Greg Plummer, the co-owner and head brewer of one of Hays County’s newest breweries, knew he’d encounter a number of challenges on the road to opening his beer business, Suds Monkey Brewing. But one he didn’t expect was what he’d name the entire operation.
Finding a name that wasn’t already trademarked in the beverage industry turned out to be a blessing for the former homebrewer, who created what he sees has become one of the biggest strengths of the brewery as a result — a sunglasses-clad, fully-clothed monkey as the memorable face of the brand.
Suds, as he is called, is a gregarious fellow, “a glory-days party guy who drank a bunch of beer in high school,” Plummer said.
“I don’t know if it's always going to be this way, but the beer names reflect different phases of his life,” he said. “So there's Cheeky Monkey from when he was younger and a little smart-ass. Then, there's Funky Monkey from when he went to a concert to see George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars and got a backstage pass and wound up going on tour with them for four months. There's all these little backstories about him.”
Plummer is glad to tell you these stories and introduce you to the beers if you visit the tasting room and brewery, located in a warehouse off Highway 290 just outside of Dripping Springs. At the moment, going on-site is the only way to enjoy the beers, which aren’t available anywhere else just yet.
But Plummer has big plans for his little half-barrel brewery. He’s hoping to have four packs of 16 oz. cans and branded growlers soon, and he’s already working toward an upgrade to a five-barrel brewing system early next year and making the most out of his current brewhouse in the meantime. He wants to do it right — owning a brewery of his own has been his dream for a long time.
“I never expected it was going to take so long, but pretty much since '04 to last year, I was working to save up to do this,” he said.
Well before that, Plummer, 44, attended the American Brewers Guild for certification in brewing science and then worked in the beer industry to gain vital brewing experience, starting at Michigan’s now-shuttered Big Buck Brewery in 1996 and eventually moving on to California behemoth Stone Brewing. Recognizing how much money it takes to open a brewery, however, he left the industry after quitting Stone.
That proved to be a fortuitous move. He wasn’t brewing beer commercially anymore, but he found that friend Steve Gray has made an excellent business partner not only at the company they opened together in the interim, Ultimate Survival Strategies LLC, but also, now, at Suds Monkey Brewing. Gray handles the slightly less fun-sounding but just as important financial side of the beer business: payroll, taxes and licensing.
The beers are all Plummer’s creation — so far, all with the word ‘monkey’ in the name. His personal favorite is the Monkey Tail Pale Ale, a medium-bodied beer that balances a malty backbone with zesty hop character, but it’s not one of the two most popular beers that visitors to the taproom have gravitated toward.
Those are the Funky Monkey IPA and the Cheeky Monkey Summer Session Wheat. Because of how often they’re ordered, Plummer will probably package them first.
“Every group that comes in has someone who hates hops, who just doesn’t care for that kind of flavor, so we made Cheeky Monkey as a summer session wheat for them,” he said. Despite its accessibility, the beer nonetheless “takes some explanation because it's not like Blue Moon or a hefeweizen or anything. It's a summer-day lawnmower beer. Super light. Super easy to drink.”
Still others — like me — prefer the Monkey Wrench Wheat IPA, a lower-in-alcohol version of the Funky Monkey. In that regard, it comes as a slight surprise: Plummer noted that the creamy, crisp session IPA “actually has more hop character than the IPA because of the lighter body,” making the citrus burst of hops more noticeable.
These and the Punk Monkey Porter are available in a free taster flight for newcomers to the brewery. That way, Plummer said, “people can pick what they like the most and get a full pint of that.”
Working behind the taproom bar to help out Plummer is Joel Burka, who has turned his love of beer into various former jobs at other local breweries, including Jester King Brewery and (512) Brewing.
“I have done it all,” Burka said, noting that it was his love of porters that convinced Plummer to introduce the recent addition of Punk Monkey. “The best part about working here is I get to do it all. I’ve been doing some brewing.”
Suds the monkey is, of course, another character you might encounter at the brewery in the form of a life-size cut-out next to which people can take photos. Plummer’s wife Susan helped to design the look of the monkey and also was a major force behind the initial idea of him.
“So we have this gregarious monkey we’ve decided is going to be the mascot, and OK, what's the personality going to be?” Plummer said of the day they spent bowling and brainstorming Suds’ creation. “Susan says, ‘He’ll be like Arthur Fonzarelli from ‘Happy Days’’ and I said ‘Jim Morrison.’ So there's bits of both of those guys in his personality. The leather jacket is Fonzie; the glasses are Jim Morrison.”
During the period when the sitcom “Happy Days” was set, beer was referred to as ‘suds,’ giving them an easy name for the monkey.
Because Suds Monkey Brewing is a brewpub, the taproom can carry more than Suds Monkey beers — offering the nearby Argus Cidery’s Apple Bomb for those who don’t care for beer and local Lala’s Lemonade for kids. There are also games available, including a vintage arcade machine, and tours that you can take of the brewery.
Suds Monkey is open 1032 Canyon Bend Dr. from 3 to 10 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 12 to 6 p.m. Sundays. For more information, visit sudsmonkeybrew.com.