Glenn & Melissa Golden
Jailhouse Brewing Company
- Melissa – How did you and Glenn meet?
Glenn and I were introduced by mutual friends during my last semester at Mercer University. In a matter of a month or so my job search went from the Southeast, excluding metro Atlanta, to exclusively metro Atlanta. My dad took great delight in teasing me about that!
- Where are each of you originally from?
Glenn grew up in Hampton and graduated from what was then Meadow Creek Academy. I am from Augusta, GA.
- When/How did you get into home brewing?
We first tried to make wine in the early 2000s after helping some friends bottle their own wine one evening. It was such a fun night with snacks, laughter, lots of wine and a little work. When we went to the home brew shop to pick up our own supplies, Glenn’s eyes grew wide when he saw all the beer making ingredients. I insisted we try wine first, so we went home, mixed everything together and waited. Our wine was awful! There were a few things to try to see if it would improve but nothing helped. We laughed a lot, tried some more and declared the wine a disaster. Glenn jumped up and said, “Now I’m making beer!” Luckily, he never looked back.
- Glenn – I know you have a B.A. in music business– how do you go from that to owning/running a brewery. What aspects of that training help you in the beer business? How do you find ways to blend those two interests?
There are many similarities between the music industry and the beer industry. Both music and beer can be central to the celebrations in people’s lives, and in both industries you work to stay fresh in people’s minds. There is an element of recreating yourself every so often while still remaining true to who you are or who your brand is. I find many ways to share my love of music during brewery tours: we have live entertainment at the brewery from time to time, I get to co-host a local radio show with Genie Griffin: Unshackled Radio, and every Friday we host For the Record! Vinyl Night at Jailhouse Brewing Company. We pick a theme, set up a record player and invite the community to come out and enjoy music in a social setting. Records are a great way to listen to music with friends because they force you to stay close to the record player. You can’t just turn a record on and walk away. It needs something from you, and when you stop and stay in one place there is a built in opportunity to connect with those around you.
- Melissa – what is your background?
I grew up just outside of Augusta, GA in a family that loves to cook and spend time together. College at Mercer University took me to Macon, GA, and I moved to Henry County not long after graduation.
- What was the process to open Jailhouse? How did you make the decision to take home brewing to the professional level and what were the steps and challenges along the way?
As newlyweds, Glenn and I planted an herb garden and I quickly became obsessed with cooking as much as possible from scratch and trying to see how much food I could grow. Making beer was an easy step along that path. If we grew some of our own food and it tasted better because it was very fresh, beer would probably be the same way…Glenn’s homebrew system operated on propane and our raised garden beds surrounded the patio. While I gardened he would brew. At the end of the day we’d light the grill. Most weekends went that way, and it was great! We would have parties fairly often to use up the beer so Glenn would have empty kegs and get to brew again. So we were together, enjoying hobbies and feeding as many friends as we could round up. Eventually we started touring breweries and learning about the collaborative nature of the business. The hands on nature of brewing appealed to us and we allowed ourselves to dream of making a career change. The process was long. When Jailhouse started in 2009 we were only the fourth production brewery in the state. Each person we spoke to in the licensing department had a different understanding of how we should go about getting licensed. We would work on the building, address paperwork, work on the building, change paperwork and then get back to renovations. Glenn studied professional brewing in the evenings and early morning hours through a correspondence program with The American Brewers Guild. When we finally got going we received a warm welcome from the existing brewing community in Georgia as well as beer enthusiasts around the state.
During a time of great expansion in the craft beer market, we are unique in our intention to stay small. We want our beer to be about the community, and we always want to have our hands in production.
- What did your first business plan for the brewery look like and how has it changed?
Our early dreams of opening a brewery looked much different from the little Jailhouse we’ve come to love. The first business plan was for a farmhouse style brewery in middle Tennessee, complete with a working farm and an inn where guests could come relax and even do a little brewing. As you can imagine it was a daunting proposal with a huge price tag all while Glenn and I were expecting our first child. Glenn’s sister, who is also an entrepreneur, said to us one day, “You are not brewers. Or farmers. Or innkeepers. I’m not saying you won’t do this one day, but for now I think you need to pick one.” We were deflated for a couple of days, but of course, she was right. Our business plan collected dust for several months and then we learned the brewing system at the former Buckhead Brewery in Stockbridge was for sale. A couple of weeks later we stumbled across a funky, little old space in Hampton close to where Glenn was working. It looked like pieces were aligning and we quickly realized this was our opportunity to give professional brewing a try. I still think that farmhouse brewery in the country would be an amazing place to visit, and I’m glad we compiled all that information so we would recognize the right opportunity when we saw it.
- Why did you pick Hampton and the jail as the location for your brewery?
We picked Hampton because it is where Glenn is from, he was already working here, and there was a cool, old building up for sale. Part of our dream has always been to bring something interesting to the city in order to stimulate growth and bring more business. We want to be a part of the community and build things up with our neighbors. Hampton is a great place to live and has such a cozy feel.
- Did you always know you had purchased the old jailhouse?
No, we had a short list of bad names for our brewery when Glenn started demolition. He was swinging a sledge hammer to remove old bricks from the back windows when the city historian came in to introduce himself. He talked to Glenn about the history of the building and chatted a while. When he left, Glenn immediately called me. He was so excited! He kept saying, “Can you believe we bought the jail?” Our new name was immediate.
We love beer that tastes like beer, so while we appreciate well thought out, creative additions to beers, we promise to brew solid, delicious beer that still tastes like beer.
- In the midst of the exploding craft beer scene, what do you think is unique and special about Jailhouse and what are your aspirations for the brand?
During a time of great expansion in the craft beer market, we are unique in our intention to stay small. That said, we can grow much larger than our current size and still be small in the industry. We want our beer to be about the community, and we always want to have our hands in production. Don’t expect to see Jailhouse striving for a national presence. We are small business people at heart and we really want to be “the little man.” Part of our vision was to be a Georgia beer available for sale only in Georgia. It remains to be seen whether that is sustainable. We may take Jailhouse to neighboring states, but for now there is still ground to cover in Georgia. Jailhouse Brewing Company is not yet available along the coast or in the southern part of the state. The current hype in brewing seems to be to see how farfetched a beer can be. We love beer that tastes like beer, so while we appreciate well thought out, creative additions to beers, we promise to brew solid, delicious beer that still tastes like beer.
- Your bottle labels and branding are very distinctive. Who is responsible for the designs and what is the inspiration?
Our label artist works out of Nashville, TN, and is a friend made through Glenn’s contacts in the music industry. Jonathan Richter is a talented and funny man whom we first met over beers in the Yazoo Brewing Company tasting room. The label design often starts with a beer name, and those can come from anywhere. Sometimes names are based on strange happenings around the brewery, as with Restraining Order Porter, a great song: Midnight Special, or just a funny riff on the Jailhouse theme: Mugshot IPA, Misdemeanor Ale, Slammer Wheat, Alibi, etc. We usually begin the conversation with some idea of the story we’d like the label to tell, but there have been times when Jonathan started with only a name. There are strings of emails going back and forth with tidbits of these characters’ lives. Often times the sketches arrive with wild tales attached or even sound clips. It is great fun. I’m looking forward to the day when we can bring Jonathan in for an art show and share so much of the rich, behind-the-scenes detail that goes into Jailhouse labels. People would love it.
- How much of the branding/creative is developed/conceived amongst the two of you/staff and how much is by the designer?
We share branding and creative process with our employees, our business partner and best friend in Nashville and with Jonathan. The theme is fun, and the best ideas usually come from sitting around having a couple of beers together.
- What is your favorite thing about the beer business? As an industry in general and about Jailhouse specifically.
We were drawn to and still appreciate the collaborative nature of the brewing industry. Most of us operate in a convivial fashion. It is refreshing and it’s fun. We all have to work. Why not work in a way that makes you and those around you happy?
- What has been the most surprising thing about being a small business owner and specifically a brewer?
The amount of money needed is the most surprising part of this experience. We have managed to bootstrap our operation together and keep the company very closely held, but brewing is extremely capital intensive. We underestimated the frequency and cost of expansion projects.
- As small business owners you are both very hands on with day-to-day operations. Outline your various roles within the business.
Glenn focuses on operations, production and communicating with our distributors. I handle the back office aspects of the business. Together we lead the creative process and work to manage and direct our employees.
- You seem to try a lot of different types of beer variations (i.e. Raspberry Sasion, Beer in the bourbon barrels, etc.) What is the process for deciding on, testing, developing and marketing a special beer? Is this part of the fun of craft beer or is it more of an expectation within the world of craft beer?
Variety, full flavor and exceptional quality are the things that set craft beer apart from commercial light lagers. I’d say it is both the fun of brewing and a market demand that pushes brewers to come up with new takes on classic styles. We enjoy exploring recipe design and are always working to improve our craft. These days the market trends can get more extreme than we prefer, and sometimes beer doesn’t even seem like beer anymore. Our fundamental rule is to brew solid beer we’d actually like to drink. If we won’t drink it, we won’t sell it.