HOMES Brewery’s little spot on the west side of Ann Arbor reminds me of a Russian doll. Layered within their unassuming building are a retail area, four-seasons patio, kitchen, brewery, and bar, complete with bench, high-top, and lounge seating. The interior is still relatively bare, but an industrial street art vibe is beginning to take shape. A shipping container with essential equipment rests on top of the brewing area, helping save space (and looking awesome in the process). This week, a Detroit street artist will begin decorating the walls, with additional plans for an art installation that will wind through different areas of the brewery. Most exciting of all, though, are the salt pits directly under the brewhouse that will be used for barrel-aging sour beers. Culligan water originally occupied the building, and installed the one-piece concrete underground pits to make a brine solution for cleaning water filters. The pits have been cleared out, and their thick concrete walls will maintain a dream environment for barrel-aging beer; temperatures will remain naturally consistent year-round and the space will be free from moisture. In addition, a special exhaust system will ensure the pits are under a slight negative pressure, so that the bacteria from the sour beers will be unlikely to contaminate the brewery above.
Nick Panchamé, head brewer, helms the beer program at HOMES. Panchamé was most recently the head brewer at Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City, MI, where he snagged a silver medal in the rye category at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival for his Concrete Dinosaur. His dwindling tolerance of Traverse City winter temperatures fueled his desire to start his own brewery, and he responded to HOMES’ owner Tommy Kennedy’s online post seeking a brewer in Ann Arbor. The two had a great connection, realizing quickly that their skills were complementary. While Panchamé is all about the beer, Kennedy brings the business-savvy, design vision, and a networker’s personality.
In April, Kennedy and Panchamé ventured to Portland, OR to seek inspiration and training. Their visit to Cascade Brewing, regarded as a pioneer in the barrel-aged sour beer movement, was particularly impactful. They spent an entire day with brewmaster Ron Gansberg, who passed on his wisdom about barrel-aging sours and offered samples directly from Cascade’s barrels. Panchamé still seems incredulous about the amazing experience. “The people at Cascade spent like 6 hours with us, for no reason, because we were just random guys from Michigan. It’s not like I had a connection there.” In October, their vision quest continued with an extensive road trip around Lakes Erie and Ontario, down the eastern coast, and back to Michigan via Pittsburgh. Starting at Bellwoods in Toronto, they made their way to all-star breweries including Dieu du Ciel (Montreal), The Alchemist (Vermont), Hill Farmstead (Vermont), Maine Beer Co (Maine), Allagash Brewing (New York), Other Half (New York), Carton Brewing (New Jersey), and Pizza Boy Brewing (Pennsylvania).
With plenty of research in the can, Panchamé is well-equipped to articulate a clear vision for HOMES’ beer portfolio. He plans to emphasize hop-forward beers, expecting to always feature four to five (of twenty total) hoppy beers on tap. Panchamé notes that Michigan has cultivated a specific IPA style (as exemplified by Two-Hearted and All Day IPA), and he hopes to develop IPAs that have a distinctive profile. In addition, he aims to prominently feature hops in beers beyond IPAs, including hoppy pale ales, saisons, and kettle sours. And of course, after the beers have had enough time to properly age (8-18 months), he will be able to start releasing barrel-aged sours. “The biggest challenge will be to continuously [have] that mindset that we want to do something different,” anticipates Panchamé. “It’s going to be really comfortable to stick with our flagship [beers].”
The leadership team at HOMES radiates aspiration. To get a sense of where HOMES might be headed, look at the breweries they cite as inspirations. Other Half, in Brooklyn, has a production rhythm that they would like to match, putting out new beers every two weeks or so. Cascade, in Portland, has a successful barrel-aged sour program that HOMES admires. And nationally-acclaimed Tree House, in Massachusetts, is appealing for maintaining an almost exclusive focus on on-site distribution.
In the time since Panchamé joined HOMES, he has been busy with test batches on a 5-gallon pilot system in Kennedy’s house. With close to 50 test batches under his belt, he is more than ready to start producing beer on HOMES’ full-size brewing equipment. The facility features three 10-barrel and one 20-barrel fermenters, and two 10-barrel and one 20-barrel bright tanks; together, they are aiming to produce 2,500 barrels (1 barrel is approximately 2 kegs) per year. I ask what one item Panchamé decided to splurge on for his brewhouse, and he answers almost before I finish the question: the keg washer. He admits it is not a “sexy” piece of equipment, but it replaces the backbreaking work of disassembling and cleaning every keg with the push of a button; it will clean two kegs at a time within a few minutes, and purges the kegs with CO2 when complete. Not only will this give Panchamé more time to focus on producing great beer, it will also enhance quality.
Kennedy has found a great food partner in Noerung “No” Hang, owner of No Thai. Boasting an executive chef that previously worked at Tomukun, HOMES will serve fast casual, Asian-influenced street food. Steamed bao and rice bowls will feature prominently, as Kennedy hopes that every dish will be able to be eaten from a bowl.
So when can you expect to start drinking at HOMES? As with most new breweries these days, HOMES has experienced its fair share of delays. “This is the fastest we’ve ever opened a brewery,” Kennedy quips. With most of the construction done, mostly cosmetic work remains—floors, furniture, and the bar top still need to be installed. And of course, the beer needs to be brewed. Kennedy and Panchamé are eyeing a February or March opening date. When they open, HOMES plans to offer a member’s club with an annual fee, which will provide beer and apparel discounts as well as access to an annual appreciation event. Until then, you can follow HOMES’ progress on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.