CEO Chris Herron talks creativity behind creature comforts of brewing beer
By Shelby Eggers @shelbybeggers
For the past two years, Adam Beauchamp and David Stein were working toward their dream of owning their own brewery. With an idea and the proper skill set, it was not until a serendipitous meeting with Chris Herron, the now CEO of Creature Comforts, did everything seem to fall into place.
Opening their doors for the first time in May, this brand new brewery located in the old Snow Tires Company building on West Hancock Avenue has the people of Athens buzzed with excitement (and beer). With three beers on tap, Reclaimed Rye, Athena Berliner Weisse and Tropicalia IPA, and a fourth beer, their signature beer, Bibo, is to be released this Saturday, June 21, at their Southernly Love Beerfest event with 7venth Suns Brewery from Dunidee, FL.
Chris Herron sat down with me to discuss how he became involved with the other two founders, who they are as a company and their hopes for the future of beer.
How did you become involved with the other founders, Adam and David?
CH: Before I moved here, I was living in Connecticut. I worked for the last 13 years with corporate breweries and big, multi-national suppliers. 10 years ago, I started dreaming of owning my own brewery and about 5 years ago, I started working on a business plan. Last February, I was speaking with a consultant in British Columbia, Canada to try to learn more about the operational side of a starting a brewery. I was looking to start in Georgia, and I needed help finding people who know how to make beer. At the same time, Adam and David happened to call the same person, looking for someone to help with the business side. The guy put us in touch, we got on the phone, I flew down to Georgia and we spent a weekend together.
As it turns out, we all grew up about 5 miles from each other. We hit it off great. A week later, we all partnered up and merged everything together. That was back in February but this project that has been going on for several years.
Why did you want to start a brewery in Georgia specifically?
CH: I think Georgia has an underdeveloped craft beer market. We have a lot less craft breweries here per capita. We are probably 48th in the country when it comes to breweries per capita for a lot of different reasons. There are some challenges here that make it tougher to own a brewery than in other states. But we have overcome that and we are very happy to be here. There is a really good demand here, and we are probably 10th in country in regards to consumption per capita.
Also, Georgia is my home. I am from Atlanta originally, and Adam and David went to the University of Georgia. So, we just wanted to fill that gap and bring some more awesome craft beer to the people in Georgia.
Do you work closely with Adam and David when deciding what kinds of beers to brew?
CH: They definitely do all the recipe formulation, but I am involved in the process. We are working on an imperial stout that we have going into some barrels. We sit down and go through the blendings to see what the right mix is. At the end of the day, they are the decision makers, and I want them to be the decision makers when it comes to the beer – that’s their expertise, that’s what their awesome at. They’re nice enough to include me in the process.
What have been your biggest obstacles thus far and what are some challenges that you will have going forward?
CH: Getting it to happen, the biggest struggle has been Intricacies and details of opening a full production facility. There are a lot of legalities when working in the alcohol industry. We are figuring out how to put the pieces together.
For the future, the challenges will be managing growth. We have been very lucky. The city has been very welcoming to us and has embraced the brand and the beers. We have gotten a lot of really good press locally and nationally.
Retail accounts out here have also been awesome. They have given a tremendous amount of support to our brand. Because of that, there is more demand growing. Like most start-ups, it’s hard to be profitable right away. Another challenge will be staying ahead of the curve on beer. It’s about how we grow, how we grow correctly.
Our mission is to be industry respected, consumer loved and commercially successful third. Staying ahead of the curve so that other breweries see us as people that are passionate about trying to make making good beer and extend what good beer can be. It’s a constant challenge of how you stay on cutting edge of beer frontier and generate enough revenue at the same time.
You recently won the Athens Clarke Heritage Foundation, for Outstanding Rehabilitation. What has that been like?
CH: It was really exciting. As I said before, starting a brewery is really challenging but it was even more challenging to build it in a 1940’s building that wasn’t designed to be a brewery. In addition to that, trying to maintain historical foundation. Challenging but rewarding. We get to talk to people about how it used to be a Chevy dealership in the ‘40s and then the Snow Tire Company forever. We took all of the wood from the drop ceiling and built all of the tables, bars and wood paneling with it. If you go in the office or the bathrooms, that is all the original wood, refinished and put back in. It was awesome of the Athens Clarke Heritage Foundation to recognize all of our work.
You have three beers currently available to the public, and your fourth, Bibo, is it still in the works?
Yes, the notorious Bibo. Well we have six pillars that guide us as a company: authenticity, balance, community, creativity, professionalism and quality. We haven’t put out Bibo yet, because the quality of the first batch wasn’t what we hold ourselves to as a brewery. As a result, we had to let that batch go and start over. Pilsners, the style in itself, takes longer than other (4-5 weeks). So we ended up starting over when we opened. Now, we have an amazing batch that is ready to be released. It will be released at our Southernly Love Event this Saturday with Seventh Sun Brewery from Dunedin, Florida. They are an amazing brewery that is on the front foot of where beer is going. They are bringing six beers of their beers, and we are going to have our four beers as well as three unique offerings at the event from 4:30–7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
How did you come up with the name Bibo?
CH: Our philosophy here is “Creature Comforts Craves Curiosity.” We are driven by curiosity in our lives. We believe that if you live a curious life, it will lead you to find things that you are passionate about. In following things that you are passionate about, it will lead you to being happier. When you’re happier, you can enjoy the creature comforts of life. That’s where this brewery comes from – this is our home, this is our happy place, this is our creature comfort. This is all we’ve ever wanted to do.
In that same curious spirit, we wanted to come up with a curious name. We draw inspiration from inventors, artists and explorers, and we thought one of the most curious minds was Einstein. Bibo was Einstein’s pet parrot, and we thought, “What a curious creature.” You can just imagine this little parrot, sitting on Einstein’s shoulder, repeating “E=MC squared.” Then, we found out that Bibo means “I drink” in Latin which made it even cooler, so we were all in on the name once we found that out.
Was this motto of a curious spirit something that you, Adam and David all decided together?
CH: Yes, the very first thing that we did when I came on was talk about who we were as a company, what our mission was going to be and where we wanted to go. Adam and David had thought a lot about it already, but we were firm believers that, with me coming on, it needed to be all of our company. We didn’t have a tag line yet, and I was reminded of the old saying, “It’s easier to remember a truth than a lie.” We hinged on that and wanted to make sure that this brand was true to us. That’s why I mentioned the six pillars, one of which is authenticity. We wanted to make sure that it was an authentic brand. When people met us, they sensed that passion and curious spirit. We didn’t want to try to be a cool brand. We wanted to be a brand that was true to who we were.
Do you have any short-term goals?
CH: Our short term goals include getting up our barrel-aging program and getting more beers on tap here. Also, to settle in a bit. We have been trying to figure out how we fit in the Athens community. One of the ways we have done that is hosting the Athens Farmers Market in our facility starting July 2.
Another way is through our “Go Eat Local” program. When you come on the tours, you get a wristband with a tab for each beer, but there is also a tab that says “Go Eat Local.” That program has turned into something kind of cool that brings people to downtown Athens and then sends them out afterwards. We don’t do food or snacks here and we don’t ever plan on doing food here. Our goal is to be a brewery where people come to learn about awesome beer, respect beer, drink responsibly and then go out and enjoy food from the amazing restaurants down here, listen to music and check out some of the other awesome great bars downtown. We hope to be a hub of attraction to bring people to downtown Athens.
Our goal is to be an active part of the community and make sure we bring enough beer for everyone. We are only a couple months in and we are still new at this. We have intentionally held back capacity, because in August we are getting our canning line.
Where can people buy your beer?
CH: Currently, work through a distributor, Savannah Distributing. Growler shops around here carry our beer as well as our retail accounts, and hopefully one day some chains. We are staying in Athens right now and want to provide a great, quality experience to all of the accounts that carry our product. The community has been so great about supporting us, so we want to make sure we are supporting it before we start thinking about moving into new markets. We have sent beer down to different events down Atlanta and the reception has been great. We are excited about the day that we get to go there, but right now, we are making Athens home first.
In an interview, Adam mentioned an interest in purchasing a farmhouse. Do you have plans to purchase another facility?
CH: We plan on expanding our operation. There are farmhouse sales. For our souring program, we will need a separate facility. You can do it a little bit here, but in an ideal world, you would need an additional facility. We talked a lot about how it would be cool to have an old farmhouse. There are some benefits of that kind of environment if you think about the technical side of brewing, but really only if we were going to do open fermentation. The brewers can talk more to that than I can. We used this old historical building, and we talked about trying to transform another cool historical building. Whether that is the path we go or something completely different, we are not really sure yet.
Would you say that was a long ways off?
CH: Yeah, I would definitely say that was more long term. The souring program, however, isn’t drastically far off. I think sour beers are the future of craft beer and beer in general. Sour beers help people really change their perception of what beer can be. The introduction of how bacteria can play a role in the beer aging process, the different things that can happen in barrel-aging using wine barrels as well as whiskey barrels that so many people are using now. It also creates new occasions for beer consumers. If you are having a nice dinner, you could be drinking a 750 of beer instead of a 750 of wine. There are some breweries out there that are making beer in 750 bottles that are as good as anything you can order from a wine standpoint. We hope to play a role in bringing that sort of thing to Georgia. We are only a month and a half in so everything feels a little far off right now. It just goes back to how to we grow and where do we invest our money as we try to grow.
For a new company, Creature Comforts has come a long way. With more than a combined 20 years of experience among the staff, it seems we can expect a lot more creativity and craft beer from them in the future.