“We built this with our hands and our sweat and sometimes our blood. And it’s open and making beer people love,” explained Brandon Schulz, Owner of LTS Brewing Company. Founded in 2013 by Schulz and business partner Jeff Werning, the taproom and microbrewery opened its doors in August 2015 as one of the original members of Rochester’s craft brewing community.
Schulz, an avid home brewer and lover of craft beer, enjoyed visiting microbreweries during family trips or business travel, but couldn’t find that same experience in Rochester. At that time, there was only one other craft brewery in Rochester; he saw a lot of room to do something different and to create that sense of community that he experienced at other breweries.
“Life’s too short”- the motto at LTS Brewing- was created during a trip Schulz took with friends through Michigan a few years prior to opening the brewery. They spent that time fishing, drinking, touring breweries, and generally just enjoying life.
“We hadn’t made enough time for adventures like that in the past and concluded life was too short not to make time,” Schulz explained. “Since then, it has been easy to see applications of that slogan everywhere.”
The message applied when the LTS Brewing team had to push forward with the physical buildout of the brewery and with the business development and growth that necessarily followed. It applied again when the head brewer had to step back from that position, requiring Schulz to move into that role, with much help from Werning.
“I guess the point is, this was a dream of mine, and life’s too short to not follow your dreams. You never know what’s coming around the next curve in life,” Schulz said.
Today, LTS Brewing sells a variety of in-house brewed small batch ales and lagers. For the kids- and adults- they brew their own root beer and have several rotating craft soda flavors including cream soda, grape, and strawberry kiwi.
While they don’t serve food in the taproom, LTS Brewing hosts local food trucks and allows customers to bring in their own food to enjoy the brewery experience. The team works to maintain a comfortable, approachable atmosphere in the taproom, where the focus is on the beer.
Like any startup, LTS Brewing has faced several obstacles right from the beginning. In general, alcohol production and sales is a highly-regulated industry.
“Some of our biggest challenges in the buildout had nothing to do with alcohol laws, though,” Schulz said. “They were more related to the nature of commercial building regulations.”
In your own residential home, he explained, you can install your own HVAC system, plumbing, and electrical systems. But in a commercial building, you are required to use licensed contractors. The team had much difficulty in getting bids accepted by contractors in Rochester; a one-off project with an emerging business just wasn’t attractive.
They’ve also faced staffing issues.
“The service industry is challenging, both to hire and keep employees. And even when you find really good ones, many of them ultimately don’t stick around,” Schulz explained.
The LTS Brewing team- Schulz, Werning, and Tap Room Manager Carissa Darcy- have kept the doors open and Rochester filled with their craft beer for two years. Schulz himself works at LTS Brewing full time and at Western Digital as a software architect- also full time- after originally moving to Rochester in 2001 to work at IBM.
Prior to opening LTS Brewing, he worked on software by day and brewed beers in his garage at night for twelve years. He said Werning had more of the business development experience and “with his guidance the entire team at LTS has been a big part of growing the business.”
Schulz said he has no plans to leave his software job anytime soon; LTS Brewing is still growing and remains labor and capital intense.
The brewery continues to build their customer base largely by word of mouth. But they’ve also successfully engaged and attracted customers though Facebook marketing. They host themed “Trivia Tuesdays,” food truck events, and small batch releases, which they market and push through the social media platform to engage their customer base.
Schulz says the brewery plans to continue forward with “responsible growth.” This includes expanding brewing capacity to at least 2,500 barrels a year within the next two years, which would dramatically increase their distribution. He also aims to brew more high-end beers in large-format bottles while “continuing to flex our brewing muscles” on the more “approachable” beers.
Schulz also hopes to expand and engage the community around LTS Brewing with several different types of events. The biggest of these new gatherings was the recent Kegs & Barrels Festival, a collaboration between LTS Brewing, Kinney Creek, Grand Rounds, and Four Daughters Winery to celebrate locally crafted drinks, food, and community.