Greenville, SC, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. It continually makes lists as a great place to live and work. The cost of living is lower compared to other cities, the downtown area is packed with top restaurants and bars, and colleges like Clemson and Furman University bring in students, entrepreneurs, and restauranteurs in droves.
As the city expands, it has become a popular destination for craft breweries to open. The area is home to a few spots like Yee-Haw Brewing, Eighth State Brewing, and the Velo Fellow. There is also Birds Fly South Ale Project, Thomas Creek Brewery, Hoppin’ Greenville, and many others. Today, we are looking at one of the newest in the downtown area: Fireforge Crafted Beer.
After the couple moved to Greenville, owners Brian and Nicole Cendrowski opened in 2018. After spending a few years in the corporate world, Brian decided to pursue a career in beer after homebrewing for a few years.
He began in the mid-2000s, starting with his first Irish ale in 2007. Today, Fireforge makes various lagers, wheat beers, pilsners, IPAs, and other craft varieties.
Since opening, Fireforge’s products have been highly decorated. In 2021, it won Bronze for its John Hancock New England IPA, Silver for its Belgian-style Tampanian Devil, and was named South Carolina Belgian Style Brewer of the Year. These awards were given out at the New York International Beer Competition.
In 2023, the brewery won Gold at the World Beer Championships for best American-style lager (Game Time Decision lager), Silver for its Marzen German-style beer, and Days on a Lake won bronze in the Pilsner category.
The business promotes tailgating as a way of getting involved with the community. With Greenville only a few miles from Clemson University, plenty of Tiger fans can flock to Fireforge for gameday fun. If you’re going to the game itself, it encourages you to pick up a six-pack or growler of their specialty ales. It also has a Polish festival, Gasparilla (the pirate-themed party known famously in Tampa), and Oktoberfest.
Brian Cendrowski joined The Business Download to talk about his experience as a brewery owner.
The Business Download: Brian, thanks for chatting with us today. What’s it like owning a brewery in one of the fastest-growing cities in the country?
Brian Cendrowski: It’s never a dull moment. There’s always something going on. Being in our location downtown, we’re literally at the center of everything. There’s always something going on downtown.
We’ve always got people coming in visiting. We have a core group of regulars that we’ve built over the years, folks that have been coming in for a long time. We always have people coming in, especially on weekends.
Our Friday afternoon lunches are typically for people who are just coming into Greenville for the weekend. They’re ready to have a beer and get their weekend going. It’s always fast-paced, for sure.
Photo Courtesy Fireforge Crafted Beer
TBD: Why did you decide to pursue beer as a business?
BC: Nicole and I started home brewing in 2007. After a few years, we felt we were able to make some beer that was as good as what we could buy in the stores. Not every single batch turned out great. Some of them were pretty bad. But you know, you get enough hits, and you start to think, okay, maybe we can we can do something with this.
I started to get more and more into the craft beer industry and get more involved. I started writing a beer blog right around the same time we started home brewing.
I was able to meet a lot of people in the industry through that and really get into the community and really understand that it was more than just about the beer.
Nicole and I started thinking about how could we get more and more involved. I think it just sort of led to our conclusion, “Hey, let’s just try to start a brewery.” One of the early business ideas we had was to start a bottle shop and a growler place, not unlike The Community Tap.
I remember we were at lunch at Barley’s Taproom. This must have been in 2011 or 12. I almost finished our business plan for this growler-filling bottle place, and our server was like, “Have you guys heard about this place that community tab it’s going to be opening in next month?” There goes my idea; they beat me to it. Little did we know that Greenville would one day be able to support more than one beer store. Eventually, what we settled on, I really wanted to sell my own beer.
TBD: Greenville has a lot of craft breweries in the area. What do you think brought in so many breweries?
BC: I think what we’re experiencing is what you see in a lot of other places around the country. Because of the laws and the dynamics and things in this state, we’re behind the curve. When you look at places like California and Colorado, up in Oregon and Washington, you’ve got hundreds of breweries in those states.
Here in South Carolina, while it seems like having 12 breweries in Greenville might be a lot, it’s really not. When you think about it’s really just become a place where each neighborhood now has its own brewery. I think it will get to that point. It’s super local, and the name of the game is offering a quality product.
Photo Courtesy Fireforge Crafted Beer
TBD: Shifting back to operations, do you do any green or sustainable business practices?
BC: Yeah, we do. We compost, mostly our food waste. We donate all of our spent grain to Providence farm in Anderson, SC. It’s a fairly common practice for most breweries. It benefits the farmers; they get free feed, and we get free disposal.
We also pay for our own recycling program. The city doesn’t pay for commercial recycling, but we do.
Other than that, just general conservation practices and trying to reduce as much as we can and reuse. We reuse our can clips and our can holders. We try to use glass and try to avoid using disposables as often as possible.
TBD: How did home brewing prepare for brewing at a larger scale?
BC: You know, brewing is brewing. Whether you’re making one gallon or a million, it’s the same process. The same chemistry is involved. It’s just you just have bigger and bigger equipment.
What I found is even though we’re brewing on a commercial scale here, we have a seven-barrel system. That’s still pretty manageable for somebody like me who came into it without any sort of formal technical training or anything like that. It wasn’t that difficult to scale up and translate.
Certainly, there are a lot of things that we have to dial in, and the one thing I always like about brewing is that the more you learn, the more you learn that you have to learn, so it never ends. Even now that we’ve been at it for five years, I don’t claim to have every answer and have every process figured out. We’re always trying new things and tweaking our processes, trying new ingredients.
TBD: What advice would you offer those trying to get into the craft brewing business?
BC: It’s definitely a lot more challenging than it was when we got in five years ago. I think you’ve really got to have a passion for it. I got into it because I was a homebrewer. I love craft beer, and I like brewing beer.
You get a couple of years into owning the business, and you’re not brewing the beer anymore. You’re doing all the other stuff. You really have to be cool with or enjoy the other stuff. For me and my wife, we both also enjoy the business aspect of it. We enjoy growing a business. We enjoy growing a team and doing cool things that are beyond beer.