Hopping into beer market
The name — 3 Sheeps Brewing, a nod to the phrase “Three sheets to the wind” — stirs brew afficionados’ interest. But it’s this Sheboygan brewery’s unique craft beers that keep them coming back.
Since April, the microbrewery at 1327 N. 14th St. has been producing four distinct and humor-laden ales: Really Cool Waterslides, Baaad Boy, Enkel Biter and Cirque Du Wit. These were the brainchild and palate pleaser of Grant Pauly, founder, owner and president of 3 Sheeps Brewing Co.
Pauly’s family has long and rooted legs in the brewing business. His family bought Gutsch Brewery in Sheboygan in 1926, eventually changing the name to Kingsbury Breweries, which sold it’s product nationwide. Pauly’s interest in hops, however, didn’t really take hold until his wife gave him a home brewing kit in 2006.
“It started off with just doing a batch every couple of months and slowly increased until I was brewing a batch at least once or twice a month,” Pauly said. “A huge portion of our basement was converted into my homebrew laboratory, and it just became an obsession.”
Over the next five years, he went from occasionally making beer to discovering an until-then hidden passion for creating beers and making them again and again.
“That’s one of the key differences between home brewers and professional brewers,” Pauly said. “Home brewers love to make lots of different things. But when you try to make the same thing over and over again, it requires a whole different skill-set to ensure a consistent product.”
After much contemplation, Pauly let his father know he was giving up his role as president of Wisconsin Concrete Products, the family-owned company, in favor of opening a brewery. He began by purchasing state-of-the-art equipment and a building in October 2011.
As part of the agreement to sell the family business, Pauly needed to stay on board for six months at the concrete company to help transition the business to the new owners. “Interestingly, after those six months, the brew pub I had purchased the [brewing] equipment from went up for sale, and so the timing couldn't have been better,” he said.
Pauly also went to The Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago to bolster his skill-sets. “It was definitely a case of the being in the right place at the right time,” he said.
Pauly set out to not only establish a microbrewery in Sheboygan — something that was sorely lacking in a land infiltrated with brats and cheese.
“We were the biggest area in Wisconsin not to have a brewery of one fashion or other,” Pauly said. “This was a passion project, but it also needed to be a realistic project. Fortunately, the market is great here and craft beers as an industry is booming year after year. The industry is so young in its acceptance from macrolagers; it’s going to be an exciting next five years."
Pauly's mission was to create what he calls “one off of normal” with his beers. “A lot of breweries come out with a porter, and we have a lot of great ones in Wisconsin,” he said. “I wanted to do a dark beer, so we did a black wheat (Baaad Boy Black Wheat) instead. It’s as dark as a porter, but a lot lighter. That's an example of the theme we try to carry out with all our beers."
The very first beer on the roster at 3 Sheeps was named Really Cool Waterslide in honor of a T-shirt Pauly owned several years ago. The shirt featured a character at a crossroad facing paths that led either to a path to fame/fortune/success or one that led to a really cool waterslide. “One of the essential tenets to our brewery is our Really Cool Waterslide,” Pauly said. “All my friends knew that I could have stayed on the path with my family business, but there was this idea gnawing at me. I had to name my first beer ‘Really Cool Waterslide.’”
The company wisely chose to connect with a distributor — Beechwood Sales and Service — so Pauly could focus on the ever-important brews rather than sales. They also opted to distribute only draft (kegs) of beer.
Today, 3 Sheeps' craft beers are available in bars and at festivals from Egg Harbor to Racine and into the Fox Valley and Madison. The company produces close to 30 barrels of beer a week and are at about half of their equipment’s capacity. That achievement came faster than Pauly expected. “I didn't expect outside communities to be as receptive as they have been, as quickly. When you have a new brewer in a market, it excites locals., but the further you get from home, the more it becomes just another brewery. You need to have a product that gets people’s attention, and that’s exactly what products like our Black Wheat do.”
In addition, to promote sampling of the 3 Sheeps products, the brewery participates in a variety of top Wisconsin beer-focused events including Milwaukee Beer Week and The Kohler Festival of Beer.
The staff of three behind the 3 Sheeps are Pauly, an assistant brewer and seller master and a partner/salesperson.
Their next goal is to bottle their product, a goal Pauly has set for September but sees more realistically coming to fruition in October. That will allow 3 Sheeps to have a presence in grocery and liquor stores beginning in the local market. “It will be a very good move for production,” he said.