If things had been different, we all could have been enjoying a refreshing pint of Earlybird Pale Ale by now. Last year at this time, home brewer Pedro Sarsama was gearing up to open the adorably named nano brewery Earlybird, to be located near the border of the Ohio City and Stockyards neighborhoods.
But babies, apparently, don't want us to have any fun.
"I have a 2-year-old daughter and another kid on the way," Sarsama tells me when I check in on his progress. "I'm trying to be fairly risk-averse, which is different from the answer I would have given you two years ago."
Whereas Chancy Sarsama was all gung-ho on starting his own brewery, Cautious Sarsama decided to work for the man, who in this case happens to be a brewery a few thousand times larger than Earlybird.
"I decided to scrap my plans of having my own brewery and taproom and took the position of assistant brewmaster at Buckeye Brewing," Sarsama says. "It was a combination of having to be a fiscally responsible parent and also having to be an astute small business owner. The beer market is crowded, and shelf and tap handle space is at a premium."
Before you start feeling sorry for the guy, consider this: His boss lets him brew his very own beer on their equipment. Not only that, they are going to let him sell it in their own taproom, Tapstack, which is located at the production facility in Cleveland.
"Everyone at Buckeye has been so supportive," he says.
Look at Sarsama as kind of like the gypsy brewer who wouldn't leave. After he punches out for the day, he brews on a small one-barrel system normally used for pilot brews and yeast propagation. Whereas Buckeye Sarsama beers stay pretty true to the style guidelines, Earlybird Sarsama beers get a little bit funky, with saisons, session wits, and low-alcohol pale ales among his repertoire.
"You can take more risks when you're doing 30 gallons as opposed to 500 or 600 gallons," he says.
As in the case of the gypsy brewer, who relies on the kindness — and really expensive equipment — of strangers, Sarsama enjoys many of the rewards and few of the risks associated with launching his own operation. But the arrangement isn't without its shortcomings.
"It's great because I have the benefit of being in a large-scale brewery without having to have made the sort of capital investment that there's no way I would have been able to afford," he says. "The downside is that I'm not reaping the benefits of that investment either."
Instead, Sarsama will punch the clock, draw a salary, and look forward to the day when his babies are a little older, he's set aside a little nest egg, and much of his competition has gone belly up.
"Right now, some of the big players are crowding out some of the smaller players," he says. "But at the same time we're seeing as a response to that growth a return to the very small-batch brewery. I think the shakeout will pass over the nano movement, where the neighborhood crowd is coming to support a neighborhood brewery like Earlybird."
When that time comes, we'll be the first in line.
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