Matt Shirah, owner of Atlanta’s new Scofflaw Brewing Co., graduated from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School and spent most of his career as a corporate turnaround executive before deciding to get into the beer business.
“I was on the road three or four times a week, three or four cities a week. I was doing that for 15 or 20 years, but when I finally had a child, I said enough,” Shirah explained last week during a debut beer tasting at the brewery.
Surprisingly, Shirah wasn’t much of a beer geek, until recently. “Five years ago, I drank Miller Lite,” he said. Then he laughed before delivering the punchline: “Now I brush my teeth with Miller Lite.”
After a slow craft beer conversion, Shirah said he started on a quest to learn more about brewing, and spent four years coming up with the plans for Scofflaw. Along the way, he enlisted the help of Travis Herman, who became co-founder and brewmaster of the company.
Herman’s background as a microbiologist and University of California, Davis brewing science grad, plus stints at two of California’s most revered breweries, Lost Abbey and Russian River, lent important expertise to the startup.
“A big part of the story is that I knew I wanted to have the right guys around me,” Shirah said. “I brought Travis to Atlanta and we put this brewery together.
“For two years, we were in the basement of my mother-in-law’s house, where we built a one-barrel brewhouse and started doing test batches. We built a laboratory and started propagating yeast. It allowed us to dial in the beers enough to get to this point.”
About 14 months ago, Scofflaw moved into an 18,000-square-foot-plus production space on MacArthur Boulevard, where Herman and Shirah built a surprisingly sophisticated 20-barrel, four-vessel brewery with plenty of room for expansion.
“It was intentionally built to grow,” Shirah said. “The capacity with the current tank space is about 7,500 barrels. But it was designed to plug-and-play so we can easily bring more fermenters online as we grow.”
Two weeks ago, Scofflaw launched four beers in the Atlanta market, now available on draft at a limited number of beer bars and restaurants.
Basement IPA is described as “a seriously juicy and tropical India Pale Ale made with organic Citra hops.” Slim the Pale Ale is “a well-balanced pale ale with hints of passion fruit, pine, berry, citrus and faint floral tones.” Sneaky Wheat is “lightly cloudy and creamy, with coriander and orange, light honey and spice aromas.” Westside IPA is “a brew full of caramel malt and hops.”
As to the future, look for public tours and tastings at the brewery, beginning in mid-September. (For updates, watch the brewery’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/scofflawbrewingco.) A small barrel-aging program is already underway. And the facility was designed with a separate area for producing sour beers.
What’s more, Scofflaw recently purchased a Wild Goose canning system that’s waiting to be installed.
“I’m just too scared to go in the corner and open that right now, with the magnitude of all the projects we have going on,” Shirah said. “But it’s there and ready to go, when the time is right.”