These days it’s all new breweries and build-outs. For 3 Sheeps Brewing Company, founded in 2011 in Sheboygan, Wisc., it’s that same story. The brewery started out on a 10bbl system, which they’ve maxed out while squeezing nearly 6,000 barrels per year out of the tanks. This spring they will move operations across town into a former Coca Cola bottling facility that will allow the brewery to have their first taproom and massive warehouse space that will enable them to grow into Minnesota and Illinois markets. Just as significant, it also allows founder Grant Pauly to turn his attention away from business management and back toward his first love, crafting beer.
Recently, 3 Sheeps released Uber Joe, a 10% ABV variation of their Hello, My Name Is Joe imperial black wheat ale that is brewed with cocoa nibs, vanilla, Colectivo Coffee, and aged on maple wood staves.
Over a pint of Really Cool Waterslides IPA, Pauly shared some wisdom on 3 Sheeps’ growth and different gases in your beer.
Paste: Let’s talk about the move. Besides the space, what will the new building allow?
Grant Pauly: In our current space, we don’t have our own taproom. People will finally get a chance to come drink with us, so everyone in town is really excited about it. I think it’s going to be a win-win locally. It also gives us a chance to keep growing out and sending more beer to other markets.
Also, it gives me a lot more time to have fun and experiment. Having our own taproom is great. In the last week I did five test batches. Before we just did that in house. Having a taproom, I can put them out there and get people’s feedback. I think it’s going to let us do a lot more experimentation.
I’ve done a lot of time as the sales rep. Now that we’re growing, I want to get back in the brewery and focus solely on beer and making new recipes instead. We’re going to take what we’ve been doing and increase it.
We’re having an isolated area just for sours. My goal is to have a couple out to distribution on a regular basis, but we’ll be doing a lot of variance that will be taproom available. In July we’re going to have a sour festival with a bunch of variants (fruit, spiced, other).
Our goal with the new place is almost a Willy Wonka-esque feel. We have 3.6 acres with a huge lawn outside. Once we have it all set, we’ll have a nice beer garden outside, a place to drink, hang out, and be social.
Paste: Is opening a second brewery easier?
GP: It’s just as difficult. I’ve submitted my paperwork. In six months they’ll get back to me. Having an active brewery doesn’t let you circumvent any line. Having done it once, my paperwork is a little cleaner than the first time through, but we still have to wait.
Paste: Are you pushing the limits of what you can do now?
GP: Big time. I never expected to be where we are at four years. We’re averaging about 100% growth a year.
We realized we needed to start looking and found a used brewhouse in Canada quickly from Brick Brewing. All the sudden I had a brewhouse and needed to build everything around it. I got lucky, talked to my bank, and they agreed to continue on this journey with us. The Coca Cola plant was available in town and it all fell into place. This was in June when we started, so things happened very quickly.
Paste: Cashmere Hammer is among your top sellers. What do you think of the growth we’re seeing in nitro beers?
GP: It’s been a fun project. First, just having the intent of doing it on draft and trying to build that beer around the nitrogen bubble. With so many beers it’s a regular CO2 and then they just put it on nitrogen. It always bugged me because there’s so much creaminess there that any flavor you developed for the CO2 is diminished. It can still be delicious, but it’s different. For our beer, the nitrogen bubble is my first ingredient; I build the character around that. I spent the last year and a half trying to figure out how to bottle it. There’s no manual.
Sam Adams just started cans.
GP: The widget isn’t that hard to do. Some breweries with cans just had recalls because of issues with them not cooperating in the market. It’s a very pernickety gas bubble but we got it to work out. It’s taken off for us.
Paste: Did you see the market going that way?
GP: I had a feeling. Everyone loves a different experience and it’s such a different flavor profile than you can get at home. People have always loved the Guinness draft and Left Hand. It’s such a fun flavor. We thought it would be successful, but in the three months it’s been out it’s become our number one seller and I did not expect it to.
Paste: How competitive is the nitro market now? Most bars only have one or two nitro lines.
GP: It’s getting to be a little more competitive, but places are realizing they can do more and more. Most places, if they have Guinness, it’s easy to split two lines and add onto it.
I have no facts to back this up, but I’m going to guess that the ratio of craft breweries to CO2 lines probably isn’t as strong as craft breweries to nitro lines. I think we have a smaller market that we get to compete with there.
We’re purchasing a new bottling line as well. That’s going to take a lot to set up. While it’s great for CO2, we have to retrofit it for our nitrogen line.
Everyone always wants to try something new and different: brown, red, then we add hops. Now people can add different gas bubbles in their drinks.
Paste: What’s next?
GP: That’s the big question. Whoever figures that out is going to be out ahead. There will always be something to play with. In our small batch series (Nimble Lips, Noble Tongue), we try to focus on something unique whether it be walnuts or chili peppers.