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Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Coming Together

Stone Brewing founder and Pataskala native Greg Koch has been known to advise aspiring brewers to plan everything out in detail and then multiply it by five. After all, opening up a brewery is an arduous and expensive task: stainless steel isn’t cheap, and few buildings are outfitted with the appropriate water, sewage, and electrical connections to keep a respectable production brewhouse cranking away. The logistics of brewing on a larger system can be daunting, and while you might get a break in the unit pricing on your grain and hops, the volume you’re buying still adds up to an eye-popping amount. Of course, a bigger brewery doesn’t simply mean a bigger brew kettle, mash tun, and some hefty fermenters. You’ve got to have equipment for handling everything. Do you have a grain mill? How about a forklift? Is your bottling line big enough to ensure your bottling team isn’t driven to the brink of murderous rage?

The temptation to go small exists for lots of reasons. Cost is a big ogre on a brewer’s back, and if we’re being honest, a lot of new guys simply don’t have much experience. That three-barrel system is actually pretty affordable, and if you keep the recipes simple, you can get three good batches turned out in a day. Plus, if something goes wrong, dumping three barrels is a lot cheaper than dumping 15 or even 30. Of course, it never works out that way. If your beer sells, that little brew kettle becomes a giant pain in the ass, but not nearly as much of a pain as not having enough space to double the size of your fermentation tanks. Columbus has seen some brewers expand, and the process has been compared to having your teeth pulled with a Leatherman multi-tool. Nobody has enjoyed the process.

So when the gang behind Kindred Artisan Ales started planning their brewery, they went big. Hell, they basically opened up two breweries. The 5,000-square-foot tap room will be up and running this spring. In addition to the normal production beers, this facility will be where the brewery, under the direction of Patrick Gangwer, dabbles in the arts of souring and barrel-conditioning. Gangwer’s background includes some time at Jackie O’s Brewery, where he applied the scientific processes learned studying nursing to the far more useful and admirable discipline of yeast husbandry. (Just kidding, nurses—we like you.)

Around the bend, just a couple miles away in an industrial park, is the production brewhouse. This no-nonsense facility is committed to efficiently churning out Kindred’s product line. At 15,000 square feet, it’ll have enough room to accommodate growth. It’s a 30-barrel system with a modular setup that will allow Kindred to plug new fermenters in as needed. Right now, the operation is mostly manual, but it’s outfitted to be fully automated when the need arises. After previewing a specialty one-off at High Gravity Hullaballoo, Kindred will focus on debuting its production lineup at the Columbus Winter Beer Festival later this month. From that point on, it’s all about breaking necks and cashing checks. Kindred is projecting a 2016 output of 4,000 barrels and sees that doubling for 2017. From there, well, these guys didn’t get into the business to plateau. Continued growth is part of the plan, and the larger facility ensures that they can grow without sacrificing quality.

Max Lachowyn might be a few moons shy of turning 30, but Kindred’s front man is no spring chicken. He’s been around the brewing block a couple of times. He was involved in the opening of Actual Brewing Company, spent the better part of six years making his bones at Elevator, and he’s gotten some time in at Seventh Son. It’s no secret those breweries did it the hard way.

You don’t have to share too many beers with Fred Lee or Dick Stephens to learn what they would have done differently, and Lachowyn clearly paid attention. So he formed an alliance with Gangwer and they worked out a plan.

“When you get down to it, we’re here to make money,” Lachowyn said as he showed off his facility. So rather than stuffing a small brewery into an undersized space, Lachowyn drafted up an ambitious business plan and courted investors.

“It’s different these days,” Lachowyn explained, fully aware that he was able to seize an opportunity not available just a few years ago. “People see the opportunity.”

To his credit, however, Lachowyn is sharp. It’s easy to see how investors would be willing to bank on him. Through his experience doing years of grunt work in other breweries, Lachowyn identified a number of productivity choke points. As he describes the operation, everything happens in a loop. This brewery operates very much like a yeast cell. Ingredients come in one door, go through the guts of the brewhouse, and beer comes out the other end. It’s simple, but it’s a concept that is easy to lose track of when you’re trying to rub pennies together to get your plumbing completed.

Another lesson Lachowyn learned along the way is that it’s easier to start up a brewing operation than it is to expand. So he aimed high. The result is actually two breweries because the tap room is too far away to operate under the production facility’s license. The initial realization was actually stressful for Lachowyn and Gangwer, but ultimately the necessity outweighed the apprehension and the benefit of having an accessible place for people to visit made sense as a long-term investment. Frankly, Columbus deserves to have a full-time souring operation in place. It’s great to see local brewers dabble in the concept, but when you aren’t fully committed to the style, the results can be mixed. Kindred’s souring program might set the bar for Ohio. The separate facility will keep the regular beers isolated from the funk and also allow the production brewery to be 100 percent committed to the task of brewing and bottling beer. A plan is already in place to set up support personnel—like graphic design specialist Heather Dota, who also has connections to Jackie O’s, and sales manager Jay Taylor, who was instrumental in getting Elevator into stores—in a different office facility.

Of course, none of this matters if the beer doesn’t impress, and you’ll be pleased to know that’s a fact lost on nobody. Taylor wants Kindred to move the craft brew trend forward to a place where “new” isn’t instantly rewarded and tastes become a little more discriminating. Lachowyn talks about balancing a desire to be creative with maintaining consistency. These guys are dialed in. Kindred is also looking to differentiate itself in the marketplace by anchoring its product line around styles that one might argue are a bit under appreciated. Instead of a hoppy IPA, for example, Kindred will offer a crisp and refreshing dry-hopped saison. The door isn’t closed on an IPA, of course, but after a lengthy discussion, it was agreed that, perhaps, the mission is to revisit some of the styles that craft brewing failed to explore and blaze a new trail. Gangwer has some experience with that at Jackie O’s, where the barrel-aging program is attracting attention nationally. Kindred wants to stand out in the crowd but also be inclusive, as the name of the brand suggests.

“Kindred is all of us coming together,” Lachowyn said, nodding toward Gangwer, Dota, and Taylor, “but it’s also the people who drink the beer. We’re all kindred spirits.”

Kindred Artisan Ales will open its tap room at 505 Morrison Rd. late this month. For more, visit kindredales.com

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