Psycho Brew is currently working with Cedar Springs Brewing Co. to make and install a 15-barrel brew system. Photo by Pat Evans
Chris Breimayer just wanted to pay for his homebrew supplies when he started his business, Psycho Brew, a brewing system manufacturer.
Since its first year of operation in 2010, Breimayer has grown the company from $30,000 to a multi-million dollar operation shipping systems across the globe.
He and a team of employees, including partner and brother Pat Breimayer, have built it all without taking on debt.
Breimayer’s interest in brewing beer began in the 1990s when he first tried his hand at homebrewing. It didn’t go so well, so he stopped, but then picked it up again roughly 10 years ago. Then, in 2009, he built a homebrew setup, which he still uses in the garage of Rockford Brewing Co. co-owner Seth Rivard.
“That’s how I got started. I put it online, and someone saw it and asked if I could build a bigger one for them,” Breimayer said. “It’s basically a giant homebrew setup that got bigger and bigger and bigger and kept evolving.”
Once prospective brewery owners had their new systems in hand, they needed fermentation tanks. So Breimayer began selling Chinese tanks, but he quickly learned the quality wasn’t up to par. Now, the tanks he sells are made in Michigan and are labeled “Made in Michigan” or “Made in America.”
Psycho Brew started in a carport and then moved to his father-in-law’s pole barn in Greenville. Before long the business outgrew the pole barn and Breimayer rented a building in Greenville, which it also outgrew. It then moved into its current building in Greenville, which it rents.
Breimayer said the company is looking at building a new facility for storage, possibly by the end of the year.
“We’re getting into bigger stuff. I want to inventory supplies, sell parts and stock tanks,” he said. “It’s hard to keep up right now — if I get a tank, it’s gone.”
With a new brewery opening up in the nation nearly every 12 hours, according to the Brewers Association, business at Psycho Brew isn’t likely to slow down. It surpassed its revenue totals of 2014 in July, and has sold approximately 40 brew systems and 200 tanks this year.
The tanks are put together at Belding’s Digital Fab, where Breimayer took his business several years ago when the shop was slow.
“They do an awesome job with the tanks and are a huge part of the success,” Breimayer said.
The tanks are then taken to the shop in Greenville where the pieces are fabricated and readied for shipping.
Breimayer has shipped the systems and tanks across the globe, from Country Boy Brewing Co. in Lexington, Kentucky, and Pipeworks Brewing Co. in Chicago, to breweries in the Dominican Republic, Curacao and Poland.
Many startup breweries make the decision to start with a smaller brew system than those made by companies such as Lake Orion’s Craftwerk Brewing Systems and Portland, Oregon’s, JV Northwest.
“There’s not many competitors,” Breimayer said. “People get sticker shock and say they can’t afford $250,000 for a brew system so they downscale, and once they grow, they use ours as a pilot system.”
Until recently, Psycho Brew had sold very few of its products in state. Now it’s provided 10 Michigan breweries with tanks, with the biggest project in the works for a brewery in Cedar Springs.
Most of Psycho Brew’s systems are between two and four barrels and range from $13,000 to $21,000. A barrel is approximately 31 gallons. Most startup breweries begin with two or three fermenters, but some start with up to 10, which start at $2,600 each.
“We wanted to do something different,” Breimayer said. “I was out at Rockford Brewing and (Cedar Springs Brewing owner) Dave Ringler was there and said he was interested.”
Ringler chatted with the Breimayer brothers a few times and decided he wanted to work as locally as possible. Together, the trio came up with a design for a system using a CAD program. The system will help save on the costs of the off-the-rack brewing equipment Ringler was considering and will fit his needs for making the specialized beer styles he wants.
Despite never having built a larger commercial brewery, Ringler said Psycho Brew’s hesitation was minimal, and the opportunity to help showcase a local business won out.
“We were willing to be the guinea pig for them and allow them to show off our system locally,” he said. “In exchange, we know they’re close by to address any modifications or issues that we may have once we get things installed.”
Cedar Springs Brewing is nearing completion, Ringler said, with hopes to open this fall. The Psycho Brew brew system should be delivered within the week, and several fermenters also are in place. He said the brewery hopes to have an initial capacity of approximately 1,500 barrels.
Despite the venture into larger systems, Breimayer said he doesn’t expect to do many of them and will continue to focus on “nano” brew systems and tanks. He said he directs most Michigan breweries looking for larger systems to Craftwerk in Lake Orion and others to Portland’s Practical Fusion.
Psycho Brew will continue to scale the business by carrying more inventories on fermenters, fittings and other equipment, Breimayer said. Currently, the company has six employees on payroll and indirectly employs another half-dozen at area businesses.
Breimayer worked at Greenville Tool and Die 15 years before pursuing a freelance architecture design career approximately 15 years ago, which lasted until this January when Psycho Brew became his full-time gig.
For the first three years, however, the Breimayer brothers didn’t draw paychecks, choosing instead to keep the money in the business.
“We just put the money back and kept evolving it,” he said. “Now we have the capital to do what we need without feeling like we’re struggling.”
He said several potential investors have approached him, but he has no desire to take on debt.
“We’re trying to grow at a modest rate, without growing too big or too fast,” Breimayer said. “We’re happy with the great growth pattern we’ve experienced, but it’s scary.”