If craft beer had its entrepreneurial equivalent, it’d be Ed Schatz. He’s as home-brewed as they come, and not just because he and his wife Lisa are opening the region’s first Brass Tap on Monday at Island Walk, bringing some 200 beers—some 70 of them on tap—to the heart of Palm Coast.
Flagler County born and raised (technically, Halifax hospital and Spruce Creek High School), Ed Schatz was schooled in finance and real estate at Florida State (Class of ’93). He learned from his father’s landscape business and opened Austin Outdoor in 1994, named for his son who was born that July. The timing couldn’t have been more ideal. The country just then was emerging from its last real estate recession. In Florida and Flagler especially, it would be boom time for the next decade and a half, including at the crest of the boom two years that saw Flagler leading the nation in population growth. That meant square miles of sod, lawns and landscaping. Austin Outdoor grew to a dozen locations.
Schatz sold the business in 2008, took a couple of years off, played a lot of golf, got stir crazy, then with a friend considered opening a “World of Beers” franchise. Or a few: with Schatz, nothing is small scale. He met with the Tampa-based World of Beer folks in Tampa. It didn’t go too well. “They were leaning toward more of a corporate model,” said Schatz, who has Flagler Beach’s more rustic view of life in his veins. That led him to Brass Tap, also headquartered in Tampa and started in 2008. With them, he hit it off. “They haven’t said no to me yet on anything, and you’ll probably notice that when you see our Brass Tap, it’s not going to look like any other Brass Tap,” Schatz said: localized architecture, design and detail all matter to him. Cutting corners and meeting deadlines for the sake of meeting deadlines is not his thing if it doesn’t get the job done as he sees it: he signed the lease in 2014, when the building was barely a shell.
“There’s an underground network of millennials here who really enjoy craft beers and who really don’t have an upscale place to go.”
So Palm Coast’s Brass Tap opens Monday at 11 a.m. (it’ll be open daily for lunch, closing whenever late into the night). Again it’s that timing with Schatz. “When craft brewers get together, we agree that this is the greatest time in history to be a beer drinker in America,” the founder of the Boston Beer Company Jim Koch wrote in the New York Times five weeks ago. “In 1981, there were only 82 breweries in the United States, and our beer, fizzy and flavorless, was the laughingstock of the beer world. Today, America is home to over 5,300 small, innovative craft breweries making unique, flavorful, creative brews.”
That’s why Brass Tap, that’s why Palm Coast. (Incidentally, none of those fizzy and flavorless beers, otherwise diplomatically called macro-brews, will be on draft at Island Walk.)
And it’s only the beginning. Schatz considers it only the first of nine, all mapped out—if not yet quite down to the exact coordinate—between Jacksonville and Viera, just south of Cocoa Beach. But the Palm Coast location, with General Manager Deborah Hugill at the commands, will always be the flagship: Austin, the former business’ namesake, graduated with a business degree from Florida State and is joining the Palm Coast operation. His sister, Alanna, a senior at the University of Alabama (marketing and advertising), was also recruited for the summer. (“I’m sure she’d like to be on a cruise somewhere or hanging with her friends,” her father says, “but she’s been recruited to the kitchen at Brass Tap along with my two nephews.”)
If Schatz has been an economic engine all his own—he’s the poster child of what banker Garry Lubi, the Flagler Chamber of Commerce’s evangelist of homegrown talent, has been preaching about for a decade—the beer hall and restaurant he’s about to open is no small operation: he’s hired 50 people (“gems” and “guest-experience managers,” he prefers to call them), and 40 will be full time, a sizeable dent in what’s left of the county’s unemployment rolls and the sort of number that should warrant blaring press releases from the county’s or city’s PR halls.
It may matter to Schatz, but clearly what matters primarily to him is creating what until now had been a non-existent experience in Palm Coast.
“There’s an underground network of millennials here who really enjoy craft beers and others like you and like me who really don’t have an upscale place to go,” Schatz said. “So we decided to open a location here in Palm Coast.” Yes, Schatz and his wife looked at Jacksonville and Orlando and passed over a couple of other options. “We said, you know what, this is really going to go over well in Flagler County.”
It’s also part of the reason why he chose craft beer as his next venture as opposed to some other sort of franchise or sushi restaurant.
Which brings us to what matters—what has mattered since bread-makers discovered likely about 6,000 years ago that wheat, barley and hops could have delectable offshoots, what even medieval monks 1,000 years ago crafted into an art as intoxicating as Bach cantatas: beer.
So there they are, amber ales, brown ales, IPAs, pale ales, Belgian style, stouts, pilsners, porters, tripels, wheat ales (but apparently no dunkels), from brewers with a special focus on the local and regional (no Flagler brewers yet, but Volusia is well served), along with Colorado, Illinois, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and of course a few countries on the old continent, with beers’ alcohol content ranging from the child-like 2.5 percent to a shade over 11 percent—ideal for politically irascible times. “A pint starts at $5.50 with hyperlocal options including Persimmon Hollow, Central 28, Wops Hops, Daytona Beach Brewing, Bold City, Ancient City, Ormond Brewing Co, Tomoka Brewery and Odd Elixir,” a company release stated. “The taproom will also offer an extensive pub menu, full bar and wine list.”
The beer bar’s website makes it easy to swim in each beer’s froth and genealogy, making it difficult to surf long without the proximity of a cold one.
Will all that wealth of beers continue? Koch, the author of those words about this being the greatest time for beer in America, is a bit worried: craft breweries’ annual 15 percent growth year after year has fallen to the single digits, and the big breweries have set their eyes on acquisitions, with beer giants consolidating into even bigger giants, pushing beer prices up and slashing the number of wholesalers, on whom craft brewers still depend. If distributors have to choose between carrying an established beer versus a craft, no need to guess what they’ll choose. That’s how favorite labels begin to blink then disappear, as have laws designed to protect smaller wholesalers.
But that’s looking further down the horizon, and possibly much further than necessary at the moment. The only beer horizon to speak of in Palm Coast is Monday, when even families and children can lunch and dine at Brass Tap, at least until 9 p.m., when it’s 21 and up. There’ll be live music all week, and on weekends after that. And there’ll be beer every day and every evening, in keeping with Jack Nicholson’s unparalleled conclusion on the matter: “It’s the best damn drink in the world.”