This all started in a dorm room in Bozeman, Montana circa 2005.
Craft beer was big in Bozeman at the time, and had been well before the craft beer craze swept across the country… and I became completely enamoured with trying new beers.
Being the science nerd that I am, I was intrigued by the brewing process. And, given my propensity for bending (and occasionally breaking) the rules, I wanted to be able to say that I brewed beer in my dorm room.
After building a loft for my bed just so I’d have room for the beer to ferment underneath, and after calculating exactly when I would need to brew so that fermentation would be complete on my 21st birthday, I drove out to Belgrade to pick up my first little homebrewing kit- a plastic bucket, a 5 gallon glass carboy, a 5 gallon stock pot, and a prepackaged brewer’s kit complete with malt, hops, and yeast.
If you’ve never been around during the brewing process, let’s just say that there is quite the powerful aroma to the wort as it’s being cooked. Since I was brewing in the dorm, I was forced to use the community stove in the common area downstairs. The RAs that were on duty were quite puzzled by the overwhelming smell that was wafting out of the kitchen. Thier initial intrigue was quickly replaced with concern as they began to question my cooking selection. Just as they began to protest the legality of what I was doing, I pointed out that it contained no alcohol whatsoever, and wouldn’t until after I was legally able to have beer in my room. Concern melted into reluctant approval and a tip of the hat as they acknowledged there was no rule against what I was doing and no law that I would be breaking.
And so began my fledgling experience with homebrewing. I was lucky that I was living in the dorms- some of those batches were so terrible, only a college student could drink them.
Fast forward 7 years or so to life as a grad student at MUSC, with copious amounts of spare time on my hands. I was spending a lot of my hours in the gym- my running habits from the Army had morphed into a CrossFit addiction- but I also had the time to get back into crafting beer.
This time around the batches were significantly better. And the more I brewed, the better they got.
It just so happened that as I got back into brewing, South Carolina decided to change the brewing laws, making it far more enticing for small breweries to give it a shot. At the beginning of my second year of grad school, as I started to feel some pressure to figure out a plan for what to do after school, opening a brewery seemed like a great idea, albeit quite the jump from immunology.
Funny thing about opening a brewery… it’s not cheap.
I began to do my research on what it would take to get one off the ground, and it started to occur on me exactly how expensive it was going to be- and how many things could potentially go wrong.
At one point during my research, I vividly remember being at Holy City Brewing in Charleston, SC. I can remember being in the brewery, looking up at the rafters, and thinking “Damn... this would be great spot for a workout.” And the more time I spent in breweries, the more it started dawning on me that a brewery needs the same type of space that a CrossFit gym does- industrial area, high ceilings, concrete floors, open space… it was the perfect dual purpose space.
So I began calculating my devious plan. We would start by opening a CrossFit gym, which would require significantly less of an upfront investment. The goal would be to grow and expand the gym to the point where we would have enough room to stick a small, one barrel brewing system in the back corner of the gym. The concept was met with a combination of skepticism, amusement, and excitement… although the two ideas seem to be polar opposites, as it turns out- most people who enjoy a hard workout enjoy good beer. And everyone seemed to like the idea of having a brewery in the back of the gym.
By starting with a nano-brewery sized operation, and waiting for the gym to grow, we could limit both our investment and our risk- the cost of our equipment would be under $50k instead of over $500k, and the gym could pay the rent until we were ready for the brewery to strike out on its own. If we brewed great beer and people wanted more, we could expand… if we brewed terrible beer and couldn’t give it away, at least we hadn’t bet the farm on the venture.
I planned everything out from the very beginning. The brewery would be “Full Spectrum Brewing” with beers named after colors on the color spectrum. So I named the gym LLC “Full Spectrum Conditioning.” The CrossFit affiliate would be named “CrossFit ABV” which officially stands for “At Baxter Village,” but is truthfully an unofficial nod to “Alcohol By Volume.” I found a location that would be ideal and convenient for both a gym and a brewery, and- more importantly- was zoned to allow for both.
Things haven’t gone strictly according to plan, but after two years of building the gym from the ground up, it’s time to start building the brewery in the same way. We aren’t trying to impress you with the size of our brewery or the decadence of our tap room. We’re not here to brew the fanciest beers or prove ourselves to the beer snobs. We’re here simply to craft great beers for great people. Our promise to you is to brew a beer for everyone on the spectrum- whether you like dark or pale, hoppy or sweet, heavy or light, we’ve got a great beer for you.