Walt Wooden, a founding member of the Stillfire brewing team, gave an invocation prior to the ribbon cutting of Suwanee’s new downtown brewery.
“God, we’re here today to celebrate beer, one of your best creations,” Wooden said.
Grins spread across the bowed faces of beer entusiasts in the taproom. Let there be beer.
Owners, brewers, city officials and investors cut a ceremonial ribbon in front of the converted fire station Thursday to mark the beginning of what they hope will be a successful business venture and valuable partner for businesses near the Suwanee Town Center Park.
Stillfire Brewing in Suwanee will celebrate its grand opening Oct. 19 and 20 when it hopes to unveil the vast majority of its 18 total taps. The taproom will open at 11 a.m. on Saturday and close at midnight before festivities continue from 12:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
At its media event, Stillfire featured three different beers: Why Georgia Rye Pale Ale, Glory Haze Hazy IPA and a beer known not by a clever name, only as Belgium Single.
The brewery was conceived roughly three years ago by co-owners John and Lori Bisges and Randall and Angela Veugeler. Even three years ago, it wasn’t as simple to launch a brewery in Georgia as it is now. Things shifted in 2017 when Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill into law that permitted breweries to sell directly to customers, rather than under the guise of hosting a tour with samples along the way.
John Bisges is the managing director of Dynacraft BSC, which is a California company that distributes scooters, bicycles and electric ride-ons. He and his partners began researching the brewing industry in Georgia before laws were passed.
Their enthusiasm rode on a hunch that Georgia’s grip on alcohol sales would slacken.
“I come from California, from that wine atmosphere,” Bisges said. “The whole craft brewing system, (Californians) were kind of first-to-market on that. We figured a lot of those laws would eventually get to Georgia.”
Construction of the 20-barrel brewery and taproom began shortly after the team announced its plans to open in the vacant fire station in March. Bisges said the city was on-board in establishing the brewery early in the planning process.
Several well-timed dominoes are falling in Suwanee that are opening the door for Stillfire’s early growth. Suwanee is expanding its Town Center area to land behind the Gwinnett County Public Library and PlayTown Suwanee on Suwanee Dam Road. The park, which is referred to by city officials as Town Center West, will expand the downtown area of the city west of Buford Highway with Stillfire right in the middle of all of it.
The city has also approved amendments to ordinances that will permit customers to purchase beers at Stillfire while still perusing the park. Stillfire has also partnered with some of the local restaurants to cater food in the taproom, and the brewery has a food truck window installed on the side of the building.
“We really wanted to be at a location where the community could gather,” Bisges said. “Saying that, we didn’t want it to be a lockdown location.”
Stillfire’s distribution deal is modest and centrally located, at the moment. It’s entered an agreement with five of Taco Mac’s local restaurants. Suwanee’s location will feature eight tap handles, though it’s not official which beers will be featured. The other four locations could feature between three and five taps of Stillfire beer. That will depend mainly on which beers customers show the most interest in at first.
“Our goal is we want people to come in, experience to the taproom and experience our beers here,” Bisges said. “At the same time, we recognize the need to get our name out a little bit and generate that buzz.”
Once Stillfire’s team has a feel for the most commercially viable beers, a larger distribution strategy will commence. The brewery already has a canning machine and labeler among its brewing tanks.
Stillfire plans to have six consistent taps that will hold the brand’s core beers year-round. Six more will rotate regularly depending on the community feedback and six more will feature seasonal or experimental beers.
Stillfire Brewmaster Phil Farrell has 30 years of homebrewing experience. The brewing team felt a bit of a crunch to brew since the establishment only recently got a green light to start brewing. To go from zero to 18 recipes in a matter of months requires either creativity or the curiosity of a mad scientist.
Farrell and his team may have both of those qualities. He’s not afraid to tinker with recipes he’s previously made just for close friends, but he’s patient as the brewery gets off and running.
“Part of having 18 taps is, we’re going to have a lot of different stuff,” Farrell said. “You have to put the training wheels on first.”