Climbing the Mountain

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Two weeks ago, June 6, marked the three-year anniversary of the date that I created the business plan for our brewery in Google Docs. In an inadvertent metaphor, Nicole and I also hiked up to the summit of Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina. At 6,684 feet, it is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Starting from Black Mountain Campground, it was a 3,000 foot elevation gain over 6 miles.

Geared with plenty of water and snacks, we started at 10 am and began the three and a half hour uphill trek. Despite the constant glute burn, we were treated to beautiful wildflowers and views of the surrounding mountain ranges.

Finally, upon reaching the summit (and why does the last mile of a hike seem to take as long as the previous five?), we got the payoff: clear skies, 360 degree panoramic views from atop the pinnacle of the East Coast. Off in the distance we could see two other mountains we’d hiked: Grandfather Mountain and Craggy Dome.

Sitting on the observation tower, we ate our cashew butter and jelly sandwiches, which were probably the best we’d ever tasted. I also splurged on a Snickers Bar from the concession stand at the gift shop. I forgot how great a candy bar that is. Somehow, everything tastes better after you’ve walked up a mountain.

After a short rest and soaking up the views, we headed back down the trail. Even though gravity was working with us, the burn goes from the glutes to the quads. Up or down, hiking a mountain is never easy.

Keeping a leisurely pace downhill, we made it back to the truck shortly after 5 pm. Pretty exhausted, it felt great to take off those hiking boots and put on flip flops. We threw our packs in the truck and headed to one of our favorite post-hike destinations: Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain.

There are fewer things better in life than the post-hike, post-ride, post-whatever beer. You’re exhausted but totally relaxed, recounting the amazing events of the day and sipping on a delicious beverage. (Remember, everything tastes better after you’ve walked up a mountain!)

Pisgah Brewing is a great post-hike destination for two reasons: the beer is great (Pisgah Pale Ale may be the perfect post-hike beer) and it’s a no-frills, come as you are place. You can show up covered in dirt and sweat and no one cares.

While sitting on the faded picnic tables sipping our beers, Nicole and I were reminded of why we’re doing what we’re doing with Fireforge. It’s to create a place that feels just like that. Enjoy great beer with friends and family. Encourage people to get out in the world and give them a haven to return to and relax. It’s our version of heaven.

We’ve spoken with a lot of entrepreneurs who have told us various versions of, “If I had known what it was going to take to start my business before I started, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But now that I’m through it, it’s the best thing I ever did.” In many ways, that statement applies to us.

Back on June 6, 2014, the brewery was going to be called Croxbone (pronounced “crossbone,” and we learned to not spell things to confuse people) Brewing Company, and Nicole and I were still living in Tampa, FL.

If someone had come up to me on June 7, 2014 and told me that three years later, we’d be back in Greenville, we had to rename the company and we still would be at least four to six months from opening, that sprout of a dream probably would have died right there.

Just like climbing a mountain, the best thing to do with any goal that seems monumental is to have a vision of where you want to go, and build the dream one task, one conversation, one action at a time. And adjust course as often as you need to.

Our original plan for this past weekend was to take a three-day backpacking trip to the top of Cold Mountain. A string of thunderstorms dashed that idea, so instead we went to Asheville, visited our friends at Hillman Beer, checked out the new Wedge at Foundation, and made an epic day hike up Mt. Mitchell. Not a bad consolation prize!

While I’m often frustrated at the slow pace at which our start-up process is going and I’m chomping at the bit to get open, anniversaries are a great time to look back at the progress we’ve made. And man, have we come far.

On June 6, 2017, the Fireforge Crafted Beer that we’re creating is so much better than what we started to put on paper June 6, 2014. Thanks to the help and support of so many people, we’re building something bigger than we thought possible at the time.

I hope that on June 6, 2018, I’ll be able to tell you stories of our start-up journey while sitting down over a pint at the bar in the Fireforge tasting room. Until then, dream big and start small!

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The plans are done

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Well, as much as plans are ever done…

Have we been on a roll lately! Last week we checked off another milestone, completing our architecture and engineering plans and submitting them to the City for permitting. If all goes well, we should have our building permit in the next four to six weeks.

This was our first time going through the process of architecting and engineering a physical building. When we started, I had no idea the volume of building codes and how much detail they specify. It was quite the education.

I’m glad that we had a team of people behind us that know what they’re doing. Many thanks go out to Brian Thomas, Adam Roberts and their team at DP3 Architects, as well as the crew at Devita & Associates. They did a fantastic job of translating our vision into a plan that we can use to actually build something.

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Adult Tested, TTB Approved

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Miracles do happen! Last Wednesday, we received a notice that our Federal TTB Brewer’s Notice was approved. We filed the application on January 19, less than three months ago. Currently, this process is taking many breweries around the country six to eight months.

The TTB is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and they control the license to brew commercially in the United States and collect federal beer excise taxes. This approval came in so much earlier than I was expecting, I’m still not entirely sure what it means for us right now.

The biggest impact for us is that it removes the possibility of massive roadblocks in the process down the line, and we can start brewing as soon as we complete our build-out and get our brewing equipment installed. I’ve heard stories of breweries having everything ready to go, and having to wait two or three more months before receiving their approval so they can actually start brewing.

I want to give a huge shout out to Brook Bristow of Bristow Beverage Law. He’s helped us navigate the government permitting labyrinth, on both the federal and state sides. We’ve already received our conditional Alcohol Beverage License from the SC Department of Revenue, in addition to the recent TTB approval.

That means from a permitting standpoint, we now have to make it through the City of Greenville for our construction permits and we’re in really good shape. Brook handled the federal and state permits, telling us exactly what we needed to provide and he put it in a format to make it easy for those agencies to approve. I don’t know exactly what he did to get us approved so quickly and easily, and I’m not sure I want to

Thank you Brook!

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Freaking cool reclaimed metal roofing

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Cedar Bluff, an 1890s historic home on the May River in Bluffton, SC, in 2013 prior to renovations. Owners Joe & Diana Zokan donated the old metal roofing to Fireforge for the tasting room.

We have returned from Bluffton, SC with some amazing material for the Fireforge tasting room. Thank you so much to Diana and Joe Zokan for donating a ton (literally) of metal roofing from the historic 19th century house that they recently renovated along the May River.

The historic home, named Cedar Bluff, was originally built in the 1840s and was destroyed in June 1864 by Federal ships during the shelling of Bluffton during the Civil War. The current house was built upon the original foundation in the 1890s.

Over the next 100 years, Cedar Bluff had an interesting history. In the 1920s, it’s possible that the second floor was used as a speakeasy and gambling hall. In the 1930s, after Prohibition ended, it was a restaurant called The Silver Eagle.

nicole with roofingEventually, it became a summer home for a Savannah family and over time fell into a state of disrepair. In 2013, Joe and Diana purchased the property and began renovations. They reused as much of the original house as they could, including the original roofing as wall finishes on the second floor.

They had a lot of the metal roofing material left over and offered it to us for the brewery. It was a no brainer, we immediately accepted. The rusted out metal and faded green paint is a perfect fit for the atmosphere we want to create at Fireforge. And we hope that it inspires us to live up to the old days at Cedar Bluff, when who knows what was going on up on that second floor!

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The Deer Moves In

Bob Coble, The Deer

While it doesn’t look like much has happened from the outside here at Fireforge, a lot has been going on behind the scenes. Most importantly, my trusty deer, Bob Coble, has moved into the brewery. Bob has been with me since college. He always has a place of honor, from my college apartment, my studio in Columbia, our first house in Columbia after we got married, the brew garage in Greenville, and now he’s gone big time.

We’ve also been busy collecting pallets and various odds and ends for the brewery and tasting room. We even won a receipt printer in a restaurant auction for two cents! #score

Our friends at DP3 Architects and Devita have been hard at work for us finalizing our architecture and engineering plans. If all goes according to schedule, we should be ready to submit for our building permit by mid-April and hope to begin the build out in May.

We have a lot of work to do, and a lot of permits, licenses and inspections to pass. We’re still tracking toward a late summer opening. Just in time for the great fall South Carolina weather to enjoy in the beer garden!

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Fireforge Crafted Beer Finds a Home

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Welcome to our new home.

We’ve all heard it said that good things come to those who wait. The impatient, perpetual 12-year-old inside me has never liked that saying. However, I believe it’s true.

After an 18-month search evaluating over 60 properties throughout Greenville and seemingly every surrounding nook and cranny, we found a home for our brewery. And it’s right in the heart of Greenville.

Fireforge Crafted Beer has signed a lease for a 4,600 square foot warehouse section of the former WN Watson Tire & Auto building at 311 E. Washington.

Homegrown in Greenville

Greenville has been experiencing tremendous growth over the past several years. In particular, the landscape downtown has changed tremendously. There are several new multi-family housing developments, the West End is exploding, and the old Greenville News building redevelopment is already in the works. There are several other new projects in the planning stages. It’s an exciting time.

The rapid growth and development has attracted a lot of attention from out-of-town developers that see opportunity in Greenville. And while it speaks highly of our community that businesses are coming here to open a second, third or Nth location in Greenville, the increase in property value and rent has squeezed out or provided a barrier to entry for many local businesses inside Greenville’s core.

That’s one reason we’re so invigorated about the building on Washington. The circumstances that allowed us to be there are uncommon. We have the opportunity to create a homegrown experience that’s unique to downtown Greenville.

More details will come over time; there is more to this building than Fireforge. With the help of Stone Property Management, the vision is to create a hub of community activity centered around beer, food, music, family and friends. Grown organically in the Upstate.

We’re eager to help grow Greenville’s reputation as a craft beer travel destination. Let’s build the ultimate craft beer sandwich…Greenville is the tasty filling in between the Asheville and Charleston beer markets.

It’s all part of the Master Plan.

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The front gates of the future brewery. (Sketchy car not included.)

A Cozy Warehouse

Is that even a thing? What does that mean?

The Fireforge tasting room is going to be a warm, inviting and comfortable place to enjoy a beer or three. Whether you’re wearing a suit or shorts and flip flops, we want everyone to feel welcome.

One feature that attracted us to the property is the small parking lot in front of the two large garage doors. Our plan is to turn that into a beer garden and gathering space. You’ll be able to bring your kids, pets or spouse, and they can run around and play.

We will have a variety of music, private events, markets and ever-changing beers on tap to surprise and delight. We will not have televisions. We want to encourage community. Talk to each other.

Brewing on a 7-barrel system, we’ll be making beers inspired by culinary traditions, local and regional ingredients, fun memories and travels. Initially, most of our sales will be in-house, with a little bit of distribution to select craft beer bars and restaurants. 

Beer was made to be enjoyed with food. Fireforge will have a small, yet mighty menu of specially-created sandwiches, meats, cheeses, crudites, and desserts to pair with the beer that we have on tap. There are also plans to put in a separately-owned restaurant in the front section of the building, so guests will have the option of getting a larger meal and bringing it over to Fireforge to enjoy with a house-made beer

Now What?

The real fun begins! There’s still a long road ahead, filled with plans, licenses, permits, construction and who knows what else. But it’s tangible now, not just on paper. We can see what it’s going to look like in our minds.

Fueled by that vision, we’re going to push forward as diligently as we can. We plan on opening mid-summer 2017.

In the mean time, keep an eye on us. We have several collaborations in the works with our Greenville brewery friends. We may also have a surprise or two pop up around Greenville Craft Beer Week. You can follow our adventures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for everyone’s support and encouragement. We can’t wait to pour you a beer at the brewery!

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Brewery Acquistion Mad Libs

Last month, Northern Brewer/Midwest Supplies, Minnesota-based mega homebrew shops, were acquired by ZX Ventures, a venture capital firm backed by AB InBev. ZX Ventures is self-described as “global disruptive growth group, incubator, and venture capital team.”

I’ll say. They just somehow figured out how to buy-out homebrewers, the ultimate grassroots innovators of craft beer in the United States. Bravo by them.

This hits pretty close to home for me. I bought many of my early homebrew kits from Northern Brewer, and continued to buy equipment and ingredients from them from time to time over the past few years when I just wanted something dropped off at my door.

They have EVERYTHING a homebrewer could want. Their customer service is great. And they’re just cool. I can see why it was attractive for XYZ-AB to buy them.

While I appreciate the sentiment, when I read the statement from Chris Farley, Northern Brewer’s founder, about the acquisition, it sounded like every other statement put together by a corporate PR department, about how nothing will fundamentally change and they’ll still be independent.

That may be true to an extent as long as things are going well in the minds of the investors. As anyone who has ever accepted investment or taken out a loan, once you take that money you’re no longer the boss. I just wish one time, an executive would come out and say, “They made us a great offer and we had to take it. It’s a lot of money.”

Since I would like to be helpful to my future fellow brewery owners, in an effort to help breweries, brewpubs and homebrew shops save some time and money when they’re acquired, I went ahead and wrote a boilerplate press release they are welcome to use, Mad Libs-style:

Today, we at ______ are ______ to announce our acquisition and partnership with _______. This is a ______ moment in our company’s history, and we could not be more______ and ______ for all our employees that have helped us reach this moment after so many years of _________. We are so ______ at the prospects for future ________.

“Our new relationship with _______ will create _______ that will allow us to ______ and pursue _______ to better serve our customers with greater ________ and increased _______,” said ______, ________’s founder and president.

_______’s management team will remain in place and we will continue to be a ________ operation. Rest assured that our ______ and ______ will stay intact as we go forth.

________, CEO of ________ called the merger “______.”

We are confident that this merger is a ______/_______ for both our customers and our company. We thank all of our past customers for their _______, and we look forward to ________ing them for years to come.

You’re welcome.

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