It may have been a pumpkin-spice-latte homebrew that changed the course of his career. But Corey Artanis, founder of 3 Sons Brewing in Dania Beach, Florida, is just as excited to talk about the European-style lagers on the menu at the year-old production brewery and brewpub.
The space is voluminous and airy—a 1940s warehouse not far from the Ft. Lauderdale airport, with soaring 30-foot ceilings and clean, modern design. On the outside, it’s so unassuming that you wonder whether the navigation app has taken you to the right place. But this is the place that Artanis and his business partner—his father, Joe—spent three years building out.
This is the Way
The brewery opened in 2019, but the 3 Sons story begins further back, starting to take concrete shape about five years earlier, when Florida beer geeks began to notice Artanis’ talent as a homebrewer. In early 2014, Cigar City Brewing had invited him to pour at its Hunahpu’s Day festival. He was a homebrewer, but he had used a licensed brew-on-premise location to brew his beer so that the festival could legally buy it. The extra work paid off, and in 2015, 3 Sons won the festival’s award for best brewery and best beer. In 2016, they won again, while locking up the two top spots for best beers. The buzz was building.
On the back of that early success, Corey and Joe decided to take the leap into the pro ranks. They signed a lease in December 2015 on the space that would become 3 Sons—a name that honors Corey Artanis’s own three sons.
It took more than three years of construction before they were able to open—a lifetime in brewery years—but the results were worth the effort. The open kitchen focuses on pizzas and related dishes cooked in their wood-fired oven. Tasteful and refined black tile lines the service areas. Fermentors are the first thing you see when you walk in the door, tucked behind the bar with a pass-through to the working quarters of the production brewery. You can feel the details that Artanis sweated every step of the way.
Automatic for the People
Florida is a strange state for beer, relative to the rest of the country. Brewers offer taplists of fruit- and adjunct-heavy beers because customers, on average, lean toward familiar flavors. For some brewers, it’s a trade-off they make to have a career and business making beer. But Artanis makes no bones about it.
“When I first started brewing beer, I would brew beer that I liked to drink,” he says. “It was an awesome thing to try to make different beers that you’ve had in the market. I really enjoyed drinking those beers and using ingredients on that level—adjuncts that were not just grain and flavoring.”
These flavor-forward beers were hits with family and friends, many of whom did not have a history of craft-beer consumption. But they understood the flavor references, and they reveled in the novelty of beers that tasted like other foods and drinks. Meanwhile, Artanis embraced the challenge of making them.
“I lean toward beers that are going to be gourmet, unique, and different,” he says. “I like to challenge people trying beer, too. Certain people wouldn’t like stouts, or would like hoppy beers, and I always thought it was pretty cool when I could give someone one of my beers and be like, ‘Oh, you don’t like stouts? Well, try my stout.’ And some people would love them.”
Vanilla, Barrels, and More
Most of us have that aha moment with a certain beer or style. For Artanis, it was Goose Island’s original Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout.
“I remember drinking that and thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is the best beer I’ve ever had.’”
He set out to make his own beer, inspired by that beer but also incorporating coffee into the mix. The result was Summation, a barrel-aged stout that 3 Sons still makes today. But sourcing barrels at the time was no small feat for someone brewing in five- and 10-gallon batches. Artanis got small barrels from wherever he could, discovering a tiny whiskey producer halfway between Orlando and Ocala that used small barrels perfect for his scale. The same distiller supplied barrels to other barrel-aging breweries in Florida, such as St. Petersburg’s Cycle Brewing, lending a local thumbprint to barrel-aged beers from the Sunshine State.
“The flavor profile out of those barrels was pretty great,” Artanis says. “Barrel-aging in smaller barrels is much different from barrel-aging in a larger barrel. You get a much higher rate of extraction out of these barrels because of the increased surface-area ratio. You don’t get the same effect of aging, timewise, though. That’s one of the only difficult things with using a smaller barrel—you almost have to age your stouts [in the tank] longer before putting them into barrels, so they can round out a little bit more.”
For those trying it on their own, he suggests going into the barrels sweeter than one normally would, as that extra sweetness helps to balance the alcohol heat from any residual spirits left in the barrel. “You don’t want to put a dry stout into a barrel, or it will become extremely boozy,” Artanis says.
Over time, the brewery’s stouts have grown as customer expectations around sweetness and body have changed. Early iterations might have finished finish at 1.040 (10°P), while today similar stouts finish around 1.057–1.061 (14–15°P). To get there, they start big, with original gravity around 1.129 (30°P).
“It’s kind of like a whole balancing act, which is one of the things that’s difficult—having the perfect balance of alcohol, sweetness, body, and of course, flavor.”
One way 3 Sons produces such big beers efficiently is by planning for them from the start of their brewery design. Typically, a commercial brewery might have a mash tun with at most 20 percent more volume than the kettle. Artanis spec’d a mash tun capable of holding the equivalent of 36 barrels—about 250 percent of what the kettle can handle.
“Instead of having to do multiple mashes, we’re able to collect enough wort from one mash and send it to our kettle, without having to do a second mash,” he says.
The aspect ratio of the mash tun is also designed for thick stout mashes—wide and short. Because they don’t sparge their imperial stouts, collecting only first runnings for those, that leaves a lot of fermentables in the mash tun. To make the most of this, Artanis also included a second boil kettle in their brew system, so that they can sparge and use the second runnings for another, lower-gravity stout. (Lower gravity is only a relative term, here, as they can pull 12–14 barrels of second runnings and still hit 1.074–1.083/18–20°P.)
“The first time we collected second runnings for a beer, it came out like a brown ale,” he says. “So, we served it as a brown ale. The second time we added some debittered black malt … just for some color.”
Brewing with Beans
“Coffee is something I pride myself on using,” Artanis says. “Quality, origin-specific coffee, with a specific roast on the bean.” Light roast is a favorite of his—just after first crack, as it expresses the more delicate flavors of the bean. There’s no point in spending money on expensive coffee if all you’re looking for is heavy roast, he says.
Some brewers today swear by not grinding coffee and conditioning only on whole beans. Artanis did that as a homebrewer, when the amount of coffee he used was relatively small. At a commercial scale today, he prefers the extraction efficiency of a coarse grind. However, he conditions on coffee only after crashing the beer, while the beer is in the low 30s °F (just above 0°C). That’s the key, he says, to avoiding green-pepper flavors and aromas in coffee beer. Using a hopback-like device, he recirculates beer over the ground coffee for six to eight hours, to improve extraction efficiency.
The Future is Lager
After opening, to his surprise, Artanis found that a significant portion of local drinkers were fans of his lagers. He’s been able to ramp up the lager program to feed that demand—something other brewers in the region are a bit jealous of.
“We like to not only brew for ourselves, but brew for the people who come in and enjoy good, easy-drinking beers. I foresee us doing a lot more lagers in the future.”
Photos: Jamie Bogner