Prince of Wales Island’s only professional brewery isn’t named “First and Main Brew” just because it’s located at the intersection of two streets in Craig. It’s also the first commercial beer to be brewed in Craig and therefore the main beer of Craig, notes head brewer and co-owner Josh Andrews.

“(The name) works on so many fronts,” he said in a recent interview with the Island Post.

He and his wife, Shelby Beck; his younger brother, Jeremy; and their father, Bob, are members of the First and Main LLC.

They were planning to have had a “grand unveiling” of their product in March, when COVID-19 struck. But, despite this unusual year, Josh said the response to First and Main Brew has been so good, he is already planning to expand.  

The Andrews brothers had often spoken of brewing their own beer someday and a couple years ago they got serious. Jeremy, who lives in Italy, invested in the operation, dad provided the space, and Josh has been providing the technical know-how and doing the actual brewing. They purchased their brew house equipment around Christmas, two years ago.

“Jeremy wanted to invest in a brewery, and he wanted me to be busier,” said Josh, who is employed full-time as Craig Middle School’s math teacher.

He had been home brewing beer for about 10 years before looking to brew on a larger scale. He considered that operation to be low-tech, as he does his current operation, although the large, shiny, stainless steel tanks, valves and gauges look complex to the amateur eye. But his “ultra-nano-brewery,” as he refers to it, is a good stepping stone for him, he said.

The brew house is in a small, 10-by-15-foot room in his dad’s garage. Most noticeable are the three, 31-gallon tanks and three fermenters, each with their own impressive set of pipes. His supply of hops and yeast are kept in a nearby chest freezer as are kegs committed to one of three distributers on the island. Large bags of malted barley grain are stacked on a pallet.

Josh Andrews self-trained using books, magazines and online information. About a year ago, he took a basic brewing yeast class in San Diego, which was really “eye opening,” he said.

“Every single step is such a learning process,” he said.

And then there’s the cleaning.

“That’s another thing about brewing that no one tells you, it’s all about clean-up,” Andrews said. “All you do, all the time, is you clean things. … While you’re waiting for water to boil, you’re cleaning something.”

Each 31-gallon, stainless-steel tank is the size of a “barrel.” One tank is for heating water, the mash tun is where the sugar is extracted from the crushed malted barley, and the boil kettle is where the resultant wort or liquid is boiled and combined with hops. That’s just the brewing side of the operation, which can take six to eight hours per batch, depending on the type of ale being brewed.

The next step is fermentation, which can take another 10-14 days, depending on the ale. The brew is transferred from the boil kettle to the fermenter which is at a much lower temperature. Yeast is added and the brew ferments for several days. Josh monitors the brew daily, taking density and pH readings. When it reaches its target density, he adds carbonation and then transfers the finished product to either a 5-gallon/one-sixth barrel or a 15-gallon/half barrel keg.

Aside from learning the process and getting the right equipment and supplies, it took a year to secure the needed state, federal and local licenses and permits in order to commercially brew and sell his product. That alone surprised him, Andrews said.

While waiting for the licensing to come through, he had the opportunity to practice and test his own-made recipes, process, and equipment on friends and family.

“I gave away a lot of beer in the first year,” he said.

First and Main Brew’s three products are Southeast Suntan Pale Ale, No Wake Zone IPA and Staggering Toddler Double IPA. The No Wake Zone IPA ties in with the business logo, created by local artist Cammie May, which features a rendering of the “No Wake Zone” sign and shoreline at Craig’s Cannery Point.

Despite launching their new product during the pandemic, First and Main Brew was busy brewing beer over the summer and providing direct delivery to Craig’s Hill Bar, Zat’s Pizza and the Dog House Bar in Coffman Cove. In addition to beer-on-tap, the Hill Bar and Zat’s fill growlers for take-out orders, Andrews said.

Even with a “COVID” summer, he discovered his little brew house was too small an operation to keep up with the three wholesale customers, he said. He’s looking to find a commercially zoned location, getting larger equipment and having a retail area.  First and Main Brew is currently in a residentially zoned area.

The equipment he’s looking at would be about five times the size of his current operation. Instead of one-barrel vessels for the brewing process, these would be 5-barrel vessels, or a 5-barrel system.

Josh Andrews isn’t brewing at this time, as the brew house is unheated and because “people drink less beer in winter,” he said. He’ll resume brewing in April or May.

Brewing is a full-time job, and he’s looking at it as a second career when his teaching days are over. He likes making and selling beer. He has his own tap system and would be happy to do weddings or other events, he said. But best, he likes that people are enjoying First and Main Brew.

“I like making a product that people like,” he said.

“That makes me feel good.”