FireWheel Brewing's Brad Perkinson on Making it on a Shoestring Budget and Plans for Expansion
Brad Perkinson, owner and founder of FireWheel Brewing, got his first taste of the celebration of beer while on vacation in Munich in 2009, where got to experience the original brewhaha known as Oktoberfest. A couple years later, when he got laid off from his job here stateside, he took a huge leap of faith and opened his very own brewery in Rowlett. What started out as strictly a one-man-operation recently grew to two after he hired his first official employee. There are three now, actually, if you count the new brewery dog.
He's already expanding and will open a new brewery in six months that will increase capacity six-fold. He's also working on a few new releases, including a Polish-style Grotzer beer that tastes like smoked sausage ("but in a good way").
We spoke with Perkinson about making it in the industry with little to no capital and his brewery's future.
What's the greatest misconception about being a brewer?
The biggest misconception for me (and the hardest to overcome) is the non-brewing general population's preconceived notion of what the people in this industry are. I may have a beard, long hair, and I make beer for a living, but that isn't necessarily all I am. My personality and skill-set isn't limited to drinking beer and I don't just spend my days drinking my products. I have several degrees from University of Texas Dallas in business and finance, I play softball, I paint, I play the piano, and I actually don't drink during the week while I'm at the brewery.
In 2010, there were just two local craft breweries, now than are more than a dozen. What do you think about the explosive growth of craft brewing locally?
It is a glamorized lifestyle. I don't know if all these people getting into the industry really understand what they are getting into. I sure didn't know when I started! It is A lot of work and takes even more capital. It is very quickly becoming competitive between local brands for taps and shelf space, and I honestly don't know how much craft beer Dallas can support. I don't think we are a saturated market yet, but we are getting there in a hurry.
What's in your beer fridge right now?
Martin House Daybreak Cans, Lakewood Hop Trapp bottles, Deschutes Inversion IPA, Uinta Hop Nosh, and FireWheel (of course) and Liquid Assets keg in the garage kegerator - just to name a few.
Ever had a colossal brewing mistake?
Yes, yes I did. I was in the middle of a brew day and I lost power to the building. It turns out that the wiring wasn't up to code and I was pulling more power than the wires were rated for. We got it all fixed, but my brew was stuck in the kettle for three hours and I couldn't transfer it because I couldn't use my pump! So, after we got power restored and I got over being angry about losing the batch, I said, "Well, this batch is obviously ruined, let's see what crazy beer I can make out of it!" I fired up the kettle again and continued to boil that batch for a total of 6 hours and kept hopping it every 30 minutes or so. After I was done, I had boiled off over 20% of the volume and had added 5 times more hops than I ever had before. It turned into our Imperial India Red Ale and was delicious! It ended up being a great beer, so I guess all that ends well is well, right?
Do you have any advice for budding brewers?
1. Keep it simple. Just because your buddy has a three-tier all electric system with pumps and filters doesn't mean he can make a better beer than you.
2. Don't be an ass. Simple enough concept, but it needs to be said! There is a place for everyone and a time for every beer. The last thing we need is for people to be discouraging and condescending when you are trying to start home brewing.
3. Take it slow and don't try to do to much at the beginning. Stick with the same style or 2 for the first several batches so you can work on the process. Once you have the process, try different beers. (Tip: hops cover up errors, so try something mildly hoppy.)
Have you found any invaluable brewing resources? Like books, sites or publications that are your go-to sources or guides.
Local brewers have been my salvation when I run into trouble. Wim [Bens] at Lakewood [Brewing Company] helps me out a bunch if I'm in a pinch and I know the others would as well if I asked.
What's the hardest part of your job, and, at the other end of the spectrum, the best part?
Hardest part is trying to make it in this industry without capital. I have to make a lot of my own equipment, and it requires some crafty engineering and a lot of time. Trial and error is my method and we just hope for more successes than failures!
The best part is when people come out to the tours and tell me how much they are enjoying the beer that I made with my own two hands. It feels really good to have people appreciate your hard work.
What's the best beer you've ever had?
Can't say just one. Bourbon County is pretty freaking good. I also love my Whiskey Barrel Brown and Red Chair by Deschutes and Hop Nosh by Uinta is delish.
What's the most ridiculous or far-fetched thing you've ever done to get beer?
A few years ago, a couple of buddies and I wanted to drink a beer or three while we went to the movies. Between the three of us, we managed to hide an entire 12-pack of cans in our pockets! That was a good movie!