This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Where did you think you’d be after five years, and how does that compare with where you are now?
I think our goal was to be over 1,000 barrels [a year] and have hired an assistant brewer by this point. We’re going to be at like 6,000 barrels, and I have a six-person production team now. When we originally got into it, we thought we’d open a neighborhood brewery and hopefully sell enough to make a little bit of money and reinvest. Five years later, we’ve already built a second brewery, we own our own building and have almost 30 employees. It’s nothing like we thought it was going to be.
What’s been the biggest surprise so far?
I’ve found lots of cool people to work with. People just kind of show up and want to work at Birdsong. With a little bit of training and nurturing, they’re great employees. They’re fun to work with and know their stuff. That was a pleasant surprise for sure. Other surprises are just how excited and enthusiastic people are about the beer. It’s just really gratifying every time you run into a customer and they’re absolutely thrilled with the beer. That’s always a nice surprise.
I know this is like picking a favorite child, but what’s the beer you’re most proud of?
There are so many. Turtles on Pterodactyls was particularly fun. We took our most popular seasonal, MexiCali, and we aged it in bourbon barrels. That was a pretty cool beer. I’ve always loved Honey Pie. I’m the one in the seasonal meetings always saying we should just brew it all the time. Then I just show them all the customers who agree with me.
As a brewery owner, what’s been the most difficult thing you’ve had to deal with over the last five years?
I mean it’s always challenging to start a business in Mecklenburg County. They’re not small business oriented. When we sat down as a partnership group three years ago and said we were going to do a second brewery and add capacity, I was probably the one most adamantly opposed because I just didn’t want to go through the whole process of building another business in Charlotte.
What does the future hold for Birdsong?
My original forecast was so bad that I’ve kind of given up on forecasting. We really love the Charlotte market and are really happy with where we’re at. We don’t really aspire to be the larger regional or anything like that. We’ll kind of gradually expand throughout the Carolinas, bit by bit.
I do think the craft industry is getting pretty crowded and is going to see a little bit of a top-out in the next couple of years. Not necessarily a decline, but I think we’re going to see growth slow and more new breweries come in at the same time. We’ll go through a phase where there’s more fierce competition in the next two to three years—maybe not in Charlotte but nationally. I think there’s room to grow in Charlotte and there’s room to grow in neighboring markets.
Our goal is going to be a controlled, reasonable amount of growth over the year, to keep developing our staff, and to hang out with our customers on the patio, drinking pints.
Photo: Tara Goulet of Birdsong Brewing Co.
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