Taking craft beer from hobby to business

Local brewery shares secrets of a successful business

LONGWOOD, Fla. – Craft beer is everywhere these days-- even brewed at home by some as a hobby. It's gaining in popularity-- and fast.
According to Brewers Association, Florida ranks 10th in the country for number of craft breweries and 6th for most barrels produced per year.
So what does it take to go from the stove to a successful brewery and brand?
At Hourglass Brewing in Longwood, it's all about the art of crafting the brew from the grain to the glass. And they do a lot of it-- right now, they have beer in more than 150 locations with usually 20 to 30 beers but as many as 50 beers available at a time on tap, they know a thing or two about how it's done.
"Right here, we have Sneaky Wombat, this is the first sour IPA we ever made," said co-head brewer Matthew Gemmel, while showing News 6 what was on tap. "Next, it's Johannson Bockhammer, that is a Doppelbock brewed true to German style. The very last one on tap down here we brew once a year, it's called Gogh Czech Yo'self. I love recipe building, creating a new beer from scratch, having an idea of something I haven't drank before that I would like to see in a glass in front of me."
Gemmell said beer has been a passion of his since college.
"In my apartment on our stovetop is where I brewed my first beer and I wanted to see if I could do it," he said. "I had ideas for beers that didn't exist, so I wanted to see if I could make that happen."
But it's not just about drinking, for these guys, it's also about the history.
"There are a lot of historical beer styles that are either very unpopular or just not well-known at all and we will regularly find one of those styles and recreate the beer," said Gemmel. "Mike wanted to do what's called a Kuyt. They were popular in Holland in the 1400s or 1500s for only about a 100 years and disappeared. I was really interested in Norweigan farmhouse ales. These people in these Scandanavian countries brewing beer in their farms just for themselves, so I wrote a recipe for that where we actually smoked some of the malt over alderwood in the parking lot ourselves and then laudered the beer through foraged juniper branches because they used a juniper infusion for the beers."
So how do you get from your stove to head brewer? Gemmel warned-- it's not for the faint of heart.
"You have to have the passion to learn, most people who homebrew will never be professional brewers," said Gemmel. "I think that the best way to do it would be to volunteer at a brewery if you're honestly thinking about making that leap and see the differences between brewing five gallons and brewing 300 or 1,000 gallons of beer at once. It's a lot of learning the equipment, I'd say, is the biggest hurdle."
Next up-- you need confidence and creativity.
"So far, I think the most interesting ingredient we've probably used, at least in my mind, for my honeymoon I went to Thailand and Cambodia and me and my wife went to Chang Mai and hiked through this kind of mountain trail into this village that roasts coffee and I was able to roast coffee and package it up and take it back here."
And it's going to be a lot of long days with a lot of hard work.
"You're not creating a recipe every day, what you are doing every day is cleaning, shoveling wet grain that's 150 degrees, 160 degrees, you know, cleaning with chemicals that if you're not careful could give you serious chemical burns," said Gemmel. "It's, especially in Florida right now, it is hot. You are, I think we all lose five to ten pounds in the summer just from the heat. I think the misconception is that it's always fun and easy and while it's often fun, it's often frustrating, it's always a lot of hard work and you're doing a lot more of the boring stuff than you'd think."
So what's his least favorite part?
"I don't really like putting beer in the kegs, I definitely don't like bottling and I really dislike canning, I guess, because while it's all obviously really important, you can ruin a beer at that stage so it’s not technically done. I just feel like at that point I did what I needed to do, let somebody else do that. It's just, I don't like it. It's part of the job and I guess that's what makes it a job," said Gemmel.
Gemmel said another thing to remember-- a little humility goes a long way.
"I'm definitely not one of the people that think that I know everything," he said. "There is so much about beer, 20 years from now, if I'm not still learning every single day, then I gave up. There are people in Belgium and Germany, there are guys that are fourth or fifth generation brewers so those guys grew up with just a wealth of knowledge that's not at our disposal. So we know that we have so much to learn that we're willing to listen to each other and not just insist that we're right."
He said one of the things they're really working on now at Hourglass is brewing sour beer.
"At this point, one thing that sets us apart from the rest of the guys in Orlando is our sour and wild program," said Gemmel. "That's something that Michael and myself are very passionate about, we love brewing those beers, we love drinking them, it's a whole different side of brewing that a lot of brewers don't get involved in, don't want to. There's risks, it takes a lot more time, but that's something that we have really kind of gone into head first. Our latest sour release, Augustus, was kind of an experimental thing, a sour ale we fermented in barrels. The barrels had a chocolate stout in it to give it a chocolate flavor from that and then we brought in raw cacao beans, roasted them ourselves and added that. We thought it would probably take about a year and it ended up being in barrels for 21 months because we tasted it, it wasn't ready, went back and tasted it, wasn't ready, went back and alright, it's starting to get there and now, finally."
Gemmel said the brewery has been around for five years now, and is still going strong, so the leap the owners made to business seems to be working out well. He said the best thing you can do once you've got your beer ready to go to hopefully give you some longevity is to appreciate your customers. Appreciate their honest feedback, even if it's negative-- and they've even named some of their beers after regulars.
But in the end, he said, if you think you're ready to make the leap, you need to just go out and do it.
"Assuming that they have actually brewed beer at home, I always suggest if you can accept those kind of negatives about the job but you haven't brewed yet, I always say buy an extract base kit that cuts out half your time from brewing, try that, do it once, if you're still excited about it, do an all-grain home brew which is where you're actually taking a beer from grain to glass, do that a few times, if you still love it, look for a local brewery and try to volunteer."

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