Faith. Hope. Charity. Maybe not what you’d expect to discover in a brewery, but that’s what I found under the large American flag that adorns the tap room at Service Brewing.
That faith includes the Stars and Stripes, military service, and the production of their beers. Kevin Ryan, the CEO of Service Brewing, is a 1996 West Point graduate and a veteran of the war in Iraq. He was there in 2003, “at the very beginning. We took empty CHUs (Containerized Housing Units) and built our quarters.”Get Savannah arts & culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and our Dine newsletters
Ryan’s partner and co-founder, Meredith Sutton, is a SCAD graduate, and she designed the tap room, honoring his service through several personal touches. Along with the CHUs, a parachute drapes the south wall, a silken tribute to Ryan’s airborne days. A stage stands next to the sidewalk, and Blackhawk and Chinook, feline sentinels rescued as renovation started several years ago, now patrol the backside of the building.
The beer connects it all. On tap, always, are four year-round beers; Ground Pounder Pale Ale, Compass Rose IPA, Rally Point Pilsner and Battlewagon Double IPA. Several seasonal selections come and go; including Savannah Banana, Old Guard Bière de Garde, Gun Bunny Belgian-style Witbier, and current favorite Lincoln’s Gift Oyster Stout, a 5.5 % ABV homage to U.S. Army Gen. William T. Sherman’s Dec. 22, 1864, message to President Abraham Lincoln that stated, in part, “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah … “
Service’s tap room has an additional duty, to operate as the “perfect test lab” for R&D selections, said Ryan. “You pour one, and watch their face as they try it.” R&D brews over the years have included a Churro White Stout made with cinnamon, Perc Coffee, vanilla bean and liquid cocoa, along with an Imperial Strawberry Stout, an IPA dry-hopped with coffee beans, and a platoon-length list of others.
My personal Service favorite is the Battlewagon Double IPA, especially on draft. It’s armed with 94 IBUs, an impressive broadside to be sure, but its impact is softened by the presence of Savannah Bee Company wildflower honey. Delicious and dangerous.
This week, as part of its Victory Moto Show celebration, Service will introduce three new beers:
My Mum Won’t Let Me Have a Motorcycle, an 8.5 % ABV Double IPA, a collaboration with Alewife Brewing Co. of Long Island City, NY.
Twisty Road, a 5.7 % ABV California Common, a collaboration with 13 Stripes Brewery of Taylors, SC.
Helmet Hair, a 10.3 % ABV Imperial Stout, a collaboration with Revelry Brewing of Charleston.
The popularity of the beer, and the presence of the tap room, are important to the business, said Ryan, and he hopes to use those strengths to continue to shape and service a community. “We get vets who come here because of the military connection. We get folks just walking by. We get craft-beer tourists. There are lots of reasons why people come in.” But they want more than just a beer. “We also need to entertain them.”
As an example, Ryan cited the growing popularity of Service’s Trivia Night, staged each Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Usually, 10 to 12 teams compete, and the questions require knowledge of a wide range of categories, and the ability to make decisions on time. Answers handed in after the countdown is over are tossed on the floor. The winner receives $100 in cash, and the engaging host Daniel Eastwood keeps it all real.
It's funny, challenging, and dramatic. People often return the next week, said Ryan, and bring their friends. On a busy night, with trivia being called out, or a band playing, a food truck dishing out hot pizza or tacos, and lines waiting at the tap room counter, you can see the connection, see that community.
You can also see people looking at the oversized chalkboard emblazoned with the question “How Do You Serve?” It’s a multi-answer question. Veterans put down dates and places of service, a reference to a fallen comrade or family member, or just USMC or USN. But it’s also a chance for that larger community to chime in. First-responders, ministers, teachers, hospital workers, leaders and activists print or draw their answers. A very, very, very small sample of the 15 different filled-out boards includes such responses as “Pet Rescue, I Volunteer @ Community Theater, Male Nurse, Peace Corps, Coastie Wife, Daughter, Supporting Our Troops, Not All Heroes Wear Capes.” Two of my favorites were “I Serve VA Oxygen Patients,” and “Women Owe U Nothing.”
For Service Brewing, one of its answers to that question has been obvious since it opened for business in July of 2014: Charity. “Each quarter, we select a new charity,” said Ryan. A portion of each beer sold in the tap room is donated to that organization. It’s an effort to assist the charities, and to educate Service Brewing’s community and customers about the great work they are doing.
Over the years, Service has aided Warrior Ride, Warrior Farms, SD Gunner Fund, Savannah Tiny House Project, Honor Flight, the Two Hundred Club of the Coastal Empire, K9s for Warriors, Toys for Tots, Stop Soldier Suicide, the Honor Our Heroes Foundation, and others.
This quarter, it’s Warrior Surf Foundation, a South Carolina charity that channels surfing and yoga activities and exercises to help veterans and their families address PTSD, moral injury, survivor’s guilt and traumatic brain injury.
In all, Service Brewing has raised more than $100,000 for local, regional and national organizations.
Chuck Mobley has been drinking and enjoying beer since 1965, the year he graduated from high school. It’s an ongoing journey that has taken him from Schlitz to saisons, and from Belleville, Ill., to Brussels, Belgium. He’s found that beer is a language understood everywhere.