Goat Island is a landmark on Smith Lake that is famous to those who know the lake. When the founders of the brewery were growing up they didn’t have cell phones. They would get in their boats and meet at Goat Island before fishing, skiing or jumping off of Indian Head rock. Goat Island Brewing is a craft brewery with a German flare. They make German lagers, English and American Ales, and beer that does not fit neatly into any category.
More on Goat Island in their own words.
-Beer has been such an interesting part of Cullman’s history. From being a German town having a dry Oktoberfest, to finally becoming a wet county, how has this played into your business’ growth?
Cullman’s history is completely bound up in the DNA of Goat Island Brewing. From the founding recipe of William Frederick Richter, (one of the founder’s wife’s great great grandfather) who owned Richter’s Saloon in the 1880’s, to the founders being involved in the Free the Hops movement, and being involved in the Alabama Craft Beer Garden at the early “wet” Oktoberfest celebrations in Cullman, our entire genesis as a brewery mirrors the history of beer in Cullman. In fact, our two brewing founders met at the second “wet” Oktoberfest in 2012, and soon after began to hatch the idea of a brewery in Cullman. There are also many connections to the founding of the brewery and the April 2011 tornados that destroyed part of the community and then brought it together.
-How has the community responded to alcohol sales?
Cullman had a contentious debate about going wet for many decades after prohibition. For many years, the wet/ dry issue was debated and voted on. Many Cullman citizens were afraid that alcohol sales would bring crime and ruin our “Mayberry” like town with little crime, great schools and a church on every corner. Eventually, people realized that with a good alcohol ordinance that regulated the sale of alcohol, we could have the benefit of the taxes alcohol brought in, and keep the special small town character that Cullman has. Cullman went wet and never looked back. We still were very nervous about how the community would react to a brewery. However, there was literally no negative reaction. I think the community trusts us to make and serve alcohol in a responsible way. We take that responsibility seriously. We have had nothing but support and enthusiasm from the entire community.
-Where did you find the recipes for your beers?
Most of our recipes have been developed by our original two brewmasters, Mike Mullaney and Gery Teichmiller, over the years of their home brewing careers. They were tested and modified and sculpted like works of art into the beers they are today. The Thrill Hill Vanilla Porter, Colonel’s Festbier, and Hippiewiezen are all creations of Gery Teichmiller, who had been brewing for decades prior to opening the brewery. The Sipsey River Red, Big Bridge IPA and Palomino Pale Ale, were all creations of Mike Mullaney, who studied some of the craft beer movement founders who believed in extreme brewing. But one of our beers was handed down from history to us on a silver platter. Richter’s Pilsner was reinterpreted by Gery, who was already a master at creating lagers and pilsners. The recipe was found in a building after the tornados of April 2011. One of our founders, John Dean, was an insurance agent at the time that we were starting the brewery. While helping with a claim related to the tornado damage, the owner of a local business showed him a recipe written in half german and half english. John recognized that it was a beer recipe, and also recognized the name written below it, William F. Richter. He told the businessman that this appears to be a beer recipe by William Frederick Richter, owner of Richter’s Saloon at the turn of the century, and my partner’s wife’s great, great grandfather! After having it translated by a german expat working at REHAU, the recipe was given to Gery Teichmiller. With his knowledge of german brewing techniques he made a small batch. The very first batch tasted exactly as Richter’s Pilsner taste today. It is now our flagship beer.
-What has been your biggest challenge or success so far?
There have been many challenges along the way, but most of them revolve around money. Getting enough capital to start was the first challenge. Stainless steel is very expensive, and we have a lot of it. Keeping enough money coming in to cover expenses continues to be a challenge. But the beer is popular, and we are growing. We believe we will weather the challenges and emerge as a strong local business for Cullman to be proud of.
-What does a typical day look like for you?
Our days our hectic, and our head brewer Paul White meets those challenges with his characteristic intelligence and hard work ethic. If he and his team are not brewing a batch of beer, he is doing quality control testing in the lab, cleaning kegs that came back from the distributer, or sending a batch of cans and kegs out into the market. When things slow down Paul creates new beers on our small batch system for sale only in the brewery. That is our test market for new beers coming out in the future. When the brewing workday is over, our taproom starts up. Brad Glenn, and our Brewery coordinator Hillary Brewer, (nice last name for working in a brewery), have live music and other entertainment going as they serve our beer to the public in our unique tap room environment.
-What do you do for fun when you are away from the store?
Each of us has hobbies an interests outside of the brewery, but to be honest, in these early days of getting this business off the ground, we have all put those on the back burner. When you start a business it is a full time commitment in the beginning.
-What’s your favorite beer that you sell?
Each of us has our favorites. Mine, (Mike Mullaney) is the big bridge IPA. I am a unrepentant hop head.
-What is your favorite local vendor?
We love all the food vendors and are grateful to the great work they do.