Brewery Terra Firma – GDB’s First Look (Part 2)

In Beer News by Karl

The first post in this series can be found here.

It probably seems a little silly on the face of it to be spending a lot of time looking at trees and grass and an old barn and talking about the beer that’ll come out of this place eventually. But you probably haven’t drank John Niedermaier’s beer.

Yep, it’s a barn.

As the brewer for Traverse Brewing Company and then Right Brain, John has a couple decades of brewing experience under his belt. And as we’ve mentioned, he doesn’t just make good beer; he doesn’t just make strange beer; he makes Great Weird Beer. “Weird” is John’s own description, citing the “weird-ass ingredients [he] likes to use;” but “great” is mine. When he and RBB parted ways last year (a split we discussed with no apparent animosity on his end) it was not only an opportunity to start work on BTF, it created demand.

The beer he was making that put RBB on the map? All of a sudden, not there any more. And people still want it. We’ve had more than a couple Right Brain brews since the brewer changeover, and while it’s still a nice place to spend part of an afternoon, the beer now ranges from “Hey, not bad” to “I can’t believe they’re actually selling that.”

In the mean time, since announcing BTF, John tells us that he’s already had repeated requests for inital access to whatever mug club they decide to have, as well as information and news requests from both national and international audiences. (And us.) As John put it, “Our demand is already at capacity – and we haven’t even put a shovel in the ground yet.” Remember in the last post when I talked about good problems for brewers to have? There you go.

Right now it may just be a plastic glass of beer on the roof of a minivan, but sometime in the future you’re going to have to wait in line for this. Also, the focus on my camera sucks. I swear I wasn’t trying to take a photo of the basketball hoop.

So when you see us standing in a field, sipping a plastic glass of John’s beer served from a tiny keg floating in a big bucket, you’ll probably see that we’re REALLY happy to be drinking his beer again. The burgundy amber he had on hand was fantastic, and after that he just happened to have a half-growler of his coconut-chocolate “black bikini” porter hanging around as well. When I told him I was very much looking forward to trying the ancho chile Dutch chocolate porter I’ve been hearing about for years, you could see his eyes light up – and then he offered to brew me a batch if I wanted. Like I’ve said, nice guy, huh?

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Side note of trivia: The above kegging machine is the one John bought for the Traverse Brewing Company way back when. And now, having returned back to the barn of BTF, the circle is complete. In addition, the below fermentation tank came from Joe Short of Short’s Brewing, and if the BTF beer is as good as the beer that used to be in this vessel, drinkers will be all the more richer.

Think of all the joy that’s already come out of this tank.

Someday, thousands of gallons of beer will be made here. By that guy.

This is where the 7,000-square-foot brewhouse, taproom and beer garden are going to be. It’s to be constructed with very high, barn-like nearly vertical walls, to maximize the available space on the building’s footprint. Since the whole theme of this brewery is green space and reclaiming nature and using what’s found on the land, can you guess what the interior is to be made of, what furniture is to be made of and what even chandeliers are to be made of? You guessed it. All the trees that were just taken out of that plot.

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When I asked how much of this was being paid for by barter, John looked at me and said, “You wouldn’t believe what beer can do.” In the best practices of old rural times, friends are helping work on the land for future payment in homebrew. Everything from brute labor to fine craftsmanship is being paid for in some part by the power of the promise of John’s beer. Like I said, the stuff is good.

It’s hard to see, but the stakes & flags up there are the boundaries of the building. The next time you see this, it’ll likely be at least framed out. (We hope.) Despite not having that aforementioned single shovel of dirt moved yet, John says they’re on pace to open the doors in the early part of next year.

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All this may likely seem like a plan to turn the brewing world on its ear, but if you go way back, this is really the way breweries used to operate. “It really isn’t anything all that new,” John told me. “Breweries for ver have been farmbased to the extent that before there were any breweries here in the US, the breweries brought their own barley kernels from wherever they were coming from and planted their own crops. This has been going on for a longtime…and now it’s coming back around.  It’s almost as though it was forgotten.”

As if you weren’t able to tell by now, we’re eagerly anticipating the opening of this brewery. Rather than try to sum all this up into a single statement, we’re going to just let John tell it how he sees it. This has been years in the making, and there’s a lot on the line. For someone with a lot of plates spinning right now, he seems to be fixated on the end goal of doing exactly what he wants to do: make great beer. Per John, “as I’ve said forever, I’m only gonna open one brewery.  If it’s not gonna be right, I’m not gonna do it.  I want it to be right.”

So far, so good.

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About the Author



Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago, AskMen and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, is now available via Amazon and other booksellers. If you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.

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