Port St. Joe is known for many things, and soon, a brewing company will be the latest.
Port St. Joe Brewing Company, founded by Steve Wich, Bill Kennedy and Mike Cohoon, will release its first draft, White Sands Wheat, at a launch party to be held at the Haughty Heron at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, Aug. 16.
The event will mark the first time the beer is available. After being exclusive to the Haughty Heron for two weeks the beer will be available in stores from Pensacola to Apalachicola.
The brewing company has been almost two years in the making.
Kennedy, who has a background in food and pharmaceuticals, was approached in 2012 by Cohoon, who ran the Chicago Brewing Company for many years before moving to Gulf County. The men then contacted Wich, who operates the Port Cottages, due to his background in sales.
“A brewing company was something I always wanted to see, I just didn’t have the expertise,” said Wich, who is president of the company.
Together the group spent six months creating a business plan and began seeking the required government approvals. After filing the paperwork to brew, the next step was a tricky one… Wich and his cohorts had to actually make the beer.
It’s not uncommon for smaller breweries to “contract brew,” using the facilities of a more established company like Anheuser Busch or the MillerCoors Brewing Company until they grow large enough to construct their own.
Wich and company visited several breweries before landing on the independent bottler Lazy Magnolia, based out of Kiln, M.S.
“We wanted the best fit for us,” said Wich. “We needed a distributor that knows how to deal with their clients and had a high level of customer satisfaction.”
The next major task was to find a distributor, which they did in the Lewis Bear Company, who distributes more than 300 brands of beer across the globe.
Before Lewis Bear picked up PSJ Brewing’s beverages, Wich found himself in the odd position of having to describe in detail a product that didn’t yet exist.
“That was the biggest hurdle we had to jump,” said Wich. “We were dead in the water if we didn’t get distribution.”
Luckily, Wich had worked with Kerigan Marketing Associates in Port St. Joe to build his brand and design the packaging.
Emblazoned with the logo motto, “pop a top in your flip-flops,” and beach imagery, the cardboard six-pack holder landed Wich his distribution contract. Even though the brewing company’s product will be available along the Forgotten Coast to start, Wich said he aims to be statewide within the first year and regional by the second.
“The packaging has a beach feel. It’s laid back and relaxed,” said Wich. “We’re selling what we have here in Gulf County.”
Wich has driven out to Mississippi two to three times a month to oversee the brewing process to ensure a consistent and quality product. In preparation for the launch part, the first batch is currently in the fermenting tanks.
White Sands Wheat, a Belgian-style honey ale, was engineered to be a refreshing drink and features Tupelo honey straight from Wewahitchka and purchased from the 4-H Club.
The next beers to be produced include the Lighthouse Lager and the Pelican Pale Ale.
Wich said he plans to include local ingredients in their brews whenever possible.
“We’re helping to support endeavors in the community,” Wich said. “The more community support we have, the faster we can grow our brand.”
The final piece of the puzzle comes in the form of a taproom and brewery that Wich aims to open in Port St. Joe within three years.
In addition to the commercial operation creating 50-100 new jobs, Wich said the brewery would allow the product to be made on-site.
The taproom would feature the latest flavors and provide a social gathering spot for residents and visitors alike while the brewery would be open for tours, a common day trip option as craft beer continues to take off in the U.S.
“We want visitors to try our beer and take it home to share with their friends,” said Wich. “They can tell their friends about their trip to Port St. Joe and everything we have to offer.
“We’re marketing Gulf County and this is an opportunity to put us on the map.”
The launch party will feature food, live music from Baby Gray and $1,000 in giveaways. Most importantly, it will be the community’s first opportunity to sip some White Sands Wheat.
“The people in the community have been so supportive of our plan to brew this beer,” said Wich. “I’m thrilled we can finally give it to them.”