Brew Biz: Werts and All

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Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

The Topic: Starting a Brewpub in Tennessee via England and Boulder

As told by Chris and Jane Hartland (Owners: Cool Springs Brewery)

Imagine yourself spending, or losing if you wish, thousands a week just to ride a kiddie roller coaster. Then, practically the next day as if by magic, it becomes the wildest wild mouse imaginable.

That’s only part of the Cool Springs Brewery story, and part of Chris and Jane Hartland’s story. But let’s go back before that.

Do you hear the time machine running, or is that my over watered coffeemaker?

Oops. Hold on.

I’m back.

Anyway, back to the rightfully proud owners of Cool Springs Brewery in Franklin, Tennessee.

Chris and Jane met in 1997 in Norwich, England. Jane had just finished college and she was bartending at Chris’ local. (For you blithering Yanks that’s the local pub: very community based pubs with regulars. Kind of like Cheers only better with an accent. Or do we have the “accent?”) Chris was in the army and had just got through basic training in Cambridge. He would come back to his local from time to time on weekends and drink only Stout.

There he met a fair young maid and swept her off her feet, or was it the other way around? Such is the nature of relationships, except with my wife Millie. I think she used a Dyson vacuum. Every time I watch one of those ads while in bed I hold on to the wooden bedpost for dear life like a forest animal might hide behind a tree during hunting season.

Kidding… Deer.

Speaking of guns and such… Chris joined his unit after basic and was sent off to Kenya, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan (twice), Iraq between the Afghanistan tours. In 2008, when he got out, Chris and Jane decided they wanted to move over to the States. (Across what some refer to as “the big pond,” or could be referred one huge case of puddle jump, perhaps?)

Basically were just looking to get into a business: any business. They wanted to do something different, or “not quite as dangerous,” according to Chris, “because we’ve got two boys. I figured I’d probably used up ten of my nine lives.”

First his father started looking for a business they could buy. Why Franklin? Well, Chris’ parents live here.

Then they found Guido’s, a pizza place that wasn’t doing well and the mostly absent owner wanted to sell.

Guido’s New York Pizza had once been a very popular place, but the owner had been mostly absent. Meanwhile Jane had been investigating putting in a microbrewery and realized there were none in Williamson County.

There was a comfort level due to Chris having managed a pizza “take away” before. Jane was comfortable with bartending. Chris said, “And I had comfort levels with being on the other side of the bar and drunk a lot.”

Just before they bought the place, Jane had to go to Texas because her aunt died. She realized just how bad things were when she came back, walked in, and on a day things should have been they had one customer… for an entire evening.

They didn’t need to have a regular bartender. Jane and Chris’ Dad would bartend. On a Friday night they would have two staff members on other than themselves.

The Hartlands knew the brewery would make big changes in their losses vs. profit, but how much they didn’t realize… and that was great, but very hard to handle. From the start they knew they had to do things differently because the business was failing, so the plan had always been to put in a brewery, Chris believing that a trend that was sweeping the nation was needed here in Franklin.

To say the result of that decision was “dramatic” would be an understatement. The year before they started serving beer they were losing money according to their accountant, the next year when they met with him they were told their beer sales had gone up 700%.

Jane said, “The day we started offering the beer the restaurant completely changed, up until then we lost money every single day. The day the beer started pouring…” Chris chimed in, “We sold more beer in a single night than we sold in ten days.”

“We didn’t have experience in the industry. We were unaware. We thought business would slope upward as people heard about us. Instead, for the first two weeks (after the beer started to pour) it was a nightmare. Coming to work every day I’d start to cry because I knew we’d have new customers coming in and didn’t want people walking out the door because they weren’t getting the (good) service.”

Chris and Jane solved this by telling the customers their story. Customers liked the fact Cool Springs Brewery wasn’t some chain. And that helped with the fact they were going for an English pub-like atmosphere, not as much the décor, but where the bartenders know you, know your name, what you usually drink, where you usually sit. Where you could sit and have a conversation. For the regulars they have a program called “the top 25 beer club” where, after having a certain number of beers, they get a bigger glass with each pour. “We reward regular customers, and it also helps the staff see who the regular customers are. People like to feel special.”

Chris’ father said they’d never get that (here in America) and now says “I can’t believe you did that, but you did.”

They like the personal approach whereas, normally, “you won’t find the owner handing out menus at the front door,” like I have seen Jane, or Chris, doing every time I have visited. “I think people like the fact that me and Chris are mopping up floor in the bathroom, buffing tables, running food.”

Chris said they both have their areas they specialize in. She does the paper work, he unplugs drains, finding new tables, fixing ovens or finding someone who will. “If there’s a beer festival I’ll go there myself.”

They had had resumes come in from as far away as South Africa, but the more local Mike Kraft was their brewer from the start. When he saw an ad in the Tennessean Mike kept coming in and offering advice and they knew he had a few awards under his belt.

He developed the recipes and help set the pace for a wildly successful brewery.

Fast forward a few years later…

Mike Kraft had decided to go to Turtle Anarchy: a new brewery opening in the area. But he didn’t leave them hanging. Mike stayed and helped with the new brewer search.

Their current brewer, Derrick Morse, head brew master at Twisted Pine in Boulder, Colorado. He wasn’t even looking for a job. Derrick had been looking in the trades for new equipment when he saw the ad.

His wife, Kaleigh’s parents live no more than 7 miles down the road from Cool Springs Brewery, and Derrick was looking to get out of being a big fish in a far bigger pond, to being a big fish in a smaller pond.

“He didn’t even know there was a brewery here,” Chris said, “he was hoping to come to Franklin and introduce new beers no one has seen here. That’s the kind of drive we were looking for. He wanted to come to a community that had not even seen some of the beers they had in Colorado. He was so excited when I was speaking to him about the job (on the phone), and (at the same time) his wife was in labor!”

After some phone conversations, just to make sure someone they hadn’t met yet knew his stuff, Derrick came to Franklin. He and Mike filtered beer on a Friday, brewed on a Saturday. After that Mike told Chris and Jane, “If you get him you’re lucky, he’s a real smart cookie.”

And since then Derrick has proven his worth many times over. He not only brewed many of the beers on his own quickly, very efficiently, but has also been marketing Cool Springs, Facebook, doing the blog, Twittering… Jane said she had been doing all this, and admitted she wasn’t doing as much anymore by the time Derrick was hired. Chris said, “He said to me that ‘my first job is to make the beer, the second is to sell the beer,’ which I thought was very professional. He said ‘there’s a big area people overlook and it’s homebrewers,’ and he wants to get the homebrewer’s involved because they will support the place. He said Derrick said, “’There’s not many people brewing wild and wacky beers except homebrewers.’ In the future he (Derrick) is looking to do competitions out in the lot here. A few weeks later they return and whichever beer is judged the best, the brewer will brew 7 barrels with Derrick.

According to Chris, Derrick wants to double output and get an offsite location: bottle and keg. The only requirement Chris has set is that they do what they need to do to get to that level first because, “You know, you come from the U.K. to here and you don’t have a credit history.” They still have problems getting credit cards, and their bank admits that’s the only problem. So he’s being a tad cautious in that sense

Chris said they were looking into having “a sour program” as an example of some of the new beers they will serve. “Derrick was in charge of that at Twisted Pine. We’re looking into doing that somewhere off site so the yeast is never in here.

“We’ve brought Boulder to Tennessee.”

Chris said he was very happy with facts like the changes in filtering and carbonation. Beers like Pecker Wrecker, filtered carbonated before, are now filtered flat: “tastes better.” And mentioned Derrick found “carb stones” they didn’t even know they had: one still in the box, and now use those to carbonate. “We put the Pecker Wrecker in the tank in the morning and in 2 ½ hours it’s carbonated.” Derrick just listens to the tank and can tell when it’s carbonated. Another change is Derrick is using less caustic means to sterilize.

According to Chris, a while ago Bridgestone Arena came to them and asked for Pecker Wrecker and Chris knew there was no way: they didn’t have the capacity, but with a few simple tweaks Derrick provided… now they the ability to brew twice as much.”

When I asked if there was anything he’d like to bring over from England, beer-wise, he laughed and said he only drank Stout then, admitting it has been an adventure learning to appreciate different styles. Even when he took a brew course he’d go with them to different pubs and they’d order the first round and “I’d get Stella. They’d say, .Really, Chris, ‘Stella?’” He’d tell them he didn’t need to like other brews to sell them, but since he came over here his tastes are changing. He still doesn’t care for Brit IPAs, but he likes Pecker Wrecker. Recently he went to his cousin’s local in Wales and tried an IPA, just a drop, and didn’t care for it.

We both agreed it was probably the malt profile and the hops used.

Yet he admits he came over here he bought a six of Ultra and it wound up in the dumpster. He knows now his tastes are changing and that’s what this is all about.

Yet he admits recently he bought a six of Ultra and it wound up in the dumpster. He knows now his tastes are changing and that’s what this is all about.

So from a week before the brewery started serving and transferring their last funds to keep afloat a business that was losing thousands with only 11 employees… to a sudden wild mouse ride and 33-35 employees?

“And that’s pretty cool,” Chris said.

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Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to review, discuss and comment 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.”