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Getting It Done, New Family, and Delivering on the Product: Checking In With 3 Stars

Although last week’s top story was the mayhem of DC Beer Week 2012, the previous week’s big news – trumpeted from the cruise to the Smith Commons Brewers’ BBQ – was the long-awaited launch of 3 Stars Brewing Company. I stopped by the brewery on the Saturday after 3 Stars’ debut to talk with founders Mike McGarvey and Dave Coleman about opening up and what’s next now that there’s beer in the fermenters and the market.

With the Chillum Place NW brewhouse all set up, double batch brew days are taking place weekly; the Saturday of my visit marked the seventh. Coleman notes, “The beers have been consistent batch to batch. The major change is ease of use. We have a much better knowledge of how the system works.” McGarvey adds, “We’re making adjustments in how the process works for the better…learning how the brew kettle and mash tun work better, getting the heat exchanger dialed in…We’re getting to see how each piece itself works.”

Row of fermenters at 3 Stars Brewing Company

Row of fermenters at 3 Stars Brewing Company

There’s a palpable sense of relief that the brewing process is getting a little easier. “Brew days one and two were big adjustments,” says Coleman, “They were ‘foot in the ass’ kind of days. The brewery tried to beat us on those days, but you’ve got to adapt and work with what you have. It’s a much smoother ride now.”

Vorlaufing a batch of The Pandemic imperial porter

Vorlaufing a batch of The Pandemic imperial porter

Busy as things are, the founders aren’t alone in the brewery. The 3 Stars Homebrew Shop is open for business on Saturday morning, so homebrewers are stepping out of the store and into the brewery to measure out their own specialty grains and catch a glimpse of the action.

As I take in the action, a trio of brewery assistants, Dan Forsyth, Justin Blåu, and Tom Fitzhugh, pull a much, much bigger grain bill than the average homebrewer’s in preparation for a batch of The Pandemic, an imperial porter that serves as one of 3 Stars’ three launch beers. Seeing these folks helping out at the brewery is nothing new. They, like many others (including, full disclosure, yours truly on rare occasion) have been volunteering for months to help get things in order.

Dan Forsyth (L) and Tom Fitzhugh (R) measure grain for The Pandemic

Dan Forsyth (L) and Tom Fitzhugh (R) measure grain for The Pandemic

“We appreciate the help…It’s a highly manual system,” says McGarvey. “Tom is an example of a guy who is very motivated to learn and wants an opportunity to help out. These are guys who have been here the entire time, and it’s a reward for them too. They’re part of our team.” Coleman says that the volunteers, “helped [them] with the shitty part,” adding, “These are our friends. They made it possible with us…These guys are family at this point.”

Sentimentality aside, McGarvey tells me, “Distribution is picking up.” The brewery is self-distributing, with Coleman – and his city-wide network developed over years behind the pine at The Big Hunt – in charge of getting sixtels of The Pandemic, Urban Farmhouse (saison), and Southern Belle (imperial brown) to a select list of craft beer accounts.

Sixtels of 3 Stars Beer waiting for a kind home

Sixtels of 3 Stars Beer waiting for a kind home

But don’t expect to see 3 Stars everywhere in the city. Coleman explains:

We’ll open up more accounts after DC Beer Week, but one of the things that has been important to me and Mike is not opening up accounts that we can’t satisfy. We have to maintain an inventory. It’s nice to be able to sell everything you have, but in the beer business there’s nothing that loses accounts quicker than not having product. It’s a real challenge as a small start-up business. We want to go up and open all of these accounts, but the responsible thing to do is to maintain the accounts that have supported us since day one.

Dan Forsyth (R) and Justin Blåu (L) with the grain for a batch of The Pandemic imperial porter

Dan Forsyth (R) and Justin Blåu (L) with the grain for a batch of The Pandemic imperial porter

Near the end of my visit, McGarvey tells me that they want to get growler hours started (see DCBeer’s post yesterday on growler hours). There has been, he tells me, “lots of interest” in being able to fill growlers, especially with the draw of the homebrew shop.

While I pack up my camera and get ready to leave, I see Coleman and his brewery crew working to unstick a hose filled with grain from the mash tun. There’s some angst, but as McGarvey tells me, “The brewery always finds a way to get it done. Things seem to work out for us; we work hard to make sure they do.”

With a major hurdle cleared and beer in the market, the job, as Coleman says, “shifts from hype and planning to delivering on the product.”  It’s going to be a lot of work, but sleeves are being rolled up and efforts redoubled. Best of luck.

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