Beer Idea Comes to a Head
By | The Tampa Tribune
Published: August 12, 2012
ODESSA -- A pair of Pasco men are taking the beer world by storm with the successful launch of their new microbrewery, Big Storm Brewing Company.
Head brewer Mike Bishop and President Clay Yarn are college buddies who are turning a passion for craft beer into a growing business.
Bishop started home brewing in 2006, around the time he graduated from the University of South Florida. He worked five days a week as a financial adviser, and on his off-days he worked 12-hour-shifts at Dunedin Brewery for no pay — just to learn the business.
For Yarn, the passion came later. Raised as a Mormon, he went through college without ever tasting an alcoholic beverage. Years later, he tried a Sam Adams Summer Ale, and it was a revelation. He called his buddy, Mike, to share the news.
"I couldn't believe he had his first beer, and it wasn't with me!" Bishop said.
Now Bishop calls Yarn his beer muse. "Clay's palette is amazing," Bishop said. "He finds the colors and flavors he wants, and I figure out the recipe. We're like beauty and the brewer."
For New Year's Eve in 2011, they came up with a brew that knocked their socks off. They started entering contests and placed in the top five at the Best Beer in Florida competition.
Yarn said Bishop has a special talent. "This guy is his own worst critic," Yarn said. "That beer was featured at the Brewers' Ball. We had brewers asking us for the recipe."
They were convinced they had a winning formula, but building a great beer into a successful business would be impossible if they couldn't clear one hurdle. "Distribution is law in Florida," Bishop said. "You can't get financing if you can't sell your product, and you can't sell it if you don't have a distributor."
They went to the big dog: Tampa's Pepin Distributing. After a few meetings, they agreed to send Jesse Morris, the company's craft beer expert, to Yarn's house to taste the product.
"So we're in my driveway hanging out under the tailgate tent, and he's tasting all the beers," Yarn said. "And the whole time he's texting. The next thing I know, J. Paul Pepin is at my house."
J. Paul Pepin manages the company's craft beer division. "I don't know how often they make house calls, but they did for Big Storm Brewery," Yarn said.
Pepin signed on as distributor after tasting the hoppy, caramel amber ale. "It's delicious," he said. "It's easy drinking and not overpowering — that's important when it's hot out."
It has a thick, foamy head that leaves a lacy coating on the inside of the glass.
Pepin said he admires Yarn's and Bishop's passion. "They're two young kids dropping everything to make a go of it in this craft beer movement that's taking off in Florida," he said. "I applaud them."
But even with a distributor, it still took months to secure financing. Yarn said they poured dozens of pints for potential investors. "We struggled in the beginning," Yarn said. "It finally came together when we abandoned our business plan and just told our story."
They got the financing in November, and within a month had signed a lease for their warehouse at the West Pasco Industrial Center in Odessa. By the summer, Bishop was brewing the beer in batches large enough to fill 20 kegs at a time.
Pepin said the first order went out to area bars and restaurants two weeks ago. "It's been popular," he said. "Our first batch already sold out, and it's getting good reviews."
Great Bay distributes for them in Pinellas and west Pasco.
Soon they'll launch their Palmbender IPA (India pale ale). There's also a smoked IPA they call "Brushfire," and a "Rise & Shine" rye beer. When possible, they use local ingredients, such as orange blossom honey and locally grown blackberries.
The two are also in the process of opening a tasting room at the warehouse, where people can sample all the flavors and buy a to-go pint, or even a gallon-growler. "The tasting room is a place where we can try new recipes and get feedback directly from our customers," Bishop said.
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