Early in October, Tim Schritter consented to be interviewed. Many of you out there may already know much of the story and many of the facts he related to me regarding himself and Black Bridge Brewery. It was all new to me and I thank him for the time he spent answering my questions.
This is just one segment of the interview, there will be more to come. Part one is a brief origin story of Tim as a brewer and Black Bridge Brewery as a business. Further segments will go over his beers and brewing philosophy, some distribution, and most importantly what each of us in Kingman can do to make it a success. As if you don’t know that bit already …
When did you start brewing and why?
I’ve told this story a million times, it should be easy … so, I was dating a girl and it became pretty serious and the way things happened it ended up we were going to have a kid. And her dad – who didn’t really know me or probably like me since I was dating his daughter; he only had two daughters, this is his oldest daughter, so this is his baby girl – called me up and invited me over to meet him and brew a beer and I thought, “well I like beer, I drink Keystone Light like it’s going outta style.”
Keystone? (slightly incredulous and appalled)
I was ‘Keystoned’, that’s what they nicknamed me. –
So I go down there – it’s just downtown here – and he’s got a little seven gallon aluminum kettle pot, like a turkey fryer, on a burner and he’s got extract syrup and probably an ounce of hops and some dry yeast and a bucket. So we’re boiling water, adding the syrup and we’re just talking about beer, and my lack of knowledge about beer, and he’s like “hey do you wanna beer?” and I was like, yeah I want a beer. I’m thinking it’s going to be like a Coors or a Budweiser or something. He breaks open a bottle of Stone’s Arrogant Bastard. I never had that before in my life. That was the worst [stuff] I’ve ever tasted. Ever. Period. Ever. Ever. It’s now in my top five, I love Arrogant Bastard and it has become a huge inspiration for something like Evil Red, for instance, that big malt, hop forward type of style.
So, we brew this beer, I drink the nastiest [stuff] I’d ever had. I went home later that night and I’m drinking a Keystone Light, sitting on the couch, and I’m like, I’m not tasting anything. And I’m really starting to not enjoy this and not know why. I don’t know if it’s a bad batch, the cans are bad, what? So I crack open another 12 pack and I open one and I just don’t like it anymore. Like, that immediately something switched. So two weeks later I go back to his house and bottle this off and I take half the bottles home and I let ‘em sit in my closet then I put them in my fridge – it was just an American wheat – and I cracked that first one open and, oh, it was so good. I was hooked. I can do this. I can brew. There is nothing to this. And there is a lot to this, but overnight I developed a knack and a severe passion for wanting to have great beer. I didn’t know what great beer was but I knew the [sub-par liquid] I was drinking was not it. All it was doing was making me pee a lot, there was no satisfaction out if it, it was wasting money, it sucked.
I took my skills of fabricating and I built me a little stand and I got me a little stainless kettle and a bucket and a fridge and some temp control and just a little bit at a time. I brewed two batches, extract, and I bottled both batches – and I immediately became tired of the hobby because I didn’t want to bottle anymore. I said, if I’m gonna do this I’m gonna keg and that’s when I met Jason Fuller. He gave me a Williams Brewing magazine and a Northern Brewer magazine and I started buying a couple of kegs and a draft system I built and I had two or three beers on tap and built me a bigger brew system, gravity fed, three tier. I went all grain after my second batch, well third batch technically, but the second I had done on my own, I went all grain. And I’m on system number five now. After ten years of brewing.
What made you want to start a brewery, do it professionally?
It was a combination of things.
I had people come to my house, because in my garage I eventually set up this bar; I had my draft system, I had my ferment fridges, I had three TVs in my garage, it was insulated, it was climate controlled, it was like a bar.
My garage was a bar.
I never once parked my vehicle in the garage. I had people over all the time and they would just drink a beer and we’d watch sports; I had a grill and I’d cook food for people. It just became this thing, like, why don’t you do this, why don’t you start a brewery? I was always told, like, there’s no way you can do it. You’re never gonna make money. Turns out, they were actually very accurate. So, it was just a culmination of that.
And then, with the economy turning south my other business, that I still operate, it’s a demolition landfill, with a lack of construction comes a lack of demolition – which translates into a lack of funds for myself. I lost my house, both vehicles, I ended up living with my kids in my dad’s house, which is very humbling when you’re 28 years old. The only thing I really kept was my brew system and my stuff. And he’s got a big detached garage and so I started brewing there because I couldn’t find a job, I needed to do something. My other business was still operating enough to give me money. So I started brewing again and I put an open sign up out on the highway, it was on Hualapai Mountain Road, and people would just (say), “what’s this?” and they would pull in and it’s, oh, yeah, I make beer, try it out, it’s free, and they would leave tips. And it became this big following and every weekend it was this huge party at the Garage Days, which is what we called it, and I began to see a huge desire for craft beer in Kingman and there was no place to get it other than the few gas stations. There was no place for people to go sit down and have a variety of craft beer. So that’s when I said, you know, if the bank will give me a few dollars, I’m gonna do this. So I went and talked to the bank and I got a few dollars and I did it.
Who else is involved down here, is it just you?
I am the sole owner. Of course, my dad is around and he helps, and I’ve got Karry, and I’ve got a great crew. We all operate as one; no one here is above anyone else. There’s no boss. I mean, we joke; I call Lee “Mr Boss Man” and do the same thing to Karry. But as far as anything goes, we’re all the same. I guess, ultimately, the responsibility comes down on me.
So tell me this story: the Black Bridge name. I know it’s for a local landmark, but why is it signifies for you?
It’s a railroad bridge. If you go down 4th street,here, the second one (bridge) – there’s three – is THE Black Bridge.
In high school we had a few party spots; Black Bridge was the best because it was completely hidden, it was off the beaten path and yet you could get to it in a Honda Civic. You didn’t have to have a truck, like the other three places. So it was the most accessible for everyone to go party and have a good time at and it was completely hidden from the highway to where the the cops couldn’t see the bonfires and all the vehicles and everything. I didn’t know this at the time, but, for generations high school students have been going to Black Bridge. That bridge has been there since, I think, the ’10s or the ‘20s. It was there, you know, when the railroad came through and that’s what created Kingman. That bridge was there.
And then, coming up with a name for this place … “oh, that’s a great name,” I’d Google it – taken! I’d come up with another name, Google it, taken! I went months, looking for a name that wasn’t taken. Then something came up, “hey remember back in the days when we used to go down to Black Bridge.” So I Googled Black Bridge Brewery. There was Draw Bridge Brewery, but no Black Bridge Brewery, so I said that’s it and we got that name. And it made sense because it’s a local party spot, so now I feel like, in essence, I’m bringing a party to downtown in a legitimate business that generations of Kingmanites will recognize the name by and say, “okay, that’s what this is.”
I’ve thought about looking into that, about names and breweries, because I think some of the best ones are tied to something specific in a community.
There’s two trains of thought about that. If you want to start a brewery and someday have a goal of distributing nationally, well, you don’t want a local reference because no one across the state is going to understand that or know what it is. Think of Stone [Brewing]. Well, a stone is a rock and everywhere you go there’s a rock or a stone. So that doesn’t have a significance to one area, which is Escondido. If it was Escondido Brewing it wouldn’t make sense to sell it in Quahog, you know, Maryland. So Black Bridge is – and I’m not saying that my goals aren’t someday to be huge and be everywhere – but it’s very much a local landmark type thing. But I could always just rebrand to something else.
Black Bridge would work; even if went beyond local. It’s got a good cadence to it. Think about Russian River, that’s somewhat localized but people know it.
Russian River is also very, um, well known river as well.
Yeah, but it’s tied to a locale.
That also goes to show if you have lots and lots of money to develop a lot of products and have amazing labeling and marketing you can do anything, anywhere. I mean, there is literally a company that sells (poop) and you buy it and they’ll send it to someone you don’t like and they don’t know who it came from. It’s called poopsenders.com. I kid you not.
End of Part One
Next we’ll talk favorite beers and the singular quality of B3 beers.