Business is hopping

Side Door Brewing Co. bartenders Megan Lyshon and Rob Pierce

Side Door Brewing Co. bartenders Megan Lyshon and Rob Pierce serve craft beer brewed on the premises by owner Dwayne Buchholz. ED DRONDOSKI PHOTO

Microbreweries tapping into growing popularity


Like many cities across the country, Port St. Lucie is embracing the microbrewery craze. The city is home to one brewery with another one under construction and on the horizon is a craft draft bar that wants to sell the tasty concoctions from the breweries.

“We welcome them with open arms,” Mayor Greg Oravec says, although the city isn’t specifically seeking them out. “Microbreweries are a growing trend and we are a good place for them to settle.”

According to the national Brewer’s Association, Florida ranked fifth in number of barrels of craft beer produced in 2015, the last year for which figures are available, with an economic impact of more than $2 million. At that time there were 151 craft breweries in the state.

Side Door Brewing Co. on Village Green Drive in eastern Port St. Lucie has been open for a little more than a year. HopLife Brewing Company expects to open in early spring in St. Lucie West. And HopCat plans to build a waterfront bar and restaurant known as a brewpub, that will feature 100 craft beers on tap in Tradition on the Lake, but hasn’t submitted plans to the city yet.

Craft beer, made by small independent breweries, is notable for its exotic names. Side Door ‘s flagship beers are Hinge Pin and Painted Door and a coffee porter called Jittery is especially popular. Sometimes the names reflect themes — some of Side Door’s tend to reflect a building theme, or they indicate what flavors are in them, or they might reference the expected effect on the drinker. Coconut, chocolate, coffee, key lime and mango are only a few of the flavors that might be in a craft beer.

Side Door Brewing Co. opened Dec. 5, 2015, 82 years to the day after the 1933 repeal of the 18th Amendment, which ended prohibition. “I think that’s fitting, don’t you?” owner Dwayne Buchholz says, clearly enjoying the significance of his opening date. A retired contractor by trade, Buchholz worked on the interior of his brewery and says he thoroughly enjoyed designing and bringing it to life.

HopLife is taking over a former warehouse on Enterprise Drive in St. Lucie West just north of Tradition Field where the New York Mets hold spring training. Turning a space formerly occupied by a juice company into a brewery is taking a lot of hard work but he hopes to be finished in April.

Because breweries are categorized as industrial businesses, HopLife co-owners Jim Kelly, Rob Tearle and Jeff Blitman had to find space in light industrial zoning. While this puts them out of the eye of the driving public, word-of-mouth and craft beer fans have already netted the trio 759 Facebook page “likes.” Their own website isn’t up yet, Kelly says.

Side Door is also in light industrial zoning but Village Green Drive is a major shortcut from U.S. 1 to Walton Road and Tiffany Drive at St. Lucie Medical Center and most buildings are quite visible to drivers.

HopCat plans to build a $2 million, 7,500-square-foot waterfront brewpub next to Panera Bread on Meeting Street in Tradition. It will seat 280 people indoors and 100 outdoors. A drawing of the building shows a long, pale yellow building with black outdoor lights and black shutters, somewhat reminiscent of New Orleans. He says the company hopes to open late this year or early next year, spokesman Chris Knape says.

Barfly Ventures, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich., owns 13 HopCat brewpubs.

The local owners caught the brewing bug by tasting home-brewed beer, wondering how it was made, and then researching it exhaustively.

Buchholz was living in Portland, Ore., 20 years ago when he first tasted a home brew and loved it. A friend made up a six-pack and he took it home.

“I said, ‘I have to learn to do this,’ ” he recalls. But work and life got in the way and he didn’t brew his first batch until five years ago when he was invited to work with his son’s father-in-law on their first home brew. “He had taken a course in brewing and I’d already learned a lot so when he called I didn’t hesitate one second to say yes.” Together they created an Irish red ale, and Buchholz pronounced it perfect. From then on he was hooked.

He started buying equipment and filled up his back patio. Then he filled up the carport.

Then he decided he’d better rent a little place on Village Green Drive just to have a place for his hobby. The problem with his hobbies, he says, is that they turn into businesses. And this one was no different. “I outgrew my new space in less than a year,” he says, “and that’s when I realized that it was time to turn it into a business.”

He rented an even larger space, this time in a stuccoed building once occupied by Port St. Lucie Glass, right off U.S. 1 and still on Village Green Drive. He turned the front into his tasting room (sometimes called a tap room) where he serves his customers 2-ounce samples or larger glasses, or fills their 32- or 64-ounce growlers (large containers) to take home. There are various theories about how they came by their name. The containers can be sealed for the trip home.

He’s proud of the details in his tasting room, which he designed and created. The bar top is an example, he says, of the work he put into the place. It looks like leather but it isn’t. It’s craft paper, glued down and then topped with a heavy coat of clear resin.

The vertical surface beneath the bar top is corrugated metal with pictures that look like decals on it. The room is bright, warm and welcoming with no hint of a heavy, dark, bar-like look. He says he wanted one side of the room to reflect the outdoors and the other to look like the inside of a house.

Kelly and partners at HopLife are just in the process of creating their tasting and brewing rooms in a 5,500-square-foot former warehouse unit. The tasting room may hold about 70 people. In February, they painted the walls and brought in a crew to create a finished floor. Meanwhile, the equipment was pulled outside to make room for the workers.

He got caught up in the brew-making hobby in 2011 from watching how-to videos on YouTube.

Kelly was so fascinated by what he saw that he began making his own brewing equipment using Igloo coolers. “A lot of people start that way,” he says. “I brewed my first beer and a fireman buddy tasted it and said, ‘Oh my goodness! You made that?’ ” Buoyed by the enthusiastic reaction, Kelly kept on brewing, learning how to make different types and flavors.

Kelly had been a firefighter and EMT, coming up through the ranks to battalion chief. He ended up talking with another firefighter who was into craft beer and Kelly then taught him how to make it. That firefighter, Rob Tearle, eventually became his partner. “I loved being a fireman so much that I would have done it for free,” he says. “Brewing is the same way. It’s also a passion.”

After perfecting their beers, they began showing up at beer festivals. “I really love getting that feedback from people who taste our beers,” he says. “People started telling us that ours was the best, so we started talking about starting a brewery.”

In 2015, the pair talked to Rob’s cousin Jeff, and after hearing what they wanted to do, Jeff Blitman said, “Count me in,” Kelly explains. “Jeff is the businessman.”

Like Side Door, HopLife will distribute its beer in kegs to bars and restaurants. Kelly has also discussed distribution with Fort Pierce-based Southern Eagle Distributing Inc.

Both breweries plan on making multiple types and flavors of craft beers. One difference: HopLife will make lagers; Side Door doesn’t. The lager beers take 4-6 weeks to make, according to Kelly. In contrast, an ale might take two weeks or less so many breweries just don’t have the time to create lagers. Buchholz says they also have to ferment at cooler temperatures, which is less efficient.

Both companies have plans for the future.

“We’re still growing,” Buchholz says. “We doubled our brewing capacity and then doubled it again to 34 barrels at a time.” One barrel equals 31 gallons. He works seven days a week and in his spare time he studies the Bible and spends time with his family. “I don’t have any other hobbies — I can’t afford them,” he says.

HopLife isn’t operating yet, but has the space to grow. Kelly’s hope is that his son, who is 28, will want to take over the brewing in a few years. And the partners might decide to find an even larger place for their company as their enterprise grows.

Microbreweries appear to have a bright and welcoming future in Port St. Lucie and in St. Lucie County, says Terissa Aronson, CEO of the St. Lucie County Chamber of Commerce.

“The St. Lucie County Chamber of Commerce is and has been very supportive of the burgeoning brewery industry in St. Lucie County,” she say. “Anytime we can find a niche market or growing economic sector that adds to our tax base and stimulates economic growth, we are going to welcome them with open arms.”


Address: 679 NW Enterprise Drive, St. Lucie West, Port St. Lucie
Owners: Jim Kelly, Rob Tearle, Jeff Blitman
Hours: To be determined when it opens, possibly by the end of April
For more information: Call 528.0037 or visit www.facebook.com/hoplifebrewingcompany


Address: 1419 Village Green Drive, Port St. Lucie
Owner: Dwayne Buchholz
Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday 3-9 p.m.; Thursday, 3-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 3-11 p.m. and Sunday, 1-8 p.m.
For more information: Visit www.sidedoorbrewingcompany.com