ALBANY — The established titans of industry have been compared to sharks, mostly for their cold-blooded and heartless approach to business. Also, though, the business owners who manage to keep their companies viable in a world that has been turned upside down are those that, like sharks, never stop moving.
Vascular surgeon Dr. Tripp Morgan may not place himself in the “titans of industry” category, but as a businessman and developer, he’s never been one to sit idly by as the world changed around him. Morgan’s successful surgery center has paved the way for a number of investments: a medical spa business, an organic farming operation on land in three southwest Georgia counties, the popular downtown Albany Pretoria Fields Brewery — which was converted into, essentially, a hand sanitizer production plant in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic — and a hemp production and processing facility.
In the coming weeks, Morgan will be able to add another couple of projects to his ever-expanding portfolio. Construction has begun on a second brewing facility and taproom on land the Pretoria Fields Collective owns in southwest Albany, and the downtown brewery has ordered a 1,000-gallon still that will allow the brewers there to make, initially, gin and vodka, and eventually light and dark rums and perhaps even whiskey.
“We’re trying some new things, things that fit with what we’re doing as a collective,” Morgan said. “We’re constantly looking at market research to see what trends might be viable for us, and what might add positively to our community.
“Both of these new ventures open us up to potential new audiences, perhaps to people who have not yet interacted with our current facilities.”
The new tap room and brewing site off Walker-Ducker Road on land adjacent to Pretoria Fields’ farming operations also provides a venue for outdoors and agritourism activities.
“We see it as a place for events, a place outside the city where people can seek entertainment,” Morgan said. “We’ll have a stage for musical entertainment and a smaller tap room where people can enjoy a beverage and socialize.”
The future site will host its second gathering, the first since Morgan announced plans to create a new venue for outdoor entertainment, on Oct. 24 when it hosts “Pints and Pumpkins.” The family-themed event will feature pumpkins for children — and the young at heart — to paint or carve, games for children, the Foodie Pops popsicle food truck, Booch and Mia’s food truck — which features more traditional fare — and Pretoria Fields beers, including two brewed especially for the gathering: a s’mores stout and a pumpkin saison.
“There will be no cost for entry; of course, tickets for beer will be available, and organic honey and blueberries grown by Pretoria Fields will be for sale,” Michael Custer, the collective’s attorney, said. “It’s a family-oriented event with something for everyone.”
Meanwhile, the brew crew at the downtown brewery are anxiously awaiting arrival of the 1,000-gallon still that is being made to specifications to fit in the space at the brewery.
“That still’s massive,” Pretoria Fields Brewmaster Dee Moore said. “It’s as big as the brew-house equipment, designed to fit in with our space. Now, while beer is fermenting — which is a seven- to 10-day process — we’ll be able to make ‘mash’ for whiskey in a couple of days. We’ll use grains — rye, wheat, oats, barley — that’s grown on our farmland and turn it into natural — you can call it green — specialty vodka. And we’ll use botanicals — locally grown fruits, flowers and spices — to make flavored gin.”
Like Morgan, Moore has a constant eye on trends in the spirits industry.
“People’s tastes constantly change,” the brewmaster said. “Look at seltzers: Five years ago that was a drink that didn’t exist on the U.S. market. Now, it makes up 11% of the volume of all beer sold. The drink market is changing abruptly in our country. Sodas are on the way out; people are looking for gluten-free, lower calorie, what they perceive as healthier drinks. The market for wine and spirits is growing at twice the rate of beers, even craft beers.
“We believe there is a market for distilled spirits at our facilities. We’ll be able to sell by the drink and in 750-milliliter bottles that are filled precisely to that level.”
Moore, who would make an excellent lecturer on the process of beer-making, said the brewers, headed by head distiller Curtis Newcomb — who has “professional experience” in the process — will make the mash that is converted into spirits by combining hot water with the grains, which converts to sugar. The sugar is fermented by yeast to become “distillers beer.” That product is heated and carbon-filtered for 24 hours, creating a pure vodka.
The distillers can add other elements — fruits, flowers, spices — to make gin and rum.
“Pretoria Fields will be unique in that it will be — I believe — the only distillery in the state of Georgia distilled from grain that we grew,” Moore said. “Selling spirits by the drink, I believe, will enhance what we do at the brewery. We’ll create our own ‘expression’ is the term used in the industry. Our vodka will be 40% alcohol, 80 proof. We’re not going to make moonshine.”
The Pretoria Fields distillery also will be the only production distillery in the state outside Atlanta.
Pretoria Fields — and Tripp Morgan — obviously have no plans to rest on their laurels, either perceived or real.
“We’ll always be looking to see if there’s something else out there,” Morgan said. “That’s the way we do things.”