A dream that has been brewing for years is coming true for two Windermere residents — and for all local craft-beer enthusiasts.
Dr. Joe Ata and Andy McGhee are the masterminds behind Windermere Brewing Company, which was officially incorporated in 2018.
The two have been brewing their beer at McGhee’s house. Following recent approval from the Town Council, though, they soon will have a special place to call home base.
The taproom and microbrewery will be located at 111 W. Fifth Ave., and it will share some parking and a sanitation area with the adjacent marketplace. A microbrewery is typically defined as a small-scale malt-beverage production facility that produces fewer than 15,000 barrels of beer per year.
Windermere Brewing Company was born in 2017 out of Ata’s and McGhee’s desires to make the town better and share their passion for good beer with others.
“The town has such an amazing sense of community,” Ata said. “When you get into downtown Windermere, there’s something about the residents and neighbors. I want to make this place even better for all the residents … (and thought), ‘How great would it be if we had a brewery downtown?’ I’d always through about that. I dabbled in brewing a while ago but didn’t know much about it.”
Shortly after, he met McGhee through neighbors. The group was hanging out at a friend’s house one night when McGhee brought over some beer he had made.
“What I used to make in college was terrible, but I thought, ‘I’m gonna try it,’” Ata said. “It was the most wonderful beer I’d ever had. I instantly said, ‘Holy cow, we need to sell this, it’s amazing.’”
That’s when the two became business partners and brought Windermere Brewing Company to life.
Years ago, Andy McGhee was bitten by the brewing bug. He’d also dabbled in brewing while in college, but it wasn’t until he moved to Windermere that his interest in it grew.
“When I moved here, I really wanted to get back into it, so I asked for a nicer and larger home-brewing kit, not just your standard,” McGhee said. “I got it, and then I started getting very, very serious about it very quick, and that’s when the bug bit me. Really diving into the chemistry and biology behind it is fascinating, and that’s where I focus. … Joe made the business happen. I love brewing, I love the science of it. I’m definitely more on the production side.”
Their hearts were set on finding a space to open a taproom and microbrewery in downtown Windermere. The search was long and arduous, and they had little success at first. Finally, they found a willing landlord — on land with residential zoning. The next task was to get it rezoned for commercial use.
“We understand the concerns of the residents that were against it, but that was the highest and best use of that land, no questions,” Ata said. “(Andy and I) got on the golf cart and started knocking on doors in town. … We spent several weekends knocking on doors and … just trying to understand what people’s concerns would be and how we could address those. We knew when we started doing that and were getting really overwhelmingly excited responses that we had a chance to make it happen.”
THE BEAUTY OF IT
Now that the two have obtained their conditional-use approval, the next step is to receive site-plan approval for their new, 2,519-square-foot commercial building during the Town Council’s Oct. 13 meeting. Once the site plan is approved, demolition of the existing house on site and construction of the microbrewery can begin.
“The building we’re (looking to build) is very much so an homage to the town and what the town would have looked like in the 1920s,” McGhee said. “The vibe, interior and brand as a whole is we really celebrate the lake vibe here. It’s very much going to be that lakehouse feel when you walk in — but not … overly kitschy.”
If all goes well, McGhee said they hope to have Windermere Brewing Company open and operating by summer 2021.
McGhee estimates the company will have about 12 taps, which gives them room to do a guest tap or collaboration. His main goal is to open with six core brands for the company — the flagships, he said — and expand their portfolio from there.
“I am very much so big on the quality-control side of things, and I want to make sure our product is consistent from batch to batch and representative of what our brand is, and it really is quality ales and lagers,” McGhee said. “That’s very, very important to me.”
The brewery also will offer outdoor seating and a family-friendly atmosphere. The goal is for it to feel like a community hub or meeting place, they said.
“That’s the nice thing about opening a brewery here — we absolutely want to be good neighbors to the point where people that are close to the brewery A) know where I live and B) can have my cell if they have any concerns,” McGhee said. “We’ll fix anything. That’s the beauty of it.”