By Angela Rose | Aug 28, 2015
In 2012, Miller made a major decision with his wife, Andrea, and Tyler Ruse, a childhood friend. Should they continue with their lives as they were or put everything on the line -- from cash on hand to retirement savings -- to pursue the business of their dreams? They threw themselves wholeheartedly into the latter, and Big Choice Brewing was born.
Launching the brewery, aptly named for an album by punk band Face to Face, was a high-risk feat, but one they were confident they could pull off. Miller recalls, "We knew if we could put our beer across the table from people, the response would be positive." And it has been -- production has grown 20 percent to more than 1,000 barrels over the last year.
Formerly employed in the food service and manufacturing industries, the Army and National Guard veteran was no stranger to hard work, an ingredient as essential for a successful launch as money itself. "I worked for little to nothing for the three or four months before we opened," Miller reports. "Then I was mainly the only employee for the first four months after." He routinely put in 115 hours a week brewing, packaging, and running the taproom.
While Big Choice now employs a small staff, Miller still has a hand in everything -- even building and modifying the equipment on which they brew and package as many as 18 different beers each year. "We sourced a lot of our fermentation and conditioning tanks directly from the manufacturer in China," Miller explains. "I designed and made our boil kettle, and the mash tun is actually an old dairy tank."
He continues, "We ran a two-head manual canner for about nine months. Then, using my industrial and mechanical engineering background, I automated it a bit. When we started it was doing between 10 and 12 cases an hour. I've added filling capacity and a few other things to average 32 to 34 cases an hour. We have plans to add a conveyer to it as well."
The beers -- from regulars including the Disconnected Red IPA and #42 Poblano Stout, to seasonals like the recent summer favorite Here We Gose Again -- have built a loyal following. "We look mostly at the flavors we enjoy and then try to incorporate them into some sort of beer," he explains. It's an approach that seems to be working, as Big Choice Brewing is rapidly outgrowing its current location.
Another big leap is ahead, but local lenders are singing Miller a different tune than the one he heard in 2012. "When we were talking to banks about financing or a line of credit back then, I actually had a banker laugh at me," Miller says with a chuckle. "Now, we get bankers who stop by the taproom at least once a month to tell us how eager they are to help with our expansion or whatever other needs we might have."
Favorite beers: "My all-time favorite is Odell Brewing Company's IPA," Miller says. "But also in my top three are Avery Brewing Company's Liliko'i Kepolo and Westbrook Brewing Company's Gose. One of the best beers I've had lately is Odd13 Brewing's Humulus Kalecumber."
Challenges: "I think our challenge has always been growing just ahead of demand," Miller muses. "We want to make sure that we can meet what the demand is while not having too much extra stuff going on." To that end, he and his partners have begun looking for a new location. "We'll probably exceed the potential for the space that we're in within the next 18 to 24 months," he says.
Opportunities: "Right now, we're negotiating with a developer to build a building that would be much larger than our short-term needs, allowing us to grow incrementally as needed while not overwhelming us with space that we won't be using for a while," Miller states. "The new location will open up a lot of opportunities in regards to growth and sustaining our business."
Needs: Space. "Over the past few years, we've heard from several people who say if they drive into the parking lot and the tasting room is full, they'll turn around and go somewhere else," Miller explains. "We want the new location to have enough space for us to deliver on the vibe that we've created while keeping up with the volume of people who want to come in."