Shreveport brewery Great Raft Brewing announced a two-step plan for expansion, which will lead to distribution in south Louisiana. Currently Great Raft is only available in Shreveport/Bossier, Monroe and Ruston, but co-founder Lindsay Nations says the first phase of the expansion should provide "more breathing room" to keep up with current demand in northern Louisiana. The second stage will pave the way for an expansion into New Orleans, the Northshore and Baton Rouge markets.
"We never anticipated that the demand in northern Louisiana would be as high as it is," Nations says. The popularity of Great Raft's Southern Drawl lager and Commotion pale ale prompted the brewery to add two 60-barrel (bbl) fermenters, which have been installed, leveled and are ready to undergo "seasoning," a technique for getting the "new fermenter" smell and taste out of the equipment by running a beer with a high alcohol volume through the system, then dumping the beer down the drain.
The second phase of expansion will bring four more 60-bbl fermenters and a 60-bbl bright tank into the brewery. That will give Great Raft the production capacity to expand into new areas. While no distributors or specific timelines have been announced, Nations says distribution likely will begin in the New Orleans market and grow from there. Nations says it's difficult to set a schedule before the equipment even arrives, but she hopes to have Great Raft beers available in cans for the 2015 Carnival season.
"It'll hopefully be either right before or right after Mardi Gras," she says.
Great Raft's expansion also necessitates hiring another brewer, which Nations plans to have in place by the start of 2015. Once Great Raft beers are in the New Orleans market, Nations says the company may hire a local marketing and promotions representative to cover south Louisiana.
Both phases of the expansion should increase the brewery's capacity by 160 percent — from 2,500 bbls a year to 7,000 bbls annually.
2014 has been a good year for Nations and her husband and brewery co-founder Andrew. They were selected to represent Louisiana, along with NOLA Brewing, in the prestigious Savor craft beer event in May. This summer, they participated in Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp Across America program, where they collaborated with Asheville, North Carolina's Burial Beer Co. on a rye helles lager, which was served at the Beer Camp celebration at Sierra Nevada's Mills River, North Carolina brewery. "We were the only Louisiana brewery there," Nations says.