The building at 6400 Chillum Place, Northwest, already had 20-foot ceilings, a sprinkler system, and a trench drain. All Dave Coleman and Mike McGarvey had to do to start their brewery was add was the equipment, plumbing, and electricity. Not to say it was cheap. It certainly cost a lot more than the homebrewing kit McGarvey’s fiancée bought him about five years ago, kicking off the series of events that brought them to 6400 Chillum.
Coleman says when they first started, they’d brew five beers at a time: one control and four variations. Then they’d do a taste-test with friends, and the winning beer would become the new control brew. Eventually, this evolved into a couple of keepers—Southern Belle, a brown ale, and Pandemic Porter—which are currently served at more than 20 bars, according to a dry-erase board hanging in the brewery.
“We brewed a lot of beer,” Coleman says. “We weren’t naturals. It’s a science, and you’ve got to work at it.” Now, just months after opening a brewery, they plan to double the fermentation space within three months and then double it again after six. Within a year, the brewery should see an upgraded system, and the duo hope to be bottling by early 2013.
It’s an impressive speed for two guys who have been using volunteers (the same ones) for more than a year now and who raised the money for their brewery through friends and investors who simply like their beer. “I don’t have any rich uncles,” Coleman says. He did get a little luck along the way. The 40,000-gallon walk-in freezer that stores nearly all of the breweries beer should have cost $50,000; instead, it cost them $1.35. The catch was that they had to disassemble it from the inside, moving the 100-plus-pound panels out through the door of the freezer itself, because it was built into a wall at its previous locale. And they had to do it in the dark. Those facts dissuaded everyone else from bidding on the freezer at auction, but Coleman and McGarvey knew they wouldn’t be able to afford one otherwise—especially since they decided to brew their beer in the District, where real estate doesn’t come cheap. But that decision, says McGarvey, was simple: “We wanted to be in DC.”
Visit 3 Stars this Saturday from 1 to 4 to buy a growler of the brewery’s Southern Belle, Pandemic Porter, Peppercorn Saison, or a cask selection. The Chupacabra food truck will also be there serving burritos. Find details on 3 Star’s Facebook page.