Red Clay Brewing
When Robert Trent Jones saw the land that hugs the edge of Lake Saugahatchee that would be developed into his Grand National course, he described it as the “single greatest” site for a golf complex that he had ever seen. It’s no wonder then that in 2005 Golf Digest named the Auburn-Opelika Metropolis as the number one area for golf in the United States.
Of course, when you’re hitting the links, nothing goes better with a sunny day on the fairway than a beer or two; especially if you shank most of your balls into the water hazard like we do. Thus, we packed up our golf cart and headed down to Opelika, Alabama to visit the crew at Red Clay Brewing.
Newly opened in March 2015, Red Clay is already making an impact on the local beer scene and head brewer Kerry McGinnis fills us in on their story.
What’s your backstory?
We are a group of friends that started home brewing about ten years ago. John Corbin handles sales and marketing, Stephen Harle takes care of the finances and I handle the brewing and production. We had often joked about opening a brewery and around February of 2013 we got serious and pulled the trigger.
We are a brewery that focuses on brewing traditional beers from around the world. For example, our Hefeweizen is not an American Hefe or California Hefe. It is brewed to be as close to the real thing as possible. We start, as we do with all our beer, by mimicking the water used in the region through use of our reverse osmosis unit and mineral additions. Thanks to BSG, we are able to use authentic malts from Germany, Belgium, etc.
We do the same process with our English Brown, our Belgian Saison, our Scottish ale, etc. We currently have about 20 beers that we offer in the tap-room, and distribute four beers and a hard cider around Alabama and as of two weeks ago to Georgia as well. We have 2 full time employees and 4 part time bar tenders.
How did you choose the name of your brewery?
Red Clay Brewing has its roots firmly entrenched in the South. The founders of the company were all born and raised here. The red clay that is native to this region of the South and what we all knew so well growing up became a natural moniker for our business. Red Clay Brewing simply represents us, our history and the South we love and call home. Opelika is a Muskogee word meaning Big Swamp, and this became the inspiration for one of our first beers: Big Swamp Stout.
What's the history of the brewery building?
The brewery is located in Opelika's historical district facing a historical rail line that connects Atlanta with Montgomery. The building itself is a 100+ year old cotton warehouse that was owned by Penn Montgomery. We are less than a quarter mile from an old textile mill that has been torn down and we were able to acquire some of the old wood from the building to use in our construction. Our bar and tables which we made ourselves are made from it.
- 7 BBL brewhouse
- Six - 7 BBL fermenters
- We have the ability to produce around 25 barrels a week.
What's the reception been like of the locals?
The local reception has been incredible. We were a brewery in planning for two years and people were constantly asking us when we would be opening. We are the only brewery in the area since the Old Auburn Ale House shut down years ago.
What's the biggest difference in going from homebrewing to production brewing?
The biggest part of going from homebrewing to production brewing is the financial side of things. When homebrewing high quality is always a goal, but if something happens it is of no big consequence. In production if something doesn't come out right it goes to the vinegar plant. Also it doesn't really matter how much a batch of homebrew costs; you can put gold flakes in it if you want because it’s a hobby.
At the brewery we are always conscious of costs. From PBW and sanitizer to electricity, water, labor, ingredients and so on - always. The big drawback to owning a business is that it is a business. It must generate income greater than its expenses or everyone loses their job. We all took out several mortgages on our homes and loans to get the place started. It is not always doing what you want to do, but what you have to do.
What is your brewing philosophy?
Make real traditional beers as well as we possibly can. We don't have a "house yeast' for example. All of our beers have the yeast that goes with the style. It would be much simpler to do that differently and help our bottom line, cut labor costs and so on, but we don't. We try to stay true to style as much as possible from the water profile to the fermentation temp; all the way through.
What are some of the styles you brew?
We currently brew for distribution:
- Hay Shed, Saison
- Half-Time, Hefeweizen
- Southern Bumpkin Sweet Potato, Brown
- Lakeside, Hard Cider
Those plus the ones below are available in our tap-room
- Long Pine, Pale
- Big Swamp, Oatmeal Stout
- Sawtooth, Sour
- 53, Kolsch
- MacKenzies, Scottish Ale
- Hop Jubilee, Imperial IPA
- Garden-Hoe, Wit
- Red-Oaktoberfest, Octoberfest
- Southern Bumpkin Pumpkin, Brown
- Auburn Sunset Amber, Amber (collaboration with AU Brewing Sciences)
- Gameday, Vanilla Bourbon Porter
How has your experience been working with BSG?
Working with BSG has been great. I can place an order today and pick it up tomorrow. I also love that I can get Belgian malts for our Belgian Wit, or English malts for our English Brown, etc.