PHOTOPHILE- Macrobrew: Coors taps into Elkton for brewery



For decades, the Coors Brewing Company has implored beer drinkers everywhere to "tap into the Rockies." Now, when lager lovers from Boston to Key West put their lips to an icy cold Coors Light or Keystone Light, they'll actually be tapping into the Blue Ridge.

On Wednesday, September 5, Coors opened a brand-new, $300 million, 100,000-square-foot brewery in Elkton, the only Coors brewery in addition to the original in Golden, Colorado, opened in 1873.

So why Elkton? The tiny Rockingham County town has been home to one of Coors' main packaging facilities since 1987, but the beer was always coming from elsewhere.

"We had purchased an old Schlitz plant in Memphis," explains chairman Pete Coors, the fourth generation to run the family business. "We had a decision to either keep putting money into an old facility or build a new one here. This was a no-brainer."

But the reasons why the family chose the Shenandoah Valley town of 2,000 to become its brewing center for the entire east coast don't just come down to just dollars and cents. It turns out there's something in the water: nothing.

"The water here in this aquifer is fabulous," says Coors. "There's no iron in it, but there are certain elements that are helpful for allowing the yeast to thrive and give birth to the sugar for fermentation. It's very similar to the water in Colorado."

"We don't have to treat it at all," adds brewmaster Andy Pickerell. "It has an absolutely perfect balance of salts and minerals for brewing."

Operational since the spring, the plant churns out an average of 12,000 barrels (or 372,000 gallons) of beer per day for an annual output of 7 million barrels (or 217 million gallons). Even with all that suds slinging, Coors has found a way to build a plant that's completely carbon neutral.

"We don't put any CO2 into the air," explains Pickerell. "We recycle all the carbon dioxide generated from fermentation and put it back into the beer when we're bottling it to give it that extra fizz."

The packaging facility already employs 450 people in the Elkton area, but don't expect there to be a line of people around the block applying to work in the brewery– the new brewing operation will need only eight to 10 new employees. 

"The process is so automated at this point," says Pickerell, "that it ensures we're putting out a consistent brew every time."

Company chairman Pete Coors

Former chairman Bill Coors shares a moment with current chief supply chain officer, Dennis Puffer.

These combi kettles stir 1,000 barrels (31,000 gallons!) of brew at a time.

Brewmaster Andy Pickerell oversees Elkton's largest legal brewing operation

After their manufacture in Germany, all 40 of these 70-foot-high steel fermenters were shipped across the Atlantic by barge before their 10-hour truck journey from the port in Fredericksburg.


[An editor's error in the print edition of this story garbled this last caption, giving the impression that Fredericksburg was a destination rather than its actual role as port–editor.]