Giving the people what they want: more beer
by David Diehl
Who knows where anything is going? Who knew there would be hard seltzers? Who knew there would be pastry stouts? But that’s what Americans do,” says Marc Shultz, co-owner of Prison City Brewing in Auburn. “We take otherworldly things and make them our own. People didn’t think New England IPAs were going to last, and now it’s a challenge to make it in this industry without one.”
And for Marc and his wife and brewery co-owner Debbie Shultz, their current challenge is how to make enough beer to keep up with the demand from their thirsty and loyal customers.
Marc and Dawn Shultz opened the Prison City Brewery and Brewpub in 2014, and launched their second, and quite impressive, location during 2020.
Where the downtown brewpub sports a five-barrel system, the new location’s system is quadruple that size. With such a large brewhouse, Prison City now has different regions of the brewery for different types of production. Marc provides a tour as if he were pointing at different countries on a globe: To the left are wine barrels used for aging, and straight ahead is a tank containing their flagship stout Wham Wham. In each area there is a different climate aided by their temperature control.
“Our motivation for the expansion was quite simply lack of beer. When Dawn and I opened the Pub, we were actually going to do a 3½ barrel system. People kept saying that we weren’t going to have enough beer,” Shultz says. “We thought we were just going to be this little pub and brewery in Auburn—a town of 30,000 people. We never anticipated this rapid growth and the demand.”
“Believe it or not, we quadrupled our beer production at the pub from when we started. We even expanded there, added more fermenters and cellar space, and it still wasn’t enough. We decided that we needed a bigger brewery. And here it is,” he says.
“The brewpub serves as the Research and Development. We still make beers there; anything that really takes off, we will bring over here,” Shultz explains. “Mass Riot is still our most popular IPA, our most popular beer. I don’t like calling this the Mass Riot factory, but to a certain degree, that’s what it is. As this sits right now, we can produce 6,000 barrels of beer. To put it in perspective, we did about 600 to 750 barrels last year at the brewpub. We still can’t keep up.”
Across from the new brewing facility, the Schultzes created something they refer to as an “urban farm,” because they are located within Auburn city limits.
“We are on five and a half acres of land, and it has allowed us to do things that weren’t in our original plans. We have a small farm on the other side of the barn. We want to grow cucumbers and basil and stone fruits. We have chickens that are out there—that was a part of our plan,” says Marc. “It’s diabolical.”
“The farm is to be used for a little bit of everything. We planted a bunch of fruit trees down there, and it may not be enough for the 20-barrel batch but we can use it in the fivebarrel system,” adds Shultz. “We want to utilize as much as we can for the beer. We want to put together a CSA for our employees, so anything that can be grown each week we can give to our employees to take home. And then, of course, anything that we can add to the pub salads or charcuterie boards. It is to be determined what we can grow this summer.”
After describing the entire Prison City new campus, and everything that it can bring, not only to the company, but to the region—Marc summed it up perfectly: They aren’t doing this necessarily for a profit, but it is a cool resource to add to the community, and it’s “stupid delicious—just like beer,” he says.
“It’s a long game,” says Shultz. “It’s a lot of investment up front for returns that are two or three years down the road. A lot of beers, I have to wait to sell—it drives me crazy.”
Fortunately for their customers, they won’t have to wait at all to check out the new location and the diversity of brews that growth has allowed Prison City Brewing to serve up.
David Diehl is a Hobart & William Smith Colleges alum. You can follow his work at FLXWORDS.com.