Within most native Southerners grows an appreciation of the past, a sense of community and an aptitude for storytelling. In March 2010, brothers Coby and Hunter Lake founded their brewery, Avondale Brewing Co., in Birmingham, Ala., on these very same principles. To that end, the brothers chose for their 10,000-square feet brewery an establishment built in 1895 mostly because of its history. Previously a fire station, pharmacy, bank and saloon, the brothers dubbed Avondale a “small brewery with a big story,” according to Coby Lake.
“With everything that we do here at Avondale, we try to celebrate some part of the history of the building or history of the area,” he said.
The brothers even have brought to life the caricature of Miss Fancy the Elephant, whose image graces the brewery’s logo and spirit permeates its foundation. Depending on who is telling the story, Miss Fancy became a resident of Avondale Park — the original site of the Birmingham Zoo — in 1913 when a downtrodden circus owner lost her to a local newspaper publisher in a hand of poker.
In any case, Miss Fancy reportedly was known to be a bit of a drinker. Whenever she was under the weather, her trainer John Todd served her a dose of “elephant medicine,” a mixture of water and — again, depending on who is weaving the tale — either whiskey or bootleg beer provided by city officials who were confiscating alcoholic beverages during a statewide prohibition.
“Miss Fancy is the most historically significant figure in the history of Avondale,” Coby Lake said. “We’ve got to embrace the beer-drinking elephant. She’s one of us.”
The brothers further show their love for the four-legged beast by naming brews, such as the Pachyderm Pale Wheat and the Vanillaphant Porter Ale, after her as well as hosting charity events, like the TrunkStock Festival, in her name.
Clearly, the days of yesteryear mean a great deal to the brewery founders, and that love of integrating the past led Hunter Lake, also a licensed contractor who oversaw the brewery buildout, to completely restore the historic building. Add to that constructing a commercial craft-brewing system while ensuring there would be room to grow, and the brothers had a very large project on their hands.
A creative, ecological solution
As Avondale’s creations became more popular, Coby and Hunter Lake began packaging their beer in kegs, cans and bottles for sale in the Birmingham area. Manufacturing about 480 barrels (bbls) per month, the original building wasn’t large enough for both brewing and packaging 10 to 12 varieties of suds. After deciding to use a second, smaller building on the premises to package the beer, the brothers had to find a way of transferring it from one end of the property to the other.
Fred Esleck, a local sales representative for Ferguson Enterprises, a wholesale distributor of plumbing and mechanical supplies with 1,400 locations, previously had worked with the brothers to find the right equipment for the brewery’s glycol-cooling system. He was visiting Avondale when he saw how they were moving the beer to the packaging area.
“They would fill a tank with beer, then a forklift on site would pick up the tank and drive it to the second building,” he said. “I just said, ‘You know, there is a piping system you can use to transfer the beer instead of going through all of this work.’”
Esleck was referring to the same piping the brothers had used for the brewery’s glycol-cooling system: Aquatherm polypropylene-random (PP-R) piping. Although Aquatherm traditionally has been used across the U.S. for everything from potable water to heating and cooling, compressed air and greywater, it previously had never been employed to move a food-grade product for human consumption; Avondale’s new project was going to be the first.
The Lake brothers have a passion for the past, but they also are looking forward to a long future at Avondale. Products such as Aquatherm can help them reach that goal.
PP-R piping won’t corrode, scale, wear out or clog — even after years of use; hard water doesn’t affect the piping, making it ideal for almost any application. Additionally, Aquatherm piping systems are completely free of heavy metals and toxic chemicals; they also are hydrophobic, which means they will not leach any trace chemicals, keeping Avondale’s beer safe, pure and delicious. Finally, the piping systems are fully recyclable and sustainable and can contribute indirectly to LEED certification.
“At one point, they had some of the information about Aquatherm’s environmental friendliness in a frame in the bathroom,” Esleck laughed.