by Corin Hirsch
Just 18 months after opening, the owners of St. Albans' 14th Star Brewing are moving from their cozy Lower Newton Street digs into a far vaster space — the former St. Albans Bowling Center.
Co-owner Steve Gagner and his partners have signed a 20-year lease (from Pomerleau Real Estate) on the bowling alley at 133 North Main Street, which opened in 1958 and closed last July. The 14th Star crew plans to open a 2500-square-foot taproom and a 13,000-square-foot brewery in the space by next summer. "The plan is to have a place where people can come and enjoy some of the world's best beers," says Gagner, who will devote a few of the pub's 24 or so taps to other beers from around the state.
14th Star's production will subsequently grow from 850 barrels to 4000 barrels a year. "It's a dramatic increase," says Gagner, adding that Farrell Distributing will be selling some of that around the state. Valor, 14th Star's amber ale, will remain a flagship, but 20 or so other styles will be on the brewing rota.
Rather than erasing all vestiges of the former bowling alley, 14th Star's new design incorporates the building's history — specifically, via wood from Lanes 3 and 6 that will be used on the new bartop. "This is a place that is near and dear to us, and part of our childhood memories. There will certainly be nods to the previous 50 years," says Gagner, an Army vet who's seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan and (at least for now) plans to keep his day job.
Design-wise, the taproom will have "bars, tables, booths and couches," as well as a window offering a glimpse into an expansive brewery where brewer Dan Sartwell and new assistant brewer Prescott Stanton will be hard at work.
Though plans for food are still nascent, Gagner says he doesn't plan to compete with the other restaurants in town that already carry 14th Star's beer. "We have space reserved for a kitchen, but our goal is not to run a full-on restaurant," he explains. "There has to be some sort of food initially, but we're thinking very small snack food, a very limited menu. We want to augment and supplement what's already [in St. Albans] ... if we split each other's customers in town, it doesn't help anyone."
Gagner estimates the cost of the renovation at around $1 million. "We're planning a second St. Albans raid," he deadpans, referring to the 1864 raid by Confederate soldiers who swooped in from Canada intent on looting the town's banks.
In actuality, 14th Star's renovation is being funded through loans and private investment.