Home Beer “On the cutting edge at home”: Behind the rapid rise of Atlanta’s Scofflaw Brewing

“On the cutting edge at home”: Behind the rapid rise of Atlanta’s Scofflaw Brewing

CATEGORIES: Beer   SOUTH   South Breweries   South Feature  

Travis Herman, left, and Matt Shirah | Photo by Heidi Geldhauser

Travis Herman, left, and Matt Shirah | Photo by Heidi Geldhauser

Scofflaw Brewing cofounder and brewer Travis Herman says he knew his brewery had made it when he walked in to one of his favorite Atlanta restaurants—one that he had never “pitched” on Scofflaw beer—and saw one of his IPAs on tap. He’s also humbled by the lines that have formed for some of the brewery’s limited bottle releases. “Holy shit,” he marvels. “There are people standing waiting here to drink something that I made?”

It’s personal moments like this by which Herman measures the brewery’s rapid success, but the numbers tell the story even more starkly. The 10-month-old brewery has doubled its capacity to 14,000 barrels since opening; has had to cease canning to meet keg demand; and has seen taproom visits explode from just 10-15 people on weekends to 1,000 weekly visitors. Even with the recent addition of two 60-barrel fermenters (with a few 90-barrel fermenters on the way), Scofflaw is unsure it will be able to begin canning again soon. Demand is high for the entire lineup, but it’s led by Basement IPA. And all of it comes from the single state Scofflaw services: Georgia.

“We had the right product at the right time,” says Scofflaw’s other cofounder, Matt Shirah. Though neither Shirah nor Herman are from Atlanta, Shirah earned his MBA at Atlanta’s Emory University. He and his wife’s family members, who are from Atlanta, are the primary investors.

“Everyone who came before us has carved a road for us to take that makes it much easier. Thank God for that,” Shirah says. “Creature Comforts did the same thing; I saw Tropicalia [IPA] just take off. It was a sign to me that the market was ready to take steps forward. [Cigar City] Jai Alai flew off shelves in Georgia. It’s time for us to bring what we want to bring.”

Herman credits other Southern breweries for paving that road by fighting against restrictive beer sales laws and making the scene more hospitable to new businesses. He’s also grateful to Atlanta’s other “craft” producers, whether they be chefs or fashion designers.

“A lot of people softened the market, all the people who did the craft food and fashion thing and got people to pay a little more for the better stuff,” he says. “Then we just happened to be at the right place, right time. Then we make a good product with solid science and solid equipment.”

He really means the science part. Herman left undergrad with multiple degrees in microbiology and biochemistry, which he put to work at a pharmaceutical lab that created vaccines using yeast technology. The work with the saccharomyces yeast was so similar to brewing, in fact, that when the lab discarded used equipment, Herman smuggled it back to his place for homebrewing purposes. (Too bad the massive stainless steel propagator ran on 460V power, which no residential building can support.) After scratching an itch to attend brewing school, Herman landed an internship at The Lost Abbey—during which time he lived out of his 1979 Toyota pop-top RV parked in back of the brewery—and then spent four years at Russian River. After brewing innumerable batches of Pliny the Elder, Herman was hooked on IPAs.

Scofflaw POG Basement IPA | Photo by Ross Monkton

Scofflaw POG Basement IPA | Photo by Ross Monckton

It explains Scofflaw’s hop-heavy lineup: Basement IPA, Double Jeopardy double IPA, Westside IPA, Hooligan IPA, POG Basement tropical fruit IPA … and Sneaky Wheat imperial wheat. Sure, the IPAs sell well, but that wasn’t originally the reason Herman brewed them.

“Basically it came from selfishness. I never wanted to go to a place and see my beer on tap and not want to drink it,” he says.

Put another way: “Everything we wanted to drink, we assumed was what other people liked, and luckily it has been,” Shirah says.

While the popularity of Scofflaw beer has grown rapidly, there was an initial phase during which, as with any new venture, it was the new kid on the block. Shirah and Herman sent reps from bar to bar in Atlanta with hand-bottled, labeled samples, “begging” for a draft line. Now that demand has increased, Scofflaw’s decided to forgo packaging its beer in favor of staying loyal to those initial believers who gave their beer a shot. Accounts that first took a chance on a single sixtel of Scofflaw beer are now asking for three half-barrels per week.

“So we started out with equipment to do about 6,500 to 7,500 barrels annually and I thought, ‘We’ll grow into this.’ We were running at 75 percent capacity or so, and then we turned the canning line on. That lasted a few months until the draft consumption was growing so rapidly, we had to stop with packaging and haven’t been able to pick it up since then,” Shirah says. “I don’t know that we’d be able to can even if we expand to 15,000 barrels. So I’ve got a truckload and a half of cans that I’m not using right now.”

That draft demand is a boon for drinkers, keeping the beer supply ultrafresh; in many cases, a keg will be just a few days out of the brite tank when it’s tapped (important for the fragile hops like Galaxy, Ekuanot and Citra that Scofflaw favors).

It also makes the brewery’s production push feel like “hell on wheels,” according to Shirah, who casually mentions 70-90 hour work weeks like he’s never known anything else. They have more in their sights: a sour beer program for which cabernet barrels have already been purchased; more barrel-aged stouts; a small R&D pilot system. Eventually, Shirah and Herman hope to be able to spend a bit more time with their young children outside of the brewery. Until then, they’ve made the taproom a family-friendly affair with stroller parking, bubbles, chalk and scooters for their kids and others’.

It’s part of their belief that world-class IPAs and strollers don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The pair stresses their community ties, the fact that they love being a neighborhood establishment and have no desire to expand their beers beyond Georgia’s borders. Years ago, Babybjörn-clad parents might not have been the target market for Citra-hopped IPAs, but as the Scofflaw team is fond of saying: Right place, right time.

“We try to stay on the edge all the time,” Shirah says. “That may not be everybody’s edge, but it’s our edge here. We want to be on the cutting edge at home.”


Kate Bernot is DRAFT’s beer editor. Reach her at kate.bernot[at]draftmag.com.


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