AUBURN — It will be months, if not years before Prison City Pub & Brewery can build the production facility it announced this summer. But the Auburn brewpub isn't waiting until then to expand its business.
Marc Schulz, who owns Prison City with his wife, Dawn, said Friday that they have recently purchased the basement salon located below it, Downtown Shag. And once they take ownership of the space Dec. 1, Schulz said, he expects their beer production to not only increase, but diversify.
Since opening in December 2014, Prison City has been overwhelmed by demand for brewer Ben Maeso's product. Traffic has lately been "through the roof," Schulz said, due in part to the 2015 Great American Beer Festival silver medal for his Bleek Worden Belgian pale ale and the No. 1 placement for his Mass Riot India pale ale in Paste Magazine's annual IPA blind tasting.
As a result, supply has been strained at the five-barrel brewpub.
"Physically, we can't make any more beer," Schulz said.
To meet that demand, the Schulzes announced in June their plans to open a facility that'd raise Prison City's production from 300-400 barrels annually to about 7,000. They're still in contact with the city of Auburn about its plans for a regional public market aside the Owasco River, which could seat the facility, but the Schulzes are also scouting other locations, Marc said.
So when Downtown Shag was listed for sale three months ago, they leapt at the opportunity. The salon's 1,000 square feet won't give Prison City as much space it wants, Schulz said, and for that reason the expansion won't affect plans for the production facility. But, he continued, scooping up the brewpub's basement made too much sense.
"We always knew we could use more space here," he said. "It was a fortuitous situation."
Prison City plans to use the space primarily for beer fermentation, Schulz said. The brewpub will remain a five-barrel operation in size, but the additional fermenters will allow Maeso to raise its annual production from 300-400 barrels to 900-1,200.
Schulz said at least one fermenter will be dedicated to Mass Riot, whose September can release brought hundreds to Auburn. That batch lasted two days, while another later in the month lasted about a week because Prison City suspended its take-home sales via Crowlers (32-ounce cans).
One bitterly cold January afternoon, Joe Shelton and Mark Grimaldi walked into Prison City P…
"It's hard to make a beer that's gone in seven days. It takes 21 to make, seven to sell," Schulz said. "It's sometimes frustrating when you get people coming all the way to Auburn and you see the look on their face when they're bummed. They want to take a little piece of Prison City home with them."
Schulz hopes the expansion will allow Prison City to make Mass Riot and its other beers available enough that they can restore Crowler sales. The Schulzes are also looking into buying equipment to package Mass Riot and other beers in four-packs of 16-ounce cans, and sours like Cherry Poppins and Run Like an Apricot in 350-milliliter bottles.
Being able to guarantee take-home quantities of Prison City beer could raise business by 20 to 25 percent, Schulz said, based on interactions with out-of-town customers.
"They say, 'Let us know when you (are doing take-home sales) and we'll come out,'" he said. "We're missing a lot of opportunity there."
Another boost to Prison City's beer production comes from its recent installation of a glycol chiller, which will grant Maeso better control of his beers' temperature. As a result, he can shave a few days off the production time of beers like Mass Riot and, he hopes, begin making styles from the more time-consuming lager family.
In the new basement space, the brewer will also enjoy a dedicated area for barrel-aging more sours, stouts and other beers, as well as a lab for closer analysis, Schulz said.
"It's a testament to how talented Ben is as a brewer to make beer as consistently well as he does," he said.
Prison City will begin construction Dec. 1 by demolishing the wall behind what's currently its retail space, Schulz said, giving it access to a stairway to the basement. He's even secured two prison cell gates for the doorway from his brother-in-law, a fire chief in Schulz's hometown of Millis, Massachusetts. Meanwhile, the retail area — which Schulz said has also been surging with business — will move to the nearby front corner of the brewpub.
Schulz said he and Dawn hope to install drainage, finish other improvements and begin bringing fermenters down to the basement by Jan. 1.
"We're pumped," he said. "We're just scratching the surface."
Gallery: Crowd lines up for release of Prison City Pub & Brewery's Mass Riot IPA
On Sept. 11, 2016, Prison City Pub & Brewery in Auburn re-released its Mass Riot, the India pale ale that took No. 1 in Paste Magazine's 2016 American IPA blind tasting. The brewpub previously announced that only 120 Crowlers (32-ounce cans) of Mass Riot would be available at noon, and a line formed outside Prison City's State Street doors in anticipation of the release.