Great Raft Brewing is turning two years old next weekend, and to celebrate, they are throwing one helluva party. The Great Raft Ramble on Saturday October 10th is sure to be an absolute blast. There will be two dozen different Great Raft beers available, as well as several food trucks, live music and more.
I recently caught up with Great Raft co-founder, Andrew Nations, for a little Q&A session in advance of their anniversary. Check out what he had to say about the first two years, recipe changes and an upcoming sour program:
Two years goes by awfully fast. Where did you see Great Raft two years ago, and how have you met or exceeded those expectations?
It really has gone by fast. At times, it still seems like a startup with the numerous projects we have going on. Our first two years have been great and exceeded expectations on many levels. Our goal is to always make world-class beer, rather than aim for a certain amount sold. Fortunately those two things have gone hand-in-hand. We have been able to grow fairly quickly while maintaining consistency and quality. We embraced a concept I learned about from our friends at Port City Brewing who adopted it from Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada – growth can’t come at the expense of quality.
In the past year, you’ve expanded to the New Orleans market (late 2014) and the Baton Rouge and Northshore markets (summer 2015). How have people responded to those launches?
South Louisiana has been great and really embraced us. The first time we poured in New Orleans was during the 2013 WYES Beer Fest. “Shreveport, huh?” was a common sentiment to those just learning about Great Raft. We let our beer speak for itself and shortly after, our reputation for quality beer was established. Baton Rouge has been huge for us in a short amount of time. While waiting till August of this year to launch wasn’t ideal for fans of our beers, it was important for us. We needed many additional resources to properly launch and give the market the focus it deserves. It’s paid off. We’ve made a point to get the freshest beer possible to market – not leftovers from New Orleans, but rather fresh beer packaged for Baton Rouge.
How has having the ability to sell your beer directly to customers out of the tasting room been a boon to your business?
Our tasting room sales have always been great. We knew from the very beginning that this space would be huge for us. Profit margins aside, it’s been a great way to engage with and educate beer drinkers. We are able to receive direct feedback on new beers, host educational tastings and tours, and really connect with folks looking to learn more. Once people see our commitment to quality and learn about our passion for beer they become walking advocates for our beer.
What Louisiana market do you have your sights on next? Any immediate plans to distribute out of state?
We are currently looking at a few more markets in Louisiana but not any one in particular just yet. We need to let the dust settle from our Baton Rouge/Northshore expansion before we make our next move. Louisiana will always come first. Lindsay and I moved back from Washington D.C. to make beer in Louisiana first and foremost. I’m sure we will consider out of state distribution at some point.
Do you have any new beers in the works, either one off releases or additions to your flagship offerings?
We have a couple more releases this year including Creature of Habit, Awkward Uncle and possibly a few other surprises. Grace and Grit will also see another release this year around mid-October. No current plans for another flagship or year around offering. Launching with three flagships out of the gate was aggressive. Continuing to support and grow those brands is a priority.
Last spring, Commotion underwent a pretty major recipe redesign. Tell us about that and how it has been received.
The response has been great and something we can look back on as success. Ultimately I wasn’t happy with it and felt like I owed it to everyone to make the best beer we can. That wasn’t happening despite numerous changes in the day one recipe. I won’t go off on a tirade about continuous improvements but I’m really happy with this beer to say the least. It’s tempting to keep adding hops to this recipe but our Chief Brewer Harvey Kenney is always reminding me to “not wear my IPA pants to the Pale Ale party”. He’s right but when he isn’t looking Double Dry Hopped Commotion happens.
You recently started some work at the brewery on beginning a sour program, and as part of that, you were able to visit Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine. Tell us about that experience and how those plans are coming along.
Allagash was amazing. We decided we wanted to learn from one of the best and planned a trip to visit their head brewer Jason Perkins. Obviously their operation is much bigger but the concepts and best practices for producing world class beer remain the same. Our experimental program is coming along nicely. We are currently awaiting a few tanks and our oak foeder and hope to have this program fully operation by year’s end.
You’re on a desert island with access to only one beer that’s not your own. What beer is it?
I love and hate this question. It’s a tough one but something I’ve thought about before. I would have to say Boulevard Saison-Brett. In fact, Lindsay and I popped a 2008 the day we signed the lease on the brewery. This beer is remarkable and one that can be enjoyed fresh or with some age on it. When fresh you get those wonderful Amarillo aromatics while aged the brettanomyces really shines. I once second guessed this as being my deserted island beer of choice…for about five seconds.