In the cavernous, 25,000-square-foot Against the Grain brewing operation in Portland sits a lonely 12-pack of Miller High Life.
The facility, which was announced in July and recently saw its brewing operation built out, brewed its first batch this week — a batch of Brown Note — and cranks up in earnest today with a double brew that will truly test the new equipment’s efficiency.
But break time at Against the Grain means cracking open a couple of cans of High Life, which offers a peek into the quirky humor and irony that comes out in AtG’s beer names and recipes. The 12-pack of beer now is the center of attention at the brewery.
“It’s the champagne of beers,” says co-owner Jerry Gnagy, mimicking the national brand’s long-time slogan. “It’s the official beer of the brewers at Against the Grain.”
Hey, the way Gnagy looks at it, any Against the Grain beer not consumed by the brewing team is extra profit that can be spent on more High Life. And around and around we go.
But in spite of the undertones of goofiness — Against the Grain has made beers with names like Attila the Hen and Bonfyre of the Daiquiris — this is one serious brewery. Since opening in 2011, it has quickly ascended into not just regional or national but international renown, cranking out a number of signature brews and becoming a Louisville destination brewery at its prime location at Slugger Field.
Over these Miller High Lifes, Gnagy, fellow owner Adam Watson and brewer Peter Fingerson talk about the big brew coming on Wednesday, Feb. 4. It’s a double batch of the Against the Grain’s signature IPA, Citra Ass Down, which will be one of the first two beers canned when the new canning operation goes online, likely in March.
So far, they’ve used the system once, for a batch of the Brown Note. But the 30-barrel Sprinkman brew system, which is built for efficiency, can crank out two batches a day when used correctly. But the equipment arrived on Jan. 29, so the crew is still learning how to use all the bells and whistles.
“We’re learning all the little subtleties that can bring the whole thing to a halt,” Watson says with a smile.
While giving a visitor a tour on Tuesday, Fingerson notes that what would be a roughly nine-hour brew at the brewery at Slugger Field is more like a four-and-a-half-hour brew on the new system. The mash tun features a set of automatic, rotating rakes to stir the mash evenly and precisely, whereas usually a brewer would have to stir it manually with a paddle.
And a whirlpool vessel allows the brewers to free up the kettle to start another boil, further trimming time and maximizing efficiency. Perhaps even more impressive, the system is electronically controlled. Heck, as long as the boiler is on, any of the brewers can wake up in the morning and start the equipment remotely using a cell phone.
That could come in handy, as Fingerson says the goal is to more or less brew around the clock; Gnagy says his hope is to brew 6,000 barrels this year, at least half of which will go into 16-ounce cans for four-pack retail sales. Gnagy says the old system at the Slugger Field brewery, which will continue to brew, put out about 1,600 barrels per year, with another 360 or so barrels contracted with a brewery in Maryland.
“We’ll be able to brew four times as much beer in the same amount of time,” Gnagy says.
The brewery also features a German-made Argelith tile foor. A tap room is in the offing for later in the year, and there is room for expansion — plenty of room. The space, located at 1800 Northwestern Pkwy., is truly humongous.
Canned products will be the long-term focus of the brewery, with a Belgian table beer called Sho’Nuff to be the second beer canned. Which future Against the Grain products get canned will depend largely on which beers are selling. Gnagy says consumers can realistically expect to see product on liquor-store shelves as early as April.
Of course, first the new brewing system and the Against the Grain team has to pass that first big test of brewing two batches of Against the Grain in a day.
“We’ll see what happens (Wednesday) when we put it to the test,” Fingerson says.