By Eric Grulke, Environmental Engineer
In my last blog, I mentioned that my friends and family think that I just drink beer on company time as Fuss & O’Neill’s craft beer initiative leader. Although this “market research” is important a great bonus, I’ve come to learn about the intricacies of the business. And what has surprised me is that the craft beer scene is more about making industry connections and helping your neighbors wherever and whenever you can. So taking a cue from these lessons, I decided to start a new Unlikely Pairing sub-series featuring some of my favorite local breweries in Connecticut.
Last Tuesday evening my journey began at Labyrinth Brewing Company where I met with Adam Delaura, one of the brewery’s three owners. Labyrinth is essentially around the corner from Fuss & O’Neill’s main office in Manchester, CT, and Adam was one of the first people I talked to before suggesting this initiative to upper management. As a mug club member and frequent occupant of the brewery (outside working hours of course), I’ve had more than a few conversations with Adam about Labyrinth and their journey as a new brewery. So even though our conversation revolved around engineering aspects of the business, it didn’t feel like a formal meeting. However, because this blog is about pairing engineering with craft beer, Adam and I indulged in some of Labyrinth’s lighter pours – the Maize and Starburst ales, respectively.
Labyrinth is a hometown success story. The brewery officially opened its doors a little over a year ago. Since Adam and his partners Sean Gaura and Chris Walnum will only speak humbly about their budding business and how they achieved this milestone, I will try my best to elaborate on the responses to my questions. Labyrinth’s tap room pays tribute to the original manufacturing purpose of their mill building. Showcasing exposed beams, utility piping, and the original brick walls, it is decked out with hand-crafted, live-edged, wooden tables, glass bottle lighting, and a new wood-carved sign designed and crafted by bar manager Holly McCourt. This was a decision the team made because they wanted authenticity. The look and feel of their space couldn’t be purchased, so the make it themselves. But it didn’t start out that way.
When selecting their location, Labyrinth had a list of criteria that corresponded to their needs: what kind of water flows into the building, does it have electrical power and load-bearing floors, etc. However, when they saw 148 Forest Street, they threw their list out its historic window. Instead of water, electricity, and gas, the building had a top hat, a bucket of rusty nails, and an old jar of pickles. But, as I said before, you can’t buy original character, so they were sold. Everything else had to be piped and wired in. Even the floor of their second story brew house is original from the 1880s, which meant that the hand-hammered nail floors needed to be reinforced with steel beams.
Hence why it took three years for Labyrinth to open. Adam admitted that their biggest challenge was not having someone to coordinate the various engineering aspects of developing the space. They had to coordinate with a structural engineer, a plumber, a site contractor, and an electrician in addition to working with the Town for permitting and utilities. While their business is flourishing, I can’t help but wish I had met Adam a few years earlier. Just sitting and listening to his past woes, I was subconsciously compiling a list of coworkers that could have helped them along the way. If you know any engineers, you know it’s in our DNA to solve problems.
Now that Labyrinth has celebrated a major milestone, the topics of next-steps and growth potential are being tossed around. While fermentation space (they typically have more than 12 beers on tap) and cold storage space (housing kegs and cans for local restaurants, bars, and package stores) are always in demand, expansion of the tap room is at the top of Adam’s wish list. More specifically, an outdoor seating area. However, the fact that they are on the second floor of their building, with limited surrounding area, complicates things. Also, the current parking capacity of the brewery matches the current occupancy EXACTLY, with little (if any) room to expand. Luckily, I happen to know a couple of structural and transportation engineers, as well as some landscape architects, that would happily solve these problems if the need should arise. They might even work for beer…
Speaking of beer, Labyrinth prides itself on offering something for everyone. In addition to a rotating selection of IPAs, ales, sours, and stouts, they always have local wines and ciders on tap. They even have a slushie machine those who prefer their beer with tequila and served frozen! For those looking for a recommendation, Adam’s shift drink is usually a Maize or the Wail of the Banshee, a Scottish export ale. When I’m not interviewing brewery owners on the job, my personal favorite is Hesperia, their double dry hopped all Citra IPA. All their beers are made on site and visitors can catch a glimpse of the process through widows surrounding the brewing space.
Thank you for reading! Going forward, I’ll be visiting a local brewery once a month to talk to owners about their breweries and products. If you have any suggestions as to where I should visit next, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to read our full conversation click here.
About the Author
Eric Grulke is an Environmental Engineer with Fuss & O’Neill’s Industry & Utilities Business Line and a craft beer enthusiast. He is working his way along the CT Beer Trail, attended the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver earlier this year, and loves that this is part of his job.
Labyrinth Brewing Company is a craft brewery in the historic district of Manchester, CT. Their 135+ year-old historic space houses their production facility, tap room, and art gallery that features works by local artists. Their beer wizards aim to deliver a brewery experience unlike any other through an unsurpassed focus on quality, creativity, and community. labyrinthbrewingcompany.com
Check out Labybrinth and other local breweries at the Small State Great Beers Festival in Hartford this Saturday, September 14th!