SweetWater spokeswoman Tucker Berta Sarkisian said the Atlanta-based company has wanted to reach a wider market, but wanted to build a brewery in new markets to ensure the product is fresh.
“We’ve been looking out west and thinking that building from scratch might be an option,” she said.
SweetWater founder Freddy Bensch recently made a deal to buy the brewing equipment of a Berkeley, Calif., plant that was closed this summer by Pyramid Breweries. That gives Sweetwater the hardware to equip a new plant when it settles on location.
“It’s outstanding equipment,” Sarkisian said, with enough capacity to boost SweetWater’s production by 70 percent, to more than 1 million barrels a year.
SweetWater’s westward trek will be into crowded territory. California alone has 506 craft brewers and 28 large or regional brewers, according to the Brewer’s Association, a trade group. Georgia has 41 craft brewers, including three large or regional operations.
The move follows a similar invasion in the opposite direction by Chico, Calif.-based Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., which opened its second brewery near Asheville, N.C., about a year ago. Sierra Nevada is the No. 3 craft brewer.
Craft brewers have made heady progress at the expense of mass market beer makers over the past decade. Last year, craft brewers’ sales volume increased almost 18 percent, compared to 0.5 percent growth for all beer makers, according to the Brewer’s Association.
Mass market brewers, meanwhile, have been responding by buying or taking stakes in smaller brewers and consolidating through ever-larger mergers. Last month, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced a planned $106 billion acquisition of global rival SABMiller, which if completed will control about a third of the world’s beer production.