Ask Kevin Ryan why he chose the name Service Brewing for his new Savannah craft brewery and the 1996 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point will tell you it is ripe with meaning.
“We are a veteran-owned and veteran-operated brewery,” he said, noting that master brewer Dan Sartin is a 1978 West Point grad who played defensive end for the Army football team and assistant brewer Jeff Hyatt recently retired from the Army, where he was a pilot for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment “Night Stalkers” at Hunter Army Airfield.
“So our name reflects our service and the service of all those who came before us and will come after,” he said. “But, even though Dan, Jeff and I are all former Army and 92 percent of our investors are former military, we don’t want the term service to be exclusive to the military. Many people choose to serve their country and community in different ways.”
When customers walk into the Indian Street brewery, an oversized chalk board invites them to tell how they serve.
“We have priests, nurses, school teachers, police and firefighters up there along with military,” he said. “In fact, at our launch party in July, we chose two local charities to benefit from that event — Honor Flight that takes veterans of World War II and Korea up to their memorials in D.C., and the Two Hundred Club that benefits families of fallen firefighters and policemen.”
While Ryan says he has been a craft beer fan since he was old enough to drink, he didn’t start thinking about brewing until three years ago when girlfriend Meredith Sutton — a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design and, as Service Brewing’s creative marketing director, the only non-military member of the team — gave him a home brewing kit for Valentine’s Day.
“That was pretty much all she wrote,” he said, laughing. “I was hooked.”
But although he is the company CEO and business manager, Ryan knew he needed professionally trained brewers to develop and make the product.
Enter Sartin, who developed a love of good beer while serving in Germany. After his military career and a civilian stint in logistics, the longtime home brewer decided to pursue his passion.
Today Sartin holds an international diploma in brewing science, is a certified master brewer trained at the World Brewing Academy in Munich, Germany, and a certified Doemens Bier Sommelier.
Recently retired from the military, Hyatt received an international diploma in brewing from the prestigious Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, America’s oldest brewing school.
“Jeff is a critical part of our brewing team,” Ryan said. “We were lucky to find him.”
The right start
Although their brews have only been in consumer’s hands for five months, the feedback and sales have been overwhelmingly positive, a response Ryan attributes to careful research and development — and a lot of help.
“I studied everything I could get my hands on —from documentaries to Google to stories in the media to brew manuals — before we launched this brewery to make sure we didn’t repeat a lot of mistakes that had already been made,” he said. “And craft breweries are extremely collaborative.
“It’s like a lot of things — you ask people the right questions, you don’t ask them to do your due diligence for you and they’re usually happy to help.”
Locally, Service Brewing collaborates with Coastal Empire and Southbound breweries, sharing information and sometimes even resources, Ryan said.
“If someone is out of grain or bottlecaps, for example, the other breweries will help out. We’re all willing to help each other, even though we’re vying for the same sales in a lot of cases. We believe there is plenty of room for all of us to succeed.”
Currently, Service Brewing offers two year-round beers, Ground Pounder Pale Ale and Compass Rose IPA, as well as its winter seasonal, Lincoln’s Gift — an oyster stout made from May River oysters.
“Our Rally Point pilsner is a great warm weather beer that we’re currently brewing to be ready for February release, he said. “And, of course we’ll bring back our launch brew — a pecan apricot — on our first anniversary.”
With their beer in package shops around Savannah, the Golden Isles and Statesboro, the company is now beginning to move into the greater Atlanta area.
“We’ve been very fortunate with this start-up,” Ryan said. “Right now, the list of merchants who carry our beer is some six pages long. Whole Foods Savannah has been huge for us. They’ve given us great display space and we’ve sold a ton of beer through them.”
On their way
Looking back, Ryan said the team’s research and planning paid off in a relatively smooth first five months.
“We got a lot of things right and that helps,” he said. “Sure there are things we wish we had done differently, things we’d like to do over. But all-in-all, we’re very happy with the way things have gone, very happy with the reception we’ve received from the community as well as the work of our distributer, Savannah Distributing Co.
What would he like the community to know about Service Brewing?
“We have this wonderful tasting room. It’s a great place for people to come and get to know the brewery by sampling small batches of experimental ales and lagers. And it gives us feedback on potential future brews,” Ryan said.
“We’d love to see more people in here on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays when we do our tours and tastings.”
The tasting room is open from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and from 2-4 p.m. on Saturdays. There is no charge for the tour, although patrons are invited to purchase a souvenir glass for $12 with part of the profits going to the charity currently being supported.
“They get up to eight 4-ounce pours during the two-hour educational/promotional event,” he said.
“The hope is that eventually, our beers will be available across the country, he said.
“But, for now, we’re loving watching people enjoy the thing we’ve put our hard work and hearts into.”
ON THE WEB
ABOUT THE SERIES
As 2014 comes to a close, the Savannah Morning News, Business in Savannah and savannahnow.com continue the tradition of profiling companies and organizations that made major contributions to the local business environment during the past year.
The Business in Savannah staff chose the honorees from a list of nominees submitted by local business and community members, utilizing broad criteria — from growth and success to philanthropy and community involvement.
Today: Newcomer of the year – Service Brewing
Wednesday: Manufacturer of the year
Thursday: Business advocate of the year
Friday: Entrepreneurial business of the year
Saturday: Retail business of the year
Sunday: Small business of the year