STEVE HENDERSHOT: This is Cedar Cathedral, a podcast about artistry, craftsmanship and the creative life in the Great Lakes. I’m Steve Hendershot, along with Clare Hendershot, from The Diving Bell, our band in Chicago.
Brewmaster Grant Pauly is an inventor, always with some strange new idea percolating. But before he can bring those ideas to life, he has to overcome his achilles heel, which is a biggie. See, Grant is really practical and responsible and professional. For an artist, it’s a nightmare trio.
I’m only mostly kidding. Because at the point where someone like Jeff Tweedy drops out of college to focus on music, Grant gets his engineering degree and accepts a job at Google. And where someone like Grant Achatz, the chef, spends years learning from the greats in Napa Valley, Grant Pauly doesn’t even start the Google job—the head engineer at his family’s precast concrete company in Manitowoc, Wisconsin is taken ill, so he moves home to take over. Five years pass, and Grant is productive and effective and all that concrete is getting mixed and cast right on schedule. But it’s not what he’s supposed to be doing, and Grant knows it.
CLARE HENDERSHOT: Finally, after a road trip that includes a stop at the Founders Brewing tap room, Grant’s wife steps in. She stages an intervention.
GRANT PAULY: She knew that I wasn’t happy, we were talking about what I might be able to do next for my life and she said well have you ever thought of starting a brewery. And of course I had, but there was no way I could voice that, because it just seemed too selfish of a job career path. And once I kind of got the green light from her that it might be okay, that’s when I really started to pursue it.
SH: This is a bigger deal than you’d think. Grant is the son, and grandson, and great-grandson of Wisconsin manufacturers. Stepping away from the family business at just the moment you were supposed to take over—which, by that point, had become the expectation—well, it was a thing. But Grant does it anyway. He starts 3 Sheeps Brewing in Sheboygan, and finally everything clicks into place. Suddenly his whole self—the responsible side, the creative side, the adventurous side—are all heading in the same direction. He’s building a business and still manufacturing a product, but these are the strange products of Grant’s imagination, beers brewed with ingredients like ghost peppers, walnuts and squid ink. The exotic flavors are woven into very drinkable beers, and sure enough, it’s working. Grant loves making beer, and people love drinking the beer he makes.
CH: On this episode of Cedar Cathedral, the story of 3 Sheeps Brewing, and how Grant is juggling his creative ambitions with his legacy as a fourth-generation Wisconsin manufacturer.
SH: This is episode five of Cedar Cathedral. We’re having a great time making this show, and we’re grateful to all of you for listening, for sharing and for iTunes reviewing. Now we’re taking it on the road. On Friday, May 13, we’re hosting the first Cedar Cathedral meetup, in Grand Rapids at 5:30pm at Long Road Distillers. Watch our website, cedarcathedral.com, for details.
CH: We’re also excited for a special Diving Bell performance at Workshop in Chicago on Sunday, May 22. We’re going to be performing “South and South: The Curious Tragedy of the Whiskey Jane Expedition, 1894,” our story of an 1800s explorer who searches for Atlantis in the Great Lakes. It’s sort of a live radio play combined with a concert, and we’re working on some Cedar Cathedral tie-ins for that as well. Tickets go on sale this week.
SH: One more thing before we jump back in. A lot of people have asked about how to subscribe to podcasts and which podcasting apps to use, so we put a little tutorial on our website, cedarcathedral.com/podcast101.
CH: Now back to the story.
BEER IN HIS BLOOD
SH: When your mode of artistic expression relies heavily on chemistry and engineering, then you’re a certain sort of artist, for whom the jump from concrete to craft beer isn’t as gargantuan as it might seem to the rest of us.
GP: When I was home brewing, I loved making new recipes and creating different flavors, but something that I loved, I would say even more was trying to make that IPA the same every time. There’s just something, you know, getting to throw all those hops in there and the consistency side, hitting our numbers every time, hitting our temperatures. I get as geeked about that as I do about coming up with a new recipe and trying to make sure all those flavors are going to meld together and be what we want.
SH: So now that he’s got a brewery, Grant has just kind of graduated from science nerd to full-on mad scientist. For example …
GP: I hate pumpkin beers. People keep asking for them and I haven’t wanted to do one, so what we did last October is I bought a bunch of large pumpkins, put two holes in them and just filled them all with wort, and they fermented in the pumpkin. We then collected that wort, fermented it all the way through, harvested the yeast, and we now have a quasi pumpkin yeast strain. So we’re using that yeast strain, which was just natural yeast and bacteria that came from the pumpkin, into a beer that we’ll be producing next year.
We probably spend almost an hour a day under a microscope, looking at yeast, checking, trying to hopefully not find any bacteria, but plating for it just to be safe and working our way through all our brews because you’re dealing with yeast, which is a living organism and it never wants to do the same thing twice. But as you’re watching it each day, you can be guiding it to make sure that it’s going to create that flavor profile you want in that particular beer.
SH: So yeah’s, there’s some science going on. In fact, 3 Sheeps is one of just a handful of breweries in the country that have figured out how to bottle a nitro beer, their rye stout called Cashmere Hammer. Manipulating nitrogen in the bottle is not a home-brewer’s trick, and it took Grant and his team a year and a half to figure it out.
CH: And yet, over that same time frame, Grant has been slowly pulled away from the science, and from his own brewing operation—the very things he loves to do. As 3 Sheeps’ production has doubled, and then doubled again, and then doubled again, to the point that this year Grant expects to make more than two million pints’ worth of beer, he has had to steadily become more responsible.
SH: His title says brewmaster, and indeed the recipes and creative direction come from him, but the day-to-day execution of the beer falls more to head brewer Matt Hofmann, as Grant does CEO things. He’s running a manufacturing company, like his father and his grandfather and his great-grandfather before him. There is some irony here, though, or at least a sense of inescapability, because it turns out the family business wasn’t always concrete—that was Grant’s dad’s thing. Before that, the Pauly family …
CH: Wait for it …
SH: ... made beer. That’s right. Grant’s grandfather and great-grandfather owned Kingsbury, a proud, old Wisconsin label that was maybe not so much known for flavor, but they did make a lot of it. Like 40 times more in a year than 3 Sheeps produces now. So the notion of being a brewer didn’t seem far-fetched.
GP: My father kind of grew up into that culture and I learned stories growing up and it always just seemed less as this unrealistic unattainable thing just because it was in my family’s blood.
SH: And now Grant is relying on his beer-baron genetics to build 3 Sheeps, a dream job with a catch, which is that he’s still stuck being responsible and wishing he could spend more time brewing. He has to figure out how often to employ his business acumen, which obviously is effective, versus inventing and reproducing beers, which he’s also really good at, and more importantly, is what he loves. When Grant imagines getting to the next level, he’s not thinking about a sales goal, he’s thinking about getting his old job back.
GP: It would be fun to ultimately grow to the point where I can afford to hire people to do all the boring management stuff and I could get back to just make beer, and that’s kind of the gauge I use right now, is 'Let me make beer.'
CH: And maybe that explains why Grant has been so steadfast in maintaining creative control.
GP: Yeah, I don’t think I'll ever relinquish the control of R&D and design. If any of my guys have an idea, we’ll always brew a batch once, and if it’s great we’ll keep pursuing it. If it’s not, we’ll just dump it and move on. But when it comes to it, it’s just something I’m so passionate about, and the style of brewing that has worked well for us and that I enjoy, seems to resonate with the consumer as well. In my mind the brewmaster is the one that kind of dictates the direction the brewery goes with the flavors and the head brewer is the one who gets to execute, and Matt’s been a great executor of everything I’ve wanted to try.
SH: What Grant wants to try next what might be his strangest idea yet. This year, Grant is going to tie it all together with the ultimate legacy beer. No, not the Kingsbury recipe, that is not coming back. But Grant is going to reach back to his own past, when he worked for his dad in the concrete business. He’s going to make a beer out of limestone.
GP: I will be making my limestone beer. Spending so many years in a quarry and a concrete plant, I’ll never get the taste of limestone out of my mouth. We’re going to try to do a nod to the old-school brewing where you use heated rocks to get your boil. We’re going to take these rocks and heat them up so when you through them in they caramelize on the outside. We’re going to take those limestone rocks and put them in the fermenter so the yeast will get all the sugar off the limestone rock and the flavors that we tested are just really funky.
SMALL BATCH OF MILESTONES
CH: Three Sheeps turns five this year, and along with that birthday, the brewery is poised to hit a small batch of milestones that validate the choice Grant made to start the brewery. First is a new tap room, opening this month in Sheboygan, that will allow Grant to open his doors to guests for the first time.
GP: We have these large, almost 30-foot wide, garage doors that we’ll be able to take up and they look over willows and train tracks. Everyday at 4:30, trains roll by, and it’s just a pretty unique environment to get to drink beer.
SH: The tap room has concrete countertops that Grant and his team poured themselves, because, you know, they know how. It’s all part of 3 Sheeps’ giant new production facility, a former Coca-Cola plant. The facility, as a whole, is going to do a lot for the brewery: it adds the capacity to brew a lot more beer, and there’s also more room to make different beer. Grant’s first order of business is to start making sours, which need extra time to age and thus take up a lot of extra room while they’re sitting around souring up. And the new buildings also sort of confirm 3 Sheeps as a big Sheboygan business. Kohler, the faucet company that is sort of the corporate patron saint of the area, is donating fixtures for the tap room bathrooms because they figure this will be a main port of entry for visitors.
CH: The old guard is acknowledging that 3 Sheeps is for real, which shows that Grant is figuring out the balance. He’s still that fourth-generation manufacturer, handling all the family and civic responsibilities that come with that legacy. But he’s able to do it while doing something he loves, which is making beer.
SH: Which means that as Grant puts in work day after day, swinging that cashmere hammer, he’s building something that isn’t just profitable, but also fulfilling. Not the business milestones aren’t kind of cool, too. Here’s my favorite: If 3 Sheeps keeps growing at its current pace, then sometime in the next year or so, it will become bigger than the old concrete company.
GP: That will be fun. Yes, that will be quite enjoyable at that point.
CH: For more on Grant Pauly and 3 Sheeps, visit cedarcathedral.com and check out our Cedar Cathedral Instagram.
FLINT EASTWOOD: GLITCHES
SH: For music, we head to Detroit. On each episode of Cedar Cathedral, we feature a song by a great indie band from the Great Lakes. This week it’s Flint Eastwood, with a song called Glitches. Here’s a little prediction: four minutes from now, when the track ends, you’re going to rewind to exactly this spot so you can listen again. See you then.
CH: Cedar Cathedral was produced this week by us, Steve and Clare Hendershot from The Diving Bell. Thanks to Grant Pauly and 3 Sheeps, and to Jax Anderson and Team Flint Eastwood. We’ll be back in a couple weeks with another tale of Great Lakes creativity.