Building a brewery

First thing’s first. Our new barrel-aging and souring brewery finally has a name: the Garage.

Why the Garage? We started out homebrewing in our garage every Monday Night. For us, the humble garage has always been a symbol of experimentation, spontaneity, and community, all things that we want to replicate in our new West End brewery. An open garage is inviting. It invites neighbors to “borrow” your fancy new weed-eater, but also invites in the outside air. We plan on doing a good bit of open fermentation, even piping in the outside air from the orchard to cool and ferment wort in our coolship.

We are hoping to break ground in the next two months, but we thought you might want to see some “Before” pictures. We’re planning on greeting all visitors with a painting of dinosaurs, so for scale we have put dinosaurs in the new space for you to see.

First up, an Oviraptor and Seismosaurus will accost you upon entry. Fortunately, Chris Pratt will be there to calm these wild dinosaurs down. This is the front entrance. The middle green section will be the main doors. The large green section to the right of that will be a large glass garage door, and that deck will wrap around the side of the building. The Seismosaurus is standing on the Beltline currently.

Next, a view from the entrance out to the Beltline, almost entirely obstructed by a playful Triceratops. Don’t worry, they’re herbivores. We’ll have a plethora of fruit trees and other edible vegetation in the courtyard behind this guy to keep him happy and well fed.

Now we’re looking at the entrance from the opposite end of the Garage. The main entrance is right under this Shantungesaurus’ neck. Our brewmaster Adam (in the green shirt) better watch out before that tail swipes him! The coolship, barrel-aging rooms, and foeders will be lined up along the right wall. The left wall will be opened up (again, with garage doors) onto a patio along the Beltline. We plan on leaving most of the character of the floor and beams intact, not necessarily because we respect the past, but mostly because we are spending all our money on barrels.

Finally, the mighty T-Rex, with most of his body inside our brewery, but tail sneaking into no-man’s-land. The column in front of his tail designate where the far wall will be. We’re trying to keep him as far away from the public as possible because he has a tendency to eat people, which is bad for repeat business.

We look forward to seeing all of y’all at the Garage later this year!

 

I started back to work this new year by organizing some old files, which has been long overdue. Going through 10 years of computer files can be a daunting task, particularly for a digital packrat like myself. In the process, I stumbled across a bunch of our old homebrew labels, pictured below.

One of my personal favorites is the Bog Monster Cranberry Ale, mostly because it was so, so terrible. It would have been terrible even if it had fermented correctly, but it became an exploding yeast bomb in the bottles. We didn’t end up brewing that one again. You’re welcome.

2017 is going to be a big year for us, particularly when the construction of our 2nd brewery gets underway this spring. We’ve already been busy working on the plans (and beers) for the new space, so it was fun to take a look at some of the things from our past that have shaped where we are now as a brewery. Even if they weren’t all that glamorous.

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We have big news. We are building a 2nd brewery focusing on barrel-aged and sour beers. We are building this brewery along one of the largest urban renewal projectsin the country: the BeltLine. We are planting an urban orchard to aid in wild fermentation. We are opening a 2nd tasting room as part of this new development. We hope to be open Summer 2017.

Okay, let’s start at the beginning. The past few years our barrel-aged beers have won numerous awards, ranging from Gold at the Great American Beer Festival for Bourbon Barrel Drafty Kilt, to Silver at the World Beer Cup for Laissez-Faire Cabernet Barrel Wheat Wine. Our barrel program has quickly become an integral part of who we are as a brewery, and it’s also something we’re pretty good at. Unfortunately, we simply don’t have the room at our Westside location to do all the things we want to be able to do.

We started thinking about additional space for barrel-aging, but before we got too far down the road, we realized we needed to approach this potentially large business decision via our stated purpose:

Monday Night Brewing exists to deepen human relationships over some of the best beer in the country.

We can never forget that inviting friends and strangers into the garage to brew on Monday nights is how we got started. The ability to help build and shape community is why we wanted to open a brewery in the first place. With deepening human relationships as the end goal, we realized we needed to add a couple things to our search criteria:

  • Space for barrel-aging and souring
  • Physical location in an underserved part of Atlanta
  • Tasting room as key component of buildout

We ended up finding an amazing spot along the BeltLine’s Southwest corridor, currently under construction and slated to open next summer. We thought long and hard about building in the City again. Frankly, we were courted seriously by other cities in Georgia and other states as well. Ultimately, we love this city and want to help build something great here. We are part of the Lee + White Development (at the corner of Lee St. and White St.), which will be home to other local food producers including Southern Aged Cheese, Doux South Pickles, and Honeysuckle Gelato. As if that wasn’t tantalizing enough, here are some things we have planned for the 22,000 sq ft space (for reference, our current facility is 20,000 sq ft):

  • Multiple barrel-aging and souring rooms
  • Wild/open fermentation capabilities
  • Tasting room with patio along BeltLine
  • Orchard (fruits will be used in beer production and will also aid with wild fermentation)
  • Dog- and bicycle-friendly outdoor space
  • Paintings of dinosaurs

As we now begin the process of planning and buildout, we have started reaching out to the various neighborhoods and organizations operating around us. We obviously want to make sure this new space is economically viable, but we also want to make sure we are building something that enhances and reflects the community that surrounds it. Southwest Atlanta isn’t as developed as the Westside, but it is already home to vibrant communities such as West End and Adair Park. We hope to be a meeting place for these neighbors, to employ these neighbors, and to invest back into the community when possible.

As our plans unfold, we’ll continue to update you on the yet-to-be-named new space. Which leads us to the obvious question – any ideas on what we should call it?

Monday Night Brewing has only been around for 4 years as a revenue-generating entity, so in one sense we’re still making up for 5 revenue-losing years of home-brewing out of our garage. In those 4 short years, we’ve experienced double-digit and triple-digit growth annually, now distribute to two states, and employ a motley crew of 22 full-timers and a troupe of part-timers.

Our brewery today looks pretty different from the way we envisioned it when gathered around Jeff’s table working on a business plan and drinking early versions of Eye Patch Ale. The interesting thing is – it looks different almost every day. When sales grow, production grows. But while sales grow in a relatively smooth curve, beer production is dependent on large pieces of machinery, and you can’t just add a quarter of a tank. We’re always fighting the battle between sales outselling production or having idle capacity in the back. When we add equipment and people to brew beer, it’s a step-function, not a smooth curve.

Further complicating things (or making them fun, depending on how you look at it) – the larger we get, the more other efficiency-saving investments make sense, for instance installing a more efficient grain mill to increase the consistency of our grind and decrease the amount of grain we have to use per batch of beer brewed. This year alone we’ve undertaken quite a few capital projects that have tied up time and resources and changed the way the brewery operates. In 2015 we have:

  • Added 4 120bbl fermenters
  • Installed a new grain mill
  • Added 3 grain silos for bulk grain storage (and put a wolf, eagle and bear on them, obviously)
  • Installed 5bbl pilot system for test batches
  • Purchased a canning line – I keep telling the guys in the back to plug it in and push the “start” button, but they maintain it’s “more complicated than that”
  • Hired some good-looking brewers and continued to pay the ugly one

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We’ve had to learn to embrace change, expect problems and listen to feedback. As we’ve grown, we’ve also taught ourselves to enjoy the problem-solving process, knowing that issues are inevitable. As an example, here’s a hypothetical scenario:

There is a wedding happening at the brewery in 6 hours. Without notice, the city shuts off all water to the street, meaning toilets don’t flush and sinks don’t work. Our first solution, “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” has been lambasted by the wedding planner. Our brewmaster, realizing that our cold liquor tank is full of water, rigs up some pumps to supply all of our incoming water from a tank in the brewery. Boom. Problem solved – and even the wedding planner is impressed. She stops throwing shade and even lets us dance during the wedding.

Our ethos has always been about loving our professions, and that hasn’t changed. We love what we do and we love who we work with. And while we’ve grown rapidly, we are still tiny by brewery standards. Merely a blip on the national beer radar, as it were.

We’re expecting to grow even more next year. And we’re excited about that.

Our top priority is (and always has been) making awesome beer for awesome people, but creating a cool and comfortable environment where those awesome people can enjoy our brews is pretty high up there too. The Monday Night Brewing tasting room has been a beer-lovers’ mecca since we opened our own brewery just over two years ago, and while a lot of thought was put into the design of the space before we ever opened our doors, there’s always room for improvement. So, if you haven’t been by recently, here’s what we’ve done to make our tasting room even better.

New Chalkboards

Shortly after we opened up, we put once-intern-but-now-sales-gal Zoe to work decorating two giant chalkboards to hang above the bar to tell people about our four beers. It wasn’t long before four beers turned to five, which quickly grew to ten, and soon those two chalkboards were falling down on the job (not literally though, that would be dangerous). And as we’ve been getting busier, we realized that there needed to be a better way to let you guys know which beers were on tap, and where. So to make it easier to figure out which line to get in at the bar, we’ve drawn new chalkboards (thanks, Zoe!) for each beer that hang over whichever tap that beer is being poured from. Less confusion, faster lines, better experience! Plus, it’s pretty.

outdoor bar

The guys really thought out the design of the tasting room when they renovated our old warehouse into the functional space it is today. Building the main bar to open up to the patio in addition to the indoor part of the tasting room is an awesome (and super useful) feature of the space. But with the recent upswing in temperatures, our patio has become busier than ever, so to help alleviate the lines at our main bar, we’ve added a custom-built outdoor bar with eight more taps. It’s not up and running quite yet, but will be very very soon.

outdoor heaters

gas starter fire pitOur patio is amazing during the warm months, but our guests (and employees, if we’re being real here) want to be able to enjoy it during the cooler months too. We noticed over the last two winters that a couple of fire pits that needed constant tending weren’t cutting it during the winter, so we’ve run gas lines the length of the patio. We added a gas starter to one of the fire pits, and we have hook ups for standing propane heaters. We’re sure they’ll be a welcome addition once the temperatures drop.

 

We now have four new 120bbl fermenters (and one 120 bbl brite tank) taking up space in our brewery. These shiny new toys will allow us to add more than 5,000 barrels of annual capacity. What does this mean for you?  It means you need to start drinking more Monday Night. Immediately.

The new tanks are the ones without any plumbing to them in the picture below, so realistically you have about 2 weeks before you need to ramp up your beer consumption. Better buy some sweatpants.

tanks-new