Brewing Beer And Opening A Brewery

SmithMatthews's picture

The Brewmaster's Perspective

Well....As many of you know, we are starting a brewery in Savannah, GA called Southbound Brewing Co. This has been a dream for many years and it is finally becoming a reality. Its taking more work than we ever imagined, but if you love what you do then work isn't work. Here's a small sample of the "ins and outs" of starting your own brewery.


In order to start your own brewery, it's a good idea to have experience in every aspect of business and the brewing industry. I started working for SweetWater Brewing Co. while in college in order to get free beer. My job entailed all of the janitorial work you could imagine along with stacking cases upon cases of beer all day. To give you some perspective, while I was working, our best record of filled pallets of beer was about 75. A pallet is 72 cases and we had 2 people stacking at a time. Although I got a few breaks here and there, my friend Jacob and I were primarily stacking throughout the entire day. If you do the math, (72 X 75)/2 = 2700 cases of beer that need to be taken from a conveyor belt and stacked on a pallet. Thankfully, at the time, we were allowed to have a beer or two while we worked to help get us through the day. When my manager, Brad, asked me where I wanted to be (position wise in the brewery), I told him the brewhouse (I wanted to become a brewer).


After a few years of working on the packaging line and as tour staff (on and off because of school), I had gained experience in packaging, tours and tastings, as well as in marketing. In order to get a job in the brewhouse section as a brewer, I needed either professional brewing experience or training. Therefore, I decided to enroll in The Siebel Institute of Technology's International Diploma in Brewing Science and Technology course. I began my studies in Chicago in the Fall of 2009. During my time in Chicago, we studied everything from raw ingredient microbiology to quality control and equipment automation/efficiencies. Brewing school became my 9-5 job for a few months. Every day we had intensive classes on brewing science and the technology involved. It does sound pretty hard, and it was, however there were many perks that came with the job and we all had a great time. Conveniently enough, we had a beer bar located in the building. Therefore, every day for lunch and after class we had access to unlimited free draft beer. As soon as a keg was kicked, the Vice President would walk across the street to the liquor store and roll over another one. We did our fair share of "tasting research."


After studying a while in Chicago, our class was sent to Munich, Germany to study at Doemens Academy (a German brewing school in Graffelfing). This second half of our course was more hands on. We brewed on our first day using their Siemens fully automated Steineker brewhouse. It was incredible. While in school there, we had practical training for lab work, recipe formulation, packaging, quality control, etc. They even flew in Matt Brynildson (Firestone Walker) to give us a lecture on hops. This was one of the many beer rock stars who taught us. Others included Ray Daniels, Michael Eder, Lyn Kruger, John Mallett, Randy Mosher, Kirk Annand, etc. Overall, brewing school was quite the learning experience. More of a mind grenade than anything. Thankfully I kept all of my lectures for future referencing.


Upon graduating from the World Brewing Academy (Siebel and Doemens combined) in December 2011, I flew back to Atlanta and immediately interviewed for a brewer position with SweetWater. I landed the job and started working shortly after. This was a true test of not only hands on skill, but the knowledge I had acquired in previous months. I was given a month of training before I was expected to take over my rotating shift schedule completely. I had to learn how to run the brewhouse, CIP tanks, clean (80% of a brewers job, ask anyone), and problem solve on a system I had no experience with. I think I picked it up pretty quickly, however I definitely had some pretty major mistakes. Thankfully none of them were irreversible or caused any problems. I was able to learn through example from those showing me how to do the job best.


You could say brewing beer is considered a form of art. As a professional brewer, you have to manage your time wisely and be able to multi-task. At any one time, you can have 5 different processes going on that all need to be monitored. No matter how much equipment automation you have, something can and will always go wrong. Once you get the hang of things but remember that the worst is always possible, you really start having fun. Life became much easier once I was comfortable with the new equipment. I started taking on more tasks at a time which helped our efficiency in the brewhouse. Some weeks we were able to get off on time on Friday. Others, we had to brew into the night on Friday and finish up early Saturday morning. Our rotating shift schedule was set up so that we brewed 24/5, starting Sunday night and cleaned Friday day. There were four shifts: 6am-2pm, 2pm-10pm, 10pm-6am, with a 10am-6pm cellar shift. This was all new to me and it definitely took some time getting used to.


As I started brewing at SweetWater, I simultaneously started my MBA through Georgia Southern. I knew at that point that opening a brewery was in the future. In order to do this, I knew it took experience, education, skill, and a drive to succeed. I was getting brewing experience while working at SweetWater, I was furthering my education through graduate school, and I had the drive to tackle all of this at once. What I needed next was to acquire more skill. Since SweetWater is such a massive operation (29th largest brewery in the nation), the brewers didn't have a whole lot of room to experiment with different recipes and brewing practices. Therefore, I started homebrewing again. I gathered up some of my old equipment but soon realized I was in need of a bigger and better system. I started designing a semi-automated 15 gal homebrew table. This thing was ridiculous! It was a 1 tier system with 3 turkey frying burners welded onto a stainless steel table. All of the burners had automated valves that were controlled through a control panel and all of the temperatures of the vessels were monitored and controlled as well. It was one of those set-it/forget-it type systems. I could walk away knowing the system would control all of the temperatures I wanted it to and maintain them within 1 degree. This increased my efficiencies and standardized my processes so I could start focusing on recipe formulation.


When formulating a beer recipe, there are about a million different aspects you must consider. These range from water quality/hardness to malt extract potential and hop utilization. Thankfully we learned all of this math and science in school. I had also read about it in books, and continue to do so to this day. At that point, I was homebrewing about once a wekk. That means we were producing 10-15 gallons of beer a week! As you can imagine, this made all of my friends very happy. One of my favorite beers was Erica's Belgian Tripel. Erica (my girlfriend and the future Sales Director of Southbound) brewed a Belgian Tripel that was absolutely incredible. It was about 8.5% ABV and was as drinkable as water. I believe I lost the recipe but could get very close to it again. Needless to say, that beer will be showing up in our "Special Guests" series.


After working as a brewer for SweetWater for 8 months, I randomly came across an opportunity to be the Head Brewer at a new brewery in Charleston, SC. This was my ultimate dream job, but meant I had to leave the company that I had so much history with. They understood and I shipped off to live in Charleston. This new venture was just starting up and had yet to brew a single batch of beer. It was the perfect opportunity for me knowing I would eventually be doing the same exact thing. To see it all be put together, first hand, was quite a valuable experience. Formulating recipes, setting up equipment, doing everything for the first time was essential to my growth as a brewer. I made many friends throughout my tenure as Head Brewer and everything was falling perfectly into place. As a start-up, it is difficult to get everything going and to ensure it continues to run smoothly. After a long trial-and-error period, everything seemed to become routine. Growing pains are an inevitable part of any start-up business and unforeseen difficulties will eventually arise. It turns out that my role as Head Brewer in that company was not meant to be. I share no hard feelings and wish them the ultimate success. This industry is full of wonderful people and incredible companies. We're all a tight nit family that always supports each other through thick and thin. Again, we do make beer for a living. Sometimes I catch myself smirking when I think about how much I love my job. Its a hard life... someone has to do it!


Now we are getting to the good stuff....


Upon having a lot of free time on hand, the time has finally come to open a brewery! Its been a long wait and a huge, building dream for Erica and me. So first things first... In order to build a successful company, you need an incredible team. Therefore I will take on all of the brewing and operations of the business, Erica will direct sales and account management, and our friend Carly will do Southbound's marketing and graphic design. I won't go into much more detail about them, as I'm sure they'll be blogging about their own experiences later.


Once you have a good team that you know are passionate about beer and the company's success, the next step is structure. Luckily enough, my MBA team (heres to you guys! Nita, Lisa, Billy, Rey, Gus) decided to choose a start-up brewery as a business plan project. We worked very hard on it for a semester-long project. We were able to incorporate that original work into various projects throughout our remaining semesters. This gave me an incredible experience that I never imagined I would gain from my MBA program. We analyzed every aspect of opening a brewery, which made putting together the business plan for Southbound a whole lot easier.


After completing a thorough business plan, the next step is finding a location for your business. Finding the right city was much harder than we imagined! You have to consider local and state distribution laws, current production breweries in operation, potential surrounding markets, and marketable customers (colleges, businesses, restaurants, bars, etc.) just to list a few factors. After much debate, we decided Savannah would be the best fit for our company. Strategically, it makes perfect sense. Its right between South Carolina and Florida, on the coast, has immediate access to large interstates, high levels of tourism , and is known nationally for the rich history and southern culture. Most importantly, it is in Georgia, which all of us call home.


Next on the list: branding. Erica and I had decided on a music-oriented theme and logo months before. All we needed was someone to help us put our ideas onto paper- our stick figures weren't what you would call pretty. After speaking with some friends (NoDa Brewing), they passed along their logo and website designer's information to me. Following weeks of some serious brain storming sessions, she helped us come up with our logo and website design. While bringing these to market, we started looking for a suitable building in the Savannah area.


We continue to look for a warehouse location to this day. When looking for "the perfect building," you have to consider zoning, residential neighbors, city arteries and major roads, future city plans (i.e. zoning changes and developments), utility access, waste water and sewage, building dimensions and ceiling heights, renovation costs, parking, loading dock access, sign restrictions, etc. The list goes on and on... trust me.


So that brings us to where we are today. We have our logo designed, website up and running, as well as merchandise designed and printed. We also have the following businesses and people on hold and ready to go: equipment manufacturers, architects, engineers, distributors, raw ingredient suppliers, financials, investors, etc. So once we find a building, we could potentially be producing beer within 6 months!


We continue to work on Southbound's day-to-day functions as well as plan for its future implementation and opening. From my perspective, we are just moments away from opening the newest, most exciting business to hit this area's market. I can't wait for our future and I look forward to providing you with the best beer you could ever imagine. As I continue to develop recipes, just say the word and I'll do my best to provide you with some samples. These beers are good, the people are cool, and we're always in for a good time. Hope to see you all soon!


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Smith Mathews