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15 Minutes with Sara Gayle McConnell

15 Minutes with Sara Gayle McConnell
October 2016
Meet a co-owner of James Island’s Tradesman Brewing Company

Since opening in 2014, James Island’s pint-size Tradesman Brewing Co. has been gaining a steady following amongst beer nerds and casual drinkers alike. We asked one of its co-owners about the biz, the brewery’s next steps, and how she’s giving back to the community.

CM: How did you get into brewing?
SGM: My husband, Scott, who I’ve known since high school in Mount Pleasant, was looking for a hobby. One day I came home from my job as a neonatal intensive care unit nurse, and he asked, “What would you think if I started brewing?” I laughed and said, “Well, that’s a hobby I can drink!” He started with kits, then bought a mill, and it spiraled from there. Soon, he was brewing almost every weekend. We opened Tradesman April 5, 2014. I jumped into the brewery full-time that June, and Chris Winn, from New Belgium Brewing and Palmetto Brewing, came on board in January 2015.

CM: Does your nursing background translate to your roles at Tradesman?
SGM: I’m a numbers person—part of it comes from making sure all amounts of fluids in a newborn’s IV add up correctly—so I run our books. And being science-minded helps in working out the connections that go from one tank to another. Having dealt with bloodstream infections makes it easy for me to look at a process, pick it apart, and figure out where there might be issues. It’s like a giant chemistry experiment. On another level, brewing’s all about microbiology: you want the yeast to be happy and produce great flavors. I still get my science geek on.

CM: Do your children help out?
SGM: My 17-year-old son is a keg-washer, bar back, tank-cleaner—just all-around doer of whatever needs doing. And my 13-year-old daughter is in charge of inventory when she’s here.

CM: Where do you stand on the issue of underage drinking?
SGM: I think there’s something to the European approach. Maybe binge drinking could be cut down if alcohol wasn’t seen as such a huge deal. All teens are curious, so it’s crucial to have realistic conversations about moderation. Is it OK to enjoy a good beer or two? In my mind, sure. Should you drink a six-pack or 12-pack all by yourself? No. On the other hand, state law requires us to card everyone. Some people will say, “Come on, I’m 60, I left my ID at home.” But I’m sorry—I still can’t serve you. And if you drove here, that wasn’t very smart either.

CM: What’s your reaction to people who say they don’t like beer?
SGM: I hear this a lot: “I’m not a big beer drinker, I’ll just have a glass of water.” I’ll ask if he or she likes coffee, and when they say they drink it every morning, I’ll pour a sample of our Shift Change—a blonde coffee stout with the nose of coffee minus the bitterness. Then we start talking, and I’ll offer another sample. We jokingly call our taproom the “Beer Education Outreach Program.” Of course, there are people who don’t like any beer, and that’s fine, too.

CM: Tell us about BREWSTER.
SGM: Frothy Beard’s Macey Martin and I started the group. It stands for “Building Relationships Empowering Women Striving to Exist Responsibly.“ Once a quarter, various breweries open their doors to interested women—Tradesman’s event in May saw 17 people join in to create a recipe and spend the day brewing. When the batch is ready, a dollar per pint goes to a local women’s charity.

CM: Is the goal to get more women involved in the industry?
SGM: For about 4,000 years before the guys took over, brewing was a woman’s job. The shift occurred when brewing became a business, because businesses were male-dominated. We want to spotlight the fact that women can brew, too. But BREWSTER is also about community, meeting new friends, and making something that can help women in need. Our first six brew days have netted about $7,000 for charities such as the Center for Women.

CM: How do you see Tradesman growing?
SGM: We love our current location, but we need to find a larger space. We want to produce more beer, start packaging, and have bottles and cans in grocery stores. Right now we distribute locally and to Bluffton, Hilton Head, Columbia, and Greenville. We want to be more than regional. We have big dreams.