4 Steps to Opening Your Own Craft Brewery (or the History of Terrapin Beer)
If you are like most people, the word evokes images of great times, hanging out with friends, and enjoying good food and flavorful brews. Who among us doesn’t dream occasionally about spending all our waking hours around beer and the romance and fun it represents? Spike and I, the founders of Terrapin Beer Co., definitely fit into that category.
Step 1: Know Your Passion
Both of us homebrewed before entering the beer business. Although we followed different paths to start brewing professionally, we had been bitten by the bug and knew we could do nothing else. Spike took a leave of absence from his corporate audiovisual job to attend the American Brewer’s Guild in Davis, CA while I worked two part time jobs as a server and fry cook to make ends meet while he volunteered for free at the local brewery.
Eventually we crossed paths while working at a microbrewery in Atlanta, GA. It was there in 1998 that the idea for Terrapin Beer Company was born. Looking around the Southeastern beer scene at the time we realized we could make a contribution, and noticed most all breweries in the region were making the same styles of beers. Everyone had a pale ale, a brown ale or a stout. Terrapin was created with the idea of experimenting with beer and moving beyond the traditional styles. So instead of another pale ale, Terrapin crafted the Rye Pale Ale. Rather than produce a traditional brown, we created the Hop Karma Brown IPA. Another stout? Forget about it! How about the Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout brewed with locally roasted coffee.
Step 2: Never Give Up!
Before any of this great beer could become a reality, Spike and I had to find the funds needed to finance the dream. So in 1998 they spent 6 months writing a business plan focused on opening a brewery in Athens, GA. Afterwards three long years were spent discussing the dreams for Terrapin Beer Company with bankers, investors, or anyone willing to listen. And for three long years we got nowhere.
The reasons were myriad. In the late 1990’s many pundits were claiming the craft beer fad was over. Investors were blind to anything that was not a dotcom stock. The proposed Rye Pale Ale was “too strong” for the average southern beer drinker of the late 90’s. Two guys with supposedly no management experience and nothing but an idea just weren’t that attractive of an investment.
Step 3: Find Another Way
When Spike and I were unable to find investors for Terrapin Beer Co. we knew the only way to get our dream started was to get the beer out into the hands of the public. Then it could prove its worthiness and hopefully attract the needed funds. So we pooled together their life savings and what balances they could pull off credit cards and started brewing Terrapin at another facility.
Step 4: Build It and They Will Come
Terrapin Rye Pale Ale was introduced in Athens, GA in April 2002. Six months after its release, this upstart brew was awarded the Gold Medal for Pale Ales at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival. Even though it was only available on draft in about 15 bars in a college town in GA, people from across the country started calling to find out where they could try this amazing new beer.
Since that time Terrapin has managed to open their own brewery in Athens, GA and is averaging over 30,000 visitors per year. There are now 5 year round beers, 5 seasonals, and a limited edition series of one-time brews. Terrapin is available throughout the Southeast and is slowly expanding up into the Mid-Atlantic. Even so, Terrapin Beer have only 17 employees who pride themselves on operating a very organic, homegrown company.
Learn more about Terrapin Beer Co., visit: terrapinbeer.com
Last Updated: March 22, 2010