Ramble On

Friday, December 30, 2016

@hawksbillbrew - Final Construction Update for 2016

For one final brewery post this year, I'll offer a couple of behind the scenes photos to round out the story.  About 40 percent of our construction budget has been allocated to mechanical, plumbing, and air conditioning improvements.  The work goes on in parallel to construction and it's sometimes hard to recognize how significant it is - so I'll do a quick write-up about it today.

Because we need fairly precise temperature controls for fermentation, we're putting in a glycol cooling system that will allow us to manage what is happening at any given time in all those shiny tanks.

We also need a cold room to store ingredients - not to mention finished beer.  On the blog I've showed a few photos of the exterior of that space (here and here, for example), but now the insulation has been installed, and the interior is complete.  They just hung our chiller for it, as shown in the photo.

So the glycol and the cold room are two of the upgrades we're working on.  The other is an upgrade of the air conditioning system.  That's a work in progress and there is not a lot to show just yet.

However, there is the second photo today, showing the new pad we've constructed out back.  This is where our the exterior part of our glycol system will be installed, and it's big enough to accommodate the new air conditioning unit that we'll put in over the next month to six weeks.  So I'll have a few more updates to come on this part of the construction project.

So this is it for 2016 - we saw a lot of progress on the brewery, which we hope to open in spring of 2017.  So in the coming year we'll have a few more posts on the topic of HBC Construction.  But there will also be plenty of them on the topic of operating the brewery!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Our New Bar Top @hawksbillbrew

Some things just come off better than you could ever expect, and that's definitely the case now that we are seeing the final finishes come together at Hawksbill Brewery.

We chose some fairly practical approaches for the big picture - the "board and batten style interior framed walls, for example, and a color palette that featured grays that would play off of the natural wood finishes.

Then we came across the old barn siding that we were able to repurpose - thanks again to Kevin for the find, and to David for rescuing it.  These finishes really have made Hawksbill Brewing Company a place, with a memorable style.

The last item for the bar was delivered this week - the bar top.  We had spec'd white oak, but I hadn't been carefully tracking what we would get once Marathon Millwork in Luray had fabricated it.  I knew it wasn't going to be a single slab though, it's a rare tree that could produce a board that large, and who knows how long it would take to season and then custom cut it to fit.

What we have is a lovely top that was pieced together from white oak planks.  There's lovely variation and character in every square foot of the thing.  The photo here was taken just after the first finish coat was applied, so it's shiny because it's still wet - that will be the first of four coats.

There's still plenty to do, and we are focused on completing everything within the next two months - when we hope that our license will be granted.  That's the long pole for us right now.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Out and About in Alexandria

Mary's been keeping busy these days with her new job with the City of Alexandria.  Earlier this year she joined the Wayfinding program, which involves installing information markers around town.

The signs are designed as mini-kiosks and they are installed on some of the light posts in Old Town.  There's often a bit of historical and interpretive information on each one - there are 28 of them - but there's also immediate directional information about the neighborhood and maps to help folks find their way.

The wayfinding effort is a multi-year program, which began in 2010, as I understand it.  Future phases include welcoming signs that involve significant construction, and also traffic directional signs that will help guide drivers to town attractions.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Brewhouse Installation @hawksbillbrew

Work in the brewhouse continues - there is just a ton of stuff that has to be done to complete construction, install and commission the equipment, and get the licensing in order before our planned opening, which we hope will be in March.  David shared some photos over the weekend of the equipment getting set into place - I thought I might put them up on the blog today.

Besides the equipment, there is a bit of a story to tell about this development - a few weeks back I wrote about the demo day we had, and then the floor prep.  Actually since then there have been a couple of days of painting, including not just the brewhouse floor, which looks pretty spectacular in these shots, but also the walls, and especially the plaster repairs that had to be done around the new window and that column in the corner.

So now the shiny stuff is all in place, pretty much in the final layout.  Not shown is an additional fermenter and the brite tank, but they're in place too.  And we have some room for expansion, if we are so fortunate as to need to do that!

There's more to do, including the balance of construction and painting the rest of the interior.

But this is a good checkpoint - everything is marching on!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Visiting the Old Neighborhood

Since we were staying overnight in town last weekend, I suggested to Mary that after we checked out from the W Hotel we take a drive up to Adams Morgan.  It had been a while since we'd been up to the neighborhood where we lived from 1994-1998 - I had moved there in 1992, and we maintained our trendy bi-coastal marriage in 1996, but we had a great condo in the Vernon House that we called home for all of that time.

Just as we were planning our move to Alexandria in 1998, we went to a condo board meeting and were introduced to a fellow named Eric, who planned to open a diner in the long-derelict building next door.  The diner is still there, but now it is owned by some friends, by coincidence, one of whom introduced to each other during the 1992 Clinton campaign.

We had a nice breakfast there while we took in the neighborhood.  A nod to my friend Brian, who keeps the Breakfast at Epiphany's blog...while I wouldn't try to use his proprietary scale, Mary enjoyed a traditional eggs combo, and I had chicken and waffles.  The place was as lively as ever and was every bit the urban experience we remembered.

As we walked around the neighborhood, it was a lot of fun to point out the buildings where Jamey, Carrie, Mark, Daphne, Chris and Rob, and even Jeff had lived back then.  We had many Sunday afternoons' worth of entertainment checking out condos for sale in this neck of the woods, and what I wouldn't give to still have that apartment in the Vernon House...

Finally, as we made our way up 19th Street to where we parked, we looked back down the hill to the south.  In the distance were the dome of St. Matthews, and the Washington Monument.  This spot was great for viewing 4th of July fireworks.  Great stuff.

I'll get back to posting some construction updates on the brewery next week.  Until then, you can call this a nostalgia episode...

Monday, December 12, 2016

Party Weekend

This weekend Mary and I stayed home in Alexandria.  My company's - my day job - annual holiday party, which is always pretty great and this year was no disappointment, since it was held at the National Press Club Building on 14th Street Northwest.

Mary and I decided to make an in-town getaway of the party this year, so I booked a last minute stay at the W Hotel near there.  I probably have a blog post or two that mentions the POV Rooftop Lounge at the top of this hotel - after the holiday party we've headed up there to continue the fun a few times.

We didn't indulge quite as extensively this time, but we had a great evening anyway.  The Press Club facility is great - dinner was excellent, open bar, band, etc. - all great.  Plus we had these themed name tags for all the guests in order to help everyone introduce themselves.

This was a pretty big year for me, as I am celebrating my 5th anniversary with the company, and there was some nice pre-game recognition for that.  My anniversary coincides with the party every year, since that first week when I actually boarded a plane to DFW on my first day!  Also making it special was that a couple of my team members were getting awards for their achievements this year.

Mary wanted to take a walk around the neighborhood in the morning before we checked out.  I tagged along, despite feeling a little bit under the weather, as we went over to the National Christmas Tree, and then had a look at the White House for the last time while the Obamas are there.  It seems like a long time since the 2008 Inauguration...and we pretty much stayed away during the Bush years, so it may be a while before I have a chance to take pictures like these again.

I haven't often been around to the Mall side of the White House, so this was the first time I had a good look at the famous White House Kitchen Garden.  There is a long history of having a garden like this on the grounds, although not every first family does it.  Michelle Obama used the garden as part of her campaign to promote nutrition, a topic which has begun surprisingly political (and means it's very likely the probable next occupant of the White House will have nothing to do with the garden).

After our walk around the area there, we ended up on Pennsylvania Avenue, where they are working on the grand stands for the next inauguration.  I'll close today's post with that thought - that change is ahead, but hope is not lost.

Coming full circle back to the holiday party - my fifth with this company.  I am especially lucky to have landed where I am, and I'm looking forward to my work this next year.  We have some great things ahead, even as the opening of Hawksbill Brewing Company will also happen in parallel.

That's going to make for a busy 2017!

Friday, December 9, 2016

New Windows @hawksbillbrew

One of the updates we needed to make to the building was to replace a couple of windows - I first wrote about this when we were having some demo done (link here).  Last week the new windows arrive and were installed, so I wanted to put up some photos of them.

First up in the new plate window back in the brewhouse area.  This had been one of those industrial glass pane and putty jobs back in the day.  It's in an awkward spot for maintenance though, and once the equipment installed it will be even more difficult to get to it.

The photo also brings to mind some of the wall preparation that is going on so that we can eventually paint the place.  In the right hand corner there is a major fresh patch that Kevin had just completed when I took the photo, and here and there we have some spackled areas from last week.  The window will be framed in soon and we can finish up with the plaster work - then we'll be ready to paint.

The other big window job was up in the front of the building, near where our main entry will be.  This window was old glass block, but there were quite a few broken, and the masonry needed work, so we decided a replacement would be most efficient.  We salvaged the glass block and are looking to put them to use somewhere, but in the meantime, I think this will add to the customer experience once we're open!

That area up front is also going through a lot of prep.  We're scraping off old paint and there is already a ton of spackling.  There's a bit of concrete patching to be done here too, but eventually we'll get through it all and can start the painting.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Those Floors @hawksbillbrew

We've written about the building Hawksbill Brewing Company will occupy a couple of times: how it was built in approximately 1911, operated as an ice storage facility for the railroad at first, then was a creamery, and eventually a string of retail establishments before we took the lease.  There's a trace of all those operations here and there throughout (some are great to find, some not so much - the graffiti left behind in one of the restrooms comes to mind!), but just like all of those before us, we need to update the building for our use - and that's going to be an ongoing blog topic for the next few months as we approach our opening.

Last weekend we set out to get the floors in shape for operation.  We had planned to simply paint them in a shade of gray, just like they had been in the past.  Once we got into the details of it, however, we discovered this wasn't going to be a simple case of painting over what was already there for consistency.

The advice we'd gotten was that while the old paint (and who knows who put it down or when, by the way) was holding, it was hard to predict what would happen to it once we got started brewing in there.  If the old paint finally failed and starting wearing away, the new paint on top of it would too...meaning future repairs and maintenance.  The prospect of taking care of issues like this would be pretty costly and complex once the whole brewhouse was in place.
So after further research, we decided to sand off as much of the old paint and then treat the concrete so that we could paint it.  David made arrangements with one of the hardware stores to rent the sander and buy a grinding wheel that we could use for the process, and set to work on it all.

It is a dusty and exhausting job - Kevin snapped this photo of him in action.  This area is about 600 square feet, and he worked at it for around 12 hours - I feebly worked on this for two or three hours so he could take a break.

Next steps with the floor in that area are to treat it so that we can paint it - that's all work we'll take care of this month, and hopefully complete before Christmas.  We'll paint the walls in January, when we'll also be installing and hooking up the brewery system.

Plenty of work to come!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Hot Liquor Tank Challenge @hawksbillbrew

In yesterday's post I wrote about the appearance of our shiny new tanks and vessels, fresh from Alpha Brewing Operations.  It was a day we had been looking forward to for a few months, and at last it had arrived!  David had the logistics in place to ensure a smooth operation, and we completed unloading the container earlier, well within the window of time we had been allotted by the shipping company.
First off the truck was our 10-barrel hot liquor tank, or HLT.  Now, the term "hot liquor tank" suggests that this vessel has an association with alcohol, but it doesn't.  It has an important role in the brewing process, but its work is actually done well before any fermentation begins.  
Simply put, the HLT is a water heater, used to get water up to temperature for a couple of key early steps in the brewing process, namely striking and sparging.  These steps are part of the process for extracting the fermentable sugars from the grain - that may be a topic for a future post, but today I'm writing about how we got such a big piece of equipment into the building.  Seriously, we were worried that we might have to demo out the loading door a bit to make it fit! 
We'd measured that door a few times and had compared it to the specs we'd rec'd from Alpha, and knew we had the clearances we needed.  Now with the situation at hand, it was clear that this was going to take some complex maneuvering - while we were very comfortable with the tank's diameter , it was actually an inch or two too tall to make it through the door while standing upright, especially riding the forklift.

The brain trust assembled to contemplate the task at hand.  Since we knew the diameter of the tank wasn't a problem, we concluded that the HLT needed to lay on its side to make it through, but how were we to get 700 pounds of shiny stainless down and back up again?

The answer lay in all those strong arms and backs.  Surprisingly, after all the discussion and planning, the team made quick and easy work of it.  And now that the HLT is inside, we'll move it into it's final spot soon as we have the general construction done in that area.  

After an exciting and fun day with all of our new shiny stuff, it was time to get back to work on construction progress.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Shiny Stuff Arrives @hawksbillbrew

We'd gotten a call the day before Thanksgiving that the container with much of our brewhouse equipment had arrived in Baltimore, and that we should prepare for delivery on Monday morning.  I decided to take a day of leave from my day job and join David and the construction crew for this event - he'd made arrangements for a fork lift and plenty of strong arms and backs to see the day through.  
The truck actually arrived the night before, the driver told us - he didn't share where he'd parked for the evening, but we guessed that he had plenty of creature comforts in the cab.  In any case, at last we had everything in place and cut the customs lock off of the container, unveiling all of our shiny new tanks pretty much in place, just like they were in the photos we were sent when they loaded the container (link here)!
First off was the hot liquor tank - there's a story in itself, and I'll post a bit more about it next time - followed by the brite tank, and four fermentation vessels.  It was amazing to see how tightly everything was packed into that container, and to consider the journey it had all made without any damage.  Things were mounted onto steel frames and then bolted to the container floor, and then strapped into place so they would stay upright with very little shifting or movement.

When the shipping company first contacted us for delivery, they told us we had two hours to land everything.  Thanks to David's logistical coordination, with all the help we had on hand, we finished within that window - in fact, we were 20 minutes early!
At last, with everything offloaded and staged, we signed the delivery papers and sent the driver on his way.  Our next step would be to move all of the tanks inside the building - that's where I'll pick up the story in tomorrow's post.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Some News Coverage for @hawksbillbrew

As construction and equipment delivery continue, we've had a decent social media week for the brewery, culminating in local TV news coverage on Wednesday.  Reporter Katie Caler from WHSV came out for the story - she last visited us in February (link here).  WHSV also covered the Hop Yard in 2015 (link here).

I'll have some photos of the equipment deliveries next week, but in the meantime, here is a link to this week's WHSV story:


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Chores Day @hawksbillbrew

What with all the progress over the last two weeks, we've had a streak of good news.  That continued on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, when we got news that our fermentation vessels would arrive bright and early Monday morning.

That put us in a little bit of a bind, notice-wise - but in a good way, since it means that Alpha, our equipment vendor, is about two weeks ahead of schedule for us.  While we have made some great headway on construction, we are still in the middle of it, so we needed to get in there to do some preliminary cleaning and rearranging stuff so that the we could unload and store the equipment until we are ready to install it.

We have been trying to organize a larger scale volunteer day to get some of this done, but it just hasn't worked out yet due to the holiday.  Mary and I had kind of resigned ourselves to a couple of tough days, but then our friends Leslie and Jon said they'd come out to help.

To get everything done, we got started at around 10am on Saturday.  There was a bunch of leftover stuff from the previous tenants that had to be demo'd out and then hauled off to the landfill.

Also, there had been a number of old shelving units, which in addition to being demo'd had been mounted with screws to the walls.  Lots of spackling was needed to help prepare for the eventual painting that we will do!  Leslie and Mary went to work on that, and they also moved a bunch of stuff out of the way - then they spent a couple of hours on sweeping and general clean up.

Meanwhile, after all of the demo, in which Jon proved himself incredibly adept with a pry bar, he and I, and David for the first trip, took two loads of remodeling trash up to the landfill in David's dump truck.  I drove the first time, shown in the photo, and Jon drove the second trip.

The place looked spiffy at the end of the day - all ready for the arrival of the tanks on Monday.  I'll update on that next!