Peter Kiley will always remember the day that co-founder and COO of Monday Night Joel Iverson asked him two life-changing questions. The first was fairly simple. The second one is downright daunting. How sure are you about this sour program you’ve been developing? Are you “millions of dollars” sure?
Kiley divulges that he knew the answer to both was “very sure.” However, when someone throws the words “millions” and “dollars” in a sentence, even the slightest pause is warranted. It was those two affirmative answers that solidified the build of Monday Night’s second facility, a barrel aged & wild facility Atlanta now knows as “The Garage.”
Just a few weeks ago, on a rare frigid Georgia night where the temperature was dipping into the mid-teens, Peter Kiley and his brewing team were about to make Atlanta beer history. The city’s first coolship spontaneous fermentation was about to happen.
This iconic piece of brewing equipment dates back centuries thanks to Belgian brewing. Belgian lambics are still made this way, and if you want to make lambic or gueuze, a coolship is imperative. Kiley and Monday Night’s coolship (aka “The Crunkship”) was the first thing added to the plans. “This had to happen,” says Kiley.
Wild yeast is naturally all around you. Even a bustling metro city like Atlanta. Those yeasts, borne of the trees, plants and fruits create a unique living cocktail; a fermentation snapshot of a particular time and place. Allowing that yeast to “spontaneously ferment” cooling wort, is something incredibly unique biologically, meteorologically, and geographically. And that is less beholden to the brewer and more to mother nature herself.
Earlier that day, Kiley and brew team spent many labor-intensive hours brewing the base beer at Monday Night’s original facility. The turbid mash was rested at five different temperatures then boiled for nearly four hours (losing 20% of the initial volume). After nightfall, the boiling hot wort was loaded into stainless steel totes and trucked to The Garage.
“The Crunkship” room is lined with untreated Georgia pine, that’s been exposed to the Atlanta air for weeks, and been allowed to freeze along with city’s dipping temperatures.
12:15 am. The time has come. The pump kicks up, and the first splashes of wort hit the coolship. Steam fills the room. Your nose fills with the aromas of the sweet, grainy mash. Kiley tells us as the room fills with steam and the walls start to sweat, those two questions that Iverson asked came to mind again. From this point, so much is the brewer’s hands.
Atlanta isn’t exactly out in a lush, vegetation-rich surrounding, like Allagash, Jester King, or even de Garde Brewing. Some of the city’s most critical beer drinkers have been very vocal about Kiley and Monday Night’s new lambic aspirations. For Peter, discovering this on his own is the only way it was ever going to happen.
“Even if it does fail, we know what the 5th of January in the city that we love tastes like. This requires, patience, education, and time, and always being a student and learning from others around you,” Kiley said.
The next day, the coolship was emptied into red wine barrels – the same that were filled by Kiley himself during his winemaker days. “Talk about full-circle. I have a history with these barrels. I doubt I could ever let them go.”
Barely two days later, those barrels starting bubbling. Fermentation was well underway. What the Atlanta air had to offer after days of freezing temperatures are now captured in oak, where they will rest quietly for years. The plan is to take future spontaneous beers and blend in a traditional fashion, the oldest thread hovering around three years.
Old world brewing is alive in Atlanta. A coolship might be just a vessel, but the process? A romantic artform that, in a way, blends your soul with the beer and puts your faith in the two things you can’t control. Nature and time.