Walk into the tasting room at Service Brewing Co. in Savannah, Ga., and you’ll come to a wall where you’re invited to write your answer to a simple question:
“How Do You Serve?”
You’ll also find a corkboard where military members, first responders and other members of the community pin their symbols of service, ranging from Army Ranger tabs to civil service patches.
That’s because Service Brewing Co., located in a sprawling warehouse by the Savannah River that once served as a paper and cleaning supply company, makes more than pale ales, pilsners and IPAs. By honoring service to country and community, it produces good citizens, too. The company has 23 investors, 20 of whom are military veterans, many of whom company founder Kevin Ryan worked with during his time in the Army.
“Our name, ‘Service,’ has many meanings,” said Ryan, a West Point graduate who trained soldiers as an infantry officer in Alaska and Colorado and went on to command two companies in Iraq, bringing all of his troops safely home.
“It recognizes my colleagues and my service to our country, the service that soldiers before us provided to their country and the dedication of Service Brewing Co. to give back to charities that support people who service their country and community.”
Ryan left the military and returned to civilian life in 2004, a transition he described as “a huge, scary leap. I was leaving a life I knew for 12 years.”
He worked at various jobs in New York and South Carolina until February 2012, when his fiancée, Meredith Sutton, gave him a home brewing kit on Valentine’s Day. Two years later, that gift became the impetus for launching Service Brewing.
“Being veteran-owned and operated is great,” Ryan said. “We are disciplined in our approach to business and brewing. Andwe work with the community, local chefs, farmers and retailers.”
Today the company has six full-time and seven part-time employees, with many veterans in key positions, including Master Brewer. Ryan also runs an internship partnership with U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition.
The names of the beers brewed by Service also reflect the company's military heritage. There's Rally Point Bohemian Style Pilsner, Battlewagon Double IPA, Ground Pounder Pale Ale and even a season Gun Bunny Witbier.
Service opened up its space not only for brewing, but for tastings and tours, and it donates a dollar from every tour admission to charity.
“We support a lot of grassroots nonprofits,” Ryan said. “We help them with establishing a presence, so more people can learn about what they’re doing.”
The brewery’s first charity was The 200 Club, which supports families of fallen firefighters and policemen. It went on to donate to such foundations as Homes for Our Troops, K-9s for Veterans, Second Harvest, Toys for Tots and local schools.
Its last fundraising initiative, the Chatham Savannah Authority’s Tiny House Project for homeless people, wrapped up in May. “It’s a project that makes small homes for homeless veterans,” said Ryan. Since July, “We gave $1 for every tour of the brewery. We gave and raised over $15,000 for the project.”
Currently, Service Brewing is raising funds for the SD Gunner Fund, which places service dogs with veterans, children with special needs and schools. Its president and founder, Britnee Kinard, had a career in business before she dedicated herself to caring and advocating for wounded veterans. “Her child has autism and her husband has PTSD, and she began training service dogs for her family,” Ryan said. “Now she’s turned it into a charity.”
Service Brewing is also rooted in community involvement. It recruited 22 local artists to design innovative, patriotic beer tap handles.
“Throughout history, artists have documented our war heroes, famous battles; their narrative in paint, sculpture, and other media brings quality to the world,” said Ryan’s fiancée, Sutton, the company’s co-owner and director of creative marketing. “This was our way of tipping our hat to artists and their contribution to our history.”
The brewery will expand the project this year to add to Service’s collection of tap handles, Ryan said.
Eva Fedderly is a travel, culinary, and political journalist who writes for Travel+Leisure, Esquire, The Christian Science Monitor, and other publications. She lives in Savannah, Georgia and can be found on the road and overseas.