Sometimes the big punks help out the smaller ones.
Scofflaw Brewing, a young, but quickly growing beer maker in Atlanta, Georgia, announced yesterday a contract brewing partnership with BrewDog, the brash UK operation that, earlier this year, opened a massive brewery in Columbus, Ohio. The one-year arrangement will ultimately serve to give Scofflaw—which, like BrewDog, has quickly garnered its own reputation for being more than a little pugnacious—room to brew and package more beer while it deals with capacity constraints at home.
Importantly, though, as Scofflaw president and co-founder Matt Shirah tells GBH, the partnership also highlights the reality that growth—even at one of the fastest-growing breweries in the country—ain’t as easy as just showing up and, well, growing. As such, outsourcing production to BrewDog will critically enable Scofflaw to play a bit of catch up at home while it reinvests in the business toward a 30,000-barrel expansion.
“Some people for some reason think the money rains from the sky,” Shirah says. “You know, growth eats up all your resources.”
But what does the arrangement mean for the drinkers themselves in Atlanta and surrounding areas? Will Scofflaw now take on Ohio as well? The UK? Shirah has the answers below.
The following has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Can you walk us through the year at Scofflaw?
It’s up and down, trying to keep up with what people want, and trying to keep everybody happy. It’s very difficult to do. So we just focus on our core customers, coming into see us all the time and also being the guys who support our brand off-premise, at independent retail, obviously at restaurants. Most of what we produce and sell is draft. We’ve been able to put, I don’t know, a couple thousand barrels worth into cans. We started out early in the year making 30, 40, 50 barrels of beer a week maybe. But by the end of the year we’re gonna do 9,700 barrels.
What have the challenges been?
We can’t turn out the number of beers that we want. We’ve been learning as we go along. Now we’re at the point where we need to be able to do what we think is the right thing, which is to offer more variety and make more one-offs. So we’ve limited our size to 100-barrel tanks for what we bring in so we can do a lot of different things, you know? We sell a lot of a few of our beers, then a lot of individual beers. We just don’t have the capacity to keep up. So we bought a new system, borrowed some more money, and have a 50-barrel coming, and we’re gonna shift to doing our draft production right now in this existing facility to a 30,000-barrel facility. That’s gonna be early 2018 when we make that transition.
How’d this deal with BrewDog come together?
We’re definitely trying to improve our game and improve our packaging capabilities. The equipment is so expensive. So I have a friend, a guy by the name of Chris McJunkin, who was a national sales leader for Founders for a long time, and he’s now chief revenue officer over at BrewDog [USA]. And him being friends, having a relationship with [BrewDog co-founder] James Watt and also Tim Hawn, who used to be the brewmaster at Dogfish Head, now the chief operating officer at BrewDog in Columbus, [Chris] put James and I together after they had had some conversations about what we were doing, what our brand was, and what our needs were, and I think James saw an opportunity to, you know, help us. It helps him grow his facility, and it helps us grow our brand.
And why BrewDog specifically?
What really attracted to me to this deal, besides what I think are some obvious synergies between the two brands and the cultures, was the packaging equipment itself. And then Tim Hawn’s experience is pretty unparalleled. The stuff is just state of the art. It’s stuff we would never otherwise have access to. We’ll be looking to build something like that here, but we just flat out don’t have the money to do it and cannot meet the demand. That’s where we’re gonna bridge the gap. Luckily, I’ve made some friends, and these are some of them, and they’re gonna help us out. And that’s how we got here.
Tell us about the deal itself.
We have an agreement between us that is structured more like a partnership than anything else. We will have access to their unbelievable facilities, and we’ll collaborate at the same time. Our beer’s not gonna be distributed to Ohio, which I’ve been asked 25 times today, but they’ll have it in the taproom at BrewDog. That place gets a lot of foot traffic. We’ll also have some stuff potentially in the UK. But my focus is [that] I can’t give distributors what they want here. I only have one, and I can’t give them what they need. Right now, that 9,750 barrels is largely Atlanta metro and very little of that leaks outside of the Atlanta metro area. And over 75% of that is draft. We believe the draft game is the core of a brand. It’s where people have the experience.
As far as your reach in Georgia goes, will you be able to extend further out? Are you just focused on digging deeper in Atlanta?
My vision—and vision’s the right way to put it, I think—is in the local market, Atlanta is our home, and we’re making sure everyone is satisfied here in getting the rotation they want. I have three customers. I have United, which is kind of a customer. I mean, it’s a distributor. Then I’ve got the guys at retail, on- and off-premise. And in Atlanta, I want them to have all the things that they want. So right now, it’s all allocated, almost all of it, especially the one-offs, and they go to the strong accounts. But I want to be able to give that to everybody so they can rotate our beer through for the end user. My job is to create value for the retail guy, to drive incremental sales for that guy with a good product and then to satisfy the actual end user. So if the end user wants something different all the time, then that’s what I’m gonna fucking give them. But will we get further out? Yeah, we’ll get further out. We’ll get to Savannah, get more beer there. They ask more than anyone.
What happens after this yearlong partnership runs out?
Certainly, I hope we’ll be able to locate, fund, and put together a facility to maintain what we’ve achieved this year, and [what we hope to achieve] this upcoming year. There are other places you can go to brew. I can find the capacity if I have to. But the intention is to use this timeframe. If we have to go over, we’ll go over. They’re not gonna say “get the fuck out of here.” James and those guys aren’t like that. I trust they’ll facilitate the transition for us back to our own place.
Frankly, what my intention is, it’s to create more jobs. What’s on my gravestone is gonna be how many jobs I created. And I care more about how many people show up at my funeral than how many dollars I have in my pocket. So it’s really not about anything other than doing things for the community. I’ve created 30 jobs this year. People don’t tend to think and talk and focus on that, but that’s what’s important to me. I think I could create another 30 jobs. Then I’ve created 60 jobs and helped 60 people take care of their families with good benefits, and hopefully I’ll be able to continue paying above market wages and do all those things and help people lead happy lives.
Scofflaw and BrewDog have a bit of a shared unapologetic attitude in the way both companies go about doing business. Is that something you took into consideration as far as a partnership goes?
It wasn’t discussed, but it didn’t turn me away. I’m sure that James did his own due diligence on us. I don’t know if it’s unapologetic. I just don’t always agree with everyone. I don’t have to, and you don’t have to agree with me. Sometimes it’s amazing how much time people will spend on something they don’t really like or agree with. I move on, myself. It is unapologetic, isn’t it? We do what we do. You do what you do. I mind my own business, man. We’re just making beer, that’s all. We’re not trying to do anything else. We don’t cure cancer. It’s just a fucking beer.