An Afternoon with Aqueduct Brewing
Here at Fermenting Ohio, we like to say all breweries are our favorites. But every once in a while you come across one that hits most, if not all, of the "amazing experience" marks, and we're here to say Akron's Aqueduct Brewing did just that. Great beer, inspiring back story, unique venue, underdog city and DELICIOUS beer...this place has everything! We had a chance to speak with owners Sara and Robert Hernandez on how they got started and what's in the works for their brewery:
Fermenting Ohio: Could you bring us up to speed on how you got to Aqueduct Brewing?
Sara Hernandez: I am Akron born and raised and he [Robert] is from Corpus Christi, Texas. We met 16 years ago in Tennessee when I was there for school. When we became a couple, we decided to come up here, to be closer to my family, so we settled in Akron. We’ve done a bunch of different things before getting to the brewery. He was a car salesman, investment banker, insurance salesman but got tired of the high stress, high pressure lifestyle. I did mostly customer service and then later went back to school to become a nurse (I’m currently a full-time nurse as well as help run the brewery). Robert had been brewing as a hobby since 2009 with several people and he’s very good at teaching himself anything he wants to know, so he kept improving and perfecting his method. So, 2011 is technically when we started calling this Aqueduct Brewing and started looking at spaces and what to do to get this going professionally. The owner of Thirsty Dog called us to let us know of a cool spot that was available in the building he rents. This was in 2014, it was definitely not what it is today, but there was potential. It’s in a historic building in Akron, and I have a history degree from Kent State so finding a piece if Akron’s history was pretty cool. After some time, the original brew gang parted ways to do their own things and it came down to Robert and I deciding if we wanted to move forward with our own business, and it was important to me that if we did this that I would be an equal partner in the venture, not just “the brewer’s wife”. He does most of daytime work, as I still work full time as a nurse but I manage the social media and the behind the scenes things and jump in when I can. It’s a lot of hard work, but he loves his job so not many people can say that they love their job. I call this my “fun” job, I love nursing, but I get to come here and meet a lot of new people and people from the community, a lot of artists that are in town. We host a lot of open mic nights, host a traveling theater group that's in town, so there’s been a few shows here. We’re trying to support the community as much as possible. We’ve been in Akron for 15 years now and we love it here.
FO: When did you finally open your doors?
Sara: October 20th 2014, just a little over 2 years ago.
FO: Akron doesn’t always have the best reputation compared to other Ohio cities, why did you set up shop here?
Sara: It just started from my roots, which is why we originally came back here, and then when we were looking seriously for brewery spaces, we never really considered doing it anywhere else, especially when Robert saw the potential for the brewing industry many years ago. When we opened, there wasn’t as many places here as there are now, there was Thirsty Dog, Hoppin’ Frog and a little place in the Valley called Trailhead, which has since closed because the owner moved to California. We’re kind of the oldest “new” brewery in town. Since the Summit Brew Path has started, there’s a lot more popping up. I’ve worked in other cities but never wanted to set up shop anywhere else, Akron has such a great community of artists and potential, we really want our business here. Akron is trying to reinvent itself, I have faith in the new mayor, they’re really trying to get things moving again in this city. I want to rehabilitate the awesome spaces that we have rather than build up brand new. We kept as much of this original building as we could.
FO: What local festivals are you signed up for?
Sara: Last weekend we did the Akron Art & Ale beer tasting, and I was surprised how many people they had. We had a lot of great feedback from that event on the two beers we brought, the Fluffernutter Porter and the Pineapple Pilsner. We’re looking forward to the Akron Ale Fest and Brews and Blues again. We’re planning on staying in the local festival scene for now.
FO: Any competitions?
Sara: Not really, our beer doesn’t really fit the standard categories in most beer competitions. We brew what we think is going to taste good. Our Pilsner is 9% which immediately knocks it out of that category, and we add flavors where you’re not supposed to. So we’re going to keep on experimenting, if something turns out good, we’ll brew it on the bigger system, otherwise we have a smaller one to play around with flavors.
FO: What size systems are you running?
Sara: The main system is a 2-barrel, and the smaller one for experiments is a 10 gallon.
FO: How often do you have to brew to keep up with demand?
Sara: Well, that has changed in the past month since the Summit Brew Path started. Robert used to brew maybe once or twice a week, but now we’re blowing through 5-6 kegs a weekend so we’re brewing at least three times a week, sometimes more.
FO: Do you have plans to expand in the future, will you stay in this space?
Sara: A small expansion is possible, nothing huge, we don’t want to be one of the big guys. We will eventually take over some of the other spaces in this building to be our fermentation space and serve as additional storage. We may eventually upgrade to a 5-barrel system, but that’s as far as we want to go.
FO: Was there a lot of support from Akron when you were getting set up? Any pain points?
Sara: Yes, we’ve been really well received – Akron was pretty excited to be getting a new brewery and having something else to do in the area. We had a few equipment issues when we first started but we’ve improved on that and feel our beer is now better than ever.
FO: How do you get your ideas for these beers?
Sara: When we struck out on our own, Robert had to come up with all new ideas for what we were going to come out with, but that wasn’t too bad because Robert is a great brewer and I think our recipes are pretty great. We knew we needed a pilsner and a porter, plus other usual styles you see. Our Fluffernutter was an idea he had a while ago that took some pushing to put together, but that’s become one of our most popular beers to date. We’ve had a lot of happy accidents with some of our beer recipes. We’ve also got a coffee cherry stout that came to be from a bunch of left over ingredients, and it’s got quite a following, people always ask when we’ll be bringing it back.
FO: Any advice for people starting out on their craft beer journey?
Sara: I’d recommend, and we did this, go to your local brewery, meet the owner and talk with them. Come with a list of questions. In my experience, it’s a very welcoming community, the more there are of us, the more we all succeed. We always share our experiences, what we would have done differently, we’ve had a number of people in here before they got started. Look into local brewery classes, get some experiences on a bigger system where possible. Homebrewing gives you the foundation, but when you have to scale up, it’s not always an exact conversion.
FO: How did you come up with the brewery name and design?
Sara: We live on a street called Aqueduct, and it goes with my whole mindset of history appreciation. We also name our beers after gods and goddesses. The design was an original sketch from Robert with some help from a family member in design school. So he got an A on his project and we got this logo.
FO: Any closing thoughts?
Sara: We like what we’re doing, we hope we can stick around, our daughter is interested in taking the business over when she grows up. We’re interested in helping the local small business and local artists. I want this space to be an open, comfortable place, we don’t want anyone to be intimidated in here. We want to help Akron grow. And we want to see more women involved, a lot of women like beer (but might not know it yet) and more women we can get to try beer and get into beer, that makes it a better community. I’m sure I can find them something they like, even if they say they don’t like beer.
We'd like to thank Sara and Robert for having us in their brewery and speaking about their experience. For real, the Fluffernutter Porter is worth a trip in by itself, but they always have something interesting brewing. Aqueduct is one of those amazing places where you can meet the owners have ask questions so be sure to check them out next time you're in the Akron area!
529 Grant St #106
Akron, OH 44311