Jason Sledd is one of my heroes. A resident of Huntsville, Alabama, which happens to be my hometown, I’ve known Jason since we were high school students together back in a different century. Both of us got the homebrewing bug as adults, and while we’ve really only been in touch through Facebook in recent years, I’ve watched with great interest as Jason and other homebrewers in Alabama worked tirelessly over several sessions of the state’s legislature to overturn an incredibly outdated prohibition on homebrewing in the Yellowhammer State back in 2013.
Now, Jason has accomplished something that every homebrewer dreams of as they savor their creations: He’s opened his own brewpub. Green Bus Brewing, at 206 Eustis Avenue in downtown Huntsville, is enjoying its first weekend of operation this Labor Day. I was thrilled when Jason agreed to answer a few questions over email while his team raced through final preparations for opening day.
What first got you into homebrewing, and what attracted you to it as a hobby?
I got into homebrewing in a round about way. There is a local winery in town that exclusively does very sweet dessert type fruit wines. My family had just gotten done picking a bunch of blackberries and thought I’d make some of them into blackberry wine. As I started to research the process I eventually remembered that I really don’t care too much for wine. But, in doing the wine making research I learned that a lot of the same equipment can be used to make beer. I had a friend who had been brewing beer on and off for about 15 years, and the stuff he was making was much better than I expected. Eventually we found time to get together and brew some beer together. After that first successful brew, I just kind of took off running. I really enjoy the process and creativity that goes into making beer. And when you’re done…you have beer! I actually don’t drink a lot of beer…but I love being able to share something I created with others.
You’ve been pretty active as a homebrewer and brewpub owner in getting homebrewing legalized in Alabama, then updating the laws to allow growler sales. Do you feel like a beer activist, and what’s it been like to fight the law and win?
I have been somewhat active, but the real credit goes to the brewers who spent years working on getting homebrewing legalized. The members of Rocket City Brewers spent about 5 years seriously working on the issue. There were some rather disheartening defeats in that 4th year, but they kept at it and got the laws changed. I came into homebrewing at the beginning of the 5th year…so most of the hard work had already been done.
On the commercial side, the credit can really be given to both the grassroots organization ‘Free the Hops’, and the Alabama Brewers Guild. Both of these groups spent a lot of time and effort to lobby and educate our representatives and the efforts have paid off. This past year the Alabama Brewers Guild was able to work together with the Distributors and Retailers to reach a compromise that everyone could work with. There is still room for improvement in Alabama’s beer laws, but I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made. Green Bus Brewing has been a member of the Guild from our earliest days.
How did you decide to go from hobbyist to professional and launch Green Bus Brewing?
I started calling my home brewery Green Bus Brewing and created a Facebook page for it. Initially this was really just a way to keep my homebrewing posts separate from my day to day Facebook posts. With a ‘name’ for my brewery some the guys working at one of our local breweries (Straight to Ale) started joking around saying that I was going to ‘go pro’ and start a real brewery. I’d always been told that starting a commercial brewery was a great way to take all the fun out of the hobby. I finally asked a commercial brewery friend on what level could I ‘go commercial’ and not totally ruin the hobby. His advice: Start a small brewery and tap room and that’s it…no distribution…just make enough beer to serve in the tap room. That idea was very attractive to me and I started making informal plans to scale up my homebrew system. Eventually I found a couple of partners who shared my vision for what GBB could be and we decided to make it a reality. Plus, we are all crazy.
You describe Green Bus Brewing as “Huntsville’s First Neighborhood Nanobrewery.” How much beer can a nanobrewery like Green Bus produce when it’s up and running, and how many styles will you have on tap at any given time?
We have a 1.5 BBL brew house with one 3 BBL fermenter and two 1.5 BBL fermenters. We can produce about 21-28 BBL’s a month depending on style and fermentation time. Our plan is to start out with 8 beers on tap and have plumbed for 12 taps. We are also working on getting a wine making license so that we can do hard cider and possibly mead as well. We should be opening the doors in the next few weeks. [Ed Note: Green Bus is officially open now.] Our opening lineup will include:
Hazelnut Brown Ale
Watermelon Pale Ale
Irish Red Ale
Hibiscus Pale Ale
Mosaic Honey Wheat
Tirimasu Milk Stout
What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had in scaling up from homebrew size to a more industrial level of production?
Regulations and paper work. There’s a lot of paperwork and hoops to jump through to sell beer. Even after you have completed the licensing process.
Will Green Bus distribute, or is production really geared for in-house use in the tap room?
Our production is really geared for in-house use in the tap room. We do have a distributor for special events and plan on sending kegs out to local beer stores from time to time. This will be more a marketing tactic as opposed to a regular line of revenue.
Now that you’ve become a professional brewer, I think the obvious final question is: How long is your beard these days?
Haha…I did start growning a beard last November. I did the whole ‘No Shave November’ thing and never went back. Not sure I’m going to keep it…I really don’t miss shaving…but we’ll see.
I’m so excited that Jason is off to the races with his new venture, and can’t wait to check it out in person when I visit my folks for Thanksgiving. Follow Green Bus Brewing’s progress at the Facebook page – where you can also keep an eye on the status of Jason’s beard – and when you’re in Alabama, swing by Huntsville, which is turning into a great city for beer.