Already known for their audacious and adventurous takes in brewing wild styles of craft ales (and porters, stouts and so on), the three young, creative minds behind Earthbound Beer are undertaking their most ambitious work yet, with a location move that almost has to be seen to be believed. Though their destination will be just a couple of dozen yards west on Cherokee — from the thin storefront at 2710 Cherokee to the big, multi-story, corner spot at 2724 Cherokee and Iowa — the work they’re undertaking is way more than a simple remodel of the recent home of the humble Waberi Store.
The family operating Waberi, relocated nearby, never accessed the underground spaces that’re the most visually-striking elements of the in-progress, new home of Earthbound: namely, a series of caves and catacombs below the building that were used by brewers a century ago, under the Cherokee Brewery Co. banner. The Earthbound trio — Rebecca Schranz, Stuart Keating and Jeff Siddons — are daily at work clearing out both the street-level space, which will home to the brand’s tap room, and the subterranean expanses, which will contain brewing gear (primarily fermentation tanks), a canning line and cold storage for kegs. And even as that work continues, all three are brewing, bartending and serving as jacks-of-all-trades at their already-operating brewpub.
Earlier this week, Siddons and Keating were hard at work on the storefront level, demo-ing walls, clearing out refuse and generally prepping the space for the biggest piece of labor needed in that room: the complete demolition of a fake ceiling, tied together by a thick, mesh lattice and hundreds of pounds of plaster, which, Siddons joked, is a combo that’s “always fun to work with.” Saws, hammers and strong hands will all be among the primary tools for that challenge. The Siddons-lead tour above the future tap room was interesting enough, especially seeing how vast that space will look with a few extra feet of height. But things really got eye-popping once our tour moved underground.
Saying that “no one’s died yet,” the duo hoisted up a metal grate in the floor, located just behind the former Waberi’s retail space. There, an 18-foot ladder dropped down to the floor, 17-feet below. On that floor are hundreds of pounds of industrial and architectural waste, including the bricks of a nearby wall; there, a conveyor belt will whisk away all that underground debris later in the spring. And while that main room’s got some waste, the catacombs are absolutely full of concrete, cement, dirt, wood… a host of industrial dross that’ll again call for a serious round of old-fashioned labor.
Oh. There’s also water down there. A kayak on the floor isn’t there for visual effect, as it’s actually been used by the crew to splash around another whole floor down, in a watery portion of Cherokee street’s infamous caves, an intriguing blend of nature of human creation. Keating’s plan is to drain that space, though the area won’t be employed in the brewing process.
If anyone in Earthbound’s triangular business model is worried, now a couple months into the action, they’re doing a perfectly-excellent job of hiding it.
Siddons says that “demo’s been going pretty quickly. That back room was disgusting, but we’ve gotten it cleaned up really fast. And the main room is going faster than we thought. The ceiling, once we got up there, was less nerve-wracking that we’d thought, in terms of taking it down. Bringing the equipment into the basement is the only thing that makes us nervous. It’s definitely doable. But it’s just about watching this really expensive equipment that you’ve bought going into the basement, watching people lowering in those tanks…”
What’s positive about their general contracting experiences with the new space is that they’ve already gotten their feet wet with their first brewpub, sort of a beta version of this larger conversion.
Sitting in the front of his tiny brewpub at 2710 Cherokee, the smells of malts and hops heavy in the air, Siddons says that “it helps that we’ve already built this place out entirely. It’s less-daunting having done one. We were way more nervous doing construction here, even though (the new space) is a bigger project.”
Once that space is closer to completion, they’ll have to add staffers to their small family, though Siddon notes that “in our system, everyone involved brews in some way. Whether you do design work or bartend, everyone will brew. That’s one thing that people tell us, that they enjoy knowing that everyone bartending has taken part in the brewing process.”
Moving from one WJL Properties space to another, the trio won’t have control over their debut brewery once they fully move west. They likely leave behind some of the additions that they’ve built into their slim, 11-foot-wide homebase, believing that “a coffeeshop and cafe, or a small restaurant” could be a natural fit, or so Siddons figures. Whatever moves in will extend the amazing life of a shotgun-style, side-window-less space, which has been an apartment, nail shop, election headquarters and now a brewery, all in the past decade.
Meanwhile, Earthbound’s move to 2724 Cherokee will bring a former brewing operation back online, with modern sensibilities. For example, Earthbound works with a hog farmer (where spent grains get consumed, in exchange for a bit of traded bacon); they also swap grains, both ways, through Red Guitar Bread, with whom Earthbound’s collaborated on both beer and bread.
Plans call for brewing to commence at the new Earthbound in late spring, with tap room operations fully running by summertime.