craft beer

Shawn & Lindsay Johnson | Birds Fly South Ale Project | Greenville Craft Beer Series

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My exploration into the Greenville craft beer scene continues this week with the story of the Johnson Family: owners and masterminds behind the incredibly unique Birds Fly South Ale Project. You’ll find this funky Birdhouse at Hampton Station, located in the historic downtown Water Tower district.

Shawn and Lindsay’s story began in Clearwater, Florida, where they met and married. Shawn’s career in the Coast Guard brought him to Clearwater. This line of work required their family to be nomads.

Not long after having their first child, the Coast Guard presented Shawn and Lindsay with two choices: Hawaii or Kodiak, Alaska. “We are risk takers,” Shawn said, “so we chose Alaska.”

“We don’t regret it for a second,” Lindsay told me. “The massive adjustment of moving from Florida to Alaska shaped us into who we are today. When it gets dark at 4pm, when it’s constantly snowing, or it’s so windy you feel like your house is about to fall apart, you tend to spend a lot of time indoors. We had to start creating hobbies for ourselves.”

“This is when we really began to invest in the process of brewing our own beer,” Shawn explained. “We learned to lean into our marriage, to the growing partnership, and this helped build our foundation as a family and as a business.  Relocating our family in such a drastic way is directly parallel to the experimental nature of what Birds Fly South Ale Project is today.”

Lindsay added, “Moving to Alaska was a challenge that helped us grow as brewers. There are limited resources in Kodiak, so we really had to experiment with our recipes. Way back then we laid the foundation for our craft beer philosophy.”

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Five years later the family of now four was transferred back down south to Florida. The couple invested further in the craft beer world, building their home-brew set up, attending countless festivals, and researching, reading, and talking about their beloved craft.  “We were able to try so many great beers at the festivals,” Lindsay said. “It really developed our creativity further.”

During this time they met Bob Sylvester, renowned brewmaster and founder of Saint Somewhere Brewing outside Tampa, FL.  Bob took Shawn under his wing and played an instrumental role in helping develop his brewing skills. Shawn interned for several years as a brewer under Bob, learning about farmhouse ales and brewing methods.

“Most of what I know came from Bob,” Shawn said. “He is an inspiration and a teacher, a true mentor. I call him my beer dad.”

The family of five made one last stop in their ale project evolution when they transferred to Washington, D.C. where Shawn was supposed to be stationed for 4 years.  They quickly became involved with the brewing community and helped open Fair Winds Brewing Company. They gained valuable hands-on experience in launching a startup, a skillset much different than brewing beer. “I’m so grateful for that chapter in our lives,” Lindsay said. “We learned so much that we were able to apply with the creation of Birds Fly South.”

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At the end of just one year came another plot-twist in their story when Shawn was unexpectedly transferred to Greenville, South Carolina. “We had never been here before,” Lindsay said. They quickly fell in love with the city and connected with the craft beer community. “We had been implanted into a Coast Guard community in the past,”  Shawn explained, “but that wasn’t the case when we moved here. So we started at local bottle shops, found our people, and went from there.” Greenville soon became their home.

More than a decade after beginning their craft beer journey, and many months into a search for their future ale project home, the Johnsons landed at Hampton Station. “Shawn was able to connect with the guys at Thomas Creek, who gave him space to brew our own recipes and store our barrels,” Lindsay explains. This allowed them to get their beer into the public, and helped them establish a brand in the growing craft market.

“We call our kids birds,” the pair explains. “When the time came to head south we were ready. We landed in Greenville and it felt like a homecoming.” Lindsay, Shawn, and their 16, 12, and 8 year old sons opened the aptly named Birds Fly South Ale Project doors to the public on September 1, 2016.

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“Everything about this place is a partnership,” they add. “It’s not one person brewing beer and another running operations. It’s about a team, shaping and being shaped by a community, creating quality relationships and quality craft ales.”

“The brewery atmosphere was influenced by our time in Alaska,” Lindsay said. “Up there people were able to live more openly, without feeling like they had to conform to a certain expectation.  We want people to feel that no matter where you’re from, what you look like, or what you do (or do not) believe in, you’re welcome here.”

From what I can see, they absolutely succeeded in doing that. The very first time that I came to Birds Fly South I remember telling my wife that it felt like I was attending a family reunion. People brought their dogs, families playing corn hole, friends throwing around a frisbee, and there was genuine socializing around the outdoor beer garden.

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“We want to stay true to how we’ve always lived our lives,” Shawn added.  “We’ve gone to new communities and we’re well versed in what it feels to to be the new people.  We want to be a gathering spot for people who hadn’t found their place yet, or if they’re new to town, don’t know where to start.”

I highly recommend that you make plans to visit Birds Fly South Ale Project at Hampton Station. Before you leave, be sure to shake Shawn and Lindsay’s hand. You won’t find a more genuine and passionate pair.

The Story of Seven Partners | 13 Stripes Brewery | Greenville Craft Beer Series

The existence of 13 Stripes Brewery is the product of seven partners. Actually, seven friends. 

Seven lives, seven paths, and seven different stories. 

As you know, I’m here to tell stories. However, it’s not exactly possible to get all of the partners in the same room at the same time. They have different roles; some hands on, some hands off. I had the privilege of hearing the story of 13 Stripes from the perspective of Aaron Robinson, the director of operations. 

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Talks of opening a brewery began in 2012 between Aaron, his brother Michael, and their childhood friend, Jeremy. Jeremy was the expert in home brewing at the time, and now he is the head brewer of 13 Stripes. 

Michael’s college roommate, Brandon, joined the conversation. The partnership grew to four. 

Michael was stationed in California with the Navy while Aaron, Brandon, and Jeremy were still in their home state of Florida. Unfortunately, the distance between the partners put things on hold. 

“Michael and I had started home brewing and wanted to come up with a way to support his family when he finished his service. He and I didn’t work well when it came to working for other people,” Aaron said. 

Aaron went on to say he never enjoyed working for other people. When he finished high school, he decided to go the college route. After realizing it wasn’t for him, he dropped that and went to a private school for graphic design. 

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Any work he found didn’t help him with the mountain of student debt that he had acquired. “None of it was satisfying or allowing me to lead the life I wanted to lead,” Aaron said. “It was always in the back of my mind that I was going to do something on my own.”

Brandon introduced everyone to his brother-in-law, Kentworth, who is an entrepreneur with his hands in several different businesses. “When he got on board, he started pushing us towards making this happen,” Aaron said. Kentworth is now the marketing director. 

When Michael was transferred from California to Georgia, their dreams began to turn into reality.

During the brainstorming process, South Carolina was only a drive-through state to them. They liked the idea of setting up shop in the New England area, but Kentworth encouraged them to look into Greenville. Aaron and Michael started looking at pictures online and saw potential. They decided to visit and immediately fell in love. So they packed their bags and drove north with the sole intention of opening 13 Stripes Brewery. 

“Mike and I are huge Revolutionary War buffs,” Aaron said. “We came up with the name 13 Stripes - representing the thirteen stripes on the American Flag. Part of the reason we were interested in New England was because of the Revolutionary War history, but we found out that South Carolina had more Revolutionary War battles fought than any other state.

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All of their beers follow their theme and are named after figures, ships, battles, and quotes from that time period.

They got their logo made and started looking for investors. Originally, they wanted to have a full blown restaurant, but the price tag for that was too high.  “We got a lot of ‘no’s’ from investors,” Aaron said. The few ‘yes’s’ that we got turned into ‘no’s’ at the last minute. So we began looking into small business loans.”

Once they applied for that, they started the first step: finding a location. Unfortunately, it proved to be more difficult than they anticipated.

“We would have landlords cancel appointments on us at the last minute,” Aaron said. “It’s so limiting on where you can put the massive equipment needed for brewing. We looked in downtown Greer, at the West End Coffee Roasters former location by Fluor Field, the now location of the Anchorage, and none of them worked out. The Taylors Mill turned us down because they wouldn’t allow alcohol to be served.”

It took them about a year before they were able to find a place. Things finally started looking good when the Taylors Mill had a change in ownership. The new owner reached out to them and offered them the location which they are currently in today.

Brandon brought his brother, Robbie, on board as project manager. Investor, Jason O’Neal, joined the team as the seventh partner and as an investor. 

To get a brewery outfitted the way these gentlemen did would usually cost a pretty penny. Brandon and Robbie, having contracting backgrounds, were able to lead the construction project and keep costs low. Between the seven of them, they built and designed virtually everything in the brewery with the exception for plumbing and electrical. They were able to get equipment ordered, and after about a year and a half of construction and acquiring permits, they were able to open their doors. 

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“For a whole year while we were working on opening, I drove an armored truck for Dunbar,” Aaron sad. “It was the worst job ever. Every time I got in the truck I  had to keep the vision of 13 Stripes in my head. It’s all I could do to keep myself sane.” 

It took a lot for all the pieces to fall into place. “We’re still growing and testing things,” Aaron said. “We’ve got a great partnership. Of course, we get into disagreements, mostly my brother and I. Usually it’s over stupid stuff though, like what type of glassware to order.”

They have become a giant family that grows with each new customer.

They envisioned a place of community. No TVs line the walls. Instead, large tables are set up for people to talk and commune together.  “We might be setting up a projector for movie nights, big fights, and bigger Clemson games,“ Aaron laughed, “It’s interesting, not a single one of the seven of us really watch football anyways. We primarily want people to be able to socialize with people they may or may not know. We’ve found that a lot of or patrons appreciate that we don’t have TVs.”

“Every brewery in the upstate has it’s own style and taste,” Aaron continued, “The aesthetic here is a recreation of an old school pub. This matches our more English style beer, meaning we have a healthy balance of malt and hops in our recipe. We joke that we have an English balance with American strength in our beer.”

“We want to stick with what we do best,” he said. “With other styles we want to carry what others do best. This way we can encourage our customers to go and check out every brewery in town. They’re all fantastic and owned by great people. There’s not a single place I would tell people not to go to.” 

The camaraderie between brewmasters in the upstate is a beautiful thing. 

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Big changes are coming to the Mill next year. There are plans to turn the parking lot in front of Due South and 13 Stripes into a green space and create a beer-garden. The guys at 13 Stripes hope to eventually have a BBQ smoker outside and to flesh out their kitchen so they can prepare sandwiches.

Every month, they pick a different local charity to donate 10% of their sales gross. Since 13 Stripes has been open, they’ve brought $10,000 in sales tax to the Greenville community and are on track to bring $100,000 in sales tax to Greenville alone in their first year of being open. 

“One of the books that inspired all the partners,” Aaron said, “is called the Search for God and Guinness.”

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It tells the story of the original Guinness Brewery and all they did for their employees, employee’s family, and the community. They were involved in several social programs, they worked to provide healthcare for employees and education to employee’s children. They even provided beer to soldiers on the frontline during WW2. 

“If your cup overflows it’ll come back to you,” Aaron said. “When you open a business, you’re not going to win everyone over. You just have to do the best that you can for the people that you get and then give back to them. We want to go out and help the needy as best we can.”

All Photography by Bernie Anderson - www.bernieanderson.com