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Ex-grunt's brewery to tap in to good cause

Aug. 2, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Kevin Ryan, a former infantry officer, takes a look at the clarity of the mash as his Service Brewing Co. brewery crafts one of its first batches of Compass Rose IPA.
Kevin Ryan, a former infantry officer, takes a look at the clarity of the mash as his Service Brewing Co. brewery crafts one of its first batches of Compass Rose IPA. (Corey Dickstein/Savannah Morning News)
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Compass Rose beer made by Service Brewing Co. (Courtesy Service Brewing Co.)
Ground Pounder beer made by Service Brewing Co. (Courtesy Service Brewing Co.)

A former Army officer who has launched a microbrewery knows that everyone will raise a glass to help support a veteran-owned business that gives a portion of its proceeds to charities backing military members, policemen and firefighters.

It’s the second glass that’ll make the difference.

“There is no shortage of excitement about a new brewery opening up in this town,” said former Capt. Kevin Ryan, a 1996 West Point graduate whose Savannah, Georgia-based Service Brewing Co. had its launch event in July at a local American Legion post. “The majority of places that sell craft beer are going to want the new local beer on tap. The job is to make sure they want it on tap again.”

Ryan, who commanded two 4th Infantry Division companies in Iraq, has some prior-service talent on staff to make that happen:

■ Dan Sartin, another West Point graduate and former captain, who “went to Germany as his first duty station and fell in love with great beer,” Ryan said. After leaving the Army in 1985 and doing a hitch in the corporate world, Sartin became a master brewer and a beer sommelier.

■ Jeff Hyatt, who retired as a chief warrant officer 4 last year after flying helicopters out of nearby Hunter Army Airfield. He used his terminal leave to get his brewing bona fides and works for Service Brewing as an assistant brewer.

■ Ryan himself, the owner/CEO who left the Army in 2004, taking non-malt-related jobs until going to work for his father’s business in 2010. His father died in 2011, and Ryan decided that he “needed to chase his own dreams.”

Ryan’s girlfriend gave him a home-brew kit, and the rest was history. And fundraising. And staffing. And scouring Savannah for a brewery site — a historic building with more than 28,000 square feet.

“Writing a business plan that is well done is probably the hardest thing to do,” Ryan said when asked what advice he could give to other Army entrepreneurs. “No good plan survives first contact, but you have to have something to work from.”

Other tips: Seek out local small-business agencies, which generally offer help with planning at no cost. And rely on communication skills developed by the service.

Part of what made Ryan’s business plan attractive to investors — including many former classmates and other Army connections — was the mandate to donate part of the proceeds to charity. For the July launch, all proceeds went to benefit Honor Flight Savannah, which arranges visits by World War II and Korean War veterans to their respective memorials in Washington, D.C., and the 200 Club, which has donated more than $700,000 to the families of fallen law enforcement officers and firefighters in the region, according to its website.

Service Brewing plans to donate some proceeds to a different national charity each year — first up will be Fisher House — and to Healing for Heroes, a Georgia agency that rescues dogs from shelters and trains them to assist former service members with disabilities.

But what will the beer taste like?

“We’re not trying to go to any extreme,” Ryan said. “We’re trying to make very good craft beer that’s drinkable. And has an alcohol content low enough that you can have more than one.”

Drinkers have three choices:

■ Ground Pounder Ale, which the brewery’s website describes as “a good balance of malt and hops for a clean and pleasing drinking experience.”

■ Compass Rose IPA, recently emerging from the brewery’s 30-barrel brewing system (each barrel is 31 gallons). It has “citrus and herbal character with a medium-bodied malt presence.”

■ An as-yet-unnamed seasonal offering that will have hints of pecan and apricot, Ryan said.

The brews will be on tap and in cans in the greater Savannah area, and Ryan said he’s received requests from New Mexico, New York and Alaska seeking samples.

The brew staff is also planning a Dec. 13 trip to the Army-Navy game, where Ryan hopes to take part in Tailgate for Troops, a charity that supports military causes.

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