Intracoastal Brewing Company beers and engineers. Video by Craig Rubadoux, FLORIDA TODAY Posted May 15, 2016
There are basically four main components to making craft beer – water, barley, hops and yeast.
Kyle Smyth, a former mechanical engineer for Sea Ray boats and Harris Corp., and one of the three founders of Intracoastal Brewing Co. in Melbourne, has found another component in the beer-making the process: math.
“I wouldn’t say it’s everything,” said Smyth, a 2007 graduate of UCF. “But the analytical mindset gets you to a certain point.”
Monday starts American Craft Beer Week, a period set aside to recognize a proliferating industry that is attracting entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to microbrewing. As craft breweries grow across Central Florida, the industry is providing new career avenues for thousands who never thought their love of unique beers could turn into a full-time job.
And on the Space Coast, just a mile away from UCF's main campus, with highly educated and skilled work force in the defense and space industries, that means a growing number of engineers are becoming craft brew entrepreneurs who use their knowledge of mathematics, processes, and system analysis to make unique beers. Before, they were involved in satellites, space systems and avionics. Now they’re creating products like “Zeus Will Smite Thee” and “Irish Car Bomb Stout on Nitro.”
At Intracoastal, the engineer muscle includes not only Smyth, but also Donald Atwell, a Virginia Tech graduate with an environmental engineering degree. Atwell is the brew master at Intracoastal.
Other engineers at Space Coast breweries include:
• Steve Shannon at Bugnutty Brewing Co. on Merritt Island. Shannon is an electrical engineer for The Boeing Co. in Cape Canaveral. He joined the brewery as a partner last year. And one the three original founders at Bugnutty, Shawn Lynch, is a retired Air Force major who has a degree in chemical engineering.
• Keith Allen, owner and head brewer at the soon-to-open Brevard Ale Works in Rockledge, is an electrical and systems engineer at Harris Corp. His partner in the venture is Tony Panpuso, an electrical and systems engineer at Northrop Grumman Corp.
• Pat Buonomo, one of the principals at the Dirty Oar Beer Co., expected to open this summer in Cocoa Village, was formerly an industrial engineer for Sapa Precision Tubing Rockledge before venturing into the beer business.
Buonomo has worked on helicopters, circuit boards and iron pipe fittings, all of it good training, he said, to what he and his partners are doing now with Dirty Oar.
“Creating craft beer is a process,” Buonomo said. “And no matter what type of engineer you are, you’re trained in processes. In brewing, if you’re off by a minute here or there, it makes a difference in the final product. A regimented approach in everything really helps you out with brewing and that approach is ingrained in engineers when they’re at school.”
“There’s also a lot of math,” Allen at Brevard Ale Works said. “I think that’s why engineers enjoy it.”
Craft beer growth
The craft beer industry has been growing for about two decades and has made established mega brewers take notice.
The number of brew pubs and regional and microbreweries jumped from 1,521 in 2008 to more than 3,200 in 2014, says the Brewers Association. (The association defines craft brewers as businesses that produce fewer than six million barrels a year and where large beverage makers have a less than 25 percent ownership stake.)
That growth has been noticeable enough that investors are starting to see the potential in these smaller operations. Earlier this year, USA TODAY reported on the formation of True Craft, a $100 million company aimed at investing in craft breweries. True Craft’s plan is to make minority, non-controlling investments in breweries that will let most to remain independent.
One of the men behind True Craft, Greg Koch, said “In a world in which there are constant forces toward homogenization and fitting, I specifically want to foster a world of uniqueness, depth and character.”
Florida had 45 craft breweries in 2011, according to the Brewers Association. Last year that number jumped to 151. That’s the 11th-highest number of craft breweries in the nation.
In Brevard, there are 10 breweries either operating or scheduled to be operating by year’s end. That doesn’t include the Florida Beer Co., in Cape Canaveral, which makes beverages under its own label and is also a contract brewer.
An engineering edge
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 3 percent of Brevard’s work force is made up of engineers, one of the top percentages of engineering concentrations in the country.
That’s a lot of high-tech talent and they’re often experts in math, systems, management and monitoring expenses.
For his part, Smyth at Intracoastal, never intended to operate a brewery. While content as an engineer, he and Atwell had talked about starting their own business for a few years. The two hooked up with John Curtis, a former land surveyor turned Crossfit trainer, and spent a few years working out a cost analysis and business plan for a brewery.
The trio opened Intracoastal in 2011 and discovered engineering backgrounds made brewing easier.
“There’s a very scientific and technical trade involved with it, heavily based in mechanics and industry,” Smyth said. “We definitely have a problem-solving, mathematical kind of mindset.”
The number of engineers involved in craft breweries in Brevard shouldn’t be surprising, Smyth said.
“Look at the number of engineers we have in the area,” he said. “I think that’s a huge factor.”
Shannon at Bugutty, said making a consistently good craft beer requires a good process, and for engineers, “that’s right up our alley.”
Buonomo’s industrial engineering background instilled in him ways to look at an operation and make it run better and more efficiently. That’s a huge plus as brewers search nationwide for hops, grains and equipment to establish a brewing system.
“You’re doing measurements the whole time,” Buonomo said. “My engineering background is something I’m taking full advantage of. Maybe a person without that background wouldn’t be thinking so much about the things that an engineer thinks about.”
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