It’s the kind of thing that’s bound to happen in business. Knee Deep Brewing starts small. Two partners with different skill sets come together. The business starts booming. Things change.
And eventually, one of the partners starts thinking: “This is no longer what I want to be doing.”
In this instance, that person is Jeremy Warren, the talented, charismatic brewer who started Knee Deep in his garage and, with a signature style that combined boldness with refinement, created a series of hoppy IPAs that won awards and attracted legions of admirers.
To the surprise of many, Warren announced this week on Facebook that he is leaving the Auburn-based brewery. But he offered few details. So I reached out to him, and when we talked, he said plenty.
Like many of you, I had many questions. With Knee Deep absolutely thriving – it’s in 16 states and counting and it’s about to start selling in Canada – why would Warren walk away from all that success and the potential to make millions? What’s he going to do next? And maybe most important, will that next chapter happen in the Sacramento region?
The answer to that last question is good news: yes. Warren is leaving Knee Deep to start a brewery that will focus on barrel-aged and sour beers, along with the same kind of high-quality hoppy beers he created at Knee Deep.
He was reluctant to say the name of the new venture or reveal the specific location until he officially inks the deal. He did say there will actually be two locations, one for brewing traditional beers and one for barrel-aging and sours. Jerry Moore will become the sole owner of Knee Deep and, yes, he will keep the well-known names and recipes for such terrific beers as Hoptologist, Citra, Simtra, Lupulin River and Breaking Bud.
As business breakups go, this one sounds amicable. Moore has even agreed to sell Warren hops to get the new brewery up and running. If you know the hop market, you’ll understand how crucial that is to making quality brews. The market is very tight, and the best, most expressive hops are bought up years in advance.
Both sides of this divorce face challenges ahead. Warren will have to rebuild a reputation with new, challenging styles, as well as brew the same great IPAs with different (and unknown) names.
Knee Deep will have to take what Warren did with the beer lineup and continue to evolve. The brewery has four full-time brewers, but is there someone there willing to take risks and create new, edgy beers the way Warren did with such regularity? For now, the brewery continues to grow. Moore just signed a lease for 10,000 more square feet in an adjacent building, bringing the operation’s footprint to 28,000 square feet. They’ll also bring in new equipment, including a major installation of a pricey bottling line.
Warren said Knee Deep’s rapid growth led to clashes with Moore over the brewery’s direction.
“When I founded Knee Deep, I had certain visions of things I wanted to accomplish, but I just didn’t have the opportunity to do them,” Warren said. “Without speaking too negatively, I would just have to say business partnerships are like marriages. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. I just wasn’t really happy at Knee Deep anymore and I didn’t want it to tear away at my passion for craft beer.”
Coincidentally, Warren is getting married soon to Brittani Youngker. The couple will honeymoon in Maui.
When he returns, he’ll be very busy. He plans to announce details of the new venture in August. It sounds plenty ambitious. Warren says to expect a combination of The Bruery, The Rare Barrel and Knee Deep. Translation: world-class barrel-aged beers and sours, along with fantastic IPAs that will smack your senses silly with hop flavors, aromas and bitterness. Can he pull it off? I didn’t hear any hesitation or trepidation in his voice.
“You should start expecting to see new beers in the marketplace as early as February 2016,” Warren told me.
But I had to ask: Was it hard to walk away from all that money? He didn’t have to think about his answer.
“I do this because it’s my passion. At the end of the day, it’s a business, but I’m not greedy,” he said. “I could have stayed in this and potentially made millions of dollars. But it’s not solely about the money. If I had the slightest doubt about being successful with the next venture, I wouldn’t do it.”