By WES BLAKEY
WOODSTOCK, Ga. – Since its establishment in October 2013, Reformation Brewery has grown much more and much faster than expected.
Nick Downs, co-founder and head brewmaster, doubles as a Delta Air Lines pilot.
“I fly international and I was flying to Western Europe mainly,” Downs said. “I’d bring beer back and Spencer Nix, our CEO and other co-founder, and I would sit around and solve the world’s problems and drink beer.”
He changed planes and no longer went to any good beer destinations: “I went to Africa and the Middle East, and places that don’t have any beer,” he said.
Therefore, Downs and Nix decided they would start making their own beer.
Reformation Brewery started in Downs’ backyard. As he and Nix started making their own beer, they would produce about five gallons at a time. This was more than two people could drink, so they invited a few friends over. This happened on the third Thursday of the month, which turned the third Thursday of every month into brew night.
Over about a three-year span, brew night went from four people the first time to over a hundred people toward the end.
“It was just a big event, you know, once a month at my house,” said Downs.
They liked the social dynamic of what they were doing. People liked their beer and encouraged them to keep going and start a brewery, so they did.
They centered their brewery on six core values: acceptance, story, authenticity, moderation, humility and humor. Every value is important and they all take center stage when it’s appropriate.
“You know when you start a brewery you don’t have any idea what you’re doing, so humor comes into effect a lot because if you’re not laughing at yourself and the mistakes you make then you’re not gonna make it,” said Downs.
The namesake of their brewery comes from Reformation Day, which is a religious holiday in remembrance of the Reformation celebrated among various Protestants. It takes place on the same day as Halloween.
“Spencer and I are both kind of theology geeks, and we’ve both been to seminary,” Downs said. “We liked the way that beer united people and created moments, and community and so I think that’s our thrust. Set beer free is what we say.”
Their motto, “set beer free,” means to set beer free from a lot of things.
“There are lots of people that say don’t drink at all,” Downs said. “There are lots of people that want to drink as much as possible or as quickly as possible. There’s the yellow, fizzy beer that is bland and uneventful. So some of those norms are what we would like to set beer free from and try to create a community and an environment where beer is not always the center of conversation. It’s the genesis of conversation. It’s not the conversation, it’s not why you’re there, but it’s a reason to come.”
Nick Downs working in the brewery with the High Efficiency Brewing System. It is the only system of its kind in the Southeast. (Photo by Wes Blakey)
Their overall goal is to find that middle ground between not drinking at all and getting inebriated. They offer 22 ounce bottles that they call Commons as opposed to the traditional Bombers. The reason they are called Commons instead is because people are encouraged to sit down and share that 22 ounce bottle to have something in common with somebody else, not just drink it by themselves and get bombed.
Reformation Brewery is located in Woodstock, home to the Etowah Watershed. The Etowah Watershed is known for having some of the cleanest water in the Southeast. Downs and Nix utilize this natural resource for their brewery. The city of Woodstock and Cherokee County supported them starting up their small business about a mile down the road from downtown.
Reformation has partnered up with the restaurants downtown such as Pure Taqueria, Salt Factory Pub, Reel Seafood and Freight Kitchen and Tap.
“We encourage people to go into downtown Woodstock with our many partners and eat after they enjoy their evening here,” said accounts relations manager, Ryan Morely-Stockton.
This has caused restaurants in the area a 20 percent increase in revenue on nights that the brewery offers tours.
Reformation Brewery is open for tours on Thursdays 5:30-8 p.m., Fridays 5:30-9 p.m., Saturdays 1-9 p.m. and Sundays 2-4 p.m. It also offers other events such as BREWHAHA, Books and Brews, Game Night and Industry Night.
BREWHAHA is on the third Thursday of every month, just like when brew night was hosted at Downs’ house.
Industry night plays host to those who work and support the food and beer industry as it offers half off of all tours from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development and Georgia Economic Developer’s Association recognized Reformation Brewery as a Small Business Rock Star as early as Tuesday, Feb. 16.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Morley-Stockton. “It was already an honor to get thrown in the mix, but to actually win it and be included in one of the five businesses that won that award attests to everybody here and what they’ve done. The hard work is paying off.”
To go along with that honor, Reformation recently made Yahoo’s list of 50 Best Breweries Worth Traveling for.
Five years down the road, the Reformation Brewery owners hope to have the same core values intact. Downs sees the brewery staying in Woodstock and believes there is going to be an international component to their beer as he travels so much.
He is still a pilot and pokes around on his layovers to see if he can’t turn up a little business. He said they plan to send some beer to South Africa, China, some Scandinavian places and maybe the United Kingdom as well.