Ale be there for you
Pat Rains and Brian Borngesser met a decade ago as members of the Rotary Club of Roswell, Georgia. The two 20-somethings bonded over a shared interest in brewing their own beer. Over time, their do-it-yourself/drink-it-yourself collaboration led to the creation of Gate City Brewing Co. (The name derives from an old nickname for Atlanta; Roswell is an Atlanta suburb.) The Brewers Association named Gate City one of the fastest-growing breweries in the country in 2017.
Now — as you would expect from a brewery founded by a couple of Rotarians — Gate City is giving back. Proceeds from its Freedom Fighter IPA are donated to three groups fighting human trafficking: Wellspring Living, Out of Darkness, and End Human Trafficking Now. “Atlanta is one of the top cities for human trafficking in the country,” Rains says. “We want to bring awareness to the issue.” Freedom Fighter’s label also features information about trafficking.
THE ROTARIAN: When did you start brewing your own beer?
RAINS: I grew up in Portland, Oregon, which is considered the microbrew capital of the world. Growing up with all these microbreweries around, I took it for granted how good we had it. About a year after college, I moved to Atlanta for work, and I struggled to find the styles of craft beer I could drink in Oregon. What got me home brewing was trying to make some of the styles I used to drink.
TR: How did you go from home brewing to running a business?
RAINS: After I met Brian, we’d share tips and tricks. A couple of years in, I turned my garage into a mini-microbrewery. Our beers started winning some awards and we thought, “Hey, maybe this can be something we really do.”
We got our federal license to brew at a large scale in 2014 and went from brewing about 30 gallons at a time in my garage to our first commercial system, which was a 100-gallon system. After about a year, we moved and purchased a system that brews 1,000 gallons per batch. We’ve grown exponentially.
“I think the ‘local beverage’ movement is a real thing.”
TR: How is running a brewery different from your previous career?
RAINS: The craft beer industry is like no other industry I’ve ever seen. In 2014, when we were starting, there were around 3,000 breweries in the country. This year, there will be over 8,000. But while we’ve seen the number of breweries explode, it’s not a cutthroat industry. We do a collaboration with Variant, a neighboring brewery, called Walking Distance. Our breweries are less than a mile apart, so we walk from one location to the other. It’s a very collaborative industry.
TR: Why do you think that is?
RAINS: The industry believes “a rising tide lifts all ships”: A beer drinker might like one beer at my place and another beer at another place. You’re not competing with these guys; you’re working with them. If a guy around the corner needs a bag of grain, he can pick up the phone and call me.
Also, the industry is moving more toward the hyperlocal. Instead of trying to be national breweries or national brands, new startups are more focused on the neighborhood brewery concept. We have the “local food” movement, and I think the “local beverage” movement is a real thing. People really enjoy being able to identify the person who is making the drink that they love and shake his hand. We’re seeing that throughout the country as craft beer grows. It’s a new frontier.
— FRITZ LENNEMAN
• This story originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of The Rotarian magazine.