‘I can do better than that’: Donum Dei Brewing eyes summer opening in New Albany

Richard Otey works on building the cooler at Donum Dei Brewery recently.

Richard Otey works on building the cooler at Donum Dei Brewery.

One of the greatest moments in any man’s life is when he gets his first home brewing kit.

For Richard Otey, who worked in the technology sector, it was a Mr. Beer kit with a plastic, barrel-shaped tub and some pre-mixed grains in cans.

He brewed some beer in his shiny new Christmas toy, but it wasn’t exactly the result he was hoping for.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, I think I can do better than that,’” Otey said.

“The [beer] he brewed with Mr. Beer was terrible; we hated it,” Otey’s wife Kimberly said. “We did it in the kitchen; we had a great time doing it, it just did not quite hold up to expectations.”

But they were hooked, and that’s when some serious home brewing began in the Otey household. And some time this summer, or thereabouts (he doesn’t want to jinx it with a date), Otey will open Donum Dei Brewery at 3211 Grant Line Road in New Albany.

The brewery is situated in a strip mall not far from New Albanian Brewing Company’s original location, and the plan is for it to offer a unique array of ales as well as light fare such as sandwiches and soups. He hopes to have some outside seating, while inside there will be café-style seating and a bar.

“It will become what it wants to become,” Otey said. “But what I envision is a low-key conversation place. I don’t think I’ll even have wi-fi. I want it to be like an old English pub where you come in and you talk.”

A hoped-for May opening has been pushed back – “Yes, we do anticipate opening,” was Otey’s answer when I inquired about a launch date – due to state regulatory complications that forced him to switch directions mid build-out, but he is undeterred.

Waiting to brew. Photo by Kevin Gibson.

Waiting to brew. Photo by Kevin Gibson.

Otey said he bought his 10-barrel brewing operation from Danville, Ky.-based Beer Engine (which is planning to open a brewery in Louisville this summer), and he did plenty of research on opening and operating a brewery, from books to interviews with other brewers.

Those brewers all shared the same bit of advice: Don’t start too small.

Eight taps with varying beer styles are planned, and Otey says to expect plenty of creativity.

“I learned from Germans,” he said, “but I love the Belgian style, which is no style.”

He promises some standards such as a wee heavy ale, which is a Scotch-style ale, as well as an American pale ale, which he says is a lot like a new Samuel Adams beer called Rebel IPA. He’s been brewing his recipe for some time, but recently tried Rebel and was astonished.

“Oh my god,” he said, “the similarities are insane.”

But expect a heavy dose of Belgian-style beers. One will be an Enkel, which is a traditional Belgian single ale, and today is often called a Belgian blond. At Donum Dei, you can drink like the Trappist monks of Belgium.

The idea to open a brewery came about when the major technology company for which Otey worked as an electrical engineer asked him to transfer. Rather than leave his home, he and Kimberly decided to use some of their nest egg to do something they would love.

“It was kind of like, my wife and I got together and said, ‘Who better to invest in than ourselves?’” he said. “We were also on a journey of the things we enjoy. We said, ‘Let’s see if we can’t do them ourselves.’ I also want to leave a legacy to my kids and grandkids as well. And not just a house.”

donum dei logoOtey may have worked in the tech sector, but he’s an artist at heart, and Donum Dei – which means “Gift from God” in Latin – and this business offers an outlet for the creativity. He and his wife make scented candles, they garden and they cook like true foodies, but the beer offers something more.

“Beer is my medium,” he said.

Blending that medium with simple but fresh and good food is a natural, he said, since craft beer lovers tend to be foodies as well. Otey is also a beer sommelier, so expect beer dinners. He said he wouldn’t even mind having small church services at the brewery.

But the focus at Donum Dei is clear.

“We want to concentrate on the beer,” he said. “We don’t want to be distracted by the food. We are financing this ourselves, so I want some cash flow in this direction before I go hog wild. We have plans to work with a farm in Henryville; we want to do kind of a farm-t0-fork thing.”

Interestingly, until around 1994, Otey didn’t drink beer. He didn’t like it, primarily because what was available then was typically Corporate Lite. He drank wine and spirits instead.

“My job took me out to Seattle and I had my first ESB, and I went, ‘Wow, beer can be this?’” he said. “That started my journey into beer.”

Kim Otey hard at work at the space that will become Donum Dei Brewery.

Kim Otey hard at work at the space that will become Donum Dei Brewery.

The couple has invested well over $100,000 so far. A new cooler is in the works, and new bathrooms are being built near the front of the space (thanks in part to those aforementioned state regulations); the Oteys are doing most of the construction themselves. The place is still a shell at the moment, but the kettles and tanks stand waiting in the back. They stand as an assurance that beer is coming soon.

“We’re making strides every day,” he said. “I need to get the brewery part open so we can actually start brewing beer.”

Just when he and Kimberly will be ready to serve that beer to New Albany is another matter entirely.

“If I tell you, it will probably not come true,” he said. “Let’s just say this summer – how about that?”

And to think, it’s all thanks to Mr. Beer.

“I just thought that it would be something he would be interested in,” Kimberly said of her long-ago Christmas gift idea. “Little did I know that it would change our future.”