The (Re)Birth of Four Stacks

As I sit here thinking about the new year upon us, feeling excitement about the future, paired with the pains of the past, it all still feels so new that I have to remind myself that our brewery experiment is now almost four years old. In fact, if you include my 2014 venture to San Diego, the trip that inspired this story, we’re truly just weeks away from the four year mark.

If I sit down and think really hard, trying to recreate the timeline in my head, the math does work, but only just:

  • Jan 2014: Inspired by visits to Stone and Ballast Point
  • Feb 2014 – April 2014: Begin serious brewing purchases and dedicate myself to brewing non-stop
  • May 2014: File the paperwork to formalize Monument Brewing’s business entity
  • Jun 2014 – Sep 2014: Raise capital (mostly debt, some cash), craft the concept, draft blueprints, begin buildout
  • Oct 2014: Lease unit #2, which doubles timeline and budget
  • Nov 2014 – May 2015: Update blueprints, suffer through multiple permitting hangups, continue buildout
  • Jun 2015 – Change name to Four Stacks Brewing, start legal process all over
  • Jul 2015 – Sep 2015: Finalize buildout, receive CMB (brew), 2COP (sell), and CO (in the nick of time)
  • Oct 2015 – Open!
  • Nov 2015 – Oct 2016: Our first year in business…really? It was all a blur
  • Nov 2016 – Aug 2017: Getting into our groove with lots of new equipment, people, and partnerships
  • Sep 2017: Distro launch, launch parties, leasing of unit #3 (what did I just do?)
  • Oct 2017: Our two year anniversary…really? It was all a blur
  • Nov 2017 – Current: Run, run, run, brew, brew, brew, put out fires, celebrate, rest

I had to check multiple email threads to get the timing right, but it’s mostly accurate overall, and (I think), helps provide some insight into what it’s like to actually plan, launch, and run a brewery.

I began this journey because I got tired of driving long distances for good craft beer, and continued it because I didn’t have much of a choice. Truth be told, the brewery life sounds glamorous until you begin living it, at which point you realize that your job as an owner really has very little to do with making beer.

My job is to raise money, write checks, build a company culture, continually manage that culture, train staff to manage that culture, try to spend time with everyone that deserves it, and if I’m lucky, have a conversation with Mike about our upcoming brew schedule.

It’s not to say that I don’t enjoy it, and am not incredibly thankful for the community’s support, a truly incredible team of operators, and reputation that is growing by the day. It’s that like in any business, there’s what you think will happen, and what actually happens.

It’s taken some time to adjust to life on the fly, and it certainly hasn’t been easy, but going into my fifth year, it feels like I’m finally getting to a point where I can slow down, take a deep breath, and think about the future. This post, which has seemingly taken 4 years to write, might be the best proof of that.

The good news is that going into 2018, I am more optimistic about the future than I ever have been in the past. The bad news is that it has not come without loss or difficulty.

Work Life Balance is Almost Impossible

My family, which has struggled but remained steadfast in their support of never ending work cycles, has had less time than they’ve deserved. My friends, or those that would call themselves that, have endured hours of endless chatter about my business and life, trying to understand that which consumes me, but never fully understanding why I don’t have time for small talk or hanging out.

Losing Friends & Allies

We’ve lost customers that we call friends, and worse, teammates that were even more. When you work with someone every day, it’s unfair to call them friends, so we call ourselves a family. However, in business, like life, families sometimes break up, and our family is no different. While every loss is unique, and sometimes loss is gain, they all leave a scar in some way. Some are for learning, and others a lamentation of what could’ve been.

The Departure of a Business Partner

This leads me to announce an even bigger loss; one that I would frame as the most significant loss of my entrepreneurial career. Shawn Christenson, my business partner and best friend for more than 5 years, has left the company to pursue other ventures. It is an amicable departure, but is a loss nonetheless.

He was there when I left the Army, when I left my full-time job in St. Petersburg to start our software company, and when I decided to start a brewery thousands of miles away from where he lived. Always a supporter and advocate, Shawn and I have fought our way through hell and back together, and will always remain close as a result.

Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained

The benefit of loss is that almost always, it leaves opportunity for gain and improvement. To this day, we maintain three original staff members, each of which serves an instrumental role in the business (more on that later), and have added three additional members, who also serve instrumental roles in the business, learning, or should I say adapting, twice as quickly as expected, which I attribute to our incredibly strong leaders, culture, and overall talent.

What began as a small 1.5 BBL brewhouse is now a 3 BBL brewhouse, with 7 BBL on the way. We’re in the middle of an expansion on all fronts, including a re-attempt at an outdoor patio, with the goal of building a second location as soon as we have perfected our current concept. While we’re very proud of our beer, we believe we’re offering an experience unique to Tampa Bay, and hope to offer a similar experience in both the Brandon/Riverview and Ellenton areas in the years to come.

Overdue Rewards

Lastly, many of you know our assistant brewer Mike Frey. He’s the sexy beast in the tank top and white boots responsible for brewing almost every ounce of product we’ve ever made. He began his journey as a bartender, then part-time brewer, all while still working a 9-5 job. I was able to steal him from his employer eventually, but not without risk. It was our first full-time hire, and I wasn’t sure we could afford it. He took a pay cut to join us, and felt the same way.

In the end, it worked out, as Mike has worked tirelessly to become my #2, and the person I trust to run the day to day while I’m focused on expansion, software, et al.

It’s always rare to meet someone that works with the mindset of an owner, and rarer still that they hang around, which is why we’ve decided to reward Mike with an equity stake in the business. As I told the staff when I shared the news – this might be the first time, but it will not be the last time that it happens. We have an entire team full of talented, determined, and capable people, and an entire Earth to conquer.

Looking ahead to 2018

On that note, you’ll likely see less of me, not because I don’t care, but because this is a year I want to focus on the big picture, not just with work, but with family too. You will definitely see more of Mike, and when you do, congratulate him on his achievements. He truly deserves it.

You will also see Liz, my fearless aide and strategist, growing into an even larger role, as will others. In fact, almost every member of our staff has desires for non-bartender positions, which is a great thing!

This of course means that we’ll continuously have opportunities for new bartenders. We’re also hiring social media/web content staff and photographers/video editors. If you or anyone you know might be a fit, please have them reach out to us.

Let me wrap up by sharing some final notes:

  1. Expect Prime Council details very soon
  2. We’ve received many inquiries asking if we’re accepting investors. While we are currently content with our cap table, we will soon be offering an investment opportunity that we call the Founders Fund. It will not be for everyone, but will be a great way for those of you that seek to support us in a greater capacity, to earn compensation for doing so.
  3. We are finally honing in on our seasonal release cycle (Brew Berrymore is coming soon!). Our current seasonal lineup features: Brew Berrymore, Blood Sport, Watermelon Wheat, Apple Crisp, Demogorgon, A Girl Has No Name.
  4. Our special release program is growing by leaps and bounds as well. Our BBA Imp. Demogorgon release was a hit, and our Vanilla CCP release has been very well received. BBA Castle Black will be up next, and then some more treats you’ll hear about very soon.
  5. Our partnership with the Circles ownership/management group has been fantastic. Vic and Chris have been incredibly gracious in their support of Four Stacks, and as you may have heard, have contracted us to brew an exclusive Circles beer. Expect to hear more on that front very soon. Special mention to Joey Davis for helping bridge the gap and setting up our first meeting.
  6. Honorable mention to Greg, Donna, Kelly, and Samantha at Latitudes for taking a chance on us and bringing our beer into Latitudes. They are great people that were treated very unfairly by some early customers of ours, and we’re forever grateful that they chose to stick it out and fight with us.

I know I say it all the time, but I truly appreciate the support of every single person that’s visited or talked about Four Stacks. It feels great to finally catch our breath, and there is little doubt in my mind that 2018 is going to be our most epic year yet.