It’s five o’clock on a Friday and a mixed crowd of locals and visitors are piling into the taproom at Service Brewing Co.
A food truck will appear on the curb outside soon and Savannah’s bluegrass kings, City Hotel, are warming up behind the clear glass door that separates the brewery from the taproom. People are gathering around long picnic tables in the middle of the beer hall and at the steel-plated bar. It’s a relaxed but energetic atmosphere. All indications are that business is good at Service these days.
On July 21, Service will celebrate its fourth anniversary with a special, free, all-day event featuring one of the most diverse musical bills and food truck match-ups in the city. DJ Jose Ray opens the day with a live set at noon with Chazito's Latin Cuisine food truck on the curbside. The Hypnotics, Savannah’s professional purveyors of early rock ’n’ roll, will play at 4:30 p.m. Then Big Bon Pizza will set up around 6 p.m., and CUSSES take the stage at 8:30 p.m.
CUSSES recently departed the city, but will return for this special show. They will be without founding guitarist Bryan Harder. Touring guitarist Chris Cook will join singer Angel Bond and drummer Brian Lackey. Cook recently joined the hard-rock trio, playing an opening spot for the Descendents in Atlanta.
“It’s neat how it came together,” co-owner and brewmaster Kevin Ryan said. “We’ve been dancing around The Hypnotics for a while. We’ve never had them in here for a show. I ran into Ira Miller at Whole Foods and found out we had a friend from growing up. We reached out to CUSSES and asked if they’d be interested in coming back.”
“This event is free,” co-owner and marketing director Meredith Sutton added. “The entire day is free. In the past, we’ve had to do things differently because we weren't allowed to sell beer [directly to customers].”
Service Brewing is working at capacity these days, filling local bar taps, grocery stores and its own taproom with a specialty selection of craft beers. They’ve hired a new brewer, extending their full-time staff to seven. Part of their success in recent years has been due to the shift in both state and local laws, which have allowed them to serve directly to customers and host a food truck on the curb.
“You look in here right now, it’s a great opportunity that wouldn’t be this way before the law changed,” Ryan said. “City Hotel playing every Friday night, a food truck out front. Not only the state laws, but the city laws with food trucks as well, creates that environment that everyone wants in a craft beer location: good food, great beer and music.”
Ryan and Sutton, partners in life and business, opened Service at an advantageous time in the market. There were only three other breweries in town. Moon River, whose product is mostly isolated to their restaurant, Coastal Empire and then-new Southbound. By comparison, Charleston has over 20 breweries.
With the changes in the law and enough customers to go around, all the breweries in Savannah have experienced growth in the last year. It seems a beer bubble has yet to form in the Hostess City.
“We’re getting busier,” Sutton said. “We heard someone say that once you get through the first two years, it’s so much easier. I think it’s harder. Because we have more equipment and the ability to do things. We can produce more beers, but it also requires more work in all these other areas.”
“The most important part of a taproom is making a connection with the brewery,” Ryan said. “So, people can go drink our beer somewhere, but they don’t get to know us. They come to the taproom, they get to know us, they get to hear the stories. They take that connection with them. Next time, they don’t have to choose from a 100 different brews on a shelf. They say, 'Yeah, Service Brewing, I like those guys.’ They buy the beer because they like us.”
Service began after Sutton purchased a home brewing kit for Ryan as a Valentine's Day gift. Ryan taught himself how to brew and his passion turned into the couple’s joint business venture. Sutton, a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, handles the marketing and planning side of things, and designed the taproom herself to honor her partner’s service.
Ryan is a United States Army veteran. He served overseas in Iraq and retired as a captain. Service was founded with a focus on service members. Over half of their staff are veterans. Their beer names are often inspired by military terms, such as The Ground Pounder, Rally Point, etc.
In conjunction with the service-minded aspect of their brand, the couple has always made a point to give back. Over the last four years, they’ve raised thousands of dollars for charities close to their hearts. They worked to help build tiny homes for homeless veterans by hosting a number of events, raising over $30,000. Their fourth anniversary party will also have a charitable aspect. A portion of proceeds will go to North Carolina’s The Warrior Ride.
“Their mission is to make handicap-accessible bikes for veterans so they can get out and have a fresh start,” Ryan said. “There are far too many soldiers committing suicide.”
To mark their anniversary, they’ve brewed up a special Imperial Milkshake IPA. With touches of passion fruit, Madagascar vanilla bean, lactose and Savannah Bee Co. wildflower honey, dry-hopped with Citra and Hallertau Blanc hops, it’s a sweet summer drink. Be careful though — it’s 10 percent ABV.