Fools Fire, Southern Fields brewery openings on hold amid pandemic
There are lots of typical reasons new craft breweries sometimes see their openings delayed.
From licensing, to funding, to construction, to staffing, to even needing more time to brew enough beer to meet expected demand — those things happen all the time.
But a global pandemic that forces everyone to either stay in their home — or risk exposure and possible death?
Yeeeeaaaaah ... didn't see that one coming.
But that's exactly where two new breweries in North Florida find themselves right now as the crisis surrounding the coronavirus in Florida — and around the world — has sent business, normalcy and life itself to a screeching halt.
Fools Fire Brewing in Tallahassee and Southern Fields Brewing in Campbellton — both of which announced plans last year to open sometime in 2020 — were oh, so close to flinging open their respective doors this spring until the pandemic sent the world into an unprecedented tailspin.
For Fools Fire owner Jon Nash, of all the reasons he could think of not meeting his goal of a grand opening in April, this was certainly not one of them.
"We were so very close. I was in the final push to get finishing touches done around the new space and I was just about to place my first bulk order for brewing ingredients," said Nash, one of the co-owners of the Fermentation Lounge craft beer bar in the All Saints District, which is also the area Fools Fire will call its home.
"All of a sudden, it was all put on hold while we wait out this crazy situation. I've had countless delays on the road to a Grand Opening and I can say with certainty that a 'worldwide pandemic' was never on the radar for possible reasons to slow down the opening once again," said Nash. "To see the entire country and nearly the entire world on lockdown while practicing social distancing is all too surreal."
Brian Walker, co-founder of Southern Fields, couldn't agree more. And if anyone feels Nash's pain, it's Walker and his fellow co-founder Joe McMullian.
"Neither Joe, nor myself, could have possibly imagined this happening to us, much less the nation and the world," Walker said. "When (the Tallahassee Beer Society) first interviewed us (last year), they asked about our timeline for opening and we were reluctant and didn't give them an answer. We only said that we put ourselves on a fast-tracked timeline, which many people would say is impossible to think of planning, building, getting through all the permitting hoops and getting ready to turn the key and have people in the doors.
"But I can proudly say that Joe, my father James Walker and myself stepped foot in our 120-year-old bank building that had been closed up since 1931, and 13 months and 3 days later we were ready to open the doors to Southern Fields Brewing (in March). And that is exactly what we planned on doing the very week that the Governor gave the shut-down order. (Like Jon said), this is all very surreal," Walker said.
As local breweries that were already open have shifted exclusively to online ordering, curbside pick-up and offering only canned and bottled products, both Nash and Walker have considered jumping into the same fray — considering their beer is now brewed and ready to consume.
But neither want to make their debut this way.
So, for now, they'll wait.
"I want to put on one hell of a Grand Opening once this whole pandemic crisis is over. I think we all want that," Nash said. "I have been producing small-batch beers occasionally and releasing them at Fermentation Lounge. So for now, I will continue to do that while putting the finishing touches on the brewery and get that up and running."
It's a similar situation in Campbellton, which is located about 80 miles northwest of Tallahassee and just 22 miles south of Dothan, Alabama.
Walker said as much as he'd like to just start selling canned beer and growler fills to-go, there is so much pride wrapped up in the building of their tasting room and beer garden, he feels like the Southern Fields team would be cheating all those who have been anticipating their arrival out of the grand opening experience they've all longed for.
"We both sat down a couple of times and discussed it with our head brewer Brantley Cook and decided that we would hold off until we could open the doors and give the public the full experience," he said. "Nothing against any of the breweries who are doing curbside and to-go — because the three of us have taken advantage of those Tallahassee breweries doing curbside pickup during this — but when we thought about it, they all already had a face, an identity, a brand. We want customers and the public to come to the taproom, enjoy the courtyard, meet us, stay awhile and get a feel for what Southern Fields is all about.
"Believe me, we want to share our beer with everyone and we have worked so hard to get to this point. But under these circumstances, it just feels right to wait a little longer."
But how long? Well, no one — not the President, or the governor, or even local city leaders — know the answer to that question right now. Both Fools Fire and Southern Fields are stuck in the middle of one massive waiting game.
The good news is, it hasn't dampened their spirits or drive to eventually see all their hard work reach fruition.
"Despite the setbacks, I am still just as excited to get this place open to the public," Nash said. "We are all going to be looking forward to seeing each other and socializing after the lockdown is lifted. And what better way to get back together than at the Grand Opening of the newest brewery in town?"
Walker said he couldn't agree more.
"We are thrilled to be this close. This situation has given us more time to think and focus on how we want to introduce Southern Fields Brewing," he said. "Like many out there, it has also given us some needed time with family, because — without them — we would have never gotten to this point with this dream to begin with. So for that, we are grateful.
"We are definitely looking forward to the day when we get the go ahead and can open the doors and share what the hard work was all for. And hopefully teach a few more people where the heck Campbellton, Florida, actually is!"
Odds & ends
Ology Brewing and Lake Tribe Brewing both announced new hours this week. Ology's Midtown location is now open for pickup from 2-8 p.m., Sunday to Friday, and on Saturday from noon to 8 p.m.
Lake Tribe, which has never been opened more than three days a week in five years of business, announced this week they were now going to be open for pickup from Wednesday to Saturday, 4-8 p.m., and 1-5 p.m. on Sundays.
Deep Brewing, which is now open noon to 7 p.m. every day for pickup, is releasing their "Another Butter" hazelnut peanut butter stout this week. And they are now also carrying "Dirty Dogs," which is packaged smoked sausage to-go from the owners of Tally Mac Shack and Register's Meat Co. The two local businesses recently collaborated on a jalapeno-cheddar infused sausage dog that is also being sold in area restaurants and grocery stories.
And last, but never least, Proof Brewing is re-releasing its "Strawberry Lemonade Evil Kiss" Berliner Weiss this week after its first batch of cans sold out quickly.
That's going to do it for us this week, beer fam. Until next time, remember to always drink local, support local, stay safe and cheers to #TLHBeer.
Danny Aller is the co-founder of the TLH Beer Society, a group of avid craft beer lovers. Reach the Beer Society on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.