The Columns

Alums Brewing Up Business

— by on September 7th, 2012

In Norfolk and Nashville, two Washington and Lee graduates are the latest alumni getting into the craft-beer business.

We’ve mentioned here before the Lexington microbrewery, Blue Lab, which is owned and operated by Tom Lovell, of the Class of 1991, and Bill Hamilton, associate professor of biology.

Joining Blue Lab as W&L-connected microbreweries are Honky Tonk Brewing Co., in Nashville, and Smartmouth Brewing Co., in Norfolk, Va.

Honky Tonk’s founder is Scott Swygert, of the Class of 1992. Scott’s Honky Tonk Facebook page features his business plan and highlights his fund-raising efforts, some of which have involved his use of LinkedIn. He’s been making beer for lots of private events in the Nashville area. One of his more interesting Facebook posts is this one from June: “Brew day today with my 97 yr old grandmother looking over my shoulder. It was her idea to have a lil’ taste of pilsner while we are working.”

By late August, Scott had raised more than $500,000 for the brewery. His goal is to begin remodeling an existing facility to include an on-premise taproom later this year, and then to begin producing beer in the second quarter of 2013, with canned beer for distribution by 2014.

Meanwhile, down in Tidewater Virginia, the Virginian-Pilot wrote a feature story about Smartmouth Brewing Co. and its founder, Porter Hardy IV, of the Law Class of 2004. Porter, who began as a home brewer, started brewing in his new facility — a  9,500-square-foot warehouse in West Ghent — earlier this month.

According to a piece in Inside Business last month, Porter did not precipitately decide to leave his job as in-house lawyer at Titan America, a concrete and building supply provider. He spent five years in preparation, writing his business plan, conducting research, taking a brewing class at Siebel Institute of Chicago, finding investors and hiring a head brewer.

No doubt all three of the alumni enterprises have experienced how Scott described his fund-raising paradox on the Honky Tonk Facebook page: “Too serious = no fun. Too funny = no money.”

So far, it appears they’ve all managed to find the right mix.