KENNESAW — Two small-business owners are finding success in a niche market despite the restrictions and hurdles placed on their trendy industries by Georgia’s state laws.
Around the country, state governments are clamoring to promote local beer breweries and liquor distilleries as tourist hot spots, but local manufacturers say cumbersome regulations are making Georgia late to the party.
Former news cameraman Scott Hedeen opened Burnt Hickory Brewery in June 2011 off Moon Station Court a half-mile north of Kennesaw’s downtown area.
“In Georgia, the market isn’t saturated. It isn’t even wet,” Hedeen said.
But in Kennesaw, Hedeen said elected officials and residents understand a unique brewery draws visitors into the city, who stay to shop and eat at other local establishments. Burnt Hickory’s once-monthly open house and tasting draws crowds of 300 to 400 people.
Hedeen, who lives to Acworth, said locating the shop in Atlanta would have meant more bureaucratic red-tape and much higher rent.
Hedeen is not your average entrepreneur. After years of criticizing the taste, labels and names of certain beers, he started home brewing in 1991.
Along with his brother, Hedeen has invested $500,000, not including a bank loan, with some funds from selling 20,000 punk records and a handwritten Nirvana set list by Kurt Cobain.
“It is a family-owned, family-invested business,” Hedeen said. “We are investing in ourselves.”
A risky investment pays off
The sweet odor of grain fermenting is the smell of success for Burnt Hickory, which offers 10 robust-flavored beers with high alcohol content.
The year-round options include pale ales, a Belgium beer spiced with green peppercorns called the Fighting Bishop, the Big Shanty stout, made with cracker crumbs and honey, and a red velvet porter.
Because Georgia state law restricts beer manufacturers to only sell through a wholesale distributor, breweries can not sell the crafted beverages directly to consumers. For Hedeen, this means selling kegs to a distributor, who places them in bars and restaurants around Georgia.
“Our distributors are buying every drop,” Hedeen said. “No tank is ever empty here.”
Although Hedeen has developed a business model that does not require selling products directly to consumers, if the law were to change, it would open up daily cash flow with regulars coming in to fill up their glass jugs, called growlers.
Technically, Burnt Hickory is a nano-brewery. But in six months, Hedeen will expand the operation to take his 2.5 barrel system to 20 barrels, increasing yearly production from 200 barrels to 2,000 barrels.
Although Hedeen said Burnt Hickory is about the quality of the amber liquid filling each glass and not the quantity produced, the increase in production would also mean a small bottling or canning line to package the beer for retail stores.
Doubling down on space
Until now, Hedeen said Burnt Hickory has operated more as a “brew school,” testing his ability to work with a city government and meet customers’ needs.
“I am a brewer learning how to be a businessman,” Hedeen said. “I pretty much ran the smallest brewery in the state for two years, but it has to expand in order to make money.”
Besides Hedeen, Burnt Hickory has one full-time and two part-time employees, who volunteered for six months before getting paid jobs.
Once the expansion is completed, there will be five full-time workers, including a business manager and marketing personnel.
The company’s 1,500-square-foot brewery will expand next door, leaving the footprint of the building much the same but transforming the production and office space to 5,000 square feet.
Construction was set to begin in March to add a restroom, enlarge the tasting room and reception area, build a large cooler room and install a $350,000 custom, American-made brew house. The upgrades, including a boiler and chiller outdoors, should be done by September.