For Kevin Ryan and Meredith Sutton, beer is more than hops and barley. A former U.S. Army commander, Ryan founded Savannah, Georgia’s Service Brewing Co. in the summer of 2014 and over the last three years has worked with Sutton to build a business that utilizes craft brewing as a catalyst for community. Each season the company releases a new beer, the proceeds of which support local, regional and national charities; to date they have raised over $50,000 for organizations that assist veterans and first-responders. Sutton, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art & Design, created the Service Brewing Co. tasting room, designed to pay homage to military history, much of it culled from Ryan’s personal experiences. The space features locally-designed tap handles and a ‘How Do You Serve’ wall where patrons can share their stories, inspired by the artist Candy Chang. “[It] gives our patrons the opportunity to share how they serve their country and community,” says Sutton. “It’s pretty inspiring to see people who visit us from all over the world pick up a piece of chalk with a beer in hand and share what they do. From Military Units to animal rescues, it’s all good things that make our world a better place. Once the wall is full we photograph it, erase it, and start all over.”
Was there a steep learning curve going from home brewing to running a business?
Absolutely! Like any new business, knowledge is key. Everyday, we are learning something new and creatively working together to grow the company. My military background and Meredith’s design background, along with our passion for beer, has really nurtured the growth of our business. At the end of the day, if you love what you do, you will work your way through the challenges.
How did you figure out the logistics of serving the veteran community?
Giving back to those who serve their country and community is easy when you make it part of who you are. The hard part is deciding whom to support. There are so many people doing great things for our veterans and first responders throughout the country, we are challenged to choose just one every quarter. We do a lot of research on each charity and make sure that at least 90% of every dollar donated goes to the person receiving the benefit from the charity.
Have there been any big challenges working together as a team?
Meredith and I have really enjoyed working together and recognizing the different complementary skills we bring to the team. We sit across the table from each other most of the day and talk through just about everything, so there are very few surprises.
What has it been like developing the beer styles you offer?
We are always experimenting with new styles to share with our patrons. We brew beer that is inspired by local flora, local creatives, local desserts, old world recipes, and newly introduced hops.
Are there any local favorites?
Every one of our customers has developed a favorite over time….but then we spring a new beer on them and they’re sometimes forced to reconsider.
Meredith, can you talk a little bit about the design of the tasting room and the different elements you incorporated to reference military history?
The first thing you see when you step into the tasting room are the two 40ft containers stacked in the center of the room. I remembered Kevin showing me some pictures from his time in Iraq and one of the things that stood out the most was the fact that he lived in a shipping container for 7 months. Our first meeting with the architect we sat at the conference table, and I stated that I wanted a container to house our cooler of Tasting Room taps. The entire tasting room is inspired by Kevin’s military experience, from the 100ft parachutes that we draped across the wall—jumping out of airplanes was one of his favorite things to do—to the reclaimed wood chevron pattern that is the base of our zinc bar. We have had so many talented and creative people help us make this space, from the artist Taylor White, who adorned our wall with the mural, to Will Penny, who custom-built our Ping Pong table. Just about everything in this room is created by an artist or maker.