Wedgewood Brewing Company in Middlebury may have the smallest square footage of any Michiana brewery, but they have packed a lot into their space, and they pack a lot of flavor into their beer.
It’s been just about a decade since owner Chris Higgins brewed his first beer — a Stone Arrogant Bastard clone recipe with his brother-in-law. Brewing quickly became a passion and it also quickly took over his house. Chris began fabricating his own equipment, converted to all-grain brewing and, by the time I met him a few years ago, switched from bottling his beer to kegging his homebrews.
Since then, Chris decided to take his homebrewing to a professional level and open a brewery in Middlebury.
It has been almost two years of remodeling and hard work getting the space ready, and they will open to the public for the first time from 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, according to the company’s Facebook page. Chris and his son, Cody, have hosted a couple of soft openings just to get the hang of the POS system, and I got a preview on Saturday.
Even though the brew house is quite small, they have made the most of the space with a one-barrel system which includes two one-barrel fermenters, one two-barrel fermenter and a two-barrel brite tank.
Chris has brewed eight batches so far on his commercial system including pale ales, IPAs, an English pale ale, a rye porter and a double IPA. Mr. Hop Otto (pale ale, 6.5 percent ABV, 35 IBUs) was the first, and all of the beers are recipes that Chris has previously brewed except the rye porter. The double IPA, Yippie IPA (8 percent ABV, 90 IBUs) is brewed with local honey, and will be kegged and ready to go when they open.
While I was there, I was able to sample the other three currently on tap: Hop Otto, Pale and Oats (oatmeal pale ale, 6 percent ABV, 38 IBUs), and Big Wood Smoked IPA (7.5 percent ABV, 65 IBUs).
It turns out that the one-barrel system chosen by Chris does not work well with leaf hops, which is what Chris prefers, so he came up with a creative solution. He fabricated a hop basket that he can suspended into the brew kettle. He plans to use the hop basket for dry hopping many of his recipes, however, the beers currently on tap were not dry hopped.
Because of the lack of space, they will be kegging all of their beer, and there is cold storage behind the bar for 19 kegs. Chris is working with a company to test a new 1/6 barrel keg product that uses a disposable plastic bag to hold the beer inside the keg.
At first you may think this is wasteful, however, this will save hundreds of gallons of water that would otherwise be used to wash and sanitize the kegs after each use. These plastic kegs will be used in house, but beer will be distributed to 41 Degrees North (next door) in traditional stainless steel kegs.
For now, Chris and Cody are dialing in the efficiency of their new equipment and are planning on brewing about four batches a month. When asked what his future hopes are for his new brewery, Chris replied, “For now, my goal is to open and make the best beer I possibly can.”
The space has room for a maximum of 15 patrons in the tasting room. However, it is cozy and displays much of Chris’ musical interests on the walls with framed covers of Rolling Stone Magazine, photos of Bob Dylan and ticket stubs from concerts that Chris has attended. His love of music is also apparent in his logo, which is a musical note formed out of a hop cone and a barley stalk. He dabbles in playing guitar and told me that the creative process in music and brewing share many similarities.
Hours at the new brewery will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and from 3 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The brewery is located at 106 N. Main St., Middlebury.