Meet Doug Constantiner and Travis Smith, the masterminds behind Societe Brewing Co. Besides being very passionate about brewing and beer in general, these guys could easily be your new best friends, with their genuine personalities and exceptional beer.
Smith started his professional brewing career at Russian River Brewing Co., home of Pliny the Elder, the elusive Pliny the Younger, Blind Pig, and so many more amazing brews. Needless to say, he knows his stuff. There, Smith worked as an apprentice and soon after was promoted to full-time brewer. Constantiner’s career path was a little different, starting out in the real world as an investment banker in New York. Once he realized that he wanted to make brewing and beer his life and career, he moved to San Diego and started working at Pizza Port, Oggi’s and eventually The Bruery.
There, the two met and the rest is already history.
How did you get into brewing?
Doug: I was a beer drinker before anything else… a beer nerd, actually. I even collected bottles and one day thought, Why not try making it? Brewing isn’t just a hobby; this is serious stuff. I’m doing this to get somewhere. I need to learn something new everyday, not just make an okay brown ale and be done.
Travis: I think it was a hobby at first but wanted to do it for a living.
Doug: I had never met someone who loves beer and thinks about beer the same way I do and that’s why Travis and I wanted to work together. We believe that beer is an incredibly pure product that has to be respected. We’re not about throwing random ingredients around just to try it out. At the end of the day, the beer should be beer.
What are some obstacles you faced when opening your brewery/tasting room?
Doug: Turning the brewery into a reality. I kept having the “it starts tomorrow” mindset. I struggled with this for a while. I wanted to start a brewery, but when do you do it? Raising the money is never easy but since both of us were brewers in the past we knew we had a good idea of what we were doing. We built a big buffer into the budget but still, there are so many things that you don’t expect financially that destroy you. But the hardest part was getting in the mindset and saying, “Okay, let’s just do it now.”
Travis, you’re from Santa Rosa and Douglas, from Houston. Did our incredible city of San Diego influence your choice to start your brewery here? We have some damn good brewers.
Doug: The decision to come down to San Diego was beer. We made a point to go to Alesmith, Stone and Ballast and introduce ourselves, just to say, “Hi, we’re new, this is your town.” We know these brewers and others paved the way and we never wanted to come and just merely reap the benefits. We’re serious about brewing and beer and we plan on doing our best. Pat from Green Flash gave us their blessing: “Thanks for coming around, just make sure you make good beer.” But the decision was purely based on San Diego. The brewers and the people here, everyone loves beer, so we picked the best beer city.
How has business been these first few months of operation?
Doug: Non-stop. Business is very good. We can’t make enough beer. We’re already out of kegs. We’re in a happy place where we’re supplying all of the bars and restaurants we like with our beer and selling the stuff we make instead of sitting on beer that we’ve made. The fact that our beer is selling at O’Briens like wild fire is all of the confidence we need to know that our beer is good. We don’t check Beer Advocate, but the fact that legitimate and great places go through our beer is all we need to know. And Lee Chase of Blind Lady and Tiger! Tiger!… if he likes it, we’re doing okay.
What is most important to you when crafting a brew?
Doug: Care and TLC. Ingredients are important but the process is most important, even more than the recipe. The focus has to be on the care and handling the beer. Short cuts aren’t an option. We will never compromise our beer to get more sales. Speeding up the time of the brew… never. At the end of the day, quality is everything.
When will you consider your business a success?
Doug: Never. I will always be looking to make the beer better. The market that matters to us the most is the local market and that should be fed first. One of the main things Travis taught me early on is that medals don’t matter. Don’t live life trying to get medals; care about the beer.
What do brewers like you drink (besides your own brews, of course)?
Doug: Stone Imperial Russian style, Bruery Hottenroth, Russian River Temptation.
Travis: Temptation is fantastic but my all time favorite is from Drie Fonteinen (the beer is Oude Geuze). There are lots of different ways to describe it but it’s sour. Some describe it as gym socks, horse blanket, barnyard, wet dog in a phone booth… the list goes on. But it’s fantastic.
What is your stance on hyped up beers like Pliny the Younger? I dig it… but I think it’s kind of ridiculous how crazy people get over it. But I’m no pro. Do you think it’s all it’s cracked up to be?
Doug: Pliny the Younger was never intended to be super hyped. They would announce it and it was the fans that turned it into a beer that popular. Other beers don’t do it on purpose but they will hype the release, make a party, this is a release date, and it creates a release date. Very rarely is a beer turned into a Pliny the Younger type beer. Russian River just wanted people to enjoy the beer (Pliny the Younger) and see how much hops they could put in it. I don’t agree with hyping things up. We will never write up extravagant things about beer; we’ll just release it and say, “by the way our new IPA is on tap.”
Do you hope to distribute your beer all around the U.S.A. and beyond?
Doug: Not at all. We want to be able to provide all beer here [in San Diego]; we don’t want to run out. We want people to come here to drink the beer. We like the idea of selling beer out of the tasting room and tasting it in the tasting room. If we do expand, it will be extremely limited in other states and other parts of the country. We have the huge tasting room [here at the brewery] for a reason. It’s nice to have the beer on site.
When is your tasting room open and how many beers do you have on tap?
Doug: We’re open five days a week and starting in July, we’ll be open seven days a week. Flights and pours are 10 to 12 oz and we can do 4 oz. tasters. Currently we have eight beers on tap but we hope to have 16 in the next year. Our goal for quarter one in 2013 is sours.
What can we look forward to from Societe Brewing Co.?
If the beer isn’t drinkable, it ain’t worth sh!t. It needs to be something that you can enjoy and look forward to drinking; something that you crave. Douglas Constantiner, Societe Brewing Co.
Note: Parts of this interview appear in different form on Urban Dish columnist Allie Safran’s own blog, Beauty & the Feast.