Mammoth Brewing Company owners Sean and Joyce Turner have their hands full these days, after the abrupt news last week that the Whiskey Creek restaurant building they had recently signed a lease for would be available sooner than expected.
The Turners, who bought the company from Mammoth’s Sam Walker in 2007 and are still using a small portion of the Whiskey Creek building for their brewing operation, have quadrupled their business and won some of the most prestigious awards in the craft brewing world in the past several years despite the sour economic climate.
They said they signed a lease for the iStar-owned building on Jan. 17, a week before they knew Whiskey Creek’s Greg Alexander was going to close the doors on Jan. 24, they said.
The Turners had expected to have another month or so to focus mostly on finishing their acquisition of a five-acre parcel of land in Bishop, where they intend to vastly expand the production side of their brewing company into a regional craft brew production center.
Then, they said, they intended to turn their attention back to Mammoth, where they are facing a March 31 deadline by their Berner Street landlord—and some legal wrangling over the issue—to move their tasting room on Berner Street somewhere else.
Now, however, it’s time for an even more extensive and faster-paced juggling act.
“We knew we had to be out of our Berner Street location, so we started looking around back in the spring of 2013,” said Sean. “We had thought we might be looking at the Dr. Ron (Kaylor, a Mammoth dentist) property, which at least looked over the parking lot to our brewing room.
“Then we heard that the Whiskey Creek lease might be available and that if we didn’t jump on it, they would offer it to someone else. So we did, after much consideration. But like many others, we thought the restaurant would be open the rest of the winter. It was a surprise to us, too, [last] Friday.
“Since then, it’s all come about very fast,” he said. “We know we cannot expand the production operation at Whiskey Creek; it’s zoned mixed use commerical and there is a limit on how big we can grow, although we will keep a production presence in Mammoth. This is Mammoth Brewing Company, after all, and so long as we keep our destination facility here in Mammoth, we’re good,” he said.
Mammoth, however, is too high and too far off the main shipping route to use as a base for the big expansion the Turners are planning.
“The last 45 minutes up the grade (Sherwin Grade) cost us one third of all our shipping costs,” he said. “Chaining up just 20 times a winter between the airport and Whiskey Creek would cost us $10,000.
“The utilities for Mammoth would also be a lot higher, since it takes longer for water to boil at 8,000 feet. We also found there is a better long term employment base in Bishop and property values are more stable.”
The property’s location is still under wraps, but the Turners said they have secured water—which will be some of Bishop’s high quality groundwater—and sewer. Their goal is to be in production in the Bishop location by early 2015, they said, although the recent news about Whiskey Creek might shift that timing somewhat.
“The model for this expansion has been in our hearts for years,” said Joyce, an engineer, who tends to the more pragmatic aspects of running the business as Sean tends to the marketing and craft.
“We just thought we had more time.”
She said the Whiskey Creek building, built in the 70s, would need significant upgrades—including a new roof.
There are no plans, however, to tear down the building or make massive changes to its appearance, she said, despite some rumors.
The Turners are not clear, however, on whether this includes a restaurant at the Mammoth location or not, although Joyce said some people are encouraging that.
“That’s what is expected, but we are more interested in breaking the mold of what a craft brewery is,” she said.
Doing that would include creating a destination brewery that educates people as much as provides them with a great brew by making the brew process visible.
“We have a vision for big glass windows, so people can see right into the production room,” Sean said.
His plan is to essentially capture the essence of the high country mountain outdoor experience here; the hiking, the biking, the backcountry, the clean sweet water and air, and market that along with really, really good beer that has already proved its quality by winning world wide awards.
To do that, the Turners stamp their bottles with a cap that has an image of a black bear on it, along with other marketing techniques, such as promoting Mammoth Brewery as the highest altitude brewery on the West Coast.
They also use local ingredients, such as elderberries picked from the nearby trails for their Elderberry Sour, and some hops grown near the White Mountains.
The craft beer market is not saturated, a point Sean brought up several weeks ago during a six-minute flash talk at Rafters.
“We are not competing with each other, we are competing with Budweiser and Coors,” he said.
That means there is still room to dream—and dream big.
“We’re still figuring it all out, but this is my passion, this is what I love to do, and I know we can do it,” he said.
“Since we bought the business in 2007, we have quadrupled the size of the brewery,” said Sean. “My vision is to be a the best regional craft brewery in the Western United States.”
That might sound like hubris—but not to those who know the Turners.
“What has happened with their business is that right now, it’s on the cusp of being iconic,” said Rick Wood, speaking as a private citizen and not the Turner’s attorney, which he is.
“It’s terrific that they have chosen to expand here. They have a great product and it’s a proven product. They are entrepreneurs, they are energetic and committed to the area. They bring all of this to the table. That kind of business will increase the exposure for Mammoth.
“Plus, it will just be great to have a fun place to be, something bigger than just a tasting room, and at a location that’s so central,” he said. “What could be cooler than heading over there after a run on the Mountain?”