Q&A with Wicked Barley Brewing Company

November 8, 2014 | Category: Brewery Opening

Interview by:

Talking craft beer with Philip Maple of Wicked Barley Brewing Company

1. Can you tell us about Wicked Barley Brewing Company?

We’re going to be a local Jacksonville brewery, tap room and restaurant. We’ve secured a property on Goodbys Creek at Baymeadows Road in Southside(map) and our goal is to open in late summer or early fall of 2015.

The brewery will consist of a 15 barrel brewing system. We’ll serve about 10 taps of our own beers on location, as well as another 10 taps or so of guest beers. In addition to a tap room and restaurant we’ll also have an outdoor patio, a beer garden, and a dock.

2. Who are the owners?

Brett Baker, Tobin Turney and I are the majority owners and then we have a minority owner, Brad Sueflohn. That’s in addition to a few silent investors.

3. How did you select your location?

I’ve lived in Mandarin for probably 7 years and one of the other partners has lived nearby too. We both love craft beer and we’ve always been saying that we hate having to go downtown to enjoy local craft beer. We also loved the idea of putting something on the water. Jacksonville has a lot of excellent waterfront but very few really great places to enjoy a beer or a meal on the water.

Even though we knew what we wanted, we had a hard time finding a location that was affordable. It was kind of funny – Engine 15 was looking for an expansion property and we were behind them at almost every point, looking at locations they previously viewed. Everywhere we looked at was a mess, requiring extensive work to fix up. We got pretty far along with one property that was going to be pretty close to Engine 15’s new location, but it just didn’t work out. We were really bummed because we thought a place would be easier to find and we spent close to 6 months looking and always came up empty handed. I started Googling empty lots because we thought we should think about building and one of the first places I found was our current location. I was amazed – it had water access and it was in the area where we really wanted to build – but none of us thought we could afford it. We’d been working with the Small Business Development Center at UNF and they helped us to understand what was possible financially. So, we got together a down payment and put an offer on the lot.

4. Then what happened?

Well, it wasn’t smooth sailing from there at all. We probably went through 100 scenarios where we thought that was it – that we’d lost the lot, or a small business loan wouldn’t happen. We’d committed to the lot on blind faith. Our initial deposit gave us a 60 day grace period to secure funding but things never move as fast as you want so we had to scratch and claw to get an extension on the lot. That took more money. Even with that we still needed a second extension, and that took even more money, which was used just to hold our lot contract. We were all taking on a lot of debt for rezoning, architectural plans, down payments, and numerous legal teams, even before we knew the ultimate loan would come through, or even before we’d fully secured the lot. We could have taken another route with less hassles that would have let us open faster and with less risk – but we loved the location and thought it was worth fighting for.

5. When did you finally know you’d make it?

About a month ago, in September [2014]. Everything had come down to the wire. Thanks to timely help from some silent investors we were able to get over the hump to get what we needed to secure our small business loan. But it was literally done at the very last minute. Myself and Tobin were at a Bono’s in Middleburg. We’d just brewed some beer and were kind of down thinking the deal would never happen. The bank kept telling us we’d know any day but things kept getting pushed out for over a month. I was sitting at the bar when my phone rang. It was our guy at the bank and he was acting really macabre and speaking in a monotone. My heart was sinking and then he yells out “you got it!” I literally stood up in Bono’s and started screaming. All these people were staring at me, wondering what was going on. I broke down crying and Tobin and I were hugging each other. If we don’t screw it up this is really life changing for us. We felt like we’d won the lotto.

6. What made you want to own a brewery?

We live and breathe craft beer and we all have such a passion for this. We’ve visited craft beer places all around the US and members of my family have been brewing since the early ’90’s.

Our inspiration for Wicked Barley Brewing is Stone Brewery in San Diego - they are the Mecca of craft brew. They have a 12,000 square foot property with a huge beer garden out back. Families go there with their kids and dogs to hang out in the grass, have good food, drink good beer, and listen to music. After seeing that I knew we could never settle for a warehouse setup or just lease some place, although there were a lot of times when we almost defaulted to that. When we found this location everything came together and lit a fire under us – we decided we just wouldn’t take no for an answer.

7. When will you open?

We hope to open in August of 2015, but you never know how construction goes.

8. Have you had any issues getting zoning permits from the City?

Not really. I have to tip my hat to the other breweries in town because they paved the way for us. The City Council was unbelievably nice to us. We went into this thinking “here we go – this is never going to happen,” and they actually took us on with open arms, which was really nice.

9. How big is the tap room going to be?

The total building is going to be 7,000 square feet. The brewery itself will be around 4,000 square feet and the tap room will be a little over 2,000 square feet. We’re going to have a large, covered patio that will have heaters and coolers to allow people to sit out there comfortably for a lot of the year. In total we’ll be able to seat about 200 people – 75 inside and the rest on the patio. We’ll also have a beer garden, but it won’t be covered.

10. Will the dock be there on day 1?

That’s the plan, unless something comes up to destroy our budget.

11. Will you open in phases or all at once?

Bang! All at once! We’re not doing it half-assed. We know what we’re doing and we’ve been testing our beers for a long time. We want to start out of the gate with 10 different brews. We’ll have a full food menu, including sausages we make in-house, sandwiches and hearty food that goes well with beer.

12. Is your goal to distribute your beers to other bars?

Yes, definitely. At the core we’re a brew pub, so our biggest ambition is to sell beer in our tap room. But, we’re also looking to get into as many bars and restaurants around town as possible. We want our taps to be next to Bold City, Intuition and the other great local brewers. We’ll start locally but also want to eventually branch out geographically. Our goal is to put in a canning line in year 3 or so. The ultimate goal is to move production to an offsite warehouse while keeping our 15 barrel system for the pub with the production site servicing areas outside the pub.

13. Do you have your recipes in place?

The recipes we have are all scaled to a one barrel system and we’re working to scale them to a 15 barrel system. It’s a process of repetition – brewing over and over to get things right on a consistent basis. That means drinking a lot of beer. Unfortunately our beer guts are getting bigger, but fortunately we have a lot of friends who are willing to take our beer. For the past two years it seems like we’ve been brewing nearly every Sunday. It’s been nuts.

14. Your tagline is “Naughty Ales for Noble Souls” – what do you mean by that?

“Naughty Ales” is to give it a punk rock feel. I was in a punk band in college and I want our whole being to have an edge to it. I don’t want to play it safe. I don’t want to have the same staple beers as everyone else. I love our local breweries so I’m not putting anyone down, but I want our beers to be different, to have an edge to them. Our logo is of a devil with a halo above him. We wanted to have an edge but we also have a kind side, a good side. Our beers are going to be off the wall – I think we’ll be like a Dogfish Head, Florida version, where we do off the wall projects. It’ll be crazy beer – naughty beer for good people. That’s where it all comes from.

15. Will each of the owners have specific roles?

Ultimately, everyone on the ownership team will do whatever it takes – if we have to clean bathrooms, we will. Besides that, I’ll be the brewmaster. I’ll work on the recipes and formulation and I’ll run our yeast lab, along with quality control. Tobin will be the brewery operations director. He’s like Bob Villa – he can fix anything mechanical and he can work as a general contractor. Brett will be the tap room director, running the front of the house. My Dad, Bob Maple, will help me with brewing and recipe formulations and will also help Tobin with the operations side of the recipes. My Dad at the core is really what got all of us into craft beer one way or the other. He started brewing beer in the 90′s out of necessity as everything sold on the store shelfs back then was crap. He’s been a beer geek before that term was cool; having him in our corner is huge.

16. Who will do the cooking at the restaurant?

Brad Sueflohn. Brad grew up in Jacksonville and went to culinary school here before moving to Las Vegas. He’s done really well for himself. He’s worked at Le Cirque and under celebrity chef Joel Robuchon. Now he’s at Sage, which is a world class restaurant in Las Vegas. Way back, Brad and I had a dream to open a gastropub together. We were both burned out and wanted to do something different. That early plan morphed into the brewery. It was Brad who came up with the name Wicked Barley. When the plan for Wicked Barley Brewing came together it was a no brainer to call up Brad. He’ll move here in May [2015] to start preparing for when we open. We want to do what a lot of great restaurants like Black Sheep are doing, and that’s to work with local farms. He’ll need time to build those relationships before opening.

17. What’s the biggest worry you have between now and next summer in terms of what it will take to get opened on time?

There’s a lot! Nothing can really start from the brewing side until we get our licenses in place. Suppliers won’t talk to us without a license because they don’t know if we’re serious or if we’re just home brewers looking for a better deal on our ingredients. Hops are a pretty coveted item and we have a lot of recipes that call for the most popular hops. We need to get our hop contracts in place in order to guarantee our supply for the year, along with a known cost for that supply. That’s my biggest stress point currently because hops and water are our two most important ingredients.

On the building side many people have told us to expect 2 – 3 months of delay for something of this size, so that’s another stress point. We’ve done our due diligence on phase 1 but you never know what’ll come up along the way. I guess that’s all part of the adventure!

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