I am very happy about the successful first weekend–I don’t think things could have turned out much better. We have a lot of work ahead to get ready for our grand opening, but I definitely think everyone who came out had a nice experience. I thought I’d talk a bit about what went into making all this.
Before I talk a bit about the process of opening the new brewery, I’d just like to stress a couple of things for anyone looking to open a similar sized brewery who is reading this. Lee’s and my areas of expertise have been critical to the success of this new start-up. With Lee’s construction experience, our build-out has been one of the fastest I have ever heard of, at three months. You could be able to make very good beer, but if you burn through all your free rent during construction, you can go under or have to give up ownership for more money before you even open. I cannot stress this enough–this is not easy. If you have no construction experience, spend as much time as you can researching.
My challenge was hopefully accumulating enough knowledge from brewing on a smaller system to be able to flawlessly brew our first round of beers. I am happy to say that despite being nervous about sizing up, we killed it on this first round of beers, and we’ll only get better.
I stress these things because so many people are opening breweries these days. It is not easy. I am sometimes fairly stunned at how little knowledge some people have going into this. Do your research, please. So without further ado…
Our 10 BBL system, a direct fire brewhouse from ABE, arrived in early November. Before it arrived, we had to have our concrete pad completed and painted. Previously, we had used an expensive floor coating (Flowcrete) at the nano, but this was out of our price range for a much larger concrete pad. We opted to use a floor paint and medium traffic seal. So far, it already has chipped a lot. Ultimately, we can just fix it as we go. The other options were to use a heavy traffic seal that has a 30 day cure time, and waste a month of rent, or use the aforementioned polyurethane/concrete blend, which would cost $10,000. If you are using paint, just make sure that the concrete is fully cured and roughed up enough.
The system arrived undamaged and with everything we had ordered. We hired a team of two riggers who assisted in moving it in. A pallet jack and a chain hoist were enough to get everything in pretty easily. The glycol chiller was an exception, but we borrowed a forklift from our neighbor to move it in to place outside earlier. We probably could have done it all ourselves, but hiring some experienced guys probably cut the time in half.
We opted for a 700 sq ft cold room, which is a bit oversized, but since it is marginally more expensive to get a larger sized coldroom, it is a good idea to go bigger.
Putting together the cold room was by far the hardest task. We had to lift and lock together 36 panels, each weighing about 200 lbs each! It took three people 24 hours to complete. The camlocks can be very difficult to lock together. We were able to keep the very nice set of ratchet straps from the brewhouse shipment, and these were incredibly helpful in pulling the panels together to lock them. At one point we pulled the entire coldroom with them to center it! Also, it was critical that we were able to use two scissorlifts from construction to help lift the ceiling panels into place.
Once this was complete it was time to start painting the place. I really want to thank our awesome friends who volunteered to come help paint. We managed to knock out painting the entire 7000 sq ft place! I definitely have had my fill of painting for a bit.
The next task was building the bar. We’d like to thank Sean Adams, our friend/former bartender, for coming by to help. Lee and Sean are very skilled carpenters, and our 40 ft bar is looking pretty nice. The most exciting part was pouring and setting the BBs! The entire bar top is covered in a layer of copper Crossman BBs and epoxy. The result is pretty neat!
After that, we started setting up our tanks. We opted for separate glycol shutoff valves for each tank, so when an inevitable problem happens, we don’t have to drain much glycol to access one tank. We were very pleased with the condition of the tanks, and after caustic and passivation, they were good to go!
Overall, I am very happy that we opened on schedule and have produced such good results. We have done a ton of things ourselves. Sometimes when you hear of extensive DIY, you may think of amateurish workmanship, but with Lee’s extensive background in construction, we were able to knock out a lot of work and are getting close to having a pretty beautiful brewery on our hands!
Once we had our brewery license and occupancy, we immediately brewed five batches over five days to fill all the tanks. One thing I really regret was not purchasing an oversized mash tun, since so many of our beers are pretty big. In any case, we picked six difficult beers to brew first: kolsch (we’ve never used kolsch yeast, which has very poor flocculation), lemon serrano IPA, NE double IPA, imperial stout infused with vanilla and cinnamon, black tripel, and kettle-soured IPA with oranges. The only recipe adjustments I made scaling up were increased efficiency (due to grist rehydrator and mash tun rakes for better mixing) and increased hop utilization (lower your IBUs by 2-5). We hit target OG on all beers except for one.
Lemon Serrano Storm, our west coast IPA with fruit and peppers, presented a bit of a challenge. I couldn’t afford to mess up any of these beers. Knowing that I would get increased utilization from these tanks and by rousing them with CO2 through the bottom, I opted to use half the amount of lemons and serranos as I normally do. It worked perfectly.
The same held true for Empress, our sour IPA. I made 8 BBLs of Orange Empress with 25 navel oranges, juiced and zested. I also made a run-off batch in a 3 BBL tank of Mango Empress. We’ll do things like that often to get a greater variety of beer on tap.
I am very excited for what it means to have this new system. Besides having ten times the production capacity of the nano, our new system is really going to improve our beers in so many ways. I think we’ve made some fine beer on our 3 BBL system, but we did not have glycol, brite tanks, and so many other important things. I look forward to making beer without any of the significant limitations I’ve had to work around for these past three years.
The next tasks we have are ramping up production and renovating the nano location. You’ll start to see us on tap more and more over the next few months as we begin distribution. We’re also working on on-premise cans and our first bottle release at the new place.
Renovating the nano has started in earnest. We’ll go up to 8 beers on tap there, including some special ones just for that place. The existing 3 BBL system will get some hard piping and other improvements, and we’ll begin doing barrel-fermented mixed culture sours. The layout will change a bit, with the bar getting moved, the addition of booth seating, and a new paint job and finish for the interior. We’ll be adding a new deck outside, and will be offering live music and special beer releases on First Friday in Leesburg over the summer.
Overall, we can’t wait to learn and grow as a part of this great beer scene in NOVA. Cheers!