We recently had a one-on-one conversation with Geoff Mattheis, founder of Tidal River Brewing Co. In the interest of transparency I must tell you that Geoff was an ‘early adopter’ for the CT Beer Trail. He and his bride Mary were on our very first brewery bus tour, and number of tours after that. We see them at most brew fest throughout the state and almost always adorned in CT Beer Trail t-shirts. They’ve also been known to bring a few beers our way at these fests, when we couldn’t take a break from our table. So, are we biased? Perhaps, but Geoff is a great guy, and we’re very excited about his endeavor.
Q: Geoff, the love of beer and brewing is often at the heart of new breweries, but the love and understanding of basic principles of business are critical too. So, let me ask you, why do you want to open a brewery?
A: Opening a brewery is as much a business decision as it is a call to action to follow my passion. As you know, my wife, Mary, and I have been active and regular participants in the CT Beer Trail community (editor’s note… see we told you!) which exposed me to a whole new way of seeing the operational side of brewery ownership. I was able to see firsthand the types of people and commitment it takes to produce great beer at a small scale. That, combined with my passions of tasting and creating beer, lead me to what I see as an inevitable outgrowth of my home brewing hobby, a brewery. The time was right for us to take this journey, and Connecticut is primed to support more local flavor. My corner of the state (northwest) is currently underserved by a local brewery, although we don’t have the same high per-capita penetration of beer drinkers as other parts of the state, we definitely have a thirst for new beers. Canton is a prime spot for a location, right on the navigation corridor from Hartford, easily accessible to visitors!
Q: You certainly have displayed a passion for craft beer, but what brewing experience, and other skillsets do you bring to the table?
A: I have been home brewing for five years now, eventually sizing up to a full 10 gallon batch system. My research and engineering backgrounds have really helped me refine the pure science of what goes into a great brew, and has enabled me to refine and lock down some wonderful beers.
Q: What will be your brewery's niche market? What will set you apart, yet make you fit into the overall all tapestry that is the CT Beer Trail? And please tell us about the beers you will brew.
A: The Tidal River Brewing Company concept is focused around a “localvore” approach of craft beer. Canton has a wonderful environment and history of supporting local artisans and craft workers, beer is no exception. The amount of support and desire I’ve had from this community has been almost overwhelming; Canton is primed for craft beer. What sets Tidal River Brewing Company apart is what I’m calling a “community centric” approach. I see Tidal River Brewing Company as a way for people who are most interested to make a solid and noticeable difference in how we create. I encourage visitors to come in and help us make new beers, suggest recipes, come in and have a collaboration brew, throw ideas to the wall, see what sticks. I am a fan of so many different beer styles, and definitely a hop head, but there are so many good ones to choose from. How are my beers different? The nano-brewery size really allows me to experiment with a new style quickly, and turn-around a change up in no time. I really like the flexibility provided by a tight production line, it pushes the limits of new beers and flavors constantly. I love changing things up, and trying out new things. Cherry chipotle kolsch style? You got it! Single-hopped cascade American amber ale? Sure, how about we have one keg dry hopped with citra, another with nelson sauvin, another with lemodrop, another with wheat grass, another with rhubarb, and on and on. Beer loves experimentation and I love experimenting with beer!
Q: Tell us about your Kickstarter campaign... What will the money raised be used for? Why did you decide to go the Kickstarter route, rather than traditional financing?
A: The kickstarter campaign is designed to give interested people a chance to show their direct support for a local business, and local brewery, and is a platform for me to provide some really awesome rewards that let people really feel connected to Tidal River Brewing Company. I chose kickstarter as a supplemental financial platform, not as a primary. The brewery is already built, the federal license is already in hand, I am currently doing the paperwork for the state, we will open, and it’s just a matter of time now. I’m not looking for donation to start the process or to seed the original idea, rather to push us over the finish line and let us come out the gates swinging, and brewing! I like the idea of crowd funding, and the rewards based structure itself giving individuals power into larger entities, providing a voice to be heard above the din. All of my supporters will have a special place in my heart, and my brewery!
Q: What are your short term and long term goals for your brewery?
A: Short term: start small, grow big. First year goal of 200bbls production with a 20% increase year over year, to three years. Year three will see the first expansion in the form of newer fermenters and upgraded capacity. My original business model called for a tiny 1bbl brewhouse, but I was able to affordably source a 3bbl brewhouse already, so capacity is there and ready to go.
Long term: I’d love to have a taproom. People are more likely to return when they can stop for a while and share a pint or two with friends. The space I’m in and the area we’re located isn’t perfect for that style of brewery, but it’s on a long term goal list. I have many friends in the restaurant industry that are interested in the idea of a brewpub, but that’s a whole ball of wax that’s much further off.
Q: Connecticut has gone from an handful of breweries to a fairly high amount for a small state, what do you attribute this growth to?
A: Successful changes to some of the older laws on the books in 2012 really opened the door to new, smaller breweries. Ironically this change was largely pushed by Connecticut’s largest brewery, Two Roads! Connecticut now embraces a self-distribution model which allows little guys like me to walk into an establishment and put my beers right on tap. This assures patrons and vendors they are getting the freshest possible beer. This didn’t sit in a 3rd party warehouse for 6 weeks, it was filled yesterday! This quick ramp up in numbers also shows that Connecticut has a thirst for craft, something I want to be a part of. Even though we are a small state, we do have a relative high population density, allowing us to leverage this need for craft beer penetration per capita.
Q: Do you think there is a limit to the amount of breweries CT can sustain?
A: I do, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near that yet. There are similar states and counties in this country that have similar socioeconomic make-ups to Connecticut that have a much higher density of breweries per drinkers. Connecticut is often defined by a strong local community feel that helps foster the small business ideals that make a brewery such a great place to go. Even in Connecticut, there are communities with multiple breweries within just minutes of each other that are all very successful and happy.
Q: How will you gauge success for yourself and your brewery, define success.
A: Success for me will be meeting that first year goal of 200bbls. It’s doable with a lot of work, but that’s why I started this. Success is also about acceptance on the CT brew scene. I want to be able to bring people in and show them what craft beer has to offer and how awesome this community is. I have some really solid “entry” beers that may even be able to convert a few die-hard skeptics to the crafty scene. This is a really hard market to stand out in, there are so many amazing, top-notch beers being made in CT, I want people to be talking about Tidal River Brewing Company in the coming months. I will feel personally successful when I see my beer on tap at a local restaurant and someone says, “Hey, this is great, where’s it made?” and the bartender can say, “You know what, right down the street, why don’t you stop by and meet the brewer, he’s pretty cool!"
Q: How will you maintain consistency and quality with your beer?
A: Brewing great beer takes patience, practice and great ingredients. I’ve sourced my ingredients from BSG, who’s leading the way in the craft beer market. They’re making strides to get the best ingredients to their brewers fast, giving us the best chance to make great beer. Brewing is as much a science as it is an art-form, something I take very seriously. Being able to replicate a beer precisely is paramount to making craft beer approachable. I want people to come in and say, “Hey, I had ‘x’ beer last time and it was great, do you have more?” maintaining proper sanitizing protocols, water treatments, pH adjustments, fresh ingredients and proper brewing temperatures will allow me to continue to make the same great beers every batch.
Q: Many in the industry have used the "rising tide raises all boats" view to show that what is good for one craft brewery is good for the industry and all breweries in the long run. This is what the CT Beer Trail was built on... But others individuals fear that too many breweries make it hard to maintain a consistent tap presence across the state; while others complain that inexperienced brewers make inferior products that lack consistency, which may turn would be craft beer aficionados and novices away from the scene. What is your stance on all of this?
A: This is a legitimate concern of mine, something that has caused a few sleepless nights. For me, I approach my craft with what I hope is the proper amount of humility. I know a lot about drinking beer, a bit about making beer, and a little about making a business of beer, but I’m learning and growing. This humble approach to the craft allows me to change and adapt based on customer feedback and growth experience. I can taste bad beer, not just beer that’s not my taste but objectively bad, it’s noticeable. As a brewer, I know what goes into beer, not just the ingredients, but the chemical changes that occur at each step along the way. This intimate knowledge of the science of brewing has given me some really good insight into what flavors are and what should be there. I have not yet met a professional brewer, or brewery owner who doesn’t welcome a new one to the market. Competition breeds quality through adversity; we all make each other better; the rising tide does bring all boats up. Being a community brewery, I want to welcome everyone in, from the experienced beer nerd to the fledgling macro drinker who wants to change; everyone can come and experience great beer.
Q: What is your vision for your brewery, where do you see it in 5 years?
A: In five years’ time I want to have expanded the operation to regular packaging, possibly by having on-site packaging line or a contracted basis through one of the amenable bigger breweries in the state. Initially, you’ll only be able to get Tidal River Brewing Company beer on tap at surrounding bars or here in Canton, but to be truly successful, we need to package and sell our wares to the stores.
Tidal River Brewing Company was started to bring craft beer to Canton, and I will be a part of this local community and with the support of everyone around, both in Canton and surrounding Connecticut, I can make my own little way into the market. I love great beer, and I love to make great beer; Tidal River Brewing Company is going to stay humble and keep brewing!
Interested in supporting Tidal River Brewing Company, please check out their Kickstarter campaign which ends this week on June 27th. They are offering some great incentives for those that offer their support!