Although Monkey Wrench Brewing is not yet in operation, Wayne Baxter doesn't feel that it's that far off. After home brewing for sixteen years, his dream is to own and operate a microbrewery in Snellville, or at least close by. The only thing stopping him is finding the right investors – and with his business savvy, a passionate team and optimism for the future of craft beer, that shouldn't be a problem.
The market for craft beer has been growing by about 14-15% per year for the past five years. There is a trend toward buying local and drinking local, according to Baxter.
“If I use honey in one of my beers,” he said, “I'll buy it from the guy at the farmers market.”
He tries to include local ingredients in all of his beers, and while he doesn't have any paid staff, he barters beer for man hours.
“And they'll work for beer!” he joked.
Baxter now has seven beers on tap, and another five or six “ready to go in.” He creates the recipes from scratch, some through trial and error. His latest is a Christmas brew, which features rosemary, ginger, bitter and sweet orange peel and orange blossom honey. The process takes a few weeks from start to finish.
If you're unfamiliar with how beer is made, Baxter is more than willing to discuss it. It involves grains, hops, yeast, water, a mechanism called the mash tun, the lauter tun and the boil kettle.
First, you mill the grain, and in order to stop the enzyme activity you raise the temperature to 168 degrees. The bitter hops are added initially, and the aroma hops are added toward the end.
Sound complicated? Maybe a little, but for Baxter, it's just a part of life – a part that he hopes to make full-time. As of now, a home brewer can brew 100 gallons per year. In order to brew more and sell it, he has to be licensed. In order to be licensed, he has to have an approved location. And for that, he need a good chunk of cash. In the end, he plans to have a fully operational microbrewery with a tasting room.
“Then we'll just keg it and bottle it,” he explained.
He considers himself a “hophead.” He personally prefers spicy, grainy beers, like an Indian pale ale. He enjoys experimenting with his brews, and describes how “half a pound of this and half a pound of that” really changes the complexity of the beer.
“Because of the color, flavor and complexity,” he said, “you can pair beer with food just like you can wine.”
And while Anhauser Busch and Miller have the corner on the pale ale market, “sometimes you just want a steak instead of a hamburger,” according to Baxter.
For example, one of his beers, the Belgian Trippel, is described as a "medium-bodied, effervescent ale practically exploding with Trappist Ale yeast, clear Belgium Candi Sugar and wheat malt character – kind of like a liquid multigrain bread."
Another, his Monkey Barrel Bourbon Oak Porter, is completely different: "Infused oak chips with Jack Daniels Bourbon after fermentation make this an awesome brew. Chocolate, Munich & Roasted Barley malts were used along with Tettnanger and Fuggle European hops. It pours dark brown and has an creamy dark chocolate bar flavor with the added characteristics of the oak, bourbon & vanilla from the oak chips."
Monkey Wrench Brewing is Baxter's second start-up company. His first, Baxtek Solutions, Inc., is a successful barcode, RFID, mobile computer and wireless technology company.