ST. ALBANS — A good buzz is growing here over the recent announcement that another local beer and brewpub will emerge from Franklin County later this year.
Mill River Brewing, a veteran- and woman-owned establishment, is on track to open in December at the former Hands On Car Wash site, on the corner of Lake Road and Beauregard Drive in St. Albans Town.
Brothers and co-owners George “Dan” and David Fitzgerald, along with third owner Joyce Fitzgerald, David’s wife, hope to close on the 3,200-square-foot building at the end of July.
“We would love to be open by the holidays,” David said recently at the former car wash site, where he described the project with Joyce and Dan.
Mill River Brewing will feature a brewery, tasting room and full kitchen with indoor seating (for 48) and outdoor seating (for about 50). The Fitzgeralds will treat this winter as a “soft opening” before they open their outdoor seating area and beer garden next spring.
“That’s the way we want to look at it,” said David, 47.
Dan Fitzgerald, 51, will be the primary brewer. He started home brewing beer 10 years ago, after his wife, Maryann, bought him a home-brew kit, when they were still dating.
“It just took off from there,” Dan said.
Three years ago, Dan, David and other members of their family took a grains class in Waterbury. Mondays became home-brew days for their family.
“That pretty much changed our process of brewing,” Dan said.
Initially, Mill River Brewing — per Dan’s recipes — will offer five styles of beer on tap: an award-winning pilsner, a wheat brew, two pale ales, a stout and an IPA. The kitchen, with a staff of three people, will offer barbecue smokehouse fare.
The Fitzgeralds are making every effort to keep the project as local as possible, including the hiring of their kitchen staff. Small Dog Contracting, of St. Albans, and Bruso Contracting, of Fairfax, will retrofit the building through the rest of the summer and into the fall. St. Albans plumber Mike Reed is also on board. Estimated construction costs are $160,000.
Mill River Brewing will occupy about 1 acre of land in St. Albans Town’s commercial zoning district, close to the Franklin County Sheriff’s office and two other restaurants.
The Fitzgeralds will transform two of the car wash bays into a brewery, while the other two bays will be the dining room. The rest of the space will be used for the kitchen, storage and an office.
The Fitzgeralds have designed a post and beam atmosphere, to create a family-oriented environment.
The tentative hours are Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. If business booms, the Fitzgeralds would add another day of operation.
Meanwhile, the Fitzgeralds are still in the process of obtaining all their necessary local, state and federal permits.
The Fitzgeralds have watched other Vermont breweries grow quickly — especially neighbors 14th Star, located just up the street in St. Albans City — so distribution of beer is already in their business plan.
David Fitzgerald said 14th Star owner Steve Gagner, Joyce Fitzgerald’s cousin, has been supportive and helpful, as have other brewery owners in northwestern Vermont.
Merrill Hersey, owner of Open Barrel, a new home-brew supply store in downtown St. Albans, has also stopped by to show his backing and interest.
“The brewing community in Vermont believes that whatever is good for the brewing community in Vermont is also good for the state of Vermont,” David said. “It’s a tight group, almost like a family.”
With friendly competition embedded, of course. 14th Star is in the process of adding an event space and kitchen, with food by Smokin Butts Bar B Q, of Georgia.
“We look at our brewery as another way to expand upon what our community offers,” Joyce Fitzgerald said. “The other brewers are saying this is good for all of us.”
All three Fitzgeralds currently have full-time jobs. Dan plans to retire from the Vermont National Guard in nine years, and Dave will stay in his position at the Ben & Jerry’s plant in St. Albans, where he has worked for 24 years.
So, Joyce is on tap to be the general manager of Mill River Brewing. She currently works for Franklin County Home Health but will keep working for the agency on a per diem basis, to keep her nursing license updated.
Joyce has business experience as a salon owner, for more than 20 years, and her large extended family, the Ferlands, owned and operated a catering business for years.
“I look forward to seeing where the brewery and restaurant go,” Joyce said. “I think it will be exciting for this area, and another destination for lovers of Vermont beer.”