canal, to Ewing 14 miles south is no easy task and could never be accomplished over night.

Or in a month.

Or two.

Still quite difficult in three. Things move just so fast, and there's a number of modifications going on.

This is, after all, a move to meet current growth needs, plus those of the future. 

It can be exhausting overseeing the modifications and still running the brewery in the original location, paying a premium in rent there because you're out-of-lease (time is money), and pushing to wind down that location to get into the new one.

It's critical to keep your beers, like your very popular Summer Blonde Ale, flowing to draft and retail accounts and the beer fans who helped you outgrow the first home. 

For River Horse, the exit from Lambertville, a walk-around town in southern Hunterdon County that's  practically devoid of retail chain stores but laden with art galleries and antique shops, is an undertaking that got going in January. 

Back then, the hopes were that things would wrap up about now, or be wrapping up. The revised forecast is now the end of May/start of June. 

"I've accepted that," Chris says, allowing himself a laugh amid a sigh of resignation.

General floor plan of brewery space
That doesn't mean there hasn't been substantial progress at the Ewing location, 25,000 square feet on four acres at 2 Graphics Drive, around the corner from the town's police station. It just may not look like it, not like a brewery at the moment. But in fact, there's been plenty effort to that end – drains, concrete work, plumbing, company logos painted on the brick-red non-skid flooring ... 

At this point, River Horse is coming out of the backstretch and into a far turn. The homestretch is in sight, and so is the finish line. 

"The drains system is completely in; the floor is epoxied. So that part is done," Chris says. "The two internal rooms are built for the mill room and the mechanicals. The piping is probably 75 percent done; electrical is probably 35 to 40 percent done. We have to get it insulated, all tested, and a couple tweaks here and there. Then we're good. But that takes some time."

When it's ready, the 25-barrel brewhouse and some fermentation tanks will be brought down from Lambertville, connected to waiting support components and fired up. (Over time, the brewhouse will be replaced with one double the its size; larger fermentation and bright beer tanks will also be swapped in for the 40 barrel tanks that River Horse now has. Overall production is expected to increase 30 to 40 percent.)

"We've put in all the vital organs. They're already going to be here," Chris says. "There's going to be a new chiller, new boiler, new air compressor. We don't need to move any of that, so we can get going here ... So it's the brewhouse and some fermentation, and away we go.

However, it's a different story right now, Chris notes, for grain silos that will go outside. A tasting room is also on the back burner, a lower priority as far as immediate needs go. But the brewery expects to still conduct tours as it resolves that addition. 

"The silos ... we're still working on that. We may need to continue with bagged grain and a manual process of getting rid of spent grain and that kind of stuff for a short amount of time, just to get in here and get going," he says. "But that will eventually all go over to a spent-grain silo ...

Exterior of building
"The tasting room, we haven't even started. We want to continue to have tours and tastings, but what we'll probably do is something makeshift out here (on the brewery floor), with the tap system that we have now, put some wheels on it, bring it out here with some picnic tables, that kind of stuff. Then we'll start on a remodel, something more formal, more settled. We just don't have the resources now to take that on as well."

The tasting room, Chris says, needs to be developed with the brewery's current and future fans in mind.  The new home won't be like Lambertville, where a lot of people stopped by because they were already in town for something. It's also not a matter of just having dedicated space for brewery special events; tour visits of all walks need to be meaningful experiences.

"It's a concept we have to figure out, how we want to use it, what kind of theme we want to have," he says. "In Lambertville, we were a stop-by. We were still a destination for a lot of people, but a lot of it was, 'I can't take antique shopping any more,' or whatever it was, using the (canal) towpath, or whatever you were doing. 

"But here it will be more of a destination, so it has to be more accommodating ... Friday tours, how are we going to get people here? When they walk in the door, what's the experience going to be like?"

Maybe a good rest, that nap, will yield some ideas on that.

But for now, River Horse has a few more miles to go before anyone sleeps.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Find the January post on River Horse's move here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sad Lambertville is losing something so great. I grew up there and saw the slow demise of hometown America. Hopefully, not another art gallery will go into that space.