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Tony Hill and Anthony McKeivier’s brewery in Whitehall, 2Tones, looks the part.It’s got shiny stainless steel tanks, green and white hoses coiled on hooks along a freshly painted white wall, brown bags of malted barley rest on shelves beside the walk-in...

With initial batches fermenting, 2 Tones prepares for beer debut

Tony Hill and Anthony McKeivier’s brewery in Whitehall, 2Tones, looks the part.It’s got shiny stainless steel tanks, green and white hoses coiled on hooks along a freshly painted white wall, brown bags of malted barley rest on shelves beside the walk-in...

With initial batches fermenting, 2 Tones prepares for beer debut

Tony Hill and Anthony McKeivier’s brewery in Whitehall, 2Tones, looks the part.

It’s got shiny stainless steel tanks, green and white hoses coiled on hooks along a freshly painted white wall, brown bags of malted barley rest on shelves beside the walk-in cooler, which hums as it chills its meager contents.

But will it make beer?

“We’ll have two beers for sale soon. Hopefully they're good,” McKeivier said. “Everything is 'hopefully' right now.”

After $100,000 of investment and almost a year filling out forms, applying for permits, buying equipment and setting it up, Hill and McKeivier placed all of their hope into several hundred gallons of liquid burbling in a pair of fermentation tanks — five barrels each of their first two beers: Uncle Joe's Irish red ale and 2Tones India pale ale.

“We sampled the Irish,” Hill said in late June. “It was young, but it was doing all right.”

That same day, McKeivier siphoned off a few ounces of India pale ale from one of the fermentation tanks. It is the beer that propelled the two from home brewing to starting their own brewery, and they needed to check its progress.

Beer needs a few weeks to ferment, a process in which the yeast eats sugar and turns it into alcohol and carbon dioxide, then it matures as the yeast falls out of the beer. The beer’s gravity, a measure of its sugar content, gives Hill and McKeivier an idea of how well fermentation is going.

The IPA was right on schedule, McKeivier said.

The pair won local brewery/pub Barley’s homebrewing contest in 2013 with this recipe. They made the IPA after testing their brewing system with the red ale. Everything they do at 2Tones is new to them, from brewing in bigger vessels to kegging beer for sale to bars, and they want to make it sure they do it right. In the crowding market of local craft beer, a broken promise or a bad product might sink their entire enterprise.

It is stressful moving from one brewing system to another, since most are bespoke, said Jason McKibben, brewmaster at North High Brewing Co., who knows something about what the 2Tones owners are going through.

McKibben has also worked for AB InBev and Anchor Brewing Co. His first time working with North High's production brewery was like learning to ride a bike all over again.

"It was scary, actually," he said. "You can be as confident as you want to be about your skills, but this is brand new (equipment) that you haven't used before. Every step is new, and it worries you."

Beer also requires patience. Ales take two to four week to mature, lagers four or more. Brewers never know for sure if a recipe will turn out right.

"You don't know how the beer will come out," McKibben said. "That's when you get into the agony of waiting weeks to see if it is going to taste good.

"You just have to trust that you know what to do."

Last Sunday, Hill and McKeivier decided the red ale was ready. They carbonated it and hefted two dozen 5-gallon kegs into the walk-in cooler and began filling them. Hill's brother, Austin, told them that the beer was on point.

"It's got good carbonation," he said, sipping a bit of the red ale from a pint glass. "It's good."

McKeivier smiled and shrugged. Now he has to sell it.

Craft beer remains a growing segment of the overall stagnant beer market, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group for craft beer producers. The association counted a record 4,656 breweries in the U.S. as of the end of June.

Craft beer sales rose 8 percent year-over-year for the first half of 2016, according to Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association. Watson noted in his mid-year report on craft beer sales that, "While the craft brewing industry is entering a period of maturation, most markets are not near saturation."

The market for local craft beer is strong, and 2Tones should find buyers for its suds, McKibben said.

"There are so many breweries, I cannot keep up," he said, "but at my local store, I see floor stack after floor stack of local beer. I don't see anything letting up. As long as you are local you are going to sell."

McKeivier and Hill are about to find out.

[email protected]

@j_d_malone

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