Crisis is the norm when you and your spouse change careers while moving from Fayetteville to Chicago to Denver and back to Fayetteville…all in a four-year period.
That was the circuitous route Fayetteville natives Sean and Liz Slape took before returning home to start Crisis Brewing Company, a soon-to-be opened brewpub sharing a parking lot with Penguin Ed’s B&B Bar-B-Q in Fayetteville’s Mill District.
We sat down with Sean and Liz to ask the heady question: what does it take to open a brewpub?
Q: Let’s start with the name. Why Crisis Brewing?
Liz: I said we affectionately named it after our mid-life crises.
Sean: It was kind of a tongue and cheek thing but it played out well with our situation at the time when we decided to do it. It was a mid-life crisis and a job crisis and it just seemed like there was, in general, a lot happening. One day Liz said “Crisis Brewing” and I said that fit perfectly.
Q. Looks like you’re going to have some fun with the name.
Liz: Yeah, some of our first beers will be called Major, Averted, Existential and Identity.
Q. How will the division of labor work out?
Liz: I’ll continue to work full time and just help out the side. So far, I’ve done the fun parts. I worked with Brittany Phillips on the logo, branding and labeling, and Kathy Thompson has helped me with the interior colors. Have also worked on the social media stuff. We’re on Instagram and Facebook. Sean will do the rest and we’ll hire four part-time servers.
Q. Why a brewpub? I don’t think either of you have ever brewed beer on a commercial basis.
Sean: I have a graduate degree in chemical engineering and I did industrial ethanol production. For the last decade I was doing bacterial fermentation on an industrial scale. So I’ve done fermentation from a pilot scale all the way up through a commercial production facility. I’ve done a lot of work with culturing, bacteria, yeast, and other organisms, doing R&D on those particular organisms and figuring out how to get that research and development into an applicable process.
Q: Did you do much research visiting other microbreweries?
Liz: (laughing) We attacked that task with gusto! It was hard to taste all that beer, but we managed to do it.
When we moved away we lived outside Chicago for two years and then we lived in Denver for two years, so we did a lot tasting and just seeing who is really doing a great job. You can’t throw a rock in Denver without hitting 50 breweries, maybe more.
Sean: When we travel, we visit brewpubs. When we went to England, Scotland and Ireland, where you’d find us was in a pub. That’s just what we do.
Q. A lot of us like beer, but it’s a big leap to opening your own brewpub.
Sean: I was thinking about getting out of the corporate world and starting my own business for a long time. Working long days and being on call nights for 10 years will burn you out. Then a couple of opportunities presented themselves to come home to Fayetteville and start a brewery. When it finally did happen, it seemed like a great time to go.
Q. Let’s talk about your product. What will be your capacity?
Sean: Starting out with a two-barrel system capable of brewing 200 to 300 barrels a year, depending on how I push things. (A barrel holds 31 gallons)
Liz: We’re starting very small. I joke that we’re putting the “micro” back in the brewery.
Q. Any plans to distribute through other bars or package stores?
Liz: This will be the only place you can get it. Come to the taproom and get it fresh. It will never be better than when it get it straight from the tap just a few feet away from where it was made.
Sean: Any excess capacity we have, I wouldn’t have any issue selling kegs to local restaurants, but the production, the packing, the bottling and the canning, we don’t have the floor space or the capacity.
Q. Tell me about your brewpub. It was once a B&B Bar-B-Q drive through, right?
Liz: The building was once on College Avenue. First thing we did was cover up the drive through window.
Sean: I started work remodeling it in May of last year. I did everything that didn’t require professional licensing. Building is around 1,000 sq. ft. and our taproom will be about 450 sq. feet.
If everything works out as planned, we’ll build a 5,000 sq. ft. facility located right behind this one. We’ve started the planning and I’m now going through the approval process with the city. It’ll be a great view of the mountains looking south.
Q. Tell me about your beers. Any particular style you’ll be offering?
Sean: All styles. The whole point of becoming a small craft brewery is that you can constantly develop new and interesting styles. Obviously you have to give in to the business aspect and produce the ones that sale, but I think we’re small enough that we can go ahead and start making some interesting beers, like the New England IPAs, and a peanut butter stout… things you don’t normally see around here.
Liz: I think giving the customers a different experience every time is key. People who really appreciate craft beers will appreciate having different things to try.
Sean: And I’m not going out of my way to make my IPA taste identical every single time. It’ll be the same recipe, but if there’s a little nuance to it because I got malt or hops from a different supplier, then that’s great. That’s what craft beer brewing is, to me.
Q. What will be unique about your beers?
Sean: The effort that goes into making it. You can make good beer in your garage without any problems, but there’s something else to be said for really doing the technical aspect of the brewing that brings out the quality of the beer. That means making measurements on an ongoing basis, culturing and propagating yeast, and treating water for a certain profile style. It’s the attention to details that will make the end product really shine.
Q. You started this process about 18 months ago and you’re still six weeks from opening. Any surprises along the way?
Sean: (Laughing) I always knew that it takes a long time to do things. In my professional background we’d do the math and double it and that’s how long it would take. Looking back, it would have probably been easier to scrape our building off the lot and start over from scratch.
Want to know more? Check out Beer by the Numbers!