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Mesa expansion means BRI will be able to go back to its creative roots

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Empty Beer Research Institute kegs sit in the now empty space that will soon be filled with a 105-barrel brewing system and seating for 100 people as the Mesa brewery and restaurant launches an expansion project. (Steve Burks/MyNewsMesa.com)

Walk into The Beer Research Institute (BRI) on just about any late afternoon or evening and the place is abuzz. Pints, snifters and flights of beer fly out from behind the bar at a steady clip. Business is good.

Plywood covers what will soon be the pass-through doorway between the original Beer Research Institute bar and dining area and the new expansion. The expansion will mean 100 more seats for patrons at the nearly 3-year-old Mesa brewery and restaurant. (Steve Burks/MyNewsMesa.com)

For founders Matt Trethewey and Greg Sorrels, who began their adventures by experimenting with the brewing process in the garage of Trethewey’s home in Mesa, all this business has taken away their ability to live up to their unique name.

“We love to play, but over this past year, our beers just keep getting sucked down so quickly that we just have to keep brewing and brewing,” said Sorrels. “We can’t have that creative touch right now.”

Soon, however, there will be ample room to put more R in what BRI stands for, as the Mesa business launches an expansion project at its Mesa Grand Shopping Center location, taking over the retail space next to its current operation at 1641 S. Stapley Drive, steps away from the AMC Mesa Grand 14 theaters.

“Expansion has always been a part of our focus,” said Trethewey, who now handles the operations side of the business while Sorrels handles the brewing side. “The original concept and business plan that we came up with was to open a local, independent brew-pub that has scratch food and craft beer that we made and do it on a small scale. Then, as we got success, look at doing an expansion.”

Why Mesa?

Trethewey has had his eye on the space next door to BRI since the brewery opened in 2014. The vacant space tucked into the far north side of the center, was originally an El Paso BBQ, then later a fitness center. After negotiations, the landlord divided the space, with BRI taking 2,300 square feet of the more than 7,000 that was available.

“The location has a lot of challenges, but we knew that if we can make it successful in our first year, we’ll have enough substance to handle an expansion,” Trethewey said. “This plan was by design, but we knew we had to be patient and not commit to more than we could handle. So we just had to wait.”

BRI has been planning for this expansion for more than a year and has been ready to begin work since the start of 2017, but the landlord had to complete work on dividing the space. BRI’s work on the space is expected to begin by Sept. 7, with contractors tearing up the concrete floor to put in drains in what will be the new brewing facility.

The expansion takes BRI’s footprint from 3,000 square feet to 5,300 and gives Trethewey and Sorrels room to expand their brewing capacity from 25 barrels of fermenting space to 105 barrels. In simpler terms, the brewery will go from being able to produce 50 standard, 15-gallon kegs during one brewing cycle (usually 14-16 days) to being able to churn out 210 kegs in that same time.

“Our No. 1 selling beer is the 480G IPA and we make it in our 10-barrel fermenter (the largest fermenter currently in the brewery) and we simply cannot make enough of that,” Trethewey said during an interview in early August. “As I talk to you, we just tapped our last keg of that and it will be gone today. We’ll be without that, our No. 1 seller, for eight to 10 days. These are the struggles that we’re in. We knew we had to expand.”

The new brewing space will be separated from the added seating area by a glass wall, allowing patrons a look at the equipment and any work that is being done in the brewery.

“The thing that people geek out on the most is seeing the tanks,” Trethewey said. “So anytime you can showcase those, you’re just drawing people into what you do.”

The seating capacity for the brewery will go from 100 to more than 200, with the new seating space also doubling as a private event area. The kitchen will remain unchanged during the expansion, which Trethewey hopes will take 10 weeks to complete. That time frame will likely mean the expansion will be done by late December or early January. BRI celebrates three years in business in November.

The room that currently houses the BRI brewing equipment will be turned into a barrel aging room. Barrel aging is a popular process in the craft beer industry that uses wood barrels that once held bourbon, tequila or wine. Brewers age their brews inside, and the beers come out with subtle flavors from the liquor or wine that mix well with certain styles of beer.

“We’ve done Belgian blondes in wine barrels, we’ve done stouts and ambers and dark beers in bourbon barrels, we’ve had a lot of success with small-batch barrel aging,” Trethewey said. “Now we’ll be able to dramatically increase what we’re doing there.

“We typically have two or three barrels going at one time, but with the expansion, we’ll have anywhere between 18 and 21 going at any time.”

With his current brewing operation running at full steam nearly year-round, Sorrels had precious little time to experiment. Now, with more than four times the brewing capacity, he is looking forward to the opportunity to try out new recipes.

Brew experiments

“Playing with new beers, constantly having a new beer out every week, it’s going to be fun and exciting,” Sorrels said. “Right now, we have a laundry list of things we want to do, but we have to keep our tap handles full. I’m hoping that with this expansion, we can play with those new beers and live up to our name and get back to our roots.”

Trethewey said that he is proud that his brewery and accompanying restaurant is growing. The expansion will allow him to create more local jobs. He plans to add more servers and kitchen help, as well as brewery personnel.

“As a business owner, I would rather create jobs here than to outsource it to someone else,” Trethewey said. “We want to build community, we want to add to it and pay taxes to the city and help our community. We live in Mesa. I wanted to open this in Mesa so we could add another nugget of culture.”

Aside from the jobs the expansion creates, the added brewing capacity will mean BRI will expand its market reach. Currently, Trethewey can’t fill all of the orders from local bars and restaurants that want to have BRI products on tap. Saying no to businesses that want to sell his product has been difficult for Trethewey, but he had to in order to keep the taps in his own facility flowing.

“We can’t make enough beer to keep us with 15 lines flush at this place. We sell through it too fast,” Trethewey said. “We currently juggle 10 different outside accounts right now, but we’ve got a list of 35 accounts that desperately want our beer in the Valley.

“We have the brand recognition, people have the desire for our beer. It’s a great problem to have. Now we need to have a solution, we need to make more beer.”

As the beer starts flowing out of BRI’s facility and to different accounts throughout the Valley, Trethewey will be adding a sales staff and delivery driver. If BRI sees continued success in the market and can grow even more, Trethewey said he’s already thinking ahead.

“The remaining space (next to the area BRI is expanding to) is in a tricky area and it’s going to be really tricky for them to lease it out to anybody,” Trethewey said. “So it’s sitting there waiting for us to make our next expansion.”

– Steve Burks is a freelance writer for MyNewsMesa.com.

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