Ben Dolphens, the co-owner and future brewer of upcoming Divine Barrel Brewing, really came prepared for our interview: He brought beer.
This wasn’t your standard on-the-shelf fare either; first up was a saison refermented with brettanomyces, and the other a traditional Polish grodziskie with aji limon peppers lending their flavor to the smoked wheat malt.
“It’ll be a good mixture of different experiments, and our takes on classic styles,” illustrates Dolphens of what’s to be brewing at Divine Barrel.
We chose Salud for the meeting, but the future brewery will be just a half-mile northeast (3701 N. Davidson St.).
The also-in-progress Bold Missy Brewery sits across the street.
Dolphens is excited: “When we’re open and when (Bold Missy) is open, between us on our end and Birdsong on their end, there will be seven breweries on North Davidson Street in just two miles, which is awesome.”
Having a brewery of his own has been a decade-long dream, but Dolphens intends to set his beers apart from those southerly neighbors. Think barrels and lots of them, plus a pair of foeders (say: Foo-der) allowing for some high-risk, high-reward wares.
“The plan is to start off with around 20 barrels, that will be a mixture of wine and spirits (barrels),” Dolphens lists. “I think we have capacity for around 100.”
Divine Barrel will be running a 10-barrel system (unit of measure, where one barrel = 31 gallons), paired up with four 20-barrel stainless fermenters and a 20-barrel brite. (And don’t forget about that foeder pair; they’ll hold 20 barrels apiece).
There are also plans for a 2-barrel pilot system, which is an odd size that will give the brewery much flexibility.
“Two barrels is a nice number,” Dolphens says, because, “You can brew a two-barrel batch, and if we get just a random one-off barrel, we can put it in that barrel and see what happens. With two barrels of beer, we can also have it on draft for longer than just a hot second.”
It’s quite clear, in the 37 minutes and change of conversation we record, that much thought has gone into planning this project.
In addition to Ben Dolphens serving as brewer, he’ll be joined by wife Mary Catherine, as well as friends Jessica and Scott Davis, and a to-be-named taproom manager quietly waiting in the wings.
So what can Charlotte craft beer drinkers expect from Divine Barrel’s summertime debut?
“My goal is to have 10 beers on tap when we open, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen. It’s a little too early to say what we’ll come out of the gates with at this point.”
One thing is certain: the Divine Barrel name meshes well with Dolphens’ overall vision for the brewery.
“But, when all that stuff (wood fermentation and barrel-aging) goes the right way, and everything works out with some help from the universe, that stuff usually ends up coming out greater than the sum of its parts. That’s where the Divine Barrel name came from. There are a number of definitions for ‘divine,’ and one of them is something truly amazing and awe-inspiring.”
“That’s how we feel about beers like this,” he continues. “When they come out the way the brewer intended or better, it’s a magical experience. Thinking about the amount of time they sat, whether it’s in a certain type or wine or spirit barrel, whether it was on fruit, whether it’s a blend: it’s art.”
(Pretty sure I just set the new Agenda record for uses of the word “barrel” in an article; Foster approves.)
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