When we last spoke with Martin Prebula in 2017 (aka a million years ago), he was in the midst of launching his passion project: Saints Row Brewing. Prebula took on the noble cause of pioneering the craft beer scene amongst his local community in Rockville, Maryland (about 20 miles outside Washington, DC). Not only was Saints Row Brewing one of the first of its kind in the area, but Prebula was our very first turnkey CoolBot Walk-in Cooler customer.
In our original interview with him, Prebula had shared some thoughts with us regarding how he’d hoped Saints Row would be able to “bring traditional styles (of beer) to people who may not be exposed to them” in his local community. He had mentioned the great potential he saw in his county and how he’d hoped Saints Row would help to “bring people back to rediscover it.” To say they were successful in achieving those goals would be an understatement.
When Saints Row Brewing opened in Montgomery County, they were only about the fourth brewery in the area. Since then about five more breweries have joined the rank. “We’re in the middle of a huge boom in our county,” says Prebula. “We played a part in making that happen. We were part of that first wave of new breweries opening in the county when the (former liquor laws) restrictions changed, allowing us to operate.”
Once upon a time, when he was just a little home brewer, Prebula admittedly “spent way too much money on his hobby.” He’d invested in a CoolBot unit to build out a customized “little brewshed to keep fermentation temperatures and beer cold” at his house. So when Saints Row Brewing opened, Prebula was familiar with our various models and products and recognized CoolBot’s value, pricing components and convenience factors. So he installed a 10×14 CoolBot walk in cooler into his new “nano brewery” (defined as producing four barrels of less per batch of beer), and Saints Row Brewing has had that same unit up and running nonstop for nearly four years now.
“It works great for us, even in the dead of summer,” says Prebula. “The temperatures hold perfectly. We keep it at about 40 degrees to hit the sweet spots for our range of beers. Different beers have different serving temperatures, so we like to find the middle ground for all of those.” He describes the sweltering conditions in the brewery early on, what with the lack of any climate control indoors or solid ventilation. Sometimes the temperatures inside would soar above 90 degrees, but the cooler held strong.
“We’ve really grown into it and found ways to maximize the space inside our unit,” tells Prebula. Saints Row Brewing utilizes their CoolBot to the max. They serve seven beers on tap lines that run out of their walk in cooler, which are cut out of a 4×20 inch rectangle from the panel and encased in a shadow box to keep the taps surrounded by cold air (versus warmer insulation) to prevent product loss. They’ve also maximized floor space by adding customized wire shelving for canned beer and raw ingredients (such as hops and yeast) storage.
“As the brewery is growing and expanding, we’re gradually outgrowing this unit and are looking at options for our next phase,” tells Prebula.
Initially, Saints Row Brewing was an on-premise tap room, open six days per week, where customers could come and hang out at the bar, grab a beer and order delivery food. “In the last year or so, obviously that’s not been a successful business model,” says Prebula, of having to acclimate to pandemic life. “We’re growing along with the rest of the country, riding that wave.”
As they’ve grown and evolved, Saints Row has invested in upgrading their equipment to remain relevant, specifically with a new canning line. Now they’re able to mass produce beers and sell to customers right away, versus offering only draft beers for customers to enjoy in their taproom. They now offer online can ordering with to-go, curbside pickup.
Since Saints Row’s taproom doesn’t have a designated outdoor area and their county closed down indoor seating in December, those curbside to-go cans became their priority. Because the brewery is situated in an industrial park and their neighbors’ businesses are generally closed during prime beer drinking hours, Saints Row has been able to rope off extra parking spaces in the lot to provide outdoor seating for its customers, weather permitting. “Our neighbors want to help us out during these uncertain times,” says Prebula. “It’s not ideal, but we do what we can to make it work.” They also set up tables and chairs in front of their bay doors, but once winter rolled it, even the heartiest East Coast craft beer enthusiasts seemed to enter hibernation mode.
“No one wants to sit outside, even with propane heaters,” Prebula laughs. “It was a lean winter for us, but we’ve got a very supportive community. My staff is really resilient and flexible, whether it’s packaging, deliveries or canning. We didn’t have to lay anybody off. We kept our entire staff and retained our hours by transitioning some people into new positions, training our front of the house staff in backend operations.” By focusing on production and leaning into the distribution elements of the business, Saints Row staff was able to “stick it out throughout this difficult year.” Once they’re able to resume regular operating hours, Saints Row will undoubtedly reap the rewards of expanding their business in this capacity.
When Saints Row first opened four years ago, they wanted to be really traditional with their beer selection. “But the market dictates what you do,” explains Prebula. “Now we’ve got a vast palette, with some old world beer mixed in with newer styles.” They do Hazy IPAs, which are big on trend these days and “aren’t going away anytime soon.” Saints Row’s beers are seasonally based, ranging from old school West Coast IPAs to English-style bitter beers to Cask Ales. Their beer menu features a variety of fruity flavors, salty sours, heavily malted brocks, premium lagers, dry saisons and robust stouts. Whatever you’re after, they’re likely to have it.
When we inquired about their “Space Girl’s Pink Boots,” a hibiscus Kellerbier, Prebula mentioned that — yes! — Saints Row Brewery is also a women-owned business. His wife Lacy is the resident “boss lady” and their two young daughters (with one more baby one the way!) have played a huge role in establishing this family owned and operated business.
Saints Row prides themselves on being extremely community and family oriented. “We believe in our product and remain humble and grateful,” tells Prebula. “We’ve been surrounded by clients and patrons who are excited about what we’re doing, and they’ve become a part of our story. Even during the pandemic, Montgomery County brewing has really taken off. And we try to keep focused on being a small, neighborhood taproom. We’re not taking anything for granted. We attribute our success to our community and our staff. It trickles down, that’s our approach.”
Prebula is hopeful and confident, acknowledging the silver lining of the past year even though it’s still hard to know what the future holds. “We’re slowly bouncing back and already set up for expansion,” he tells us. His staff is now well trained to handle the influx of production. And even though they’ve lost a solid six to eight months of taproom income, the pandemic has allowed him time to refocus his efforts to prepare for a grand reopening of sorts. In the meantime, Saints Row Brewing is taking strides to reopen as safely as they can. “We want people to feel good about coming out to our facility,” says Prebula. The brewery has installed plasma UVC filters into their HVAC system so that their air is now both filtered and sanitized.
Saints Row Brewing is looking forward to the time when their taproom is bustling and full again. They’re ready to return to the days where they can provide a community space to gather and socialize, once it’s safe to do so. Once the taproom reopens to the public, Saints Row will certainly continue with their online ordering system and curbside to-go cans, since it’s been so well received and utilized.
So until we can all saddle up to the bar together safely, don’t hesitate to swing by Saints Row Brewing for some take away beers to enjoy in the safety of your own backyard, chilled to the perfect temperature a la CoolBot.