Pontoon Brewing, promising to bring the “pontoon lifestyle” with plenty of beer to Sandy Springs, plans to open in early November. CEO Sean O’Keefe said he along with COO Marcus Powers and Brewmaster Cole Brown are busy finishing up the final touches on their brewery at 8601 Dunwoody Place. The friends all went to the University of Florida together where they learned to appreciate beer — so much so, they started making their own. Check out more about the brewery at pontoonbrewing.com.
Q: How did you all meet and then decide making beer would be a great career choice?
A: Marcus and myself [and two friends who are now silent partners] all went to college together. When [the now silent partners] both got jobs in Atlanta, they started brewing as a hobby. I had worked at a brewery during the summers in North Carolina and subsequently, Marcus and I started homebrewing. Once the four of us reunited in Atlanta, we started brewing together and came up with Pontoon! All of us are involved and have helped make Pontoon what it is today.
Q: What was the first beer you made? Did it taste great?
A: The first beer made was Southern Skipper White IPA! It came out wonderful! [It took a] couple brews to get it dialed in, but from the start, we knew we had something great. No Pants Pilsner came right after.
Q: How come the name is Pontoon Brewing? And why is the otter your mascot?
A: Pontoon really sells the Pontoon lifestyle — a slow-moving party platform that doesn’t need to be flashy or move quickly to have fun. We came up with Pontoon because no one buys a pontoon boat to show off or go fast, they do it to have a great time, have a nice cold beer and enjoy where they are at that point in time. Same reason the otter is our mascot. You never see otters working. They even play with their food!
Q: Why locate in Sandy Springs?
A: We looked at over 40 buildings in areas as far as Carrollton, Acworth, Smyrna, the West End BeltLine, all the way to Sandy Springs. We finally found the location we are in today because of the great proximity to the Chattahoochee [River], the amount of traffic and businesses in Sandy Springs and the welcoming city. We thought Sandy Springs was a great location.
Q: What is the secret to making a good beer that no one seems to know?
A: The secret to making good beer is proper cleaning and taking good notes! Oftentimes, the reason a beer comes out bad is due to infection from oxygen exposure or bacteria that can spoil a great brew. Proper cleaning of all equipment is key. Also, keeping good notes to know what you did right and what you didn’t do right! Educating yourself on new hops, fun yeast strains and new techniques are all good ways to make good beer.
Q: How do you come up with the names of your beers — for example, No Pants Pilsner?
A: We actually have a pretty fun text group for coming up with names! Sometimes after having a few Pontoon brews! It’s a good mix of all of us that come up with the names.
Q: How do you decide on flavors that go into your beers? Is it trial and error or is there a formula you all follow?
A: A lot of the beers we try to make are food inspired. For example, we made a Pecan Pie nut brown ale that is savory and perfect during the holidays! We also made a sour beer with cranberries, tangerines and fall spices. We take a traditional style of beer, really nail down the recipe and try fun varieties! Sometimes it doesn’t turn out like we like, but we brew as many times as it takes before we sell them.
Q: Making beer seems like a dream job for people who love beer. Is that true? Any challenges to brewing?
A: We think it’s the dream job! We started Pontoon because we love beer and love the industry. The industry is very unique and is very collaborative. For anyone considering opening their own brewery, I would say build a good team, brew for a few years and make it happen! There are some big challenges. Capital is needed. It’s hard to start a brewery without money. There is also a lot of red tape and things that pop up. All of these things make it tough for little guys to come in but it does happen and it makes it all the more exciting.
Q: What can people expect when they come to the Pontoon brewery?
A: A big taproom with ample seating, and outdoor area, good selections of beer in all shapes and sizes, games, TVs and a great atmosphere. Beer is made on site so tours will be available, as well as take-home beers. Pontoon will be hosting many events like corporate events, weddings, fundraisers and weekly events. We will also be doing tours that will take people with beer in hand to the Chattahoochee to drop in, get picked up and brought back to the brewery. Food trucks, seasonal parties and beer releases! All sorts of fun stuff!
Q: Do you each have a favorite beer? Which ones and why?
A: We are very diversified when it comes to favorite beer styles. Cole likes his German styles, a good mild and IPAs. As our brewmaster, BJCP [beer judge certification program] judge and level 2 Cicerone [beer certification program], he can appreciate all styles, though! Marcus likes saisons, Kolschs and IPAs. You can always find at least two of those in his fridge. My favorites are stouts, browns, Scotch ales and saisons. It could be 100 degrees outside and I could be sipping a rich, chocolatey stout.
Q: What does the future hold for Pontoon?
A: We are planning to open in the first two weeks of November! We will have a big grand opening with bands, a live otter [from North Georgia’s Zoo to You] and great beer! Pontoon will likely open a second location that focuses on production to get into future states like Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and other southern states. We are so excited to open the brewery! It’s been a lot of work but we’ve had tremendous support from a lot of companies and individuals. We can’t wait for our fans to help experience the Pontoon lifestyle as well!