If you’ve attended a craft beer event in Memphis in the last decade, chances are you’ve crossed paths with Bryan Berretta.
For years, Berretta has been serving home-brewed beers at craft beer and fundraising events with his longtime friend Heather Reed under the Memphis Filling Station moniker, winning many accolades in the process. This week, in fact, he’ll be serving his beers on Wednesday, June 21, at The Longest Day & Old Dominick Bottle Release Event, benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association.
A decade ago, Berretta and Reed planned to open a pub and growler station. That never came to fruition, but Berretta came to the realization that he really wanted to brew and serve his own creations, not sell other people’s beers.
So Memphis Filling Station became MFS Brewing.
Berretta and Reed re-worked their business plans, expanded the team, and started looking for investors.
The dream is getting closer to reality, as the MFS team has, for months, been scouting for possible locations for a brewery, with a focus on the Midtown and Downtown areas.
Berretta won’t divulge many details yet, but he talked about his vision for MFS Brewing, the team behind the effort, and how he started on the road to opening a brewery in this Q&A with Mike from Memphis Beer Blog.
Memphis Beer Blog: When did you start homebrewing, and what drew you to the hobby?
Berretta: I started homebrewing in college as a means to an end. I picked up brewing again years later. And in October of 2014, after (my friend) Jesse’s father-in-law, Larry, passed, Jesse and I decided to brew a beer in Larry’s honor. Larry had been a machinist, and his work had to be within the most minute of measurements, everything “within tolerances.” When Jesse and I brewed that first beer together, we hit every target spot on — gravity, volume, mash temp, you name it. We named it in honor of Larry: Within Tolerances. This is the same milk stout we continue to brew and which has brought us numerous people’s choice awards and accolades.
Memphis Beer Blog: What made you want to take the leap to opening your own brewery?
Berretta: In October of 2013, Heather Reed and I had planned to open a pub with a growler station. We became more involved in local events during 2014, and in 2015 we sponsored the glasses for The Science of Beer at MoSH (then the Pink Palace). I was approached by Joe Barnes who headed up the Brew Movement for MS, who asked if we would bring our beer to the event that was six weeks later. I had four different beers – Within Tolerances (coffee milk stout), Left Handed Screwdriver (citrus wheat), Bent Wrench (American brown ale with rosemary), and Pear-Berry Cider (pear and blackberry cider).
No one outside my immediate friends had ever had my beer, and I was terrified to share it at an event. Heather and my wife, Melissa, convinced me to bring the beers, so we poured through 20 gallons of homebrew, one bottle at a time.
From that point on, we would show up at event after event with our beer. Job and life changes put a delay on everything, but we kept showing up and helping at fundraisers by pouring beer, including winning “Best Brewery” at the Science of Beer multiple times over the years.
On a family trip to Chicago in July 2017, as we were getting on the interstate to drive home, Heather asked, “Why are we building a pub to pour other people’s beer when what you want to do is brew your own beer?” That led to a detour through multiple small breweries and a complete rebuilding of the business plan.
As close as we were to opening in February of 2020, shelter-in-place gave us time to focus on what’s important — family, and friends who are family, and the community we’ve been such a small part of for years. So, we rethought what MFS could be, brought on Blake Marcum, Scott Kley-Contini, and Jesse Lara to the MFS family, and dove into building out a unique brewery experience for Memphis.
Memphis Beer Blog: What is your vision for MFS Brewing, and what will make it unique in the Memphis market?
Berretta: To say that MFS Brewing will focus on quality beers would not distinguish us from other breweries — after all, Memphis has some great breweries and amazing brewers.
We bring a diverse experience and a small-batch model that will set us apart.
There is a level of creativity that people have come to expect from MFS, from our Roadside Fruitstand Peach Cobbler a la mode Milkshake IPA, to a stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth Re-Spec’d Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jelly Pastry Stout, while at the same time providing regulars like the Left Handed Screwdriver Citrus Wheat, the Tri-5 Pils, and our Within Tolerances Milk Stout.
We plan to be the foundation for a community and a place where collaboration is key to everyone’s success. For example, we worked with JBrooks Coffee Roasters to develop a custom blend of coffee (the MFS Brewer’s Roast) that had just the right flavors we were looking for to pair with our beer.
We look forward to continuing that spirit of collaboration with other local businesses to continue our focus on the community that has helped us to get where we are today.
Memphis Beer Blog: What can you tell me about the team behind MFS Brewing?
Berretta: There are five of us behind MFS:
- Bryan Berretta (Head Brewer) – 25 year veteran educator and life-long Memphian. Graduating from Christian Brothers High School in the early 90s and returning to teach Religion and Ethics before establishing a career in educational technology. I live in Memphis with my wife of 26 years, two daughters, and close friends. I grew up in body shops with my dad and, after getting married, worked as a mechanic to help support my wife and I as we finished college. The foundation for MFS comes from that history and how I experienced Memphis — hard work, oval patches, and a pride in what you produce.
- Heather Reed (Finance and Operations) – Heather and I have been friends for 30 years, meeting in our freshman English class at the University of Tennessee. Heather brings a business mind to MFS and is the grounding that rest of us idealists need. She earned her MBA from the University of Memphis and has lived in Memphis for over 15 years. Heather was the original other half of MFS and I credit her with keeping us on a path for success and keeping us focused on what is important: bringing a great brewery to Memphis.
- Scott Kley-Contini (Brewer and Sales) – Avid homebrewer in Santa Cruz, San Diego, and San Francisco for 25 years. Scott has worked as a sales rep for Speakeasy Ales & Lagers in the Bay area and as a brewing intern and lab tech for Gordon Biersch Brewing, where he began plans to open his own brewery. I met Scott through our work in educational technology in 2010 at a local conference and shared many beers and discussions at the downtown Flying Saucer. Scott’s career took him from California to Washington D.C., and when an opportunity to move to Memphis came up, he leapt at it. Common vision for what makes a quality beer and brewery experience has helped to grow our brewing portfolio and the vision for what MFS can be for the Memphis community.
- Blake Marcum (Customer Experience, Social Media, and Project Management) – Native-Memphian Blake Marcum has supported the Memphis beer scene since the time when Boscos was the only local beer option. An avid beer lover, Blake was approached to write about the Memphis beer scene by both Memphis Craft Beer (now shut down) and the I Love Memphis blog, highlighting the things he liked about beers in the 901. Having enjoyed brewery taprooms across the country, Blake focuses on the customer experience the brewery and taproom bring and the importance of customer feedback. He believes that through paying attention to honest feedback and data, you can find the perfect beer experience, and wants to bring that to Memphis. Blake and I met over beers nearly a decade ago. I was pouring the beer, and he was drinking it.
- Jesse Lara (Taproom Program and Strategy) – Jesse and I have been friends for over 15 years — our kids probably don’t remember a time the other wasn’t around. He’s the father of four amazing kids and been married for 26 years. Even though we’re from opposite ends of the country, we became friends at an educational technology conference in Vegas at a bowling alley at 2 a.m. over a bucket of cheap beer. Jesse brings a unique approach to the brewery experience, having visited over 200 breweries and been involved in dozens of memberships over the years. He has been a homebrewer for 15 years with a taste for anything with coffee, big barrels, and clean West Coast IPAs.
Memphis Beer Blog: Finally, how close are you to opening your brewery?
Berretta: Normally, I’m not a superstitious person (unless we’re talking sports, then I all of a sudden wear the same jersey for the entire college football season, lest I bring bad luck to a team I never had a chance to play for). But, I am going to have to hold this one close to the chest. We are close, hoping to close in on our space soon.