Dry County Brewing: What We Learned About Running a Brewery
If you’ve dreamed of opening a brewery, you’re probably motivated by the idea of trading in cubicles and conference calls for an “office” with the bready smell of wort and being in charge of everything from your schedule to recipes to booking bands and food trucks.
But life as a brewery founder isn’t about spending time trying to come up with the next Pliny or Two Hearted. It’s about learning you can’t control everything, having the ability to be adaptable, and always expect the unexpected.
Just ask Trey Sinclair and Jordan Cooper (you can call him Cooper), the founders of Dry County Brewing in Kennesaw, Georgia.
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Learning How to Sell Beer
The first Dry County beer wasn’t made in Georgia. It was brewed 450 miles away at Lazy Magnolia in Kiln, Mississippi. It was all Trey and Cooper, old high school friends, could afford with the loan they had — and they had to prove they could sell their beer in Georgia.
The problem: “We didn’t know how to sell beer,” Trey says. They spent day after day showing up to area bars, making friends with bartenders and beverage managers, trying to convince them to put Dry County IPA on tap.
“They’d tell me they wanted to, but couldn’t because their lines were full. So I’d ask what was closest to being done and order a few pints,” Trey says.
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Drinking one or two pints doesn’t seem like a terrible trade-off, but Trey remembers the day a pumpkin cider was the beverage standing between the Dry County IPA and the tap line. He called his friend Spencer Nix, founder of Reformation Brewing in Woodstock, Georgia, to come help him kick the pumpkin cider. Spencer obliged (Trey may still owe him a favor or two).
Trey and Cooper talked themselves into enough accounts to prove to the bank they were worth the investment, and by fall 2016, they opened a full brewery in Kennesaw. They said goodbye to their 7-days a week diet of bar wings and fries, and started building a team.
Finding the Right Team
Part of opening a brewery – any business, actually – is surrounding yourself with the right people. Cooper and Trey say hiring employees who have a wide range of talents has been crucial to building Dry County for long-term success. Plus, as Trey admits, “We spent a lot of time with each other.”
One of those hires is brewmaster Steve Anderson, who is credited with helping breathe new life into Atlanta’s Red Brick Brewing. Steve started at Dry County Jan. 1, 2017. Logan Hemphill, a brewer with experience at Red Hare Brewing in nearby Marietta and Big Blue Brewing in Cape Coral, Florida, now rounds out the brewing staff.
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Experience can take you far, but there’s also a certain charm and energy inside a brewhouse when the people behind it love — really truly love — what they’re doing. Steve is eager to tell you about the malt bill he designed for their Woodford Reserve aged barleywine, and how he can’t wait to get the canning line running, even though they can be tricky at first. Logan is chomping at the bit to make a pilot batch of a beer with real marshmallows. And they all still laugh about the time they realized Trey slept in the brewhouse on top of a chiller overnight to keep it functioning.
These guys love their work, and even if Georgia beer drinkers aren’t aware of all the effort that’s going into Dry County, they are noticing the results: the proof is in the beer. Dry County’s Neon Berries, a Berliner-style Weisse with blackberries, took home top honors at the Wrecking Bar’s Wild Wild Beer Fest in the spring. The win took them by surprise.
“We’d both left already because we had other commitments, and then we got the call we won!” Trey said.
They just ran out of a small batch of Juice County, a New England Style IPA. The beer was so popular, people kept calling their tap room manager’s phone at all hours to see if it was on.
“There were people lined up outside the door before we opened,” Logan says.
Building for the Future
Dry County celebrates its first anniversary in early September, and resting isn’t in their DNA. They just finished upgrading the tasting room. They’re hiring more staff to cover expanded hours as Georgia’s long overdue, friendlier beer laws roll out Sept. 1. They’ll start canning in time for the anniversary and the brewhouse is growing capacity, too.
Trey is also embracing a larger role in the Georgia beer community as he takes a seat on the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild board. He’s emphatic about independently owned breweries, and Dry County’s first cans will roll off the line with the independent craft brewer seal intact.
Nothing about starting their brewery has gone according to plan, but Trey and Cooper wouldn’t trade it for the world, even if it means a few extra nights sleeping in the brewhouse or swallowing a few pints of pumpkin cider.