Several years ago, when the old Sears Crosstown was a dark, abandoned hulk of a building, Will Goodwin and Clark Ortkiese would often brew craft beer in Clark’s backyard in the Evergreen Historic District.
“We’d look up at the building, daydreaming that we should put a brewery in there,” Clark says.
And then one night, Will was at a cocktail party when a well-connected friend hinted that work was underway to bring the old Sears building back to life.
“He told me that all the tenant spaces were being booked up. I called Clark after leaving that party and said ‘Man, the Crosstown building is going to be renovated and we have to get on the stick or we’re going to miss the boat.’,” Will says.
As it turns out, the duo behind Crosstown Brewing Company made it onto the boat in plenty of time. Their brewery, to be located in a newly constructed building on the far western side of the Concourse property, is set to open this winter if all goes according to plan.
They’d originally hoped to open their brewery inside Concourse, but when they looked at the building’s floor plan and ceiling heights, they couldn’t find a space that would work. They needed good loading dock access and plenty of room without columns every few feet. Eventually, they decided to build a new space outside the existing building.
“We get to have all the ceiling height we need, all the space we need, but still be located right next to Concourse,” Will says.
Once that was settled, Will and Clark just had to figure out how to open a brewery, which neither of the beer hobbyists had any experience with. The two have been friends since they were kids growing up in Germantown. They lost touch after high school, and both eventually moved away from Memphis. After moving back, they reconnected through their love of home brewing.
“We were very competitive. Clark would enter a competition, and he would brew a gold medal beer, and mine would get silver or bronze. So that motivated me to make a better beer next time, so we were motivating each other to improve,” Will says.
“We had an arms race for equipment for awhile,” adds Clark. “But at some point, we decided to work together, and we started borrowing stuff from each other.”
Eventually, the pair took over leadership of the Memphis Brewers Association with Clark serving as president and Will as vice-president. They competed in the National Homebrewers Conference every year. Yet with all their home brewing knowledge, they didn’t know how to run a commercial brewery.
“We both have industrial backgrounds. I come from steel, and Will comes from stone,” Clark says.
Will was an operations manager for a sand and gravel mining company, and Clark was an industrial sales representative for a company that made chain-link fence. But Will was also wrapping up his master’s program at Christian Brothers University, and for his capstone project, he was instructed to write a business plan.
“People were writing plans about how to open a restaurant or start a lawn-care service. And I was in the unique position that I was on the cusp of starting a new business venture, and I would be vetted by my professor,” Will says.
Of course, it takes more than a well-vetted business plan to get a brewery off the ground. The two needed a head brewer, someone with experience working in a professional brewery. That’s where Stephen Tate comes in.
Stephen came on as head brewer for Crosstown Brewing Co. in October after years of experience in the field. He — along with Clark and Will — is a founding member of the Memphis Brewers Association. The Memphis native and CBU graduate had a 10-year stint in the marketing world before pursuing his brewing passion on a professional level.
“I’d been in marketing for about 10 years and hated every day of my life,” Stephen says. “All my days were spent on the computer researching what beer I was going to be making that weekend. It got to the point where I was doing more for home brewing than I was my real job, so I decided to make brewing my real job.”
Stephen left that job and studied brewing through the World Brewing Academy, the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, and Doemens School in Germany. The Memphis native moved to Huntsville, Alabama in 2014 and worked at Straight to Ale as a production brewer for 10 months, and then he went on to serve as head brewer at Old Black Bear Brewing Company in Madison, Alabama, for two years.
“Stephen was the only professional brewer I knew, so when this was just an idea, I was calling Stephen for advice,” Clark says. “Because of his network, I thought he’d be a good resource for finding us a head brewer.”
But when he called Stephen for head brewer suggestions, the conversation turned to the possibility of Stephen leaving Alabama and moving back to Memphis to help launch Crosstown Brewing Company. Stephen has already been hard at work perfecting the beers they’ll serve in the taproom when the brewery opens in late winter.
They’ll serve their two flagship beers — Siren Blonde Ale and Traffic IPA — in both the taproom and in local bars. Eventually, they’ll be canning Siren and Traffic for sale in stores (local husband-wife team Tom and Hope Martin did the can art and taproom interior design, respectively).
“I was at Midtown Crossing Grill the other night, and I heard someone say, ‘I want a draft beer.’ The bartender asked which one, and he said, ‘I just want the one that tastes like a beer, man.’ Siren is that beer for us,” Clark said. “We use some really awesome German hops. They’re very delicate. But it still tastes like a beer. That’s important.
“On the other end of the spectrum, Traffic is an IPA. It’s big and bold and loud and tropical. It has citrus notes. Very hoppy. Fairly bitter. It’s a stereotypical West Coast, American IPA. It’s very hop-forward.”
The taproom will also serve Crosstown Brown (a brown ale with “lots of caramel, coffee notes,” Clark says) and Boll Weevil Saison — a Belgian farmhouse ale. One of their 16 taps will serve nitro, cold-brew coffee from French Truck.
The taproom will be open Wednesday through Friday from 4-10 p.m. and from noon to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.