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SaveOnBrew Exclusive Interview: Smith Mathews, Southbound Brewing Company Co-Founder & Brewmaster

05.07.2013 08:18 AM

Smith Mathews is the Brewmaster at Southbound Brewing Company, a brand-spanking-new microbrewery based out of Savannah, Georgia that opened earlier last month. Before Mathews and crew set up their facility, there was one brewpub and a craft beer festival operating in the city, but no other breweries. City leaders "needed a little convincing," Mathews admits, adding that it took 2.5 years to achieve his dream. They plan to create about 6,000 barrels of specialty beers and one-offs per year. In the future, Southbound would like to do tours, tastings and educational events, but that all depends upon the passage of a city ordinance that's currently drafted. 

The first beers are coming out of virgin equipment this month! According to their website, you can expect:

  • Day Trip'ler - A Belgian-style trippel with hints of lemon and a whopping 10.5% ABV
  • Hoplin' IPA - A dry-hopped citrus/pine American-style India Pale Ale
  • Iron Lion Pale Ale - A strong and citrussy, yet sessionable, American Pale Ale
  • Scattered Sun Belgian Wit - A Belgian wheat beer with hints of coriander, lemon and orange 

We caught up with co-founder and brewmaster Smith Mathews to talk about his exciting business venture.

SaveOnBrew: How and when did your passion for beer start? 

Smith Mathews: I really started getting into beer when I started home-brewing in college. Just learning more about different styles really opened my eyes. That was when I decided to continue through business school at Georgia Tech and then go to Siebel Institute of Technology -– the oldest brewing school in the nation. I’d been working at a large brewery in Atlanta throughout college and that helped even more to cement my passion. 

SOB: What would people be surprised to learn about the behind-the-scenes work that you do? 

SM: You would probably be surprised to know that its about 80% cleaning and only 20% brewing. It also takes a lot of math and science. Everything we do is previously calculated. If you’ve never brewed on a full scale system before, it would be extremely difficult to come in and brew the batch you’ve correctly done on a small scale, without know the calculations needed. 

SOB: What was the last beer you tasted that really grabbed your attention? 

SM: Green Flash Hop Head Red – it’s a really nice combination of malty body with an extreme west coast hop presence. Green Flash just started distributing to Georgia recently and everything they brew is pretty incredible. 

SOB: Tell us the story behind one of your favorite beers. 

SM: One of my favorite styles of beers is a Lambic Geuze. I really got into this style when I was studying brewing in Europe. We happened to be in Leuven, Belgium at a tiny little Belgian beer café. A friend of mine wanted me to try it and I was instantly sold on sour beers. I plan on doing a sour series at Southbound as well. 

SOB: What were the best and worst beers you've ever brewed. 

SM: The worst beer was my first beer. It was a pale ale that went terribly wrong. I didn’t understand the concept of sanitization. It had definitely gone bad. The best beer would be Southbound’s IPA. My dream would really be to win the American IPA category at Great American Beer Festival. I’ve been constantly working on my IPA to achieve that perfect balance. 

SOB: In your view, what are the biggest impediments to the growth of the craft beer industry? 

SM: The biggest impediment would be the large domestic and import brands and the muscle they have behind their marketing and advertising. It's difficult for a small craft brewery to compete with the size of that. So, we just have to chip away by offering a better product and providing education about the craft beer industry. 

SOB: What's the strangest feedback you've ever gotten from someone? 

SM: I brewed an American Wheat Ale in college and it was one of my first brews. It was supposed to be fruity, but then someone told me it tasted like a hotdog. I threw that batch out and started over. 

SOB: Is it a challenge to keep prices low and quality high?

SM: Absolutely. All of our ingredients are very expensive because larger breweries can buy in bulk and save money. Smaller breweries aren’t capable of getting those same pricing contracts. However, that doesn’t matter because we aren’t changing the recipe for price. I’ll sacrifice quantity for quality any day. 

SOB: Tell us a tale of industry cooperation. 

SM: Generally, the craft beer industry is known for working together to generate knowledge and excitement about what we are doing.

Coastal Empire is a contract brewery that distributes in Savannah. They have been brewing and getting beer here for a couple years. They are currently looking for a facility to have a physical production brewery in Savannah.

Southbound has been working with the city on many different things. Since we are the first production facility here, we’ve really had to educate people on what we are doing. Most people thought we were going to be a bar or a brewpub like Moon River.

The state of Georgia allows for restricted public tours and tastings, but this was something Savannah government wasn’t very keen on. Coastal Empire has been working with us to help the city understand and push for this law the be adopted.

Again, its just another example of craft breweries working together for the common good of the industry! More breweries force you to be more creative and to push yourself to brew a better beer. It also is fun working together to get the word out there! 

SOB: If a beer lover were in your city for 24 hours, where would you recommend they go? 

SM: Probably The Distillery and World of Beers. Both have tons of great beers and the distillery has some tasty alligator! 

For more information on Southbound Brewing Company in Savannah, GA, you can visit www.SouthboundBrewingCo.com or follow them on Facebook

 

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