BRUNSWICK — The first time Sam Wilson tried brewing beer, it was in the closet of his college apartment in Burlington, Vermont.
It didn’t go as planned.
“It was just a can of malt extract that was already hopped, and mixed with boiling water, and then (I added) yeast to it,” Wilson recently recalled. “… The bottle exploded.”
Now, after eight additional years of brewing experience, Wilson and business partner Jason Allen are gearing up to open the town’s newest commercial brewery, Black Pug Brewing, at 30 Bath Road.
Two barrel tanks and a cooler are expected to be delivered in the next few days, and the final piece of equipment, a carbonator, is due in August. The goal is to be open by October.
Although it didn’t yield great beer, Wilson said the experience in his closet acted as a catalyst that made him want to improve.
“That initial failure just kind of pushed me to keep perfecting it a little bit more over time,” he said.
Eventually, his brewing progressed to the point where he said he was “pretty much (running) a small brewery as a hobby,” he said. Opening a brick-and-mortar business, he added, is a way of “continuing that progression of scaling up.”
The name Black Pug Brewing was inspired by Wilson’s dog, Gir. Wilson said pugs as a breed encapsulate what the business will be about.
“They call pugs a big dog in a small body, and we’re hoping to be a big brewery in small tanks,” he said. “We want to have that same impression, that same personality, and a little bit of craziness, too.”
The brewery will be housed in the former home of Turtle Rock Farm, a craft cannery that made seasonal preserves. Wilson and Allen have been working on renovating the space for a little over a month.
Working out of a building that was already equipped for a kitchen, Wilson said, has made the transformation easier.
“It really was just a case of bringing our equipment in here,” he said. “That was definitely something that was really helpful starting out.”
They are also planning on building their own bar out of concrete, which he said illustrates the “do-it-yourself” nature of the small business.
“It’s interesting because it’s a little more like the earlier days of craft brewing, where it was home brewers coming in and just trying to make and sell their beer,” Wilson said. “When you’ve got 11 investors and a bunch of money coming in, it’s a little bit of a different game than trying to build your own bar, because you don’t want to hire a carpenter.”
As for the brews Black Pug will produce, Wilson said the owners are hoping to create a really “diverse array” of offerings.
He said he prefers to use “culinary” flavors in his beer, including fruits and spices, and is hoping to bring in as many exotic or “local, but overlooked” flavors as possible.
Wilson said having three tanks for fermenting will allow the production of a variety of beers, too.
“The nice thing about this scale is, I’m only making 60 gallons at a time, so it’s just a case of, if something doesn’t work it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “If I had to get rid of 200 gallons of beer that didn’t work, that’s a much bigger problem.”
Black Pug will also serve nitro cold brew coffee for those who don’t want beer, but will not immediately have a food menu. The owners hope to serve small plates such as charcuterie after the business is established.
To start out, only Wilson, his wife Emi, Allen, and Allen’s wife Amanda will work at Black Pug.
And, while he called opening a business like the new brewery “a classic American dream,” Wilson also acknowledged that in an era when craft beer is booming, having a niche is crucial.
“You’ve got to find what it is that you do really well, so our role, I think, is going to be trying to do a lot of those culinary, fruity things,” he said. “I think nowadays, with so many breweries, you have to bring something to the table. The days of just saying ‘here’s my pale ale, here’s my porter’ and saying that that’s it (are over).”
Sam Wilson and his dog Gir at Black Pug Brewing at 30 Bath Road. Wilson and a business partner hope to have the brewery open by October.
Black Pug Brewing will be located at 30 Bath Road, the former home of the craft cannery Turtle Rock Farm.