From the time she was a teenager, Ellen Joyner dreamed of one day owning her own business.
By the time she was in her 20s, that dream turned into a goal.
Now, thanks to a collaboration with two good friends, the goal has become a reality.
Joyner, Michelle Miniutti and Jackie Hudspeth are the founders and owners of Bombshell Beer Company, a craft brewery slated to open in Holly Springs in mid-summer.
It was the love of good craft beer that helped forge a strong friendship among the Holly Springs women and it that same passion that has led to their business venture.
“I can remember in my 20s people asking me my career aspiration and I would always say, ‘I want to own my own business,’” said Joyner, a Virginia native who grew up in Cary. “They would ask me what it’s going to be and I would say, ‘I don’t know. When I find my passion I will know what it’s going to be.’ My passion is craft beer.”
“It really all started with beer,” said Hudspeth. “One thing just led to another and it has taken us to this next level.”
Joyner began homebrewing more than eight years ago after visiting another Holly Springs brewery, Carolina Brewing Company.
It was after taking a couple of tours at Carolina Brewing and sampling their “tasty liquids” that Joyner became inspired to start brewing her own beer at home.
“Honestly, it was Carolina Brewing’s pale ale that I started drinking a lot of and I really began appreciating craft beer,” said Joyner. “I was never a huge fan of the big domestic beers; they just don’t have any flavor. So, once I started sampling (Carolina Brewing’s) beer I began to realize that there were just so many craft beers out there that were really good.”
Miniutti was well acquainted with craft beer by the time she relocated to North Carolina about 10 years ago. Microbreweries were well established in her native state of Maine as far back as the 1980s and Miniutti had developed a taste for good beer.
Soon, Miniutti started to brew beers with Joyner and the two became well known in their Sunset Ridge neighborhood for their delicious beverages.
In fact, that is how Hudspeth became friendly with them.
“I didn’t get interested craft brewing until Carolina Brewing opened up,” said Hudspeth. “Then I heard these girls were brewing beer and I started hanging out with them and tasting their beer.”
About two years ago, Joyner and Miniutti became serious about starting their own brewery and they asked Hudspeth to join them.
“Ellen and I have been friends for a long time and we’ve always been business-minded women and always had a professional career,” said Miniutti. “We always enjoyed gathering together with friends over beer. Ellen had been a homebrewer for quite some time, the craft industry was taking off and we said why don’t we open our own craft brewery?”
All three bring much need talents to the business. Joyner has a background in marketing and business management, Miniutti has years of experience in sales management while Hudspeth is the ultimate organizer, as evidenced by her years of serving as the Sunset Ridge Homeowners Association president and raising large sums of money for the Holly Springs High School Booster Club.
“Everybody brings a little something different to the table,” said Hudspeth.
The trio began taking their beers to different neighborhood gatherings and conducting blind taste tests. The positive results offered plenty of encouragement.
“Not only did we get good feedback but we beat some of the leading brands,” said Miniutti. “We got more and more confident that we could move forward with our brewing business.”
Although they loved brewing their own beer, they had decided from the very beginning to hire a head brewer for their business.
“Michelle and I, being more business-minded, that is really what we enjoy and what makes us tick,” said Joyner. “I wanted to run a business since I was a teenager. Even though Michelle and I brewed beer and got good feedback it wasn’t our core strength. We needed somebody to be the head brewer. The head brewer is like a chef and knows how to make certain things happen.”
A chance encounter on a brewery tour at Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh led to the hiring of award-winning brewer Stephen O’Neill.
“Michelle was traveling and was at the Church Brew Works and he was working,” said Joyner. “They started talking and he gave her a personal tour. She told him about our brewery and asked him if he would be interested in consulting. He eventually agreed to work at the brewery.”
Not just for men
The three friends clearly realize they are a rarity in the man-dominated craft brewing industry. But they are also well aware that times are changing and women are becoming much more interested in drinking and brewing good beer.
“If you look statistically right now, the largest growing segment of beer craft drinkers is women,” said Joyner.
“(Owning a craft brewery) is not just for men with heavy beards any more,” said Miniutti with a laugh.
“I think that was another motivating reason to go into business,” said Hudspeth. “Why can’t three women go into the craft beer business?”
While Bombshell Beer Company will offer plenty of beers for men, it also will strive to maintain a connection with women.
Big IPAs and dark porters will be available but so will some lighter pilsners and wheat beers that generally attract women drinkers.
“I think more and more women are definitely appreciating quality beers and they’re not afraid to try them,” said Hudspeth. “We are trying to appeal to those women beer drinkers. We will have maybe a little bit lighter beer, a beer that is not quite so hoppy. Certainly, we will have all those beers but why not try to tap into the smaller percentage that we can convert into craft beer drinkers?”
“We are trying to capture the overall craft beer market,” said Miniutti. “But because we are women-owned we may have a better understanding of what is important to women craft beer drinkers.”
Quality and consistency
When Bombshell opens its doors this summer it will offer year-round selections of a pilsner, pale ale, IPA and porter. A summer seasonal, lemon grass wheat pale ale, will also be offered along with a special black IPA.
The brewery also has a pilot system that will allow for the creation of small batches of specialty beers that will only be available at the tap room.
The majority of the beers will probably remain unnamed, much like Carolina Brewing’s beers.
“Carolina keeps it very simple,” said Miniutti. “They have Carolina Pale Ale and Carolina Nut Brown Ale. As marketers and branders, I think the important thing is that people understand the style of beer. I think it is important to state the style of the beer first and foremost.”
Whatever they decide to call their brews, Bombshell is determined to keep their quality and consistency standards high.
“From a quality perspective, we are establishing a lab to analyze the quality and consistency of our beer,” said Joyner. “Some of the newer breweries coming up don’t put as much emphasis on consistency and quality.
“We are also working with a brew master that has 10 years of successful commercial expertise. He’s had award-winning recipes and he is highly skilled about making beers consistent to style and understands the importance of quality manufacturing, process and control.”
Bombshell Beer Company will have a tasting room open to the general public on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Brewery tours, pints and growlers-to-go will be available.
The tasting room will be available for private events Monday through Wednesday.
“We feel our business will help bring more people to Holly Springs and see what our community is all about,” said Miniutti. “They can come here and have a beer or two and go eat at one of the local restaurants. That keeps money in our community and keeps people working in our community.”
There has even been some discussion of a trolley tour that would visit all three Holly Springs breweries (Nano Brewery is scheduled to open soon as well).
As traditionally is the case with microbreweries, the cooperation among the Holly Springs brewers has been great.
The goal isn’t to take business away from each other. Rather, it is to educate beer drinkers about quality beer and turn them away from the massive domestic breweries.
“We all want to help each other grow that piece of the pie,” said Hudspeth. “We don’t want to shut any little microbrewery down. We want as many microbreweries to succeed as possible. It’s all about taking market share away from the big guys.”
For more information and updates, visit www.bombshellbeer.com.