Local craft brewery plans major renovations, changes

Click here for the original story in the Athens News

By Kayla Beard



Little Fish Brewing Company, on Athens’ northwest side, is planning an expansion of its production area that will include added parking outside the building, and a small kitchen that will allow the business to offer its own menu and not rely on food-truck vendors.

 “It’s pretty amazing how much we’ve been welcomed into the community and the identity of Athens,” said Sean White, co-owner and head brewer at Little Fish. Now, he added, the business is glad to have something more to offer back to the community.

White said he and co-owner Jimmy Stockwell are “ready to try something else out” with the food aspect of the craft brewery. “We’re definitely seeing this as an opportunity to… mesh the food and the brewery vision,” White said.

The kitchen will allow them to “start creating food that has a similar focus” to the beer, he said, which is heavily focused on Ohio-grown and sourced ingredients.

The additional production space will allow the brewers to expand some of their beer production as well, while creating more seating space in the taproom. White said the business occasionally has struggled to seat every customer, particularly during cold weather when enjoying Little Fish’s large outdoor area isn’t an option.

“In some ways it’s just been a matter of getting tighter and tighter on space here just to do what we do already,” White said.

When he and Stockwell first started the business, White said, they just wanted to focus on the beer and “not trying to run two businesses at once.” Even before they opened, the owners knew an expansion might come down the line. “We looked at it and we said ‘Wow, this is small,’” White recalled.

Some barrels used in the fermentation process will be moved to the new production area. White said the remaining space will be made “a little bit prettier,” for extra seating. He also said he hopes to have enough space to handle reservations, which, in the past, the brewery had no room for. Reservation space is “definitely something we get asked (about) a lot,” White said, but details of that plan are still in the works.

As for the new menu, White said the “best bet” is to “start with a humble menu and build out as we develop.” The brewers have learned that “Athens diners” want “to keep things a little bit more dynamic” and not eat the same food at the same places all the time, White said. The plan is to create a “small ever-changing menu” that will be “a more healthful version of a brew-pub menu” tied around local, seasonal ingredients, he said.

“It’s going to be more focused on just working with what’s at hand… working with fresher flavors,” White said. “As things go out of season, we’ll be thinking up new things for the menu.”

White listed “pickled items” and “interesting salads” as a couple possibilities but acknowledged, “We’re leaving it pretty vague.” The menu will definitely include “some sort of deep dish, Detroit-style pizza,” though, White said. “We’re trying to… be really open-minded about different cuisines,” as well, he added.

A mezzanine over the production area will supply additional brewing space, which White said he hopes to use for spontaneously fermented ales made in the “Belgian lambic” tradition. To his knowledge, White said no one in Ohio is producing beers using the relatively involved spontaneous fermentation process that follows the traditional “lambic” and “gueze” protocols followed in most European countries..The process “is being picked up by more breweries” across the country, White said, but Little Fish could be the first to utilize it in the Buckeye State, using Ohio-grown ingredients.

Even so, “those beers usually take at least three years before they even can leave the brewery,” White said. The brewers just aim to “satisfy our curiosity” of producing the beer, and maybe someday produce “some of the best Belgian-American spontaneously fermented beers,” he said.

Plans for the estimated $400,000 project have already been reviewed by various city departments. White and Stockwell agreed last Thursday at the Athens Planning Commission’s meeting to “take all considerations presented” to them by city officials, which include requirements to plant several trees and add some more accessible parking.

Amid the updates, White said Little Fish will continue to be fully-operational. “It’s going to be pretty crazy for a while” still making beer and serving patrons at the same time as the renovations take place, White said. “We expect some bumps along the way… (but) we’re hoping it won’t be too much of a pain in the butt for guests. We’re really excited to be doing this.”