It’s easy to learn how to make beer. Just read any homebrewer’s guide. But how does one build a brewery?
For the last few years, the team at Radar Brewing, located in the new Industry Hill neighborhood, has been finding out.
Enter Aaron Wall, a commercial brewer who’s worked at Natty Greene’s in Greensboro, Foothills in Winston-Salem, and Wicked Weed in Asheville. He’s also president of the Master Brewers Association of America, Carolinas District. While working on that production line at Natty Greene’s, Wall and his longtime pal Aaron Sizemore dreamed of opening their own brewery for more than a decade.
“We knew we had something unique to say in the medium of beer,” Wall says.
But despite their experience, making a brewery is trickier than one thinks.
“Starting a small business involves a major learning curve beyond the intricacies of making good beer,” he says.
Challenges aside, they got to work.
Four walls and a roof
The team was completed in 2015 when Wall met Eric Peck, a trained actor who’d previously worked at the iconic Brooklyn Brewery. Peck, former taproom manager at Foothills Tasting Room, will deal with front-of-house operations at Radar.
So, what was their first order of business? A name for the brewery.
Step two was selecting a location, which happened last year after searching the Triad for more than two years.
“It wasn’t until we met Will Spencer and caught his vision for Industry Hill that we found the right property,” Sizemore says.
Radar is located in the new Robert Hall building, which Spencer is upfitting into an event space, restaurant, Airbnb bedrooms, and two rooftop seating areas; the brewery syncs with the other businesses.
The location also makes it part of what the team calls “the Brewery District,” since it’s adjacent to Wise Man Brewing on Ninth Street and around the corner from Fiddlin’ Fish.
The next steps were arguably the hardest and most frustrating, with many stops and starts: permitting and construction.
By April, Radar had earned its Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) license, which collects federal taxes on alcohol, yet was awaiting a state ABC permit.
But before that could happen, building inspectors needed to sign off on the building. And before that, the building needed water, power, and sewer access — and all of the brewing equipment sitting in a semi-trailer outside needed to be installed.
Not only has each man financed the passion project with his own life savings; they did most of the construction themselves, from building the bar and painting the walls to installing the walk-in cooler and short-range draft system.
Sizemore, a furniture designer and classically trained artist, made tables and chairs for the taproom, as well as original art pieces that extend the Radar theme “but are not obvious.”
The group also gathered interesting pieces, like lighting over the bar that is “pretty sexy,” and a vintage door from an old school in Cincinnati. They decided to retain some of the building’s original features from its time as a sign making factory, such as the skylights.
“The aesthetic of the space doesn’t draw from formulaic elements that have typically been used in this industry,” Sizemore says.
Brewing the beer
Another way Radar Brewing sets itself apart is through unique beers.
Wall and Sizemore have developed beer recipes since the late ’90s, testing them in their 15-gallon system. They plan to brew some popular beer styles, like IPAs and wheat beers, however, they’re most excited to experiment with new techniques, styles, and non-traditional ingredients.
A relatively small brewing system — 100 gallons per batch as opposed to the 300 to 450 gallons typical of a local brewery — enables them to practice their recipes frequently and gives customers the advantage of trying new things frequently.
However, the gem in the entire plan — what will put Winston-Salem on the map in the craft beer world for a different reason — is an open fermentation room. Viewable from the taproom, the room uses positive pressure to pull out air and carbon dioxide, a natural byproduct of the brewing process.
“This will be ‘clean’ beer,” says Sizemore. That means no spontaneous fermentation, a current trend in the industry, and no beers made with the increasingly popular Brettanomyces yeast, which gives beer a funkier flavor.
Other such systems are miles from the Twin City.
“Sierra Nevada [in Asheville] has one, and Wicked Weed,” Wall says. Laughing, he adds, “And everywhere in Europe.”
Winston-Salem residents have seen one brewery after another open in the last few years. There comes a point when you might ask, “Why another?”
As the imagination at Radar Brewing shows, there’s so much more that can be done in terms of beer, and breweries are as varied as the people who make them.
Radar Brewing is slated to open in summer 2019 at 216 E. 9th Street.