Saltwater Brewery founders Bo Eaton, Peter Agardy, brewmaster Bill Taylor, Chris Gove and Dustin Jeffers stand on the second floor of the barn-like, 1952-vintage building, formerly the site of the Rustic Rooster furniture store in Delray Beach. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Jan Norris
From grain to antiques and back to grain. That’s the story on the old feed store west of the interstate on Atlantic Avenue.
It’s there that five men enthusiastic about craft beer are building the Saltwater Brewery, jumping into the craft brew movement taking off in South Florida.
“This is a great building, and has sentimental value. And, well, my dad needed a tenant in it,” says Chris Gove, whose family has invested in the brewery with time, money and the building.
Gove is the financial planner; Bo Eaton, the marketing arm and investor; Peter Agardy, the artist behind the ocean-inspired labels; Dustin Jeffers, one of the brewers; and Bill Taylor of Montana, the brewmaster.
“We all bring different strengths to the project,” Gove said. He, Eaton and Agardy have been friends since childhood, growing up around Gulf Stream. All are avid surfers or fishermen, and one a retired Navy diver — thus the Saltwater name and tagline: Explore the depths of beer.
But it’s beyond a slogan. “The saltwater and ocean-based theme is really a lifestyle down here,” Eaton said. “We think it’s a perfect fit for the area.”
The craft brew phenomenon has saturated other parts of the country, but Florida is ripe for the trend, Eaton said.
The west coast of the U.S. in particular is heavy with the small breweries that produce unique beers, Gove said. He was working in San Diego in the financial market, and says numbers show there’s a craft brewery for every 32,000 people out there, while Florida has one brewery for every 450,000 people. “But the numbers are changing, we’re getting more here all the time. There are something like eight being built right now down here.”
South Florida has another factor in its favor: retirees. “The generation who started the craft brew movement are now ready to retire down here,” Eaton said. The appeal of the climate, beaches and saltwater lifestyle goes hand in hand with their beer.
The coast, reefs and ocean are used in the logo and marketing as well. “We’re taking a recipe, matching the beer styles with the art and incorporating all our ideas,” Agardy said.
At the brewery his paintings on easels ringed the offices upstairs overlooking the tanks. Ocean scenes and coastal landscapes represent the different styles, from lighter blond ales to bold Scotch ales. These will be incorporated on their labels, along with other merchandise they’ll sell at the brewery.
Exploring the depths
Agardy designed an ocean and coastal ecosystem chart with water tints that correspond to the styles of beer they’ll be making.
Eaton said it’s an educational tool as well as a marketing addition. “It goes along with our ‘Explore the depths of beer’ tagline. You can look at the chart, and say this end represents the coastal area, lighter water at the shallows and a little bolder as it deepens. Get into the reefs, and the water is a little darker, and deeper. In the deep ocean, you’ll see the lighter blue water as the lighter flavor but still high alcohol, and of course, in the depths, the biggest flavor and high alcohol content beers.”
The first six they’ll brew are South End Session Ale, an extra pale ale — lighter-alcohol content with citrusy overtones; an India pale ale called Screaming Reels with big hop flavors; Stinger IPA, a double IPA that’s even hoppier than Screaming Reels; Sea Cow Milk Stout, a roasted malt brew with a creamy mouthfeel; a Belgian blond ale called Bonafide Blonde — a yeastier brew; and the Flying Scotsmen, a Scotch ale for those who like dark, high-alcohol beers.
Jeffers said while he and Taylor are responsible for the recipes, every man had input into the final flavors. “We all have different styles we like,” Gove said.
“But Peter is the experimenter. We call him the ‘monk.’ ”
Jeffers is a seasoned home-brewer who wants to venture into some other flavors and styles beyond the basics — in due time. Taylor, a retired Navy diver, will guide the team in the basics, bringing his talents as a professional brewer for 17 years in Montana to Saltwater.
“We wanted to start with beers that are popular and familiar and get these down before we get into some of the other unique beers. We plan to incorporate different local flavors then we’ll branch out into different styles,” Jeffers said.
They’ll also brew seasonal beers in small batches, such as pumpkin ale to kick off the fall season. They plan to launch at Halloween and will begin brewing early in October, with a production of 560 kegs (known as half-kegs in the industry) every two weeks.
The beers will sell for $5 to $7 a glass for the higher-volume beers, with a portion of sales benefiting ocean-based conservation and cleanup charities.
Distribution to restaurants and retail will come eventually, but slowly, Eaton said. “We want to grow sales organically first here at the brewery. We want to focus on the locals and get the community behind us — we want to be Delray’s brewery.”
Their competitors — Funky Buddha, Tequesta Brewing Co. and Due South — have welcomed them, Jeffers said. “They’ve been great — giving us tours and telling us anything we need to know. It’s a great community, really — everyone is really helpful and they share their knowledge.”
Taking a tour
While they were still constructing the brewery, they offered a tour of the facility. The brewery is built around the giant gleaming stainless tanks. Four 40-barrel tanks soar to the top of the Dade County pine building, where a catwalk will allow brewers access. Four smaller steam-powered tanks are for fermentation and propagating their own yeast.
A grain room is in the back — 1,200 pounds of grain is used per batch of beer, so it will see action as it did in its days as a feed store, Gove said. No roasting will be done on site; grain and malt suppliers are lined up. The lab/offices for the brewers are off to one side. Other offices are upstairs.
The tanks are not the typical conical ones seen in most breweries. “The cones are inside,” Gove says. “These are dual-jacketed and internally cooled because of the South Florida heat,” he said. “We’re the only ones around that we know of with this type of tank.”
A special carbon filtration system for the water is being added, he said.
They expect the brewery to become a hangout, and have designed the space not taken up by production for mingling and relaxing. Up front will be the lounge with televisions and a jukebox. The long main bar faces the floor-to-ceiling window separating the brewing room from the public. Tours and brew classes will be offered, and pairings held in the lounge.
At one end of the bar is a growler filler — a special tap that bottles and seals beer in a 750 ml. bottle for take-home drinking.
“We’ll have dedicated parking spaces out front just for those who have growlers, so they can get in and out quickly on their way home from work,” Eaton said.
Also out front, along Atlantic Avenue, will be their version of a beer garden — one with a tropical theme. “We’re in South Florida, and it just makes sense to do a tropical beer garden,” Eaton said. A Brazilian mahogany fence will separate the traffic from the brewery, with coconut trees and tropical plants to help buffer the sound. Picnic tables, a shuffleboard court, and areas for bocce and cornhole games are part of the outdoor space.
While no hot foods can be sold per law, popcorn and special pretzels and other snack-type foods will be available. For special pairing events, foods will be catered, Gove said, “And food truck events are on the list.”
Saltwater Brewery is scheduled to open around Halloween, though “anything can happen,” Gove said.
For now, they point visitors to their website, Saltwaterbrewery.com.