There’s a degree of risk involved when opening any new brewery, but especially so for those specializing in sour beers.
“When you start dealing with the wild yeasts and the bacteria, you control what you can control the best you can,” said Ben Dolphens, who with his wife, Mary Catherine, will open Divine Barrel Brewing at 3701 N. Davidson St. next summer. “They are just more fickle than the more domesticated ale and lager strains that we all brew with. Even though you do what you can, you’re still slightly at the mercy of those organisms.”
That’s where the “divine” comes into play. Dolphens has homebrewed for more than 15 years and was a trade brewer for Tenth and Blake, the craft and import division of MillerCoors, until last year.
But even with all his years of experience, Dolphens acknowledges that sometimes you have to give sour and wild beers time to develop. And when you do, the result can be a thing of beauty.
“These amazingly complex and nuanced beers can take a long time before they are ready, and that’s what makes them so special,” said Dolphens. “There’s just a reverence there for those sorts of things. I’m hugely passionate about those types of beers.”
To that end, Ben and Mary Catherine Dolphens — along with business partners Scott and Jess Davis — have plans to fill their space with the wooden vessels used to age these beers. Divine Barrel Brewing will occupy just over 8,000 square feet of its building, which will hold a taproom, a 10-barrel brewhouse and a temperature-controlled barrel room. The brewery plans to open with around 20 oak barrels, with the capacity for close to 100 total.
Two 30-barrel foeders (think really big barrels) will allow Dolphens to practice the solera method, a technique common in winemaking in which a portion of liquid is removed and replaced with a younger batch to achieve consistency and generational complexity.
Not into sours? Divine Barrel Brewing will always have “clean” beers on tap as well. A two-barrel system will allow Dolphens to brew small batches of beers, many of which will be split into variants aged on different ingredients. Just don’t count on any of these beers, clean or sour, being widely available outside of their NoDa taproom.
“We’re kind of going back to the model of the small neighborhood brewery,” said Dolphens. “People can think of it as their neighborhood brewery where that’s one of a few places to get the beer. I think there’s a specialness to that.”
Dolphens thinks the neighborhood is special as well. The brewery is located just north of the heart of NoDa, in what has for years been more of an industrial area. But that’s changing. In the NoDa Street Market, Divine Barrel will also share space with a boutique grocery and deli, an artisanal barbecue restaurant, a tattoo parlor, a coffee and juice bar, a salon, and an additional yet-to-be-announced retail business.
Another brewery, Bold Missy Brewery, is currently being built just across the street, and plans for more retail, housing, a greenway and the light rail extension will bring more people and businesses to the area.
“I think it’s already going that direction,” said Dolphens. “There’s already a lot of growth and I think NoDa in general is shifting that direction anyway.”
Images: Divine Barrel Brewing, NoDa Street Market
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