To the west of Interstate 95, on a parcel of land adjacent to the CSX railway in Delray Beach, sits a massive, white-roofed, red-painted structure. It is both a repurposed barn and an important piece of South Florida history. It is also the future home of Saltwater Brewery.
As the growth of craft beer producers in South Florida hits an all-time high, experience in production brewing is hitting us hard -- in the best way possible. Due South has long reigned supreme in southern Palm Beach County, with Tequesta Brewing churning out award-winning beers not far away. In Broward, Funky Buddha has become a local brewing juggernaut, while Holy Mackerel is taking experimental beers to the masses with the Mack House in western Broward. And in Miami, with Wynwood Brewing Company opening its doors and J Wakefield Brewing preparing to open early next year, the Magic City will have its own hub of maltcentric local producers. Before long, South Florida will be a Tampa-like Elysium of heavy hitters and nano-scale operations.
Saltwater Brewery is still under construction, though most of the brewing equipment and major construction work is completed. I arrived recently on a day that work was being done on the massive walk-in cooler, and glycol lines were being finished up.
I was greeted by Dustin Jeffers, the second-in-command brewer and a local homebrewer; you can tell by the beard. He gave me a tour of the facility, as we maneuvered around workmen and boxes of furniture, hoses, and other sundry parts.
The facility is large but condensed. This old barn, previously an antique-furniture store, has been painstakingly restored and retrofitted to make a modern yet rustic and agricultural place to brew beer. There are two floors, though the second one is mostly a series of wooden catwalks. Massive stainless-steel fermenters thrust up into the space. Corrugated steel lines the walls. Dark wood beams reach across the roof. It's a beautiful space.
The equipment that takes up the floor space, through its many shades of glistening metal, is sophisticated and modern yet decidedly analog in many respects.
"We've got manual valves on a lot of pipes," Jeffers explains, showing me the way that the mash tun and hot liquor tun are interconnected. Where most modern breweries have electronics handling valves and pumps, a lot of steps here will still be distinctly hand-operated.
"Over here is the cellar," Jeffers says, motioning toward a room on the second floor. Behind nautical-inspired doors, with circular porthole windows and hand-carved treatments, lies a blue-tinted chamber that, when complete, will be able to house bottles, barrels, and other vessels for aging beers.
"I'm a big fan of Belgian beers," he says, noting the flavor profiles and heavy yeast nature of the brews. "We're hoping to put together a Belgian quad, eventually."
For now, though, the group is focused on the first beer styles to brew, of which there are currently six: an extra pale ale, an IPA, a DIPA, a milk stout, a Belgian blond, and a scotch ale. Customer demand and the team's own tastes will affect which of these beers become core standards.
I'm led back around to the ground floor, where, one by one, the rest of the team descends upon us to introduce themselves and discuss the aspects of the brewery they are excited about. Bo Eaton, Chris Gove, Bill Taylor, and Peter Agardy complete the five-man team.
The project was spearheaded by Gove, son of Delray Beach developer Leigh Gove, who has owned the iconic barn since 2000. Locals will recognize it as the previous home to the Rustic Rooster antique-furniture store (which has since moved downtown), and the 1950s-era structure remains fairly intact from its original design, though with a renewed purpose.
The facility is a 20-barrel system, custom-built by Practical Fusion of Oregon City, Oregon. It boasts six 40-barrel fermenters, two 20-barrel fermenters, and two ten-barrel tanks. That's a lot of beer to be produced, and the team is hoping to get it swiftly out to the masses.
Agardy, the artist of the group, is tasked with developing the logos, tap handles, and overall feel of Saltwater's marketing materials. As a painter and graphic artist, he has both the skills and desire to make some unique Delray Beach-based artwork. "The tap handles we'll use in-house," he explains, "will be hand-sanded Dade County pine. The doors from the barn are being repurposed as tables.
"We're basing a lot of the names of our beers, and the iconography, off these paintings that will be all around the tap room." He shows me a variety of Guy Harvey-esque paintings, meticulously created and very Florida.
Taking the reins to produce all of that beer is Taylor, a brewmaster from Montana who used to be at the helm of Neptune's Brewery in Livingston, Montana. A retired Navy man, Taylor seems to have the sea following him wherever he goes. He's been brewing up north for 17 years and received a formal education from when "there were only 20 breweries in this country," he says. "I grew up with whatever was around, and it wasn't much. Going out to San Francisco, there was Anchor Steam... That's just what was there."
He delves right into a history lesson on beer on the West Coast. The man is knowledgeable about the past and sees it as a foundation for what he produces.
"I brew my beers on style and to the best they can be. Growing up in Montana, I used to help my family make wine when I was a kid. It was just normal."
As the brewery continues to take shape and features such as the outdoor beer garden (which will house a small lawn for games like bocce or rings) are being built, the team is already preparing to make the company stand out. "We have been and want to continue to give back to the ocean -- it's our jewel," says Eaton. "Doing charity work like with Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, it's a marriage of our two passions: beer and the ocean."
So what can be expected of the operation? Signs point to a family-friendly atmosphere with the tasting room being focused on earlier operating hours than a lot of downtown Delray Beach might be used to -- think around 10 p.m. for closing hours.
"We could be a starting-off point [for the rest of your evening]," Gove says. Since this is a Florida brewery, food will have to be brought in, and with the plethora of amazing dining establishments and a delivery infrastructure to bring it in, dining opportunities will abound.
Overall, the space will certainly attract the sea of locals that Funky Buddha and Due South see coming in day after day, and with a unique location right off I-95, I can imagine it becoming a hot spot for growler filling in the hours after work is done.
Beer things in your Twitter feed - Follow me @DougFairall
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