In 2013, Drew Barton will be bringing more locally brewed craft beer to the Bluff City when he opens the doors to Memphis Made Brewing Company. Barton will serve as president and head brewer at Memphis Made, which is leasing space at 768 S. Cooper, just south of Central. When Memphis Made opens mid-year with a 10-barrel brewing system, it will initially only be a production brewery, but the Cooper-Young area business will ultimately feature brewery tours and a small tasting room. Barton, former head brewer at French Broad Brewing Company, talked to FuzzyBrew about the process of starting a brewery and his plans for Memphis Made.
You’ve been working on starting your own brewery for awhile now. Can you give us some insights into the process and what it took to get you to this point?
I don’t know if there was a singular starting point. It definitely began while brewing at French Broad Brewery in Asheville, NC. Melodie and I loved it out there but it never felt like home to either one of us. We found ourselves coming back to Memphis any chance we got. We felt a strong pull coming from Memphis. Once we got engaged, we decided to pack up and re-root ourselves in Memphis.
We got back to town and started working on a business plan. We worked on the business plan for what seemed like forever. It was a good year-and-a-half process. We met with advisers at SCORE, SBA, and any business person that would listen to us. We constantly worked on the plan, going over different scenarios on paper. This was one of the best pieces of advice we got during the whole process: make as many mistakes as you can on paper, it’s cheaper that way. Then, as soon as we felt like we had a viable plan, we started meeting with potential investors. Every meeting brought more questions and helped improve the plan.
Then one day we saw a “for lease” sign on the Cooper building we will eventually move into. We toured the building and really liked it. We then met with the owner and talked about necessary renovations to get a brewery in the building. We got fairly grandiose with our plans and our budget was feeling some pain. So, we stepped back and kept looking around town at other spaces in hopes of finding a more budget-friendly space. During our search, we developed more budget slimming plans and returned to the Cooper building with a plan to fit our budget.
So, here we are with financing, equipment on order, and getting ready to begin construction.
How did you pick your space at 768 S. Cooper, and how do you see the brewery fitting into the Cooper-Young scene?
Since I live in Cooper-Young, the first goal was to find something in the neighborhood. We couldn’t find anything at first due to distance rules regarding alcohol related businesses. Then that “for lease” sign popped up. 768 Cooper met the existing distance requirements and is zoned correctly for a brewery. So after working out budget and design issues, it was a no-brainer. Since then, some changes to the city ordinances have opened up more possible locations, but with the building sitting directly on Cooper it won out as our best possible location.
When we open the doors there won’t actually be doors to open to the public just yet. So, at first there won’t be much fitting in to the Cooper-Young scene. But as production ramps up and the next phase of build-out is complete, the tasting room will open. I think the tasting room will be a natural fit for the neighborhood. The tasting room will have very limited hours, basically enough time to stop in for a beer after work and head on home for dinner or out somewhere else in the neighborhood. There will be growlers available to take home. Hopefully, we’ll get a lot of neighbors walking up to get a growler.
What are the first beers Memphis Made will brew, and how did you decide on the styles to start with?
The first beers to come out will be one-time inaugural beers, and I’m keeping those under wraps for now. Beyond that, a Kolsch and an I.P.A. will be our regular offerings. Kolsch has been one of my favorite styles for years now. While brewing at French Broad, it was the first professional recipe I developed. It’s such an easy-drinking beer and I think it will fit in well with the climate of Memphis. An I.P.A., or Pale Ale, is just a given. The decision to go with the I.P.A. was based on the principle of “go big or go home.” If it’s gonna be a hoppy beer, it’s gonna be full of hops. But it’s not going to be a race to run up the IBUs. The I.P.A. will be flavor and aroma forward with a moderate bitterness to balance it out.
How did you decide on Memphis Made for the name of your brewery?
There was a laundry list of names considered. We wanted it to be something definitively Memphis without being hokey like Blue Suede Brewery. So while trying on different names, the idea of using Memphis Made as a branding tool was introduced. Originally it was envisioned as an image to be used on packaging, like a stamp of approval. Then it hit me, Memphis Made isn’t a branding tool, it’s a brand. It’s unapologetically Memphis and that’s how we feel about this city. We love this city and we’re not afraid to say “I am Memphis Made.” Memphis made us who we are, and we can return the favor and make Memphis a better place.
Just how much demand do you think there is in Memphis for more craft beer, and more specifically, locally-brewed craft beer?
When we and other breweries open in Memphis, it should help bring better awareness to craft beer in the area. People learn a lot about beer when they tour breweries or meet local brewers, so I think having more people brewing locally will help drive demand. Meeting and talking with people about beer is part of our mission. We want to educate them about fresh beer made in their neighborhood.
In general, more craft beer in the Memphis market is somewhat dependent on state-level decisions. Currently, Tennessee has some of the highest excise taxes on beer. This has actively driven breweries out of the state and at times kept them from even entering the market. The newly formed Tennessee Craft Brewers Guild is currently addressing this issue and hopefully can help level the playing field. Once that happens, I think the craft beer market in Tennessee will open up. So, everyone reading this, go check out http://www.tncraftbrewers.org/ and support their efforts.