It's almost impossible to believe, but Southbound Brewing Co. wasn't a presence at last year's Savannah Craft Brew Fest. Last summer the fledgling enterprise was still in the early stages of building out its impressive production facility on Savannah's industrial westside, jumping through the myriad of hoops that come with opening any new business.
And when your new business is also the first of its kind in the area, your challenges are multiplied. You have to educate local leaders and hope they're willing to embrace the unknown.
Marketing Director Carly Wiggins recounts the last year as a series of hurry-up-and-wait scenarios.
"We had equipment in and ready to go for a long time. It took us 8 months to close on the building," says Carly. "We had to do soil testing. To get our building permit, it took about 4 months. Build out took 2 and a half months."
Then Southbound had to work on getting an alcohol license, which was made even more difficult because the powers-that-be weren't familiar with the setup and operation of a brewery.
Southbound is finally brewing beer here, but its role as trailblazer isn't over. The latest mission: to get city leaders to approve a local ordinance allowing brewery tours and tastings, which are already a mainstay of other breweries all over the state.
"It will put us in an extreme disadvantage to not be able to do that," explains Carly. "It's a major marketing tool to get people in, and they create a bond with your brand. Without it, no other brewery would open up here. With the related tourism impact, it's creating something for the entire area."
And if Southbound can get more brewery-friendly regulations in place, Carly believes the Savannah area will be perfectly positioned to profit from the craft beer revolution.
She's seen it work well in other places. Before Carly and her childhood friend Smith Mathews decided to go into business for themselves here with Southbound, they gained experience at Atlanta's well-established Sweetwater Brewing Co and Westbrook Brewing Co, located outside of Charleston. Both parent cities have vibrant craft beer cultures and have thoroughly embraced the breweries' social and economic benefits. Carly and Smith hope Savannah will seize this opportunity as well and support the brewery.
With our city's long and storied history that often co-mingles with adult beverages, it's hard to believe that Southbound is Savannah's only production brewery. As such, Carly and Smith have worked tirelessly in community outreach, educating their neighbors and local leaders about the economic benefits of their chosen profession.
Southbound will soon have company though, with two more breweries (Coastal Empire Brewing Co. and Service Brewing Co.) planning to open Savannah-based production facilities in the coming year.
The path may not have been easy for Southbound, but the hard work is paying off. Southbound is managing 100 accounts with Georgia bars and restaurants. Chalkboard tap lists all over Savannah proudly list the three beers from its main line: "Iron Lion" pale ale, "Hop'lin" IPA and "Scattered Sun Wit," a Belgian white ale.
In addition to promoting those core offerings, Southbound is using the added publicity and fanfare of the Brew Fest week to debut its first seasonal, "Day Trip'eler", another ale with Belgian roots that stays true to the storied style. The tripel will also be the brewery's first beer offered in bottles, which will be on area store shelves in the coming weeks.
Southbound will be busy every night of the Brew Fest week, participating in a full range of events including tap takeovers, glassware giveaways, beer and food pairing dinners and exclusive small batch releases. Its work culminates with the festival main event on Saturday, where all four of its beers will be available for tastings as well as a special cask ale.
"We have something every single day until the beer fest," says Carly. "And then, on Sunday, I won't want to talk to anybody. I'm going to the beach."
The brew house has room for expansion, and Southbound is looking to build a barrel-aging program as well as the inevitable cadre of additional fermenters. As it spreads its beers out from its Savannah hub to Atlanta and beyond, Carly and Smith are excited to bring Savannah along for the ride.
"In our current capacity we're going to max out at 6,000 barrels. We can continue to add more tanks in and get up to 30,000 barrels of beer a year in this building, which is great," says Carly. "The main thing we want to focus on is keeping the quality of the beer and keeping everyone that we're currently supplying happy."