Military jets roared overhead. A pair of preschool toddlers scurried underfoot. At ground level, on this cold, windy December morning, a veterinarian and an orthodontist spread cement in pursuit of their new vocation.
Sometime this spring, they hope to open Chesapeake Bay Brewing Co. on a little more than an acre of land at a suburban industrial park here. Their product will be called "Chesbay--A Superior Lager Beer."
"People who will be looking for a locally brewed Budweiser" will be disappointed, said Lou Perrin, 36, the orthodontist.
Perrin is counting on the great numbers of military personnel in the Tidewater-Norfolk area "who have been exposed to world beers" to be willing to pay import prices for a beer with high standards.
"It will be made from only malt, hops, yeast and water," said Perrin. "That means no corn syrup, no corn flakes."
Perrin's partners are Jim Kollar, also 36, a veterinarian and former Penn State linebacker, and Kollar's brother Frank, 39, from Mansfield, Pa. They and their wives are the sole members of the corporation.
The brewery was Jim Kollar's dream. Five years ago, he started home brewing. "You brew two cases, four cases, 10 cases--it just evolves," he said of his avocation turned vocation. As to his veterinary practice, which "will have to pay for the bills here," Kollar said, "You do the same thing day in, day out and it's going to get old."
Surprisingly enough, in this age of Pabst acquiring Olympia and Heileman merging with Pabst, micro-breweries, or boutique breweries, are doing just fine. Sierra Nevada in Chico, Calif., and New Albion in Sonoma, Calif., are rated favorites among this nation's beers by London-based beer expert Michael Jackson. Other breweries such as Newman's in Albany, N.Y.; River City in Sacramento, Calif.; Real Ale in Chelsea, Mich., and Straub in St. Mary's, Pa., are earning fine reputations.
Only Straub, among this group, has a capacity of better than 5,000 barrels per year. Budweiser brews 52,000,000 barrels annually.
Chesapeake Bay has modest intentions, at the start. Jim Kollar says they will aim for production of 500 cases per week initially, with a maximum capacity of 2,500 cases per week. They are negotiating with two distributors, "the area's largest and the smallest," according to Kollar. The brewers' aim is to have distribution in the better specialty restaurants and beer and wine outlets.
As Perrin explains, "We'll have to keep close supervision of our retail outlets" because it will be a perishable product. Because the beer will not be pasteurized, it will have to be refrigerated at all times.
The corporation bought the land a little more than a year ago and has been buying second-hand equipment from dairymen, soft-drink manufacturers and farmers, stockpiling it in a warehouse down the road from the brewery site. They contracted out the masonry work, but are doing the rest of the construction work themselves, with the help of friends.
Jim Kollar estimates it will cost them $250,000 to open for business.
At the beginning, there will be "maybe three besides ourselves" employed at the brewery, said Kollar. This does not include a biologist friend who will do the necessary laboratory work with yeast cultures.
The initial beer will be an amber lager, although they expect eventually to branch out to ales and other beers. Perrin says the initial beer will be stronger than most domestic brews, but "we might cut it some during the tourist months."
Briess Malting Company will supply the malt. The basic recipe will be provided by a former assistant brewmaster from Elbschloss Brewery in West Germany. The brewers will use Cascade and Hallertauer hops.
"It will be an expensive product," said Perrin.