Why Lakeland is set to become the nerve system of the next great beer venture.
The Brew Hub
4100 South Frontage Road, Building 700, Lakeland, FL 33815
If you’re a frequent traveler on I-4 through Lakeland, you may have noticed a large project taking shape just past the exit ramp that leads to Memorial Boulevard. Those unfamiliar with the project might only recognize this massive structure by the large, bottle-shaped, concrete cutout that extends the entire height of the southwest corner of the building.
It’s called the Brew Hub, and what’s going on inside is like nothing that has ever been done before in our city, state, or country, for that matter. Lakeland will soon be the first of five networks, strategically planned to change the way beer is viewed, brewed, distributed, exported, and, most importantly, consumed in America.
“The Brew Hub is not only a new development from the consumers’ standpoint, but it’s also something different from the retailers’ and distributors’ point of view as well,” says CEO Tim Schoen. “The craft-beer segment has around a seven-percent share of all beer sold in the United states. And that’s dramatic to me, even though I’ve been in the business almost thirty years. I’ve seen the growth of craft, not only by the innovation, but I have been watching how a consumer’s behavior reacts. Today our small seven-percent share is actually growing exponentially. In some parts of the country, it’s up to double digits. We want to go from seven percent to fifteen percent by 2020. We’ve got a good chance, with the explosion of the segment.”
Schoen is specifically invested in how the public looks at beer, as his background has been in marketing: developing new brands, managing small brands, and being responsible for some of the world’s largest identities. The language has evolved in those thirty years, as the term microbreweries was often used to described the small community of brewers that held on tightly to just one percent of the market.
“Micro has, in a way, gone along the wayside in our vocabulary, says Schoen. “I’d say craft is much more descriptive to a consumer as to what they’re buying and what they’re enjoying. In that context, it’s more art than product.”
Interestingly, some of the most successful brewers started out making beer in their garages, kitchens — bathtubs even. Sometimes there can be a struggle correlating popularity and turning out a great product with financial success. You can get all the way to a certain point, but ultimately being unable to develop a feasible business plan can lead to failure. For those who need help to grow in a healthy way, the Brew Hub has a model scaled to meet the needs of nearly any sized operation. “Our brewing services will be very comprehensive, as will our non-brewing services such as marketing, sales, and distribution,” says Schoen. “All those will be offered to our partners.”
He continues, “Throw craft brewers
into three buckets. The ones who have a larger scope, who might have been selling their product locally or even regionally for several years, need a capacity to seek out new geographies. The middle-sized brewers have a lot of great things working, but they need the whole package. They might not even be bottling or canning yet. We will offer our recommendations
and supply them with our expertise in execution. The little guys need the most help. But they embody what we feel is our core existence, which is that the Brew Hub is where craft brewers go to grow. It’s an evaluation. We feel the ones we are partnering with are masters in the analytics of their product, what their story is, and what their selling proposition will be. And we have already picked one for those reasons. We’re in the process of picking another smaller brewer.”
The base model of the Brew Hub is to help craft brewers make the adjustment of attaining that fifteen-percent stake. In the current infrastructure, it would be very difficult for smaller breweries to hit that mark. Along with any measure of success comes difficult decisions for small-business owners. In the case of craft brewers, the dilemma is usually twofold.
Growing means adding equipment and space across the board, which leads to spending large sums of money. At times this can mean millions of dollars, depending on the scale.
There are contract brewers out there that make beer in a massive setting, however the quality control is not always present when outsourcing occurs. The logistics of brewing your beer on one side of the country and shipping it back across later can lead to a large portion of the bottom line being depleted.
“Our building is literally built from the ground up and will be customized for the partners we will be bringing in,” says Schoen.
That’s just the start of it. As you walk into our building you’ll see that, of the over fifty thousand square feet, a majority of the space is allocated for quality craft-brewing equipment, testing, and packaging. Three thousand square feet of that will be a tasting room, featuring all of our craft partners in a very prominent way. That doesn’t exist in any contract brewery, as they only feature their brand and basically just ship out the rest.
For many Floridians, the idea of a tasting room is a relatively new concept. Until recently, the only experience of tasting craft beers has likely been going to Busch Gardens and getting a few free samples after riding on a long people-mover past a couple of enormous holding tanks. However, at the Brew Hub, it is expected that we can sample all of the beers currently being brewed and bottled in-house. We will also be able to purchase and take home these products straight from the source, in refillable vessels called growlers, which currently are regulated by the state to include 32-ounce and 1-gallon bottles.
Now that the Brew Hub concept has been completely validated with every bit of their first phase of partnerships booked, the question is, what does it all mean for the citizens of Lakeland? It’s important to understand what the residents can take from the decision to begin this venture based out of our town.
“We went through eight municipalities and three states in the vetting-out process,” says Schoen. “The fact that we ended up here is truly a testament to the town. The key components were, and still are, utilities, water, workforce, location, and the city government’s receptiveness and enthusiasm. They were willing to roll up their sleeves and get it done. All those
were very, very important elements that steered us to Lakeland. On a base level, it will help the residents because we are going to need a lot of employees. There will be special events, and we want to partner with local restaurants. And we’re going to need a lot of expertise to assist our brewmaster with the actual brewing.”
At the helm of the creative process is Dr. Paul Farnsworth. To be able to create good beer in large quantities calls for a scientist that can determine proper ratios, study, forecast, and adjust when needed. What happens without a brewmaster? “Quite literally, you’ll blow everything up!” says Farnsworth.
He should know. Farnsworth was brought up totally immersed in the craft of beer. “I was born in a brewing town,” he says. He was raised in Burton-on- Trent, the home of legendary Bass Ale, which is England’s oldest trademarked pale ale with the recipe dating back to 1777. He’s the one to talk to if you’re at all interested in the “guts” of how beer is brewed.
“The trick is to mess up a lot,” says Farnsworth. “Eventually, you say to yourself. I won’t do that anymore. Trial and error equals experience. At sixteen, I was an apprentice to the brewer. I learned from an old guy, who learned from some other old guy, who learned it from another old guy. So, I was actually gaining knowledge from two hundred years worth of experience — or, you could say, two hundred years of messing up.”
All of that experience compels Farnsworth to share his knowledge with the next generation of home and craft brewers. “It’s my job to pass it on,” he says. “That’s why I fully support the
home brewers. Sometimes I’ll go to beer conferences and meet people for the first time who know who I am because I trained the guy, who trained a guy, who trained them.
When asked about his opinion on the shift from extremely hoppy pale ales to more traditional brown ales and darker beers, Farnsworth replied, “I think the market is maturing. In the beginning there were forty or fifty years of that horrid, pale, fizzy stuff. So it made people think, we need anything with some semblance of flavor! For a long time that’s what the home brewers did — simply copy what started to work. Then, like I said, we started maturing and looking around for what the old recipes taught us. We’re moving away from everything having to be overly hoppy, because we can find flavor elsewhere now. We’re smarter. Craft beer is booming, but remember, this overnight success is based on thirty years of practice and hard work. Another thing is that Florida is finally catching up to the rest of the country. It was behind for so long compared to the West Coast. And now there’s so much growth and demand. That’s one of the reasons we’re putting Brew Hub here.”
Expect to see some of Farnsworth’s personal creations rotating in the tasting room as he plans to utilize a few taps with one-offs that won’t be found anywhere else. He also plans on assisting some select members of the Lakeland Brewers Guild to create special collaborations that will be served in the tasting room from time to time.
“I’m having a great time,” says Farnsworth.
I really enjoy the city so far. I’m amazed at how nice, approachable, and eager to help me everyone has been. You’re going to see it come through in the beer we all make together.
The Brew Hub is currently set to open in early spring, just in time for Craft Beer Week, May 12-18. Keep updated on the entire process at www.thebrewhub.com