Bombs Away Beer Company was the last new brewery to open in 2017, but it has quickly made an impact on the local craft scene.
I recently visited the brewery in the Southeast Heights to add it to our Look Back/Look Ahead Series. I was lucky enough to sit down with all three owners, John and Hilary Degnaro, and David Kimbell, who is also the head brewer. John jumped right into reflecting on the work of the past year, which saw Bombs Away go from a concept to a fully functional brewery.
“A year ago we were working on this tap room portion of the building. That’s where we spent the majority of our focus when it came to renovations here,” he said. “On the brewery side of the building, we basically did whatever we had to over there, mainly mechanical. But, over here we made it look like it is. It wasn’t anything like this. Literally the three of us built all of the stuff in here — we painted the tables, we did the framing, all the floors. This was a shell of a room. If you look at the ceilings you can see that metal frame of the building. That’s what the whole thing was taken back to, all four walls and the ceiling.”
The look and feel of Bombs Away is a direct result of the vision and work of the ownership team. It has a trendy, modern industrial feel that is warm and comfortable. Hilary explained some of the thought behind the design.
“We’ve frequented a lot of breweries around the country, and I think that you get kind of a lot of ideas of what you like and what you don’t like,” she said. “So there were some things that we specifically wanted to stick with, as far as materials. We really wanted concrete tables and we really wanted wood somewhere, but we really wanted to also put metal in places to keep it industrial. But, what was really important to us was that all of the materials we were going to use were not reflective of sound, so that we could try and keep this place as quiet as possible so that conversations could be easily carried on.”
John added that creating the right vibe was of key importance.
“As far as the design, the building, and the atmosphere, that was the number one,” he said. “And, it will always be my number one (priority), is making sure that the place sounds right, because that sets the stage for people to have a good time and enjoy themselves.”
Aside from the areas that are visible to the public in the taproom, assembling the brewery also was a very hands-on affair, with many brewing elements being collected over the years, including the bad-ass horizontal mash tun that was featured in Stoutmeister’s pre-opening story.
Of course, the owners still had to procure some of their equipment, which became a grim situation when their original supplier didn’t deliver. Fortunately, there was somebody else out there to fill in.
“That was and still is a nightmare, but we found a different supplier for the equipment we did need and they were awesome to work with,” John said. “They had the stuff on a truck and coming to us before we even paid for it. They were on the ball.”
David was not about to be slowed down by an equipment delay.
“We were pilot brewing the whole time, once every week to two weeks, I’d say. I had a pretty good idea on how to dial everything in,” he said.
It helped that the Degnaros already had that system.
“We have a 1-barrel pilot system that used to be John’s homebrew setup, and so when we couldn’t use the big setup, a lot of recipes were being made on their so that we could prepare,” Hilary said. “We could split the batch and then share it with people for tasting and giving us feedback on it. David could take half and we could take half to our house so that we could kinda critique it ourselves as well.”
In spite of the challenges, and as a result of the effort and determination for quality brews, Bombs Away opened with one of the more impressive beer showings in recent memory, as AmyO noted when she visited during the soft opening phase.
“We put so much work into the place,” John said. “Why rush to open the doors when in another three or four weeks of brewing would give us the comfort to brew and have the beers the way we want them, and have a good variety to put out? Honestly, if it was not up to our standards, it wouldn’t have come out of the tap.”
Bombs Away’s beer selection has brought in a diverse group of customers, including people from the southeast neighborhoods, active-duty military, veterans, and beer geeks alike.
“I feel like our clientele is pretty well versed on the craft beer scene,” David said. “I would say we have a pretty good two or three different drinkable beers that a person who is maybe not well versed on craft beer can drink. That’s important to us, to have drinkable beer.”
One clear indication of the beer quality is that restaurants are already trying to setup pairings.
“We have had two restaurants basically say to us, ‘Hey, your beer is great, if you ever want to do something let us know,’” John said. “Honestly, for us, we’re still figuring out how to make the taproom work. With time we can get into (keg distribution). We’re definitely making sure that we take things at a pace where we can do it right, hopefully as close to the first time as possible.”
The owners seemed a bit hesitant to share too much and/or over-commit for what will be coming down the pipe in the first full year of operation; however, they said they definitely have their minds in the right place.
“We may do some barrel aging,” David said. “I’m probably going to do IPA Challenge … we’ll do IPA Challenge, I don’t see why not.”
There could be some limited bottle releases in the future as well.
“We are just starting to lay down the plans for what we want to do for bottling,” John said. “We would like to do very special releases, things that will only be available here for purchase, things that will be very limited. We gotta look at that and establish a budget for it.”
The upcoming project that the team is most enthusiastic about is the patio.
“I mean, really, the big plans for the winter are really the patio, (and) like everything else we will build that ourselves,” John said. “It’s not going to be too complicated, but it will still take a lot of time.”
By all accounts, Bombs Away Beer Company has had a stellar debut and laid a foundation for high expectations as we look ahead into 2018.
The Crew wishes Bombs Away the best of luck going forward, and I thank John, Hilary, and David for taking the time to chat with me.