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At about the midpoint of Connecticut’s shoreline, on the banks of the Branford River, there is a brewery. The general locale is an old industrial area, but the brewery itself is brand new. From its very conception, it was designed to be not only a state of the art manufacturing operation, but a destination for craft beer enthusiasts.
Many patrons come by car. Others arrive by train on the Shore Line East line from New York. (The brewery is just a two minute walk from the station.) Patrons also can navigate up the Branford River in their boats, tie off at the dock and step onto the brewery’s outside deck.
No matter how they arrive at Stony Creek Brewery, they find a beer connoisseur’s nirvana. There is a stunning indoor/outdoor taproom with floor to ceiling glass walls that put the brewing, bottling and canning areas in full view. Outside is a huge deck with seating and space for live music performances, an area with fire pits and outdoor games, and a dock. It all represents a substantial investment of thinking, effort and money focused on making great beer for people to enjoy.
“Our team is a mix of ambitious and dedicated local residents, working alongside some of the industry’s most talented transplants that now call Connecticut their home,” says Andy Schwartz, Brewmaster at Stony Creek Brewery. “Together, we aim to make the best, highest-quality beer in the region, and introduce new craft beer drinkers to flavors that are both familiar and new.”
During its still brief existence, the growth of Stony Creek Brewery has been nothing short of phenomenal. On February 4, 2015, Schwartz brewed the first test batch. Six weeks later on March 17, they opened the doors of the tasting room to the public. (It says something about the confidence of the team at Stony Creek Brewery that they opened a brewery in New England on St. Patrick’s Day!) By the end of the year, the 266th batch of beer was in production, and just one year after they opened, Stony Creek Brewing was already more than three years into their multi-year business plan.
Schwartz’s journey to Connecticut started in Chicago, in 1995, when he attended the Siebel Institute to learn the foundations of brewing. He worked for craft breweries in Colorado, California and New Hampshire, learning the craft in general and regional differences in particular. Along the way he earned recognition with awards at the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup, including Champion Small Brewing Company at the 2004 World Beer Cup.
These experiences informed the development of his craft. “Being in these places helped to shape the beers I brew today,” Schwartz says. “What we shoot for at Stony Creek is beers that combine clean, bold and aggressive West Coast flavors and East Coast balance and drinkability. We call this aggressively laid-back beer.”
This approach dovetails with the vision of the Crowley family, founders of Stony Creek Brewery. When they began moving their vision of a destination brewery toward reality, they tapped a team including the craft brewing industry’s most experienced and talented people to create a world-class operation. Schwartz joined the team as Brewmaster. “We saw in Connecticut a state that is exploding with craft beer and started looking to design and build a facility that’s a world-class brewery and also a destination,” Schwartz says. “This location is fantastic. It’s right on the Branford River, in an old industrial part of town that’s been enjoying a revival. We have big grounds with lots of open air space and a huge deck. We’re right on the river and have a dock so boats can pull right up. It’s really something special.”
Unlike a brewpub, Stony Creek Brewery isn’t a restaurant. Unlike a bar, it isn’t open until midnight. Rather than attempting to compete with local restaurants and taverns, Stony Creek views them as complementary businesses. “The owners of our brewery have lived in Branford for decades and don’t want to take business away from local bars and restaurants,” he says. “Instead, we want to support the success of area businesses as we build our own. So we host food trucks and have events catered. We also encourage people to have food delivered here or even bring their own lunch. What we did was create a relaxing and inviting atmosphere so you feel like you could be in a restaurant, but we’re not making food. It’s along the lines of local wineries like you see in California’s Napa Valley or along the Connecticut Wine Trail.”
This ties into another aspect of the owner’s vision. “Because we knew we were opening a big destination, we decided to sell more than just our own beer,” Schwartz explains. “We also sell local wine and we have local guest taps with beers from other breweries in the region. Look, we’re beer people, not restaurant people, and it makes sense to focus on our strength and in the process contribute to the success of Branford. It’s an approach you might expect to find in Portland, Oregon or Seattle, Washington, which are much more established craft beer markets. In Connecticut we are working to develop that cooperative spirit while building a beer culture. We are proud to be part of leading that charge.”
Stony Creek Brewery is also leading the charge with its approach toward the manufacturing equipment in a craft brewing facility. “There are lots of ways of building a brewery,” Schwartz contends, “and each is fine. You can piece together used equipment and set up in an old warehouse and you can make world class beer. I’ve done that. But here we decided, from the start, to go with the best of everything. I think we’re really blessed here to have ownership with a vision and that believes in doing things the right way, the way things should be done. We got the best people to design a world class facility, hired the best people in the industry to run it and acquired the best equipment in every category.”
According to Schwartz, the Crowleys wanted to build a brewing facility that could stand up to the exploding demand for craft beer, stay family-owned forever and grow with equipment that will last. “We went for the highest performing, most efficient and most reliable equipment there is,” Schwartz explains. “Our boilers, refrigeration, compressors, electrical systems—they’re all that way. I’m not saying it to brag, just that our owners knew it would make business sense to invest in production equipment that would work well and stand the test the time. We’ve been ridiculously successful, which speaks to the wisdom of that approach. It’s a little overwhelming, but in a great way.”
As with most beverage production and packaging operations, Stony Creek Brewery relies on compressed air. “We use compressed air to operate our packaging lines, to purge kegs before filling, to purge CO2 from our tanks, and to oxygenate some of our beers to promote fermentation,” says Schwartz. “Our compressors are oil-free units from Atlas Copco. Why mess with something that is so crucial to our process?”
Stony Creek Brewery chose two ZT compressors, the air-cooled variants of Atlas Copco’s renowned Z series of oil-free, rotary tooth compressors. Both machines—a 30-horsepower ZT22VSDFF Variable Speed Drive unit and a 25-horsepower ZT18FF fixed speed unit—produce compressed air that meets ISO 8573-1 CLASS 0 (2010), which means there is zero oil in the compressed air stream. The compressor element is not flooded with oil, so there is no oil to filter out and no risk of oil contamination. That is critical in any production operation where compressed air comes in contact with products or packaging.
The ZT22VSDFF compressor at Stony Creek Brewery runs full time, automatically adjusting output to meet demand. The ZT18FF machine serves as backup. When either machine is offline for maintenance or service, the other can handle the air demand so there is no loss in productivity. The Elektronikon control system also ensures that the backup compressor is exercised for a few hours every week, which is important to keep both machines running right. This two-compressor configuration is poised for future growth, too, since the ZT18FF can run base loaded with the ZT22VSDFF providing trim. Should demand for compressed air grow even further, another fixed-speed machine can be added easily.
Schwartz points out that the entire operation was designed to be environmentally responsible. “For a small startup operation, we made the decision to build in as much efficiency wherever we can,” he says. “There’s lots of natural lighting and LED lighting. The boilers are high efficiency. The compressors are high efficiency. There are future plans to put solar panels on the roof, so we had it pre-configured with the wiring ready to go.”
Future plans also include repurposing the heat of compression, which is a natural result when any gas (including air) is compressed. Currently at Stony Creek Brewery, heat generated by the ZT compressors is vented to the atmosphere, but plans include additional ducting so heat can be redirected to warm an interior space during cold weather. “As with our rooftop solar plans, right now there are other items higher on the to-do list, like installing 13 new fermenters so we can grow and expand our reach into new states this year. Our first priority is to invest back into efficient production capacity.”
Stony Creek Brewery’s commitment to efficient production is also reflected in management’s decision to purchase an Atlas Copco Extended Warranty Plus service agreement. “With the service agreement in place, Stony Creek Brewing will have zero additional cost for maintenance or service on these two ZT compressors for five years,” according to Frank Sampson, Service Sales Manager with Atlas Copco Compressors New England Compressor Center in West Springfield, MA. “Atlas Copco service agreements are very popular because they cover all normal maintenance and extend the full factory warranty, all for one price. That lets a company account for compressor maintenance and any repairs as a fixed cost with no surprises. The compressors are equipped with SMARTLINK remote monitoring, too, so if anything isn’t running as it should, Atlas Copco’s service organization is automatically alerted. Often our technicians can make the required correction before
a customer even notices there’s an issue.”
Knowing that compressed air is always available is fundamental for the entire brewery. “We put beer in kegs, bottles and cans, and compressed air runs the whole thing,” Schwartz says. “Now we have a comprehensive preventive maintenance program that covers everything and our compressors are monitored remotely. Those levels of service are ideal because I don’t know compressors, I just know I need a steady supply of oil-free compressed air. Really, it would be crazy not to take advantage of services to help us with things that are so important. Now we know we’re doing everything we’re supposed to do to make sure these compressors continue to perform efficiently. It also makes maintenance and service a line item in the budget so we get no surprises. We’re not gamblers, we try to be strategic in what we do. We analyze and think things through so we do things the way things should be done. By making that decision now, we’re confident our compressors will be supporting us reliably for the long run.”
The way Schwartz looks at it, you can tell equipment is running right when you don’t even think about it. “Compressed air is a production utility,” he says, “no different than water or electricity. You just expect it to be there. With our Atlas Copco compressors, it is.”
Stony Creek Brewery is led by a small, experienced team with big ambitions for Connecticut craft beer. Their brewery is making progressive craft beers that are familiar as well as surprising, high quality, experimental and exceeding expectations. The team has built a showcase brewery that’s entrepreneurial in spirit, efficient in operation and designed for growth. The stunning taproom allows customers to get closer to the action and share in the team’s passion and sense of community. Stony Creek Brewery is committed to brewing Connecticut beer that is truly exceptional.
Stony Creek Brewery chose Atlas Copco’s Extended Warranty Plus service agreement, which provides “bumper to bumper” coverage. One fixed price per year assures that there is zero additional cost for scheduled maintenance or warranty service. As the name suggests, it also extends the original factory warranty to five years from start up.