Friends poke fun at Calusa Brewing Co. co-owners Vic Falck and Geordie Rauch and head brewer Jason Thompson for choosing a job that allows you to “just drink beer all day," but the reality of running a brewery isn't so glamorous. Around 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, Thompson is covered in water and sweat from brewing his recipes and Falck complains that he spends most of his day in front of a computer.
These guys are busy. And getting busier. They opened as a brewpub last year, but the company recently began distributing outside of its own location. After signing a deal with Tampa distributor J.J. Taylor in May, thirsty customers can now find Calusa beers on draft in various bars and restaurants around the Sarasota area. Indigenous, Shakespeare's, Growler's and Walt's are just a few of the places already pouring Calusa brews.
Calusa opened in April 2016 and has grown ever since, but Calusa’s owners have no plans of a drastic expansion anytime soon.
“We’ll organically grow, hopefully, our reach with draft distribution,” Falck says. “Beyond that, we don’t really have any huge plans for expansion. Really what we’re focused on is expanding our barrel-aging program and some of our premium beers.”
The barrel-aging program is displayed on the back wall of the tasting room. Customers drink beers next to wine barrels stacked on shelves reaching about two-thirds of the way to the ceiling. The barrel-aging tradition originated in Belgium and uses different forms of yeast to put the beer through a third fermentation process. The end result is a beer that is more sour and tart.
There is no short answer for how long the process takes. “The beers kind of choose when they’re done,” Thompson says. It can take as little as a month or as long as four years. The sour beer has been aging in the wine barrels for over a year now. Thompson, Rauch and Falck will taste the beer on Monday and take notes on taste. They plan on releasing the final product within the next few months.
When Calusa first opened last year, the three said they appreciated the camaraderie in the craft beer community. That mindset hasn’t changed.
“We help each other out a lot, share ingredients,” Falck says. “All the local breweries get along great.” JDubs Brewing Company partially sponsored the inaugural SRQ Beer Industry Golf Invitational, which benefited veterans, and the three Calusa operators participated. Brew Life is a new brewing company that just opened down the street from Calusa, and its owner swings by to talk.
Falck and Rauch, Sarasota natives who are actually brothers-in-law, talked about opening a brewery while stationed in San Diego with the Navy. Rauch says he discussed a rough Calusa business plan while in Iraq in 2011, three years before he even got out of the Navy. Thompson was a friend of a friend of Rauch’s who made an offhand comment at a wedding about wanting to help with the brewing, and two weeks later he received a phone call and a request to join the Calusa team.
The three admit they have hit the normal stumbles of starting a small business. They say the hardest challenge was just finding their current building. “We would literally just get in the car and drive around,” Rauch says. It took 10 months for them to find their current home at 5701 Derek Avenue. Despite the struggles, the three say Calusa's reception by Sarasota drinkers has been positive, with new customers popping in regularly.
But new customers mean more work. Falck, Rauch and Thompson leave the tasting room and return to their tasks. Beers need brewing, accounts need managing and customers need attending. They can’t just sit around and drink beer all day.