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Warrior's brew: Army vets launch Georgia craft brewery

Service Brewing Co. plans to expand in the future. After Labor Day, when Service Brewing will offer its beers to tasters at the Savannah Craft Brew Fest, the company will open its tasting room to patrons.

The distinct smell of boiling malts and hops drifted throughout the nearly 30,000-square-foot warehouse space on Indian Street just west of downtown Savannah, Georgia.

In the western-most chamber of the former Coastal Paper building, Dan Sartin peered into the hatch of a giant steel vessel containing dozens of steaming gallons of a pre-beer concoction. The master brewer smiled confidently as he stepped away from the mash.

"We're looking good," Sartin said Tuesday as he readied Service Brewing Co.'s first batch of Compass Rose IPA. "It's really pretty. It's cleared up real nice."

Combined with neighboring Southbound Brewing Company, downtown's Moon River Brewpub, under construction Coastal Empire Beer Co., and craft brew specialty bars such as The Distillery and World of Beer, Service Brewing Co. adds to the ever-expanding craft beer landscape that has engulfed Savannah in recent years.

This latest addition — it officially launches with a 6:30 p.m. July 24 party at the American Legion Post 135, 1109 Bull St. — is all thanks to a trio of U.S. Army veterans.

Sartin, a traditionally educated brewer trained at the World Brewing Academy in Munich, Germany, joined a fellow former infantry officer last year to begin the plans for Service Brewing. For him and brewery CEO Kevin Ryan, Service Brewing is a realization of a longtime dream.

Both are graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and Ryan and Sartin served as platoon leaders and company commanders during their Army careers. For both retired soldiers, their passion for brewing beer was not realized until long after leaving the military.

Ryan, a 1996 West Point graduate, left active duty in 2004 after commanding a pair of 4th Infantry Division companies through a combat deployment in the initial invasion of Iraq.

"I've been a fan of craft beer for a long, long time," Ryan said. "Once I left the military I got into health care management, and then [Service market director] Meredith [Sutton] bought me a home brewing kit, and that was kind of the beginning of the end."

Sartin, who graduated from West Point in 1978, developed much of his love for beer while stationed in Germany with the Army's 3rd Armored Division. Like Ryan, the discovery of home brewing took him from an office job in the civilian sector to professional brewing.

"I started home brewing in the early 1990s in Denver, and I've been brewing since then," Sartin said. "I made the leap into full-time brewing ... and we eventually ended up here, and we won't be looking back."

As passionate as Ryan is about his brewery he's equally as passionate about giving back to those who have sacrificed for the betterment of their county and their communities.

That means making a commitment to hire veterans and providing a portion of the company's profits to charities that support military service members, police officers and firefighters.

Earlier this year, Ryan and Sartin hired Jeff Hyatt as their assistant brewer. Hyatt, a recently retired helicopter pilot who served with Hunter Army Airfield's 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, perfectly fit the bill for the gig, Ryan said.

"It's very difficult to know who it is your hiring and the quality of that person and their work ethic," Ryan said." When you hire a veteran, your odds of hiring someone who is going to work out and have the right motivation and the ability to succeed is much greater."

It's the same reason the company will always donate to carefully-vetted, service-related non-profits.

"That's where the name Service Brewing really comes from," Ryan said. "To me it's obvious that the name is related to military service — we were service members and we're all dedicated to giving back to those who serve — but the name incorporates more than just the military. It's about anyone who has committed to serving."

While Service Brewing Co. won't immediately be open to the public as they finish some remaining construction, they intend within the next two weeks to have their products in consumers' hands.

Beginning July 25, Service's year-round offerings, Compass Rose IPA and Ground Pounder Pale Ale, and its summer seasonal Bohemian Pilsner, will be available at some area restaurants and pubs on draft and in cans.

After Labor Day, when Service Brewing will offer its beers to tasters at the Savannah Craft Brew Fest, the company will open its tasting room to patrons.

That room at the front of the brewery will feature a patriotic theme designed by Sutton, the brewery's Savannah College of Art and Design-educated marketing director, complete with tap handles designed by local artists.

"In addition to being this huge military town, Savannah is a huge art town," said Meredith, who Ryan credited with bringing life to the brewery's design. "It was important that we recognize artists' contributions to this city ... in a fun and inviting way."

The tasting room, additionally, will offer patrons a chance to try small-batch, experimental ales and lagers "to get an idea what people think about brews we could do in the future," Ryan said.

One day, Ryan said, if all goes as planned, those beers could wind up in bars and package stores across the nation.

"We hope to take over the world, you know, as far as beer goes," he said. "Right now, we just want people to come check us out and try our beer. We're obviously very passionate about this, and we think it's going to come across in our beers; there's not much better than seeing people enjoy the thing you've put hard work and love into."

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