by Eric Grulke, Environmental Engineer
I realize that this is only my third blog about the craft beer industry, but if there’s anyone out there that still needs proof that there is a connection between craft beer and engineering, here it is. I recently sat down with Tony Karlowicz and Edward Fabrycki, PE from Back East Brewing Company. In case you missed the not-so-subtle two-letter acronym in my previous sentence, Ed is a “PE”, which stands for “professional engineer”. And if you need more evidence, Ed actually used to work here at Fuss & O’Neill before he and his cousin Tony opened Back East in 2012. Ed keeps his PE license up to date, and it’s helped him as the company has evolved. His degree is in electrical engineering, his license is in civil engineering, and he’s worked in a variety of civil engineering roles, including process, survey, wastewater, permitting, solid waste, and safety. And while they are required by code to bring in professionals for certain things, Ed can be hands-on about a lot of the day-to-day brewery needs and his previous experience has certainly helped when working with town officials.
Engineers are problem solvers by nature, but did you know that we can also see into the future? Well, we wish we could anyway, which is why it’s in our nature to plan for every variable and any future possibility. For Tony and Ed, this planning began with the development of the name “Back East”. They wanted a name that spoke to the region, but also wanted a name that looked towards where they were going. Instead of using a specific location, they looked to the larger region for inspiration. It also helped that Ed had been living in San Diego and moved “back east” to start the company. They selected their location (1296 Blue Hills Avenue, Bloomfield, CT 06002) based on the idea of future expansion. They started with renting out Unit A, knowing that there were three other units into which they could expand. They also selected the space for its industrial purpose, with solid floors, sanitary sewer connections, three-phase electric, and natural gas (our Structural and MEP Departments would approve). Equipment selection and layout were chosen with forethought, leaving room for expansion, which they did last year. Eight new 60-barrel tanks and associated equipment (grain mill and silos, grist case, steam boiler, etc.) nearly tripled their output. And now, after taking over Units B and C, they are transforming Unit D into their new taproom.
I got to walk through the new taproom space, which was a blueprint come to life. Engineers and architects collaborate all the time and I’m constantly impressed how the give and take of different perspectives can yield such creative results. Back East is working with Austin Design; a name I instantly recognized. They have created some very notable taprooms, including The Alchemist and Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Vermont and Northampton Brewery and Tree House Brewing Company in Massachusetts. Ed talked me through the blue-taped spaces on the floor, showing off their new bar-to-be and detailing the vision for the space. What came to light was a flexible and accommodating location for groups to hang out and play corn hole, for friends to come and enjoy some live music, and for everything else in between. Instead of going into more detail here about all the things planned for the taproom, I think it’s best for you to visit and see for yourself next spring when it opens. I promise you this – it will be amazing!
Alternatively, I’ll tell you a little bit about the beers they’ll likely be serving in this new space. Before they opened their doors, Ed and Tony again planned for their future. It all started with four beers: two ales (Golden Ale and their flagship Back East Ale), their Porter, and the Misty Mountain IPA. They wanted to establish a consistent brand that their customers would come back for before introducing newer flavors or newer styles. Since then, they occasionally tweak existing beers ever-so-slightly so that there’s familiarity, but an unexpected newness. In addition, they have a rotating series called “Tony Goes Dancing” that is never the same beer! If you want to read more about the origin story of this series (and you should).
Beyond their normal rotation, Back East also brews for special occasions and causes. Ice Cream Man (an IPA brewed with only Citra hops), which is by far their biggest seller and one of my personal favorites, was originally a one-time batch as a fundraiser for the Jason Williams Hunt Foundation. Double Time Double IPA was created by two service veterans on their brewing staff and benefits K9s for Warriors. And though it likely won’t be on tap, I’d like to mention their “You Want a Peach of Me” beer that they released earlier this year to benefit the Pink Boots Society. This beer was made with a specialty hop blend created by the Society, and proceeds were donated to the Society. If you have never heard of the Pink Boots Society, their story is intriguing and I encourage everyone to read more about them.
Our conversation lasted about an hour and we covered everything from their choice of 12 ounce cans to turbidity reading on their hazy IPAs and carbon dioxide recapture technology. Ed was kind enough to show me the operations side of the brewery afterwards and I was very impressed by their process flow; I could have spent an hour trying to figure out the intricacies of the canning line. In true engineer fashion, Ed mentioned how light the fermentation tanks are when they’re empty. In this way, they can be (fairly) easily moved around for, you guessed it, future growth.
About the Author
Eric Grulke is an Environmental Engineer with Fuss & O’Neill’s Industry & Utilities Business Line and a craft beer enthusiast. If you have suggestions as to where Eric should visit next, please send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back East Brewing Company is a Craft brewery located in Bloomfield, CT. Founded by Tony Karlowicz and Edward Fabrycki, Jr., two cousins with a passion for great-tasting, high-quality beer, Back East opened their doors in July 2012 and is now distributed throughout Connecticut and Western Massachusetts on draft and in cans. They love having people visit their tap room and hope you can stop by.