Meet The Builder Behind A Countless Number Of Breweries In Pennsylvania

Originally written by the staff of Patch.com. Posted with permission.

What do Conshohocken Brewing Company, Conshohocken Brewing Company- Bridgeport, Town Tap, La Cabra Brewing, Tired Hands Fermentaria, Ship Bottom Brewery, 7 Mile Brewery, Cross Keys Brewery, Love City Brewing, Hale and True Ciders, Workhorse Brewing Company and soon to be opened, Tannery Run Brew Works all have in common? They are all craft brew projects, AND they all have the same builder. That would be Christopher Linton of HRA Builders.

If you have noticed the changes at your local beer distributer or (finally) the grocery store then you have to know that the craft brewing business has exploded all across the United States. The variety of brands colors and designs of beer packaging and labels is an ever growing carnival of options. If you like beer and live in the Tri-State area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware you know there is no shortage of great local beer, really cool places to try it, as well as amazing, neighborhood cuisine.

Each and every brewery has a unique stamp on it to tantalize your five senses, but the truth of the matter is that without a talented builder, innovative designs, and an experienced team of subcontractors, these breweries may still just be sidelined in the home brewer’s garage waiting for their dream to become a reality

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Before and After of one of the many HRA projects; Conshohocken Bridgeport

Meet the Dream Maker, Christopher Linton. Chris is a young 50- something, from Delaware County, who has been in the construction design-build business for over 30 years. Starting in residential then moving into the commercial realm building banks, restaurants, gymnasiums and even moving the historic Rose Tree Tavern in Media, Pa. Chris has taken his business to the best place he could be…a builder of breweries.

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Chris at one of his latest projets; Workhorse Brewing

No stranger to the beer scene, Chris was loving craft beer when John Harvard’s was in Springfield, Delaware County and Sam Adams and Dock Street were the only craft breweries in Philadelphia. Anyone who knows Chris would say he has created his own dream business combining his favorite things: design, construction, and craft beer.

“If you told me 10 years ago I would have built some of the coolest breweries in the Philly area, I wouldn’t have believed it. Now that we have built 11 plus breweries, from start to finish, I am still humbled by this opportunity to be part of such a growing industry.”

Chris’ job, as the GC, is likened to the coach of a football team, but with the hiring power of the front office. “Putting together a strong team of subs that includes carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters, riggers, masons, etc. is a big part of a successful outcome. The team, usually 10-16 subcontractors and dozens of craftsmen, must act cohesively, know their positions, and most importantly play like a team to pursue a singular goal. Breweries have a specific flow that really requires the best playbook to make it happen. Experienced installers of brewing equipment, refrigeration systems, glycol piping, and steam systems, are the special teams.

Chris not only writes the playbook, with the owners, but he also calls the plays. Though not from the sidelines. He knows that every brewery he builds is not just about selling great beer. It is about bringing the brewers personality into play and making it a place that is interesting, unique and fun. “I want my clients to be happy with not only the outcome but the process too.” As a hands-on manager, Chris spends many hours on the site not only orchestrating the build process but controlling cost and dreaming up the end design result. “When we start, I don’t always have a clear vision of what the finished brew project will look like exactly. But, we use guiding concepts and themes to lead the creativity that brings the look and feel of the space into focus. The best outcome is when a brewery feels like it was meant to be. ”

Vern Burling, partner-owner of La Cabra Brewing in Berwyn, Pennsylvania which was rated best new brewery on Philly Scene 2017, is one owner that feels Chris was the best choice for building his dream.

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La Cabra Brewing

” I was introduced to Chris through our partner/brewer Dan Popernack. We met Chris while he was working on Tired Hands Fermentaria. We knew we wanted to work with someone who was not just a GC, but had a specialty in building breweries.” Chris is not just a builder and not just a builder of breweries- he is also a designer too. Vern continues, “My business partner, Andy Lott, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with Chris on the interior design of La Cabra Brewing. It was one of the highlights of the process to be able to work with someone who allowed you to truly participate in the design. Even though we interviewed designers – we decided to do it ourselves. This could not have happened without Chris’ abilities and patience to allow for our own creativity but assist in how it would get done.”

Like most business owners, when a brewer commits to the idea of building his own brewery they want it open as soon as possible. But there is a lot more to opening a brewery than just making good beer. Typically, brewers don’t always know all the ins and outs of the construction world so there is a lot of educating to be done. Some may have great ideas but it takes the right person to put it all together and make it happen. “Every project has a different building, owner, logistics, municipality, codes, inspectors, designs, suppliers, equipment, subcontractors, site conditions, schedule, budget, surprises, unknowns, personality, and dream. So it seems they are all breweries but the differences are enormous. It can be a lot to understand and navigate. I do my best to keep the owners involved in the process so they know what to expect along the way. It’s like being the coach with mostly new players but a tested playbook and the game lasts for many months. We have the experience and a plan while knowing we must be driven but also flexible. It’s critical to be proactive with all the changes while performing as a cohesive team.”

“Our brewery, La Cabra, certainly mustered through the process, which of course had its ups and downs which are to be expected”, says Burling. It was not a small project! It took 51 weeks from start of demo to opening the doors! From hiring the architects, to working with township L&I, in addition to some unforeseen delays, we opened our doors in October of 2016. It was truly gratifying and enjoyable. Most of all to see the delight of people as they entered the space and of course as they enjoyed fresh local tasty beer and food. People who had known the space before as an old furniture store, were especially amazed at the transformation.”

Chris loves finishing a project knowing that they not only did a great job making a brewer’s dream come true but they usually end up being good friends. There’s something about the intensity of the process that can pull people together. ” From the day La Cabra’s brewing kettles were installed (which is no easy task), or the massive skylight dropped into the ceiling to create more natural lighting, to the awesome, cozy, hand built stone fireplace to sit around on a cold winter days, we were impressed with Chris’s skill, integrity and determination to get it all done and done right. Still to this day, when our first time guests arrive – it is fun to watch them take it all in just like we did the day we opened our doors.”

“Each project”, says Chris, “becomes very personal to me. I just love seeing a new brewery succeed and win accolades from their fans and through the process we often become good friends. Several of our brewery projects have won prestigious awards, so I also feel their pride and become one of their biggest fans”. Vern expressed sincerely that “Chris and I connected immediately and I am happy to say Chris has remained a friend of mine and La Cabra Brewing. He is welcome there any time. He continues to be available should we need him fix a few things or to just stop by, kick back, enjoy our great space, great food and great beer!”

It’s normal for customers to look at a great space and congratulate the owner’s vision and persistence to get to their doors open and not really consider the designer-builder and the team that made it all happen. But, realizing that a great space needs vision and someone, like Chris, who knows how to lead his team of workers to create that winning atmosphere is something to celebrate as a team victory from start to finish.

Vern’s recommendation for any craft brewer thinking of building their own dream? “Work with Chris! Be ready for the unexpected. Don’t sweat the small stuff, because Chris really knows what he is doing! A few things that I really appreciated about working with Chris: He is ‘VALUE’ oriented, wants the best, but also wants it at a fair price. This includes material and labor. He is not just going to take the easy road and overpay for things and then overcharge his clients. Even though we our still young and growing, we at La Cabra Brewing have won numerous awards for our beer and food. We are glad we chose Chris and his team to help us get there.”

As Chris looks to his own future and the vision for HRA, he states “I hope to see myself continuing to build many more breweries and creating more interesting and innovative spaces. Building a person’s dream is a about as exciting as it gets. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to guide so many good people from their pioneering, home-brewed vision to the end zone for their frothy, freshly brewed, local reality.”

Chris Linton is owner and operator of HRA Builders. For more information, contact Chris directly at chris@hrabuilds.com; or call 484-320-0113 or on Instagram #hra_builds. And hey, go see for yourself all the above mentioned breweries, like La Cabra and follow them on Instagram as well.

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