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Brews clues

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  • | 11:00 a.m. August 5, 2016
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Executive Summary
Industry. Independent breweries Trend. Three breweries are coming to Manatee County with a variety of strategies. Key. Executives balance making quality beers while trying to limit expenses.

It's more than likely the beer shelves in your grocery store are a strong reflection of the rapidly growing local craft beer market. A common thread among the burgeoning industry is a lively taproom atmosphere and quality beer. But in terms of business operations, three breweries set to open in Manatee County this fall have diverse plans to reach success. Here are some of the strategies behind the breweries.

Naughty Monk Brewery
Naughty Monk Brewery CEO Diana Eibler and her “brew crew” have an aggressive plan for shelf space.

“We'll start out a little bit slow in the first few months, just to actually perfect all the beers before they go out,” she says, “but then we plan on going into heavy distribution.”

Scheduled to open in mid-October in a busy east Manatee County shopping center, the Naughty Monk Brewery plans to have four to six flagship beers ready within the first few months of opening. It hopes to be at full distribution within its first two years. “We have lots of really good beers now, but there is a conversion process or a learning process when you go from a small system to the 15-barrel production system,” says CFO Eric Keller.

The brewery is set up as a privately held company with five primary partners. There's Eibler and her husband, Joe, who is the brewmaster; Keller and his wife, Judy; and Anthony Martin, who helps Diana Eibler with intellectual property and marketing. The partners maintain their respective careers, which range from surgical nurse to building product sales and marketing. The Eiblers have some brewing experience, while Keller has wanted to start a brewery for years.

“I've spent 25 years in Corporate America, so I was anxious to see if we could get this thing up and going as a production brewery,” says Keller.

The Naughty Monk has generated a lot of brand recognition and feedback, thanks to extensive sampling around Sarasota, Bradenton and Punta Gorda. The brewery leases its 9,000-square-foot location in Crowder Plaza, a commercial hub in Lakewood Ranch. It secured a small-business loan to get up and running, but the owners declined to disclose the amount of the loan.

One source of revenue, beyond beer, is a founders club, the Naughty Little Abby. It's $1,000 to enter, and members get perks, such as a free beer every time they go to the taproom, a free monthly growler fill, special access to new beer releases and even opportunities to brew.

Naughty Monk will specialize in Belgian, Bavarian and German beers, but will also churn out a range of other styles. The one-barrel pilot system will provide the majority of beers on the 24-beer rotating tap in the tasting room that will have a German beer garden feel. But a 15-barrel system will allow Naughty Monk to meet production needs in the back of the house.

“You can have the best tasting room and you can have best marketing,” says Eibler, the lone female CEO in the Sarasota-Manatee craft brewing industry. “But bottom line, as our brewmaster says, 'The beer has to be good,' and I think we have that down.”

Jeff and Kathy Douglas, along with their son, brewmaster Scott Douglas, are opening 3 Keys Brewing in Bradenton. Photo by Lori Sax

3 Keys Brewing
Jeff and Kathy Douglas had a good reason to cut their national brewery tour short and open 3 Keys Brewing: They sought to prevent their son, Scott Douglas, from accepting a job with California brewery Lagunitas.

Now, instead of competing for shelf space, the family-centric couple, alongside their brewmaster son, wants to create a brewpub that will be a destination for family and friends to relax with a great beer and enjoy healthy food. “It's not about big corporate beer; this is what we love to do,” says Jeff Douglas.

They haven't shut the door on the idea, but the Douglas family currently has no plans for distribution. That leaves them completely open to a strong rotation of taps and more recipe flexibility. “If we want to brew with hop 'A,' and hop 'A' is too expensive, we'll just go buy hop 'B' and brew whatever we want,” Douglas says.  

The brewery will offer two or three small-batch beers a week, which may include doubles, stouts, shandys, session IPAs, light lagers, and even fruitier and lighter beers. The Douglases hope fresh options for the avid beer drinker will encourage more frequent visits. Having food, a feature not offered by many local breweries, is another potential draw.

Kathy Douglas handles the food side. She's worked with local purveyors and growers to source local ingredients for her fresh-food menu of sandwiches, salads, burgers and eventually pizza made on-site in a hand-built pizza oven.

The Douglases have personally funded about 35% of their operation, combining savings with a small business loan. They have a three-year lease on their 7,500-square-foot location on Manatee Avenue in Bradenton, a few miles west of Interstate 75. It used to house a British pub. The 3 Keys atmosphere will be artsy, featuring reclaimed wood and handmade tables.
They also plan to include lots of flowers and plants. Seating will be available inside the actual brewery, not just in the taproom.

The Douglases are using a local pottery artisan to make mugs for their mug club, and a local artist will compose a mural on the inside wall. The Douglas family also plans to hold community events, such as “Mission Monday” where they will promote local charities.

“My wife and I have been foster parents in the community for 15 years, so we see that need and really want to give back to the community,” says Jeff Douglas.

Another unique aspect of 3 Keys: kid-friendly activities. That includes a take-a-book-leave-a-book station and Legos, so parents could enjoy beers while kids play. “We want to have our own food and our own beer and just concentrate on that experience,” says Douglas.

Mike Wagner has been working on Little Giant Brewery in downtown Bradenton for six years.

Little Giant Brewery
Little Giant Brewery owner and brewmaster Mike Wagner is adaptable in his business tact but committed to a balance of his beer's quality and the brewery's drinking environment.

Wagner will open with a few small pilot brewing systems that offer about five or six beers. A forthcoming 20-barrel brewing system will allow him to distribute across the Tampa region.
“At first we'll be in-house,” he says, “but when we get that 20-barrel system online then we'll slowly trickle the beer out into the markets I want to be in.”

Wagner has 16-plus years of brewing experience. He's worked on his own brewery for six years, which provided time to build a following via guerilla marketing and networking. “They've all had it and they all want it,” he says of those who've tasted his beers.

Wagner's love of beer is rooted in his college days at all-mens Wabash College, where he says the focus was on academics, sports and of course, drinking beer. He's also worked at other breweries.  

Wagner's own beer-drinking personality has led him to brew beers that offer “quaffability” — the creation of beers people will want to drink more than one of. But he remains open to flavor experimentation. “I may not be the biggest chocolate imperial stout drinker,” says Wagner. “But I know I can brew a good one, and people will want to have a few of them.”

Wagner, waiting on final federal permitting to officially open, has found some success working with local banks for funding.

Build-out is set to be complete by late August. He declined to reveal some details of his tasting room, but he did disclose his 5,200-square-foot downtown Bradenton location (which he's owned for three years) will have a Florida-industrial style with lots of natural light and outdoor space. There will also be a fenced-in area designated by his 6-year-old German shepherd Chloe as a dog park. The place is set up acoustically for live music, but Wagner also wants it to be a place people can come talk. The location will be family friendly and on the food truck rotation.

“As the (local) market gets more crowded,” says Wagner, “you have to be adaptable in your business projections and strategy and make sure people are happy when they come and have your product.”


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