Hiccups, Hurdles, and Headaches - What We've Run Into While Building a Brewery

There are two major themes from this month.

1.     We’re still under construction.

2.     We wish it was going faster

Just about everyone we’ve talked to, emailed, called, Skyped, Facebook messaged, tweeted, etc. etc. has asked us what in the world is taking so long. We’re asking the same question. You’re preaching to the choir folks, preaching to the choir. 

So for full transparency, I’ve decided to dedicate this blog post to the hiccups, the woes, the hurdles, the speed bumps, and the overall ridiculousness that has been this brewery construction. 

On paper it looked feasible to aim for a spring opening. But, as it turns out, this was a tad optimistic. Here's why:

The ceiling rained concrete.

Okay. If you’ve read our blog at all then you’ve already heard way too much about our ceiling damage problems, but I just had to stick it in here. You know the drill: we removed the ceiling insulation, concrete started falling on our heads, we had to find a solution. A few months later, the ceiling still looks like it may fall apart at any moment, but the structural engineers and the city have confirmed that it's safe to walk around sans hard hat so we're onto more construction fun.

We found an underground oil tank in the way of our plumbing.

This was a fun day. The boys were breaking up the slab to prep for the plumbers to come in, and they stumbled across an underground behemoth. At this point, the small exposed segment of rusty tank looked like it belonged to a 200 to 500 gallon tank that was empty and itching to come out. No need to panic – just a quick removal and then we could proceed.

Ah, how naïve we were! After coordinating with the fire department and pulling the proper permits, the tank removal company arrived and began breaking the remaining slab to remove the little guy. Turns out, he wasn’t so little. After two days of excavating, we had unearthed a 3000 gallon tank that had been filled with sand and left for dead over 40 years ago. Another day was wasted ripping the thing open and removing all the interior sand, and another was spent pulling the pieces of shredded tank from the ground and hauling them off site. We then had a 12 foot deep hole in the ground, and, although we wish we could have turned it into a fancy underground beer cellar or thrown a fake skeleton in for the next unlucky tenant to find, we opted to fill ‘er up with dirt and proceed with the project. Overall, a 10 day hiccup. The good news is that, after bringing an environmental company through and doing a serious deep test of the groundwater and building, there is no contamination. Silver lining. 

The wrong boiler was delivered.

Here you might be asking yourself, “is this a joke?” Well that’s what we said too when we looked at the tag for the $25K and 3000 lb boiler that was dropped off at our brewery last month, and was, in fact, not our boiler. After a few calls to the very apologetic shipping company, it turns out that our boiler was delivered to a brewery in Maryland, and theirs was residing uncomfortably with us. Oops. 

Luckily, it only took a week for the shipping company to scoop up the Maryland boiler and bring our baby up the east coast and to its proper home.  

Digging trenches here is remarkably difficult.

Okay. This doesn’t connote quite the same shock as “underground tank” or “wrong equipment”, but its still a BFD. We thought the process of ripping up the concrete for plumbing, drains, and floor sloping would be a fairly straight forward process and done in a week or so. Wrong.

The building seems to have about 3 different levels of concrete poured on the floor at various dates, so jackhammering them up and excavating the area proves more difficult than it originally looked. We’re also encountering massive boulders underneath the slab (when all we expected was nice soft dirt), and these can’t be removed by the excavator due to their awkward shape and size. Instead we’re forced to put our team on lifting the rocks out of the earth and carrying them away by hand. Needless to say, it’s a slow process. 

We ran into some ADA issues.

The front right corner of the building is raised by about 1.5 feet due to the presence of a haunted basement right below. This is structural: to make the section level with the rest of the floor would essentially mean knocking the whole building down, and this is, for obvious reasons, not in the cards. So we’ve embraced the quirk; our hope is to incorporate this raised area into the taproom, and have a multi-level space where you can drink beer, lounge about, and discuss important matters on the ground floor, or raised in the air by 1.5'. The raised room will not be wheelchair accessible, but everything that is available up there (tables, chairs, windows, etc.) is also available down on the accessible area, so it meets the requirements of the ADA.  

Or at least it used to. Although it meets the basic requirements, our buildout cost is more than 1/3 of the overall value of the building, which means we’re required to make every room ADA friendly unless we obtain a variance. But in order to make the room accessible, we would need to put an 18 foot ramp in (which would actually take up more square footage than the raised room itself), or install a lift which would run us another ~$50K and is something we just can’t afford. Or (as the board pointed out) we could knock down the building and rebuild. Yes, yes we could. If we had just won the lottery and didn’t care about its historical significance at all.

The truth is, we really wish we could make the room accessible, but we just don’t have a viable option at this moment. So we decided to tempt fate and apply for another variance from the state. Luckily, they recognized our case and agreed that leaving it inaccessible is our only option right now. We'll add a lift as soon as we can, and the bathrooms, entryway, and main area of the taproom are all ADA accessible. The downside here is that we decided not to touch the raised room during the variance process just in case we weren't able to use the space, so now we’re a month or so behind on getting it prepped for taproom fun. Alas.

On-street utility work can’t happen until April 1st.

This one is fairly self-explanatory, but no one tells you these things when you start construction in the winter. To hook up the brewing tanks, we need to upgrade the size of the water main on the street. But to do any on-street work, you have to wait until April 1st. Oh well. We’ve been counting down the days since February, and luckily we’re basically there.

We found another underground oil tank.

This is what you might call “the cherry on top” of a hysterical month.

Just when you think you’ve had enough problems for the time being, another underground tank rears her ugly metal head. Luckily, tank #2 turned out to be the size we originally thought tank #1 was so, despite another few days of removal, it feels fairly benign in comparison. And we’re done with digging up the slab and trenching so this problem literally cannot happen again. Please don't let me have jinxed us there.


That's the worst of it! We wish everything went smoothly and perfectly and we were operating yesterday, but it hasn’t (does it for anyone!?), and we have an amazing team in the building and have been fortunate to accomplish as much as we have. And we’re still trucking along. We’ve got our equipment in the building, plumbing is done, and the floor is only a few weeks away from being able to hold tanks. We’re still waiting on some rough electrical and that utility work on the street, but we’re close, and oh man is it going to feel good when we have that first brew day!

I’m going to predict that we’ll be up and running by June, but we all know how these things go. You just never know what’s going to be dug up by an excavator...but I promise there will be beer sooner rather than later, and that makes it all worth it. 

Happy spring everyone!


Cayla Marvil1 Comment