13 Jul Teays River Brewery & Public House Has Emerged From the Shutdown as a Stronger Brewery
I’m a fan of people who take risks, whether those risks be large or small. The mentality is the same regardless of the size of the risk; substantial or merely iffy, it takes a go-getter to attack rather than retreat. That’s why I like Teays River Brewing & Public House in Lafayette; they took the shutdown by tail and yanked it around to meet their needs. Out of this period they have come up with a canning program and several other new attractions. You can’t ask for much more “bull by the horns” than that.
I sat down with Teays River head brewer Jason Cook to talk about the course they are following as they are emerge from underneath the coronavirus shutdown. Not only has Teays River improved themselves during the dark age, they have come out of it with new ideas and at least one new beer name – more on that below. Here is the conversation:
Indiana On Tap: Tell us in general about the fears about the shutdown as it was starting, how you had to change on the fly so many times, how your team figured a way through, the degree to which you have been successful, and the role of your fans/patrons in the whole situation. How did the event room help you get through this (as well as the patio)?
Jason: I can’t imagine our fears were much different than anyone else’s, with the main thought being just how in the world we were going to be able to pay the bills and stay in business.
From an operational standpoint, we approached the mandatory shut-down under the assumption of doing 1/4 to 1/3 of our regular sales volume. At the outset, PPP wasn’t a thing so we were just trying to run things under a new model. When the stay at home instructions came, we had a game-plan in place but obviously would have to make some adjustments along the way.
While it shouldn’t be a surprise, it can still be eye-opening to see how supportive your community is during such trying times. Our expectations for carryout and delivery were exceeded from day one and continued to be strong throughout the duration of the stay at home order. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see a $100 tip on a $30 to-go order. Again, you know how strong your community can be, but the generosity of people and their understanding of the situation can still catch you off guard at times.
Indiana On Tap: How did things like delivery and carryout factor in to Teays River’s success during the shutdown?
Jason: Carryout has always been available but obviously more widely used over the past few months. We still see a very steady number of carryout orders come through but delivery orders had tailed off considerably so, we have already discontinued that service. I doubt the stage dates, such as July 4th, will be the driving factor for seeing carryout numbers decline. Individuals becoming more comfortable with getting back out into public spaces will likely be the determining factor.
Indiana On Tap: Did things change at all for the brew crew, or was it dull steam ahead with the beer?
Jason: That first week of the stay at home order we didn’t do any brewing. We weren’t sure what to expect so we definitely didn’t want to be producing beer if it was going to end up going to waste. After looking at the first week of carryout sales, it was clear that we would need to continue brewing. I think we just did one batch that following week but, since that week, we’ve maintained our normal production schedule. We’ve actually accelerated it in recent weeks to accommodate the canning schedule.
Because I started training Matt (Matthias Sharp), our taproom guru and homebrewer, back in the brewery, we started doing a number of 1bbl batches. Since we weren’t releasing them during the carryout only phase, we were able to sit on a few and then start releasing them on a weekly basis. Since Matt is our taproom guy on Sunday evenings and was co-brewer on the batches, we decided to do Small Batch Sundays with Matt.
Indiana On Tap: Talk about your fruit/herb beer series – are those all going to be part of the Sunday Small Batch series?
Jason: I’ve been wanting to do some fun things with fruit and herb combinations for quite awhile but have prioritized my focus on keeping the primary beers flowing. Having Matt available in the brewery has finally freed up a little time to pursue doing some fun and interesting batches on the pilot system. Those will all likely be introduced on Small Batch Sundays going forward.
Indiana On Tap: What are your ideas for the future of that series? Are they too expensive to be doing on a larger scale, like for canning?
Jason: Honestly, I haven’t looked that far ahead to think about what we might do with these beers going forward. For now it’s just having fun and trying to be creative but, if we stumble across a fan favorite or two then I would certainly entertain the idea of scaling them up.
Indiana On Tap: Tell me about the canning you are doing – how did it come about, what theme did you wish to follow, how often have you canned so far and how often will you be canning? Which beers do you can now and which will be coming up?
Jason: Canning was going to happen at some point, but the shutdown just increased the urgency a little bit. Now that we finally pulled the trigger canning, I can’t see us not continuing to schedule sessions on a regular basis. It had already been in the plan for this year but we just accelerated the timeline a little bit.
May 14th was our very first canning session and we ended up canning a total of 12 bbls divided among five of our more popular beers. Those beers include our Golden Years Golden Ale, Luscious American Brown Ale, Pleasure Seeker American Amber, Pinky & the Grain American IPA, and Maneater (soon to be Heartbreaker, more on that later) Double IPA. Our next session was on June 18th, which included two additional beers, our Pleistocene Pale Ale and East Highlands Scottish Ale. Beyond that, we have sessions scheduled every four weeks through August. Assuming response to our cans continues to be favorable, that’s the schedule we intend to keep.
Indiana On Tap: Who designed your labels?
Jason: Regarding our can label art work, we were fortunate to have a very talented server on staff who had been with us from the day we opened our doors. Reagan Holderby, instagram.com/reagan.deanna.designs/ is a recent graduate of Purdue University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. She started with our Maneater/Heartbreaker design and we just kept going from there. While we have recently lost her as part of our staff, Reagan is still working on additional designs for us as she begins her post-college career from Nashville, TN.
Indiana On Tap: How did Teays River use its PPP money and what projects were you able to accomplish because you had the help around?
Jason: Well, we have spent or are spending our PPP money in the manner in which it is intended. The largest part of those funds are being used or have been used to pay employees. We were able to keep 33 of about 50 employees on the payroll throughout the shutdown and are now back up to being fully staffed. In addition to their normal duties, we scheduled our staff for a number of miscellaneous tasks around the public house, cleaning and painting being two of the bigger tasks. We were also able to start scheduling Matt to train in the brewery, mostly doing cellar work but also brewing some batches on our 1bbl pilot system. (Add something about the renovating of the taproom)
Indiana On Tap: You mentioned something about Maneater and a name change? What’s up there?
Jason: So the canning of our beers also provided us with a learning experience going forward. Within 3 weeks of having released our initial batch of cans, we were contacted by one of the owner’s of Hi-Wire Brewing out of Asheville, NC regarding our Maneater DIPA. It turns out that they own the trademark on the Man Eater name for one of their beers, also a double IPA. Adam, from Hi-Wire Brewing, handled everything with a professional, courteous, and respectful manner that I’ve come to expect from the craft beer industry. After some email and phone correspondence, we were able to hash things out so that we can do a final canning run of our Maneater this month, with it being re-branded as Heartbreak DIPA moving forward.
What could’ve been a confrontational issue ended up being a positive experience thanks to the way he chose to approach the whole situation. I look forward to getting my hands on Hi-Wire’s Man Eater Double IPA one of these days!
Conclusion: Jason wants to thank the community for the great support they showed the brewery and restaurant during the shutdown. It was their patronage that allowed them to make the changes that are helping them move forward and emerge from the last three months as a stronger, more capable business that will grow into the future.
banner image credit: Teays River Brewing & Public House