Something’s Brewing

Three to four years ago, Anthony Rodriguez and Rob Goldstein first discussed opening a brewery together. They didn’t know the location, the how, or exactly what it would take to get their idea off the ground, but they knew that together they could make it happen.

They were ready to take a chance — a leap of faith.

“Rob and I, even when we do festivals and all the other business ventures we have put together, we have always been the risk-takers, more so than our friends around us,” Rodriguez said. “It’s easy for people to say ‘no, don’t do that. It’s too hard,’ but that’s never dissuaded us.”

In just a few days, they’ll get to see their dream of opening a brewery become a reality when Wild Leap Brew Co. holds its launch party in downtown LaGrange.

“I think it is going to be an amazing milestone for us. We are already excited, and I can’t imagine what that day is going to feel like,” Rodriguez said. “I may be in tears that day. I think a lot of hugs and high-fives. It will be extremely exciting to reach that point because we worked so hard to get here.”

It’s really hard to fathom how fast it all came together.

Just a short time ago, Rodriguez was a marketing director for Red Brick Brewing Co. in Atlanta and Goldstein was working in a similar role for Gerber Group. Wild Leap’s head brewer, Chris Elliot, also worked with Red Brick.

Goldstein and Rodriguez crossed paths often working on festivals and other ventures together.

“This idea was actually something Rob and I had talked about before we had even heard of LaGrange,” Rodriguez said. “There was always going to be some city that we decided to open a brewery in. It was something we aspired to do. It was a dream of ours.”

In 2015, the idea first became a reality.

Rodriguez and Goldstein were working together with LaGrange’s Downtown Development Authority on the city’s first craft beer festival. At the same time, officials with the city of LaGrange asked if they could help find a brewery that might be interested in opening within the city limits.

“This all came together as far as LaGrange becoming one of the sites for us to look at as happenstance,” Rodriguez said.

It didn’t take the friends long to realize that they had a great opportunity here to make their dream come true. Before the first craft brew festival, they told the city of LaGrange that they were interested in opening a brewery. Incentives, such as a loan from the Downtown Development Authority, played a role in convincing them that LaGrange was the place to be, but that wasn’t the final deciding factor.

“Other cities offered incentives [too], but with LaGrange, they were 100 percent bought in from almost day one. They very much wanted it to be here,” Rodriguez said. “The building that we thought was going to be amazing for the brewery that I first saw when I first came here was available, and the perfect spot for a brewery. We were able to be part of the downtown life of the city. We were in a city where it was very much growing, up and coming. Great Wolf Lodge was on its way, and the city had made so many changes the last few years that we saw a trend upwards, and an opportunity for us to be in that trend.”

The name of the brewery wasn’t hard to come up with either.

After all, Rodriguez, Goldstein and Elliot knew they were taking a chance.

“You keep looking until that one name pops out at you and Wild Leap was that name that popped out, like ‘Yeah, that’s us,’” Rodriguez said. “It stuck and there was no going back.”

In November 2016, construction started at the brewery’s location in LaGrange on Main Street. They have renovated the old Westbrook Tire and Auto Body Shop, which had sat vacant for approximately a decade. Rodriguez said it would’ve been easier and likely cheaper to tear down the building, but that was never strongly considered.

“History is something that is very important to us,” Rodriguez said. “We saw this as a landmark, and we were very excited to be in a landmark and to preserve the history.”

Six months ago, everything started coming together. The company’s beer was available on tap at restaurants starting in February, and the idea was starting to become a reality.  In the last year, they’ve watched as the brewhouse was added and construction on their outdoor plaza and stage, started coming together.  They’ve also been on the road a lot as they take Wild Leap to restaurants in nearby counties. The number of cities that now have a place to buy Wild Leap seems to grow by the day. Rodriguez didn’t have a confirmed number in late August of how many counties the beer was in, but he estimated that it was more than a dozen.

In early September, they were going to venture into Atlanta, as they continue to spread word about Wild Leap around the state.

“We aren’t guys to sit around for very long, so when we envision something we usually start going after it pretty quickly,” Rodriguez said.

Wild Leap currently has three different options to choose from: Local Gold Blonde Ale, Chance IPA and Sunvale. Sunvale, a raspberry wheat, was released in late August.

“I think for us the most important part is the balance of the beer. We will have a lot of specialty beers, but in our core line the main goal is that the beer be well-balanced. Not so far right, not so far left, but that great balance down the middle, where you drink a beer and you’re like ‘wow this really blends together,’” Rodriguez said. “Some beers you drink it almost feels like you got punched in the mouth, and some beers you don’t feel like you’re drinking anything, so it’s finding that good balance of hop and malt and flavor that’s not overpowering in any direction.”

Wild Leap has produced 450 barrels of craft beer so far, or nearly 14,000 gallons of beer. Another 120 barrels were scheduled to be brewed in early September.

Brewmaster Chris Elliot works in the brewery. –Daniel Evans

Rodriguez said the goal is to brew somewhere around 3,000 to 4,000 barrels over next year, so much that the company is already discussing whether or not it needs to expand their tank inventory.

“We started big too, so we won’t have to expand the brewhouse, but we will have to add tanks,” he said.

They also couldn’t be opening at a more perfect time, at least as far as the law is concerned. Starting Sept. 1, breweries are able to sell beer directly to customers. In the past, Georgia breweries had to sell a tour, and only then were they able to offer beer.

“We want this to be a destination brewery,” Rodriguez said. “We want to have people visiting from out of town, out of state, to come check out Wild Leap. What we envision here with the plaza with the amount of space for events, that’s all wonderful, and we are going to do events. We are going to do great community events and festivals. We love having the space to do that.”

Rodriguez said they don’t plan for Wild Leap to become a sports bar. Instead, they see it as a place businesses can use and as an area for people to stop by, purchase a beer and hang out.

“We want to offer a place for people to come and sit and feel relaxed. Look up at a TV or not. But when it comes to Super Bowl time, come on. Come watch the Super Bowl here. We love having all the options,” he said.

Moving forward, Wild Leap is working on its canning line and ensuring everything is complete before the launch party. Barring storms slowing the progress, a bar will be installed and all of the dirt that currently sits in front of the entrance will be moved.

“As much dirt as you see out here, it is quickly going away,” Rodriguez said. “By [the start of September] the plan is to have all the sidewalks in place and pretty much everything done except the landscaping.”

To a passerby, it might seem like a dream for everything to be completed by then.But that would mean doubting the guys who have already made so many things happen so fast.

That’d be a wild leap.   

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