19 Jun Details of The New, New Albanian Brewing Company
You know how some people jump at the touch of the alcohol swab, but then do OK with the injection? That’s how it was back when I saw the headline that New Albanian Brewing at Bank Street was going to be closing. I feared the worst; that all of New Albanian Brewing Company was going away, but it turns out that there’s more good news than bad.
OK, the injection wasn’t great, learning that New Albanian was pulling back on all distribution so that we will only be able to get beer at the Pizzeria and Public House in the future, but given the alternative of no Beak’s Best in the future, I’ll take the shot and get out of the doctor’s office.
It’s easy for us on this side of the bar to forget that running a brewery(s) and restaurant(s) is a business, and the money side of the equation has to work for a business to continue. When the money doesn’t come in (for whatever reason) something will need to be done. At New Albanian Brewing in New Albany, that time is now. The Bank Street Brew House and restaurant shut down on May 25th, but the uptown pizzeria and public house will remain open. I talked with one of the owners of NABC, Amy Baylor about the changes and how it will result in an increased focus on small batch beers and a revitalized public house.
Closing of Bank Street. The contraction of NABC has been in the works for quite a while, but sisters/owners Kate Lewison and Amy Baylor started talking seriously about the change in March/April of this year. They said that multiple factors led to the decision to close Bank Street, including, “The sheer force of will required to keep fighting. The goal was to sell our beers out or two locations, then sell the rest to outside markets. But we never quite reached that goal with more than a handful of our brands.” Frankensteiner the hefeweizen always sold well, but they couldn’t match it with other beers. “The IPA series was catching on, but over all it wasn’t paying to make that much beer.”
Originally, the plan was for former partner Roger Baylor to handle Bank Street location while Kate and Amy oversaw the pizzeria and pub uptown, but Roger got out of the business, ran for mayor, and the sisters were left with both locations on their hands. They had little production brewery experience behind them AND they had the downtown restaurant. Then there was a series of unrelated financial setbacks and expenses that added to the burden, including some expensive fixes for equipment in the brew house. It just made the downtown enterprise too much.
Walter and I had two children – you know why? Because we didn’t want three. Likewise, Kate and Amy had one restaurant because they didn’t want two. But here they were with two locations, with all those added costs and headaches, and a production brewery to boot. It’s really amazing that they kept Bank Street open for a decade. When Taco Steve came on board it helped tremendously with the second restaurant problem, but that wasn’t the only source of problems at Bank Street. Amy said, “We have always been forced to split our focus, money, and energy between both businesses and finally decided it was just taking too much of a toil on not only us, but on the pizzeria and public house. Kate and I are very hands on owners and operators. With Bank Street, the good news was were able to cut almost $7000/week in expenses, but the bad news was that we were still losing money weekly – every week – that’s not sustainable to say the least.”
Mad Paddle Contract Brewing. The decision did have effects on people other than Kate and Amy, and losing those folks did have an affect on the two sisters. Brewer Josh Hill and Stephen Powell (Taco Steve) were very understanding, as was the entire crew, and that helped them feel less terrible. Everyone had been on the same roller coaster with Amy and Kate, so they understood what was necessary.
Josh learned alot from David Pierce and could definitely find a position as a head brewer if he chooses to stay in the game. For now, he will remain at NABC until they finish brewing for Mad Paddle. Plus, the sisters wanted to do one more batch of Frankensteiner (their favorite) and Josh wanted to go out in a blaze of glory with a Yakima Rye IPA.
NABC is still contract brewing for Mad Paddle Brewery in Madison, especially the Wicket Blonde and Irish Red while they still have the brew house and even for a bit after Bank Street closed on the 25th of May.
The sisters say Mad Paddle is great to work with and the income from contract brewing kept them going for a while. For his part, Jerry Wade of Mad Paddle Brewing in Madison said, “NABC has been a fantastic strategic partner for Mad Paddle. They are committed to helping make sure that Mad Paddle has minimal disruption. Since we function uniquely as a taproom 1st and a brewery 2nd, we always have rotating guest taps. Those taps will assist us in dealing with any inventory shortage that might arise, but we do not expect to miss a beat.”
Mad Paddle will be brewing more on their 1 bbl system, having already started to ramp up that production, and the will have a larger system in place by late fall of this year. Jerry is looking for a system in the 10 bbl range, so it really isn’t feasible that they purchase and move the NABC 15 bbl brew house. The easing off on brewing at NABC will ensure that Mad Paddle will have beer for the burgeoning festival season in Madison.
Jerry stated that, “Kate, Amy and Josh have been great to work with. I view them as part of the Mad Paddle family. I don’t view them as having been just a brewery that brewed our recipes, I view them as having been essential team members that led to our success. They saw our vision and wanted to be part of it. I see Kate, Amy and Josh as silent non-equity partners in Mad Paddle.” This commitment that Amy and Kate and the crew give to Mad Paddle is inherent in all their labors. This is what makes us confident that the changes will be reflected in a redoubling of their efforts at the pizzeria and Public House and that brewing system.
Mad Paddle is changing even more with Caleb Staton having finished his stint as consulting brewer. He is now off starting up his new farming business in Bloomington, but spent his final months training associate brewers that will take over for him and for Mad Paddle after the contract brewing period is done. Jerry told me, “One brewer is a Professor of Chemistry at Hanover, Dr. Craig Philipp. The other is Tonie Wycoff, long time excellent home brewer who has lived in Madison his whole life and always wanted to start his own microbrewery. We are putting put 2-3 new recipes each month. The brews continue to be very good. Caleb is still available to them on an as needed basis.”
Plans for New Albanian Pizzeria and Public House. With the 15 bbl brew house going on the market, the sale of all the restaurant equipment, and the savings from rent, labor, and supplies, NABC will be paying down outstanding loans and then reinvesting in the uptown location. First on the list is doing some repairs on the small brewing system at the pizzeria so that brewer Ben Minton can start cranking out more and new beers.
Then comes the parking lot – Amy says it’s so bad that it makes her eye twitch – quite the descriptive analysis. Next will be painting and kitchen upgrades. Amy said that they are looking to get back to the point they were at before Bank Street – you know, when they had money to invest in a holiday celebration for the employees or a company picnic. It wasn’t just Amy and Kate that been stressed over the past decade. But first, get the brew house sold!
Brewing at the Pizzeria and Public House. I held up a bit on this article to get Ben Minton’s take on the whole deal. He’s going to be the head NABC brewer, so he decided to prepare for his role by taking a trip to Ireland. He is definitely going to be a busy guy on the small system; it won’t be easy to keep up with the demand for the NABC beers.
Amy thought that Ben would welcome the chance to get back to brewing just for the pizzeria and public house. I spoke to Ben upon his return from the Emerald Isle, and he is ready to get down to work. The pizzeria brew house offers so opportunities, but also some limitations. He told me, “The biggest change will be the loss of Frankensteiner Hefeweizen due to the fact that my brewing system is currently unable to efficiently make an all-wheat beer. Future upgrades will hopefully allow me to bring it back, but for now it has to be sidelined.”
However, he won’t let that get in the way of expressing his philosophy of craft beer. In his own words, “I love to make beer that people love. When you come into NABC I want you to find a beer you love no matter what type of beer you’re in to. I’ve never shied away from making a variety of styles for every palate. Every batch is a chance to make it better than the last time.”
Many of the core and seasonal beers from the Pizzeria & Public House will continue, but Ben will expand the offerings as well. “We will continue to experiment with new recipes whenever time permits. One of the great things about a small brewery like mine is that it allows for brewing on a whim. Experimentation is a vital part of brewing, and I’m always learning something important from every batch I make.”
Finally, I asked Ben what he might do with the money freed up from the Bank Street location – order in some exotic hops? He has more important priorities in mind to begin. He said, “Well, the first goal is a keg-washer. I currently don’t have a keg-washer in my brewery and unfortunately the one from the Bank Street facility is not sized for my operation. There’s also a laundry list of other repairs and upgrades that need to be done to bring this place up to speed. Eventually I’d love to pick out new, more exotic ingredients to play with, but that won’t be for a while.”
Kate and Amy’s Role. The sisters are most definitely not stepping back in their roles in the business. For others, this could have been a time to contemplate retirement or handing over the day-to-day operations, but not for these two – they’re much too young. As Amy put it, “We’ve always been ovaries-deep here and we are planning to spend at least the next decade focusing on this place and its potential.”
As Amy pointed out from the TV show Futurama, “When you do things right, no one will suspect that you’ve done anything at all.” But just because it appears that NABC runs itself, that doesn’t mean that the crew and owners aren’t giving it consistent love and attention. Amy and Kate are still working shifts when people call in sick, scrubbing the floors, paying the bills and doing payroll – you know – stepping in whenever and where ever it’s needed. Rest assured that NABC is in good hands and the commitment is there to produce great beer, food, and atmosphere for years to come.
banner image credit: 502 Brews