In the early months of 1821, Andrew Jackson boarded a steamboat with his wife Rachel and traveled down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. From the Crescent City, the incoming governor of the newly acquired U.S. territory of Florida sailed to Pensacola.
After their arrival, Rachel Jackson wrote home to a friend, describing her first impressions of the bustling melting pot harbor town of Pensacola.
“Pensacola is a perfect plain: the land nearly as white as flour,” Jackson wrote. “The town is immediately on the bay, the most beautiful water prospect I ever saw; and from 10 o’clock in the morning until 10 at night we have the finest sea-breeze. There is something in it so exhilarating, so pure, so wholesome, it enlivens the whole system.”
While its Andrew Jackson who’s been acclaimed as the savior of Pensacola, it was Rachel Jackson’s poetic words that inspired a vision nearly 200 years later.
In a more than 75-year-old building on Garden Street, the steam from a steel fermenting tank billows out into the open air, filling the large brick-walled room with the aroma of hops.
Brett Schweigert stood atop a ladder overlooking the tank, monitoring the steady gurgling of brewing beer against the building’s back wall.
“That’s our beer,” he said. “It’s our dry hops beer that we’re experimenting with.”
Schweigert is the head brewer at one of Pensacola’s newest entrepreneurial ventures — Perfect Plain Brewing Company.
D.C. Reeves and Reed Odeneal co-founded the brewery, set to open Tuesday in downtown Pensacola. The duo, teamed with Schweigert and a small team of fellow beer-lovers, first conceived the vision to open a brewery in Pensacola several years ago after experiencing the beer culture prevalent in other cities, such as Asheville, N.C.
Officially, it’s taken the team two years and 15 days to develop the final vision and turn the historic downtown building at 50 East Garden Street into Pensacola’s newest — and possibly its most daring — brewery.
The realities of bringing such a vision to reality, however, were easier said than done. Just ask Reeves.
“It was November 4, 2015 when I texted our now co-founder and director of brewing operations, Reed Odeneal, saying “why don’t we just open that brewery we’ve talked about down here (in Pensacola) and say Fuck it,” Reeves said, recalling the blunt candor of his past statement.
“There are a lot of things you try to prepare for,” Reeves said. “The business plan. The investors. The licensing. The paperwork. The education on the fly. Being careful to not take steps that will cost you time and money – and you feel lucky when it’s only one, not both.”
Aside from hiring contractors for electrical, plumbing, and structural work, they were responsible for the building’s renovation, formerly home to Vowell’s Printing shop.
Now they are ready to cross the finish line in preparation to opening the doors and introducing the new brewery and taproom to their guests before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Pensacola is a perfect plain”
The building, once divided by walls and covered by drop-tile ceilings, is now completely open. The space is filled with natural light that comes in through floor-to-ceiling roll-up doors and windows along the front of the taproom.
Inside, a large mural adorns the western wall of the taproom. Venezuelan-born muralist
Daniela de Castro was commissioned to paint the mural depicting Rachel Jackson on the wall. de Castro has spent more than 50 hours on the painting.
“The letter Rachel Jackson wrote, she described Pensacola as a perfect plain,” de Castro said. “Her entire portrait I’m doing is actually stamped with hops flowers and stippled to symbolize the barley and grains — the basic ingredients of beer.”
de Castro said she based the mural off one of the few portraits of Jackson in existence, which they obtained copies of from the Hermitage, the Jackson estate outside Nashville where Andrew and Rachel Jackson lived and are buried.
“One of the tweaks we made from the original portrait was to make her look older in the mural,” de Castro said. “We wanted to make her look the age she would have been when she was in Pensacola, which was 54.”
While recognizing the beauty of Pensacola, de Castro said she also sees the irony in the mural and the naming of the brewery after Jackson.
“Rachel was a very pious woman,” de Castro said. “She didn’t really approve of drinking and there’s a bit of irony that she’s painted out of hops here. If she were here now, I don’t know if she would approve of this.”
“I can imagine her looking down from this wall and judging all the people drinking,” she laughed.
“A place for community”
Inside the taproom, custom wood tables and chairs fill the open-air building and a custom 40-foot long bar made by Pensacola-based Losobe Woodwork is a centerpiece framing the taproom.
All of the fixtures, furniture, and equipment is meant to create and enhance the experience, according to Bryant “BB” Liggett, general manager of the taproom at Perfect Plain.
“We wanted this to be a place for people to communicate with one another and get to know each other,” Liggett said. “That’s why we have these beautiful family-style dinner tables for people to relax into.”
For Liggett, Perfect Plain is more than a brewery and taproom. It’s a place of community.
“There’s something about the romance of guiding people into putting food and drink in their mouth,” Liggett said. “It really is an intimate experience with every guest that we serve. Being able to talk to them and being able to create an experience for them is really important to all of us at Perfect Plain. We want to create the best possible experience for our guests, our employees, and for the community.”
Pushing the creative process
Behind the bar, Liggett and her staff will serve Perfect Plain’s beers that are brewed in their 10-barrel brewhouse onsite.
“Our biggest inspiration is farmhouse ales, saisons, and we are also definitely going to experiment with dry hops beers,” Schweigert said. “We want to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible.”
Schweigert, who began in the industry as a brewer in Asheville, started making those beers more than a week ago and said they’ll have a varying selection of beers on tap for opening day on Tuesday.
After opening, the brewery plans to introduce more beers to Pensacola.
“Part of the great thing about living in Asheville is there was so much experimentation and creativeness,” Schweigert said. “You couldn’t just produce your normal ales and lagers. It really pushed the creativity process. We really want to bring that twist here to Pensacola.”
“Seeing where Pensacola has gone, seeing the culinary scene thrive here — I think this is just a continuation of that growth and we’re really excited to see what happens.”