In McPherson, KS a 500 year old family tradition will be revived when Three Rings Brewery opens their doors to the public later this spring. Their goal is to bring great beer to great people. The people of McPherson will have the first opportunity to try the beer as Ian Smith and his father, Brian Smith, will begin brewing and selling in this Kansas town. Ian graduated from K-State with a degree in Food Science, all with the desire to start his own brewery eventually. He has worked in the brewing industry since 2009 and has a background in brewing and quality control, which have all led to him fulfilling his dream of Three Rings Brewery. Hopefully, their distribution will start soon so all the people of Kansas will be able to enjoy their beer.
This is the first installment in a series of Q&A interviews with Ian as he leads up to the opening of his brewery. We will be asking him questions about the beer, struggles and joys and he and his dad go through this process together.
G&S: Tell me about your background. What led you to this point?
IS: Dad & I both graduated from Kansas State. With him in Bakery Science & me in Food Science. Dad has been in a leadership role in the food industry for over 30 years and has great experience with how companies run and how to run them successfully. I chose my Food Science degree so I could, hopefully, get into the brewing industry. After a trip to the Anheuser-Busch plant in Ft. Collins (this was before I discovered craft beer), you could say I "fell in love" with brewing. I was fascinated with the science, art, skill and creativity that brewing offered and I decided that's what I wanted to do for a living. I pulled Dad in with me as I started to home brew and he enjoyed everything with me.
G&S: When did you start this and what is your projected opening date?
IS: I was given an opportunity to work an internship with Boulevard the summer before my senior year of college, in the Quality Assurance Lab. From there, I found a new brewery had just opened up in Manhattan and called them up to see if they would have a job opening. Tallgrass Brewing Company gave me another opportunity to work for them as I went to school and then hired me on to start their quality control program. Quality control was my main job, but being in a small brewery, everybody works on everything so I got involved with packaging, shipping and brewing. My goal, even before starting at Tallgrass, was to open a place of my own and make my own beer for people to enjoy.
Our GOAL is to open by the first week of May 2016.
G&S: In your past experience, you have been brewing for other people. What makes this special and what led you to want to be an entrepreneur?
IS: What makes this special is that we get to provide beer for others that we made for them. The vision we keep talking about is that beer is enjoyed at your worst times and at your best times. You celebrate the life of a family member that has passed, with a beer. You celebrate brand new life, with a beer. It makes it special to us that you can see people celebrating together, with beer that we were able to provide. They chose us to celebrate and enjoy themselves with, with their family and friends. As far as entrepreneurship goes, we wanted to provide McPherson, KS with locally made beer that they could enjoy. Me & my wife also wanted to stay in the area where she grew up, so we're around both of our families and friends. Basically, we didn't want to move, so we built a brewery here. We've never thought of it as mainly being for the money (I doubt anybody who opens a brewery does. We're probably not ALL hoping for a $1 billion buy out...),but showcasing our skills to the community and add to the great craft beer scene.
G&S: What size system are you starting with?
IS: 7 bbl system
G&S: Tell me about the process of selecting your name and what it means to you.
IS: We were trying to think of names and decided to kind of look back on our family history to see if we could pull something from there. We found out that our 12th great-grandfather was the head brewer in Einbeck, Germany (along with about 5 of our relatives after that). Back in that time (1500s), the head brewer was also the mayor of the town (which, is a practice I think should still be observed). Having been brought up Lutheran, we noticed that he was a brewer, in Germany, around the time of Martin Luther. Doing some more digging, we found a biography about Martin Luther that stated he was a beer fan and his favorite was beer made in Einbeck. He actually had a cask of it at his wedding, which was probably made by our 12th great-grandfather. Doing some more research, we found a story that Martin Luther had a stein with "three rings" on it. Each ring stood for the 10 Commandments, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. He boasted that he could encompass all three of them with ease while drinking beer out of his three-ringed stein. So, that's what we base our name after.
G&S: How did the brewery come to be and who is involved? What role will everyone play?
IS: I'm doing this, mainly, with my dad and our wives (my mom), so it's really a family affair. Dad & I play the roles of co-owners and President/Vice President. We'll both be involved with all aspects of the process, from brewing to sales. We've been talking about doing this for over three years and finally had the funds and a location to do it.
G&S: How did you select the location and what did the process look like?
IS: As I brought up before, we wanted to stay in the area and raise our family here. We finally received the financials and everything that we needed and had narrowed it down to two towns, both about 10-15 miles away from where we currently live. It really all came down to where we found a building, first. A building came open in McPherson and everything worked out that we started here. McPherson is a very industrious town and our location is, I think, in a great location for people getting off of work to stop by and take beer home with them. We started our initial search, three years ago in Wichita where, at the time, there was only one brewery. Now, Wichita has...I don't know, probably close to 10 different breweries. We couldn't get much off the ground there and decided we really wanted to stay closer to home.
G&S: To this point, what has been the one thing you didn't expect - both good and not so good?
IS: We talked to many brewers about what they learned opening up and any advice they could give us. The very first thing many of them said, was that it's going to cost you a lot more than you think. We didn't believe them. We sat down and got pricing quotes and put in some extra in the business plan and thought we had everything covered. We didn't. That's been the biggest, bad surprise. How much everything costs that we didn't plan on. The biggest good surprise is the support we've received from the city. I had always HOPED that the city would be supportive. But, we do seem to be in an area where alcohol is kind of looked down upon by some people. So, going through re-zoning with the city, I expected some push back or "protests" on not allowing us to open. But, to my honest surprise, there was none of that. All the officials were very positive and thought it would be great for the city. There is a buzz around town where people can't wait for us to open and I honestly haven't heard a single bad word from anybody (yet). That has been the most pleasant surprise. Again, it's always been a hope that we'd be well supported, but now I am confident that we will be.