Two craft beer producers plan to open facilities late this year or early next year. Service Brewing is renovating the Coastal-Sail building on West River Street for a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing plant while Coastal Empire Beer Co. has leased the former Pepsi bottling plant near the Derst Baking Co. for its brewery.
The pair of craft breweries would join Southbound Brewing and the Moon River microbrewery as local beer producers. Southbound opened a plant off West Bay Street last year while Moon River has been producing beer in small batches in its downtown brewpub since 1999.
"Savannah has a growing craft beer culture and 12 million visitors who come into town every year," said Kevin Ryan, the man behind Service Brewing. "There is a tremendous opportunity for the craft beer industry here."
Ryan and his partners in Service Brewing bought the Coastal-Sail building in late June. Ryan is also converting an old welding shop in West Savannah into a smaller brewing facility, complete with a hops garden and honeybee hives to produce ingredients.
Service Brewing has its equipment - a 30-barrel brewing system that produces 930 gallons at a time - and plans to begin installation once it resolves a zoning issue. Ryan will go before the Savannah Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday for a variance from the requirement a manufacturing facility be located on a major arterial roadway.
The Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission staff has recommended approval, and Ryan points out the brewery will generate less traffic than Coastal Paper and Sail Chemical did.
Service Brewing will also need Savannah Historic Board of Review approval for its planned changes to the building's exterior. Those improvements are minor, Ryan said, and he is working with local architecture firm Lynch Associates Architects on the designs.
Coastal Empire will move its brewing operations to its West Savannah location as soon as its brewing equipment is finished. Brothers Chris and Kevin Haborak started the company two years ago and have produced their Savannah Brown Ale and Tybee Island Blonde through a contract agreement with an Alabama brewery.
They plan to introduce another beer, a pale ale, in August.
Kevin Haborak commutes to the facility in Huntsville, Ala., to oversee the brewing of each batch.
"Brewing beer here will make things much easier on him," Chris said of his brother. "Overall, we're just really excited to brew a local beer here locally."
Both Service Brewing and Coastal Empire Beer can expect strong demand, said Nolan Wolf, owner of the Beer Growler, a craft beer retail store located in Drayton Tower.
"As we are finding here, it is the Moon River and the Southbounds that are flying out of the taps," Wolf said. "Hopefully as more and more quality beers come to town it broadens our craft beer palette more and more and improves the beer environment."
Other local brewers, such as Southbound's Smith Mathews, similarly welcomed news of Service Brewing and Coastal Empire Beer's plans.
When it comes to craft beer, "the rising tide lifts all boats," Mathews said.
Cities such as Charleston and Jacksonville boast half-a-dozen craft breweries and microbreweries and create a collective buzz.
"You really can't have a craft beer culture without their being multiple breweries present," Mathews said. "It would really be nice to have a bunch of breweries in close proximity to each other."
Southbound, Service Brewing and Moon River will be located within a mile of each other, and Service Brewing and Moon River are walking distance from downtown hotels. The potential impact on tourism is significant, said Visit Savannah President Joe Marinelli.
Craft beer and microbreweries are part of the new "culinary tourism" experience visitors are looking for, he said.
"Visitors are always looking for unique tastes of the region," Marinelli said. "Just like shrimp 'n grits and Lowcountry cuisine, specialty southern brews are gaining in popularity."