There’s a brew-ha-ha over craft beers these days. And no wonder — with an average of 1.5 breweries opening daily, according to the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colorado, it’s not a stretch to say new ones are popping up faster than a fresh keg can be tapped.
In addition to all the usual places breweries can be found—college towns, urban hubs and sophisticated cities—they’re opening like nobody’s business in rural areas and suburbs across the country. “It’s definitely a national movement,” says Bart Watson, stats geek, beer lover and the association’s chief economist. “I’d say about 75 percent of legal drinking-age adults live within 10 miles of a brewery.” These include microbreweries, brew pubs and regional craft breweries, many of which have been aesthetically improved with a new decorative concrete floor or bartop.
In 1978, there were less than 100 brewing locations in the United States, with the two oldest being Anchor Brewing and the now defunct New Albion Brewing Co., both out of California, says Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association. Today that number is estimated to be 3,100 and growing.
“Of that 3,100, 99 percent are small, independent craft breweries,” she says. Small is defined as those that produce less than 6 million barrels a year (one barrel equals 31 U.S. gallons).
Besides established facilities, there are plenty more budding young companies in the wings, Watson says. According to his research, an additional 1,500 or so licensed small breweries plan to open soon, with most of the activity in California, Oregon and Colorado. At last count, California, where it all started, was still leading the pack with 416 breweries (the 2013 tally was 381).
“Craft brewers tend to be counter-corporate, counter-culture individuals who have multiple skills sets including brewing talents, business savviness and marketing prowess,” says Herz. “They are in it to win it and put everything on the line,” often second mortgaging their homes to help raise capital and getting support from a network of family and friends to get them to market.
As a whole, brewers tend to be very involved in their communities through philanthropy, product donations, volunteering and sponsoring local events. The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers, contends the Brewers Association, is innovation. According to its literature, “craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent. They use traditional ingredients, often mixing them with interesting and sometimes nontraditional ingredients to produce distinctive results.”
That said, it’s no wonder brewers get along so well with decorative concrete artisans and others associated with the decorative concrete industry.
“Overall, I find it interesting that people involved with food and craft beer have a similar approach to work as I do,” says Mark Melonas, owner of and lead designer for Luke Works in Baltimore, Maryland, “I consider the materials I use very carefully and am very thorough in my approach but I’m interested in trying experiments to see what materials can do and what combinations work best.”
Craft beer brewers are interested in precision and careful craftsmanship, as are concrete artisans.
“It’s an interesting parallel,” he says. “They can mess up a batch of beer; we can mess up a mix design. I can relate to that.”
Tasteful vs. tasty
Paul Koury, president of Westcoat in San Diego, started working with breweries five to 10 years ago, with business really hopping in the last three to four years. As a craft beer aficionado, he says, he finds the whole movement really exciting. “The craft beer business is not so different from our business. There are a lot of parallels but our coatings aren’t drinkable,” he says with a laugh.
As a manufacturer and distributor of specialty coating systems, Westcoat caters to customers interested in higher-end finishes mostly geared toward specific uses. “We’re not a one-size-fits-all coating business,” he says. Just like a craft brewer, his company is very detail oriented when it comes to quality, and prides itself on being very hands-on and personal when it comes to customer support.
In general, brewers need a durable, easy-to-clean, sloped floor with a nonskid texture in the brewing room. The floor also needs to be chemical-, heat- and impact-resistant, Koury says. In most cases, a heavy-duty urethane cement coating is used with a polyurea topcoat. “It’s fast drying so you can get the job done quickly,” he says, with anywhere from one to three coats applied. “You can be on it the next day with a forklift.”
Tasting rooms are often stained or dyed to create a more decorative look. While aesthetics are important, functionality is still a big factor. Prior to staining, the concrete should be prepped by diamond grinding the surface to ensure proper adhesion, Koury says. Stained floors should then be finished with a polyurethane sealer to protect the surface from spills and foot traffic.
The biggest difference Koury has noticed is the caliber of craft beer clients he’s dealing with today. “In the past, I did a lot of work for beer,” he says, “because they were poor and I love beer. Now these little brewers have money and they’re investing it to better their facilities.”
In the family way
Still, not all small brewery owners have fat wallets. Like Herz pointed out earlier, many rely on the support of family and friends to help their businesses get off the ground. Such was the case of Rob and Sarah Miller, owners of Dangerous Man Brewing Co., a brewpub in a 100-year-old bank building in the northeast art district of downtown Minneapolis that opened in 2012.
The young couple has Warren Wert, or in this case “Uncle Warren,” to thank for the custom-blended broadcast flake polyaspartic flooring system in the brew room, which is “easily repaired if required.” Wert, who with partner Matthew Taylor owns Concrete Flooring Associates in Houston, Texas, says he also installed SpeedCove cove molding along the brew room’s perimeter, which waterproofs the floor 4 inches up and meets health inspection requirements. “It helps my nephew maintain a bacteria-free environment which is very important in the beer-brewing process,” he says.
“The patron area where customers loiter, mill about and commune is terribly simple but simple sometimes is best,” Wert says of the polished floor in the taproom. “The floor complements, not competes with, the environment. Many times we do too much to get a wow factor and lose sight that everything should work together to create an enjoyable environment.”
Wert’s favorite part of the job is the logo at the entryway, which he had to persuade his nephew’s design team to let him install. And, he’s proud to point out, it’s one of the most recognized logos in Minneapolis today. “You have to walk over the ‘Dangerous Man’ to enter the taproom,” he says about the logo, which reflects his nephew’s likeness. “It’s very cool.”
The Dangerous Man brewpub is a very community-oriented gathering place for people of all types and ages, Wert says. “It’s a place where you go to socialize and appreciate the taste of a craft beer, not drink five or six to catch a buzz. The whole feel of the place is like being at home. It’s very unpretentious.”
Making it happen
Most of the small, independent brewers today are very hands-on when it comes to business, from personally brewing the liquid gold to crafting the brewery itself. And more often than not, unconventional means are what get contractors the work they covet.
Take Melonas of Luke Works, for example. After buying some Union Craft Brewing beer, he approached the owners about casting a countertop to replace a tired laminate one that looked out of place in the old, reclaimed factory surroundings. They thought it was a great idea . . . but time lapsed with no word from them.
So Melonas called one of the owners and suggested they have a “casting party” where family, friends and investors could help the Luke Works crew batch and cast all the different pieces for the new bartop. “It was a blast,” Melonas says about the weekend event. “Of course, they brought the beer.”
As part of the festivities, Melonas made a few rubber molds for coasters. “So if they weren’t helping with the counters, they were casting coasters,” he says. The new bartop was installed in time for the brewery’s first anniversary party.
With this ring
Besides bartops and floors, breweries are also incorporating other decorative concrete touches into their facilities. Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, Missouri, for instance, hired Dave Root of Atlas Archimedes Design, also in Kansas City, back in 2006 to build rings for the brewery’s five tanks. “I’m not super-knowledgeable about brewing, but each tank has a specific function in the brewing process,” he says. The biggest one, he adds, is almost 25 feet in diameter. Each ring has a brass nameplate. The tanks, mounted on the floor below, come up through the second floor where brewers can see down into the tanks through portholes.
Besides the precast rings, Root says he also made concrete furniture for Boulevard Brewing. The circa 1989 brewery, he adds, was sold last year to Duvel Moortgat, a Belgian brewing company founded in 1871.
Although he’s only done work on the one brewery, he’d welcome work from others. “I think craft beer fills a niche in the market because people like things that are local and handmade,” he says, especially considering that the big, traditional domestic beer companies have been bought out by foreign conglomerates. “It’s kind of an every-person drink, much more so than wine. Craft beers are more acceptable to regular people with regular money and I think the market will continue to grow.”
And as it does, Root predicts the small craft brewers will continue to seek out other artisans who are good at their craft — not only decorative concrete specialists but also stone carvers, carpenters, painters and sculptors — who can add to the artisan atmosphere and help make a brewery unique. “I think the future bodes well for those of us in a more craft-oriented trade.”
It’s good to be green
Jonathan Haywood, vice president of EPIC Artisan Concrete in St. Petersburg, Florida, reached out to the owners of Green Bench Brewing last year via Facebook when he found out about the budding brewery. The owners are locals, he says, and very into promoting local events, people and history. Even the brewery’s name reflects a popular meeting area some 30 to 40 years ago along St. Pete’s Central Avenue that was peppered with green benches.
Being a fan of beer and anything craft-related, Haywood offered to make green benches in honor of the new establishment’s namesake. They turned him down, but once they discovered his prowess in concrete countertops they hired him to craft a bartop for the brewery. It’s not green, he says of the natural portland cement top, “It’s steely gray.”
But the relationship didn’t end with the installation of the bartop. This past August, the two fledgling businesses got together, co-branded a beer and produced 25 kegs of EPIC Brown Hopper Ale, available locally until it’s gone. To commemorate the event, Haywood cast a special tap handle out of concrete in an eye-catching green.
Not his cup of tea
Although Shawn Halverson, CEO of Surfacing Solutions in Temecula, California, doesn’t personally care for craft beer, he’s intrigued by the whole movement. “I love the entrepreneurship,” he says. “It’s making small guys into prosperous companies.”
He says 10 to 12 microbreweries have popped up in his area in the last couple of years and he’s done floor work in their patron areas for four of them. “I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation but most of my customers are pretty young guys who are not big on maintenance,” he says, adding that maintenance for his polished floors only involves mopping and an occasional new coat of stain guard to keep them looking good.
“The floors are easy to take care of and present an opportunity to be different than a regular restaurant or bar,” Halverson says. “It’s a cool look.”
But you know what he thinks is funny, he asks. “All that work and no one has offered me a beer, even when I’ve stopped by just to check on things.”
Beer City USA
Ranked No. 6 in the nation, Michigan has 154 breweries (as of Oct. 7), many of them in the western part of the state. In fact, Grand Rapids was named Beer City USA in 2013 by an online poll that involved 50,000 votes cast for 23 qualifying American cities. It also nabbed the title in 2012 due to the quality and quantity of its beer establishments.
According to Joel Baker, sales and social media manager of Decorative Concrete Resources in Byron Center, Michigan, near Beer City USA, “In downtown Grand Rapids, there must be a brewery every quarter mile,” he says. “Depending on where you are, there could be 10 different breweries (within walking distance).”
Ever since the mid-2000s, DCR has supplied decorative products to numerous projects through their ready-mix producers, concrete contractor customers and brewery owners who often do some of the work themselves. Overall, the brewery work has involved acid-stained floors, integrally colored concrete (above) and epoxied floors, concrete countertops, and a stamped wood-plank concrete patio and sidewalk leading to a beer garden.