by Charles McGuigan
Nic Caudle has been a beer connoisseur for a long time, and about ten years ago he decided to become a homebrewer. He was on a trip visiting his girlfriend’s parents up in New York, and they killed a day by shopping in small, locally owned businesses. Nic entered a shop that sold home-brewing supplies and he bought the basics. Once back in Richmond, he created his first brew.
“That batch was horrible,” he says. “It was an immediate drain pour.” He realized he’d done several things wrong, and started over. The next batch was better, and over the years he began experimenting with new recipes, frequently purchasing supplies from brewmeister Tony Ammendolia, owner of Original Gravity/Final Gravity in Lakeside.
We’re sitting in a small office within a large building just off Chamberlayne Avenue in lower North Side. This was the former home of Research Glass, where, for 25 years, glassblower John Bivins, and later his son, Brian, made scientific glass. And even as it is now transforming into Tabol Brewery, some of the beakers and graduated cylinders from the building’s former incarnation, are finding new use in that ancient branch of chemistry—brewing.
For the past several years, Nic and his business partner, Travis Dise, had been toying with the idea of opening their own brewery. They talked about it often enough, but never really moved on it.
“Then Travis approached me about two years ago and he said, ‘Hey, have you really thought about this? Because I’m ready and I’m serious,’” says Tim. “That’s when we started delving into the business research. What will it take to actually get something up and running? We pored over a lot more info than you’d think. So after about a year or so of planning, we started looking for property and that took a few months and we first looked at this building May of 2017, and we’re not even fully there yet. It’s a long process.”
In Richmond, these days, you can barely swing a cat without paw-patting a microbrewery (Scott’s Addition alone is home to ten of them), and a lot of folks wonder how many breweries the area will be able to keep afloat. On this, Tabol has an edge. When the brewery opens later this month, or in early September, it will fill a sort of niche market.
Nic remembers the moment he got the idea. It was years ago while he was dining at Mekong and ordered a saison by Stillwater. It wasn’t like anything he’d ever tasted. “Holy crap,” he thought. “This is what I want to drink all the time.” Unfortunately not many stores at the time carried this product, and those that did charged an 18k-gold arm and leg for it.
“So Tabol will have a 90 percent focus on the tart, the wild, the funky stuff,” Nic says. “We’ll have a hoppy beer or two on tap, and we have plans for some stouts for the cold weather. We’ll try to make a little bit of most everything. But mainly it will be the tart, wild, funky stuff. What is the main thing for most breweries will be our side project. And their side project will be our main focus.”
Nic takes me on a quick tour of the brewery. The production space is already filling up with barrels and a few large stainless steel tanks. “In your typical brewery you’ve got these massive steel tanks that everything sits and ferments and ages in,” he says. “Here, except in the brew house itself, where we make the unfermented beer, there are no steel tanks. Everything is going immediately into various oak casks. That’s where they’ll do all their fermentation and aging.”
This production area is about 6,000 square, and the next room we enter—about 2,000 square—is the tasting room. Two men, wearing dust masks, guide large floor sanders in concentric circles. A thick dust of concrete and debris falls in their wake, and a man with a shop vac trains the hose on the small mounds of grey dust, sucking up each particle in an instant. By tomorrow the floor will be ready to coat with clear epoxy resin.
“This wasn’t the first place we looked at,” Nic tells me. “We started looking in January of 17, and we looked everywhere.”
The problem was invariably the size. “Richmond has a lot warehouse stock,” Nic says. “But it’s either 5,000 and below, or 15,000, 25,000 and above. There’s very few in that middle range, which was what we were looking for. We found some places. We even put an offer in on a building in Scott’s Addition, but it had gotten too high for us. And then we came in here. It hit that sweet spot. It’s right at about 8,000 square foot, and it has the potential for the deck outside, and plenty of parking.”
Looking to the very near future, Nic Caudle says, “When there’s something ready that we can package, we’ll either put it into kegs, or if we like it and we have enough of it, then we can bottle some of it for taproom sales as well. We’re not looking to put product on a shelf or to try to fight for a tap line at a bar. It’s too cutthroat. If we can work with a distributor to work with the occasional bar, restaurant, or festival for an event. Perfect. Otherwise we want people to come here, sit down, enjoy a beer or two, maybe take a bottle home.”
Wed-Fri, 4-9; Sat and Sun, 12-9 (projected hours of operation)
704 Dawn Street
Richmond, VA 23232