A Brew Biz Brewery Alert
Re: Grayton Beer Company
217 Serenoa Road
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
Phone: (850) 231-4786
Thursdays: 4 – 7 p.m.
Fridays: 4 – 7 p.m.
Saturdays: Noon – 5 p.m.
Written by Ken Carman
Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Clarksville Carboys and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.
It was Christmas time: 2014. Millie and I sat at the sampling bar in a huge room filled with brewing equipment and busy elves helping Santa Shank brew liquid presents for thirsty souls. But how did I end up at Grayton Beer Company a few weeks ago? Well, being a musical storyteller by trade, I at least have to give the short story version, so let’s go back a few years…
I started touring as a children’s entertainer and educational service provider in 1988. By 1989 my tour reached Florida. In 91, sitting a director’s office, just north of Tallahassee, the director said, “I hope this won’t take you away from us: we enjoy what you do. But I really feel you’d do well in Pensacola.” So by 92 I extended my tour from Tallahassee to Panama City, Pensacola and beyond.
Meanwhile, being a homebrewer since 79, and loving craft beer, I had made a habit of stopping by the few brew businesses around. There weren’t many. The Mill in Tallahassee, McGuires in Pensacola and Abita in Abita Springs were pretty much it. There are a handful of other brew ghosts left from those days that still live on only in my head: brief brewpubs in Panama City Beach, a far, far, far better than The Mill pub in Tallahassee, Fort Walton, Slidell, Louisiana, Ft. Walton Beach. But west of Panama City to Pensacola there still wasn’t much of anything, and I don’t mean just brew-wise. Even Destin and Ft. Walton were mostly just sleepy villages. Head north of the beach area and there was even less… a military base and, otherwise, infinitesimally small hamlets and woods, scrub, ponds, lakes.
Boy have things changed. Some changes not so hot: condos blocking my cherished view of jewel-like blue green waves crashing gently on snow white beaches. But some changes have been for the better, like Grayton Beer Company.
I had to ask where it was first at the McGuires in Destin. One of their brewers: Tom Anderson, gave me rough directions, while Tom’s fellow brewer, Gary Essex, chuckled.
Was Gary thinking, “He’s going to get lost, I just know it?”
The confusion came when, last year, Millie and I went to Grayton Beach, looking for signs of a brewery being built: under the impression Grayton Beer Company would be in, uh, Grayton. Silly me. So this year, knowing there still wasn’t that much north of the main route: 98, I kept asking Ms. GPS, “Where the %$#@ are you taking us?”
Grayton Beer Company sits in a small, “new-ish,” industrial area just off Route 98 in the middle of what used to be bloody near nowhere. To me it stills seems to be very rural. The small park is so small business oriented, and industrial-like, Grayton Beer Company seems a bit of a foolie: you would think anything filling in that space would be defined as “boring,” and certainly not as impressive as what you see, equipment-wise, when you walk through the door. What we found was friendly souls and a sample bar all integrated in with a busy, a big, modern, craft brewery.
Not “boring” at all.
And no walls to keep the craft away from quaffers.
A good thing, in my opinion.
As we waited for the sample bar to open, everyone who worked there was busy dancing between bottling and brew vessels, working on the latest quaff. In fact I think I saw Abby, our server, doing something between a mambo and a waltz. Just like the lack of walls, there seemed to be no absolute, finite, separation between serving staff, brewers and brewing assistants. Everyone pitched in. Everyone seemed to have a vested interest in brewing, and serving, the best beer… and doing it all with class and style.
These people simply love what they do.
And they certainly have the “tools” to do it…
They have a 30 barrel brewing system and massive bottling line. When you start a brewery usually there are huge capital expenditures to make long before you serve, bottle, can or maybe even brew your first beer. Someone spent a humungous amount of money to bring this on line or, like Murfreesboro’s Mayday Brewing… near where I live: Nashville… maybe a few investors spent “a humungous amount.” If so, this usually means there are even more firm production schedules that must be met to keep it all afloat, often putting profit from said investment even further down the road.
Starting a craft brewery is usually not a path one heads down merely to make a lot of money. More often it’s the fun, yet almost holy, mission of making great beer. And that explains so much of the cheerful “tude” to all the “busy” here.Yes, they do seem quite dedicated to just that kind of mission.
With so many pitching in even our server, Abby, was quite busy before the sample bar opened. So it was hard to separate servers from assistants from brewers. This is a team that seems to work together, oh, so well.
We didn’t have time to interview any of the brewers, or take a tour, but everything was there to see, as you can ascertain via my snapshots.
Every beer we had was good, some of course we would rather have had a little more of this, less of that: but they are brewing for a lot of folks, and we understand that. Nothing out of place, nor out of style.
Meanwhile Abby told us the story of their Double IPA, which they had on tap. They used 800 pounds of fresh Crystal wet hops and picked them up from Crosby Farms. To make sure they were fresh one of their brewers drove out there to pick them up. Crosby Hop Farms is in Michigan and Oregon, and I think Amy said they had driven straight out to Oregon and right back to keep the “fresh” in fresh hops. And immediately they had to start using them, everyone pitching in: which made for a long day, and a long night.
I am a fan of wet hops: done right. But so many times it goes beyond “grassy” and right into, “Were you trying to hop a beer, or over boil sinners in hell?” Not “sulfur;” more extremely grassy and astringent. This Double IPA was nothing like that. Yes, there was a slight grass sense, as expected, but way in the background. But “fresh” fit the quaff perfectly. They also used Magnum and dry hopped with Cluster, according to one of the servers.
We tried several other of their brews, including an APA that did a soft, yet solid, grapefruit-like/ Cascade-like caress on the palate: just then right amount for an APA. Their Belgian Witbier was a bit spicy, light malt and the yeast: Trappist-like… yeast driven phenols were very faint in the background. If you’ve had beer brewed with that distinctive White Labs Abbey this was similar, but not quite the same: nor as aggressive. My own description of the sensual experience would be just a tad brassy, though not quite metallic.
We also tried Gourdgeous, their seasonal pumpkin beer. The base beer seems to be a pale with a hint of caramel malt, pumpkin and spices. Not overwhelming in any sense. It was like a background of pumpkins and pumpkin pie spices behind a “gordgeous” production of, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
Abby seemed to be really good at telling stories behind each, like the 300 pounds of fresh pumpkin they used, ginger root, coriander, allspice and cinnamon sticks… being a musical storyteller by trade I appreciated this in her repartee.’ She made me wonder if every brew operation needs someone part tour guide, part server, part assistant brewer matched up with a flair for storytelling.
To be honest we hit Grayton on the run to other places. We were in Florida/Alabama for just a few days. But perhaps we’ll do a more depth review, maybe next year.
To remind ourselves of the rather tasty time we had we took a growler with us filled with their Russian Imperial. We were that impressed: a complex, grain rich, quaff with a hint of roasted barley and a firm body. We shared it with fellow Carboy club members in Clarksville. Much appreciated by all.
Til next time, Grayton.
Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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