It all started on a bus. Somewhere between the deserts of Arizona and the rocky shores of Maine, a plot was hatched and promises were made, and finally a new craft brewer collaboration is coming together.
But this isn’t a beer. We’ve done that. This is something different.
Last summer, on the epic cross-country bus trip during Beer Camp Across America, Jamie Floyd, the owner/brewer of Eugene, Oregon’s Ninkasi Brewing and our own Ken Grossman became fast friends. Jamie and Ken got to talking (read: drinking) and the topic of metal work came up. As a rule, brewers have something of a fetish for metal, evidenced by the acres of stainless in the average brewhouse, but Ken and Jamie were talking about something different. In addition to making world-class brew, Ninkasi Brewing has an in-house metal fabrication shop specializing in artistic and elaborate steel, twisted into shapes and patterns for its tap handles, bottles openers, bar signs, gates, fire pits and more.
The gears began turning. Work on our North Carolina brewery was underway at a blistering pace and Ken knew we needed a grand new entrance to welcome visitors. Maybe our fellow brewers would be the best crew for the job.
Ken and Jamie mapped it out. Ken needed two gates: the grand entrance gate to the brewery and then a smaller, more humble creation for use along a less-visible side of the brewery. Jamie sat down with Ninkasi’s lead metal fabrication and design specialist Jazz Khalsa and they decided they didn’t want no consolation gate, they were all or nothing: "Grand entrance or bust!" The Ninkasi crew presented Ken with one design—a hulking yet delicate piece that incorporates our iconic logo banner within waving sheaves of barley to span across the 20-foot drive. "The Mills River facility is incredible; the coolest brewery ever," said Jamie. "It’s exciting and humbling to be a literal piece of such a remarkable building. It gives us all something to strive for."
The Grossman family (Ken, Brian, and Sierra) signed-off on the design immediately and Jazz and fellow Ninkasi metal fabricator, Pat "Phatty Fab" Evans, promptly struck their torches.
Ninkasi’s shop began work on the gates last December with Jazz driving the design and Pat doing the bulk of the fabrication. The Ninkasi team plied their trade working with plenty of fire (and some truly epic arena-metal tunes). The gates are complex with more than 673 metal barley kernels affixed by 13,444 nuts weighing in at 3,000 pounds. Truly a massive work.
"I’m really pleased with the design they gave us," said Ken, "…the motivation was clear to them. They got it, and they get us. They understand what we’re trying to do here, and I think it’s because we’re both brewers and both share a lot of the same ideals."
Now the cross-continental collaboration is in place in Mills River and, in addition to being a striking welcome to the brewery, it’s a symbol of the camaraderie brewers share.
"The day I got the call to be a part of Beer Camp Across America and to hear from Ken ‘You’re doing things right,’ was one of the best moments" said Jamie. "It’s wonderful to continuously see examples of the level of collaboration in the craft beer community. This collaboration shows the immense impact the BCAA project had on our industry and still has. It’s a great achievement for us [Ninkasi] to reach that level of friendship with Sierra."
Craft brewers are a unique breed. We see things differently. We’re never content to settle for good enough; we believe that anything worth doing is worth doing all the way. Most brewers came into the business to forge a new path and because of this drive, it’s easy for us to cooperate and collaborate despite "competing" in the marketplace.
That’s what Beer Camp Across America was all about. A celebration of the community of craft brewers and the sharing of the varied skills we all have. In beer, in business and in the community, we come together to build something better. Thankfully, not everything that happened on the bus stayed on the bus.