Printer's Ale Manufacturing Co.: From Printing to Brewing CMYK-Branded Beers
Working in a career you love is just a dream for many. But what are the chances of working in two different fields you’re passionate about?
Greg Smith is one of the lucky few to have accomplished this. A printer since the age of 12, Smith is president and owner of a successful $14 million package printing business in Carrollton, Georgia, called Printed Specialties. At the same time, he owns a thriving brewery called Printer’s Ale Manufacturing Co., which operates out of the back of one of his printing facilities. It’s been embraced by his community and is even featured in the town’s tourism campaigns.
Printing and brewing beer may seem worlds apart, but the two businesses support one another nicely, Smith says.
“The press checks these days go so much better,” he laughs. Customers tend to be less critical of proofs when they know there’s a beer waiting for them, he points out. “We used to have trouble getting people from Atlanta to come out,” he says, citing the 50-mile drive.
“It’s a real draw,” he says of the brewery – and a real boost to Printed Specialties’ business.
Founded by his grandfather in 1981, the 75-employee printing company provides a range of services, from package design and UV printing, to specialty coatings, foil stamping, embossing, diecutting, assembly, fulfillment, and more. About 98% of the company’s work is package printing, Smith estimates, supplemented by a burgeoning key card business.
And, of course, Printed Specialties prints the packaging for Printer’s Ale’s beer, such as the variety 12-pack of its popular CMYK-branded beers (Cyan: India pale ale. Magenta: amber ale. Yellow: German pilsner. Black: porter). Smith and his crew have had a lot of fun with print-themed beer names over the years. He cites Blanket Smasher barleywine; Burning Plates spiced ale; Gutenberg’s gose; Positive Image IPA; Cylinder Ding porter; and Dylux lager.
As novel as Smith’s print-and-brew business model may seem, the printing industry’s link to beer extends back centuries. No less a printing mentor than Ben Franklin is often quoted as proclaiming, “God made beer because he loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Smith sees another link between the printing and brewing processes. “Printing is all about recreating the same thing every time. That color red has to be the same color red throughout its run. It cannot vary,” he notes. “Craft beer, to me, was having a real consistency issue sometimes. And so I wanted to bring that discipline [to brewing]. We have a very robust quality program at Printed Specialties, and I said, ‘We’ll do the same thing over at the craft beer side; we’ll have a really robust quality program and we’ll have … consistent beers.’”
Having worked in the printing business since he was a child, Smith has a substantial print pedigree — as well as a long lineage in brewing. His family history is steeped in both ventures.
Back in 1800, his great, great, great grandfather, Martin Fischer, brewed beer and served it in his gasthaus in Brunau, Germany, which Smith has visited. His son Karl Ludwig Fischer, after stowing away on a boat to America, returned to Germany, sold the gasthaus, and moved his family to Scranton, Pennsylvania. His son Philip Fischer, Smith’s great grandfather, started Keystone Printed Specialties there in 1911. Smith worked there when he was younger, before going to college to study political science. (“My ultimate job that I would love to have would be to be a Supreme Court justice,” he reveals. He hasn’t given up on this dream, though he acknowledges he may not have the right connections.)
In its heyday, Keystone did a lot of printing for record companies, and when CBS Records opened a record pressing facility in Carrollton in 1981, Smith’s grandfather, Philip Fischer, followed that business south and opened Printed Specialties. The company later passed to his mother, and Smith started working there full-time in 1996. He bought the company from her in 2017.
“I always knew that … I’d be going into the family business, because it’s a really good business,” he says. “Printing is great.”
Printed Specialties specializes in UV printing of high-value folding cartons for industries like retail, food, beverages, health, and more. “The big thing for us right now are golf ball sleeves,” Smith says. “Canibas packaging is also big.”
The Beer Connection
Smith started homebrewing more than 20 years ago. The first beer he made was an Extra Special Bitter (ESB), an English-style pale ale. (“I really like the pub beers over in England,” he says.) Though it was just a hobby, the expansion of the craft beer business nationwide eventually sparked grander plans.
Printed Specialties had purchased a building for its sheeting and converting operations that had previously been a hosiery mill. It had a 15,000-sq.-ft. wet room in the back that had not been well maintained. Unsure of what to do with it, Smith moved his homebrewing equipment into the space.
“Then I started doing some math on it, and I went, ‘Wow! Brewing is super hot,’” he recalls. “The margins look better than printing. I think I could make a go of this.”
So, he created a business plan, renovated the facility, and hired a professional brewmaster, Rocky Esposita. Printer’s Ale opened in 2017, with 20 barrels for brewing and 32 taps. The inside of the taproom is decorated with old pressroom pictures from Keystone Printed Specialties, wooden plates, and other printing artifacts. The bar top is covered in press sheets under acrylic, and the special events room is called The Bindery.
Why pick “printing” as the theme of a brewery? “Because I’m a printer,” Smith says, simply. He loves the brewery’s link to printing and the country’s hard-working industrial laborers.
“We embrace hard work,” he adds. “Printing’s hard. You need a beer after a day like we have sometimes.”
Brewery workers get tours of Printed Specialties and understand print terminology enough to explain it to the curious or converse with a visiting printer. “I get printers here quite often,” notes Smith, who spends about 20% of his workdays overseeing the brewery.
Though most of the brewery’s growth comes from sales of its core CMYK beers, Smith’s favorite style these days is Saison. He’s proud of the brewery’s farmhouse ale program, and several classic Belgian styles are on tap or aging in barrels.
Smith was quite pleased when PRINTING United Expo — taking place down the road in Atlanta — made plans to serve Printer’s Ale beers during show happy hours.
“It’s super exciting,” he says. “I love supporting the industry. It’s a great industry to be part of.”
As for his decision to expand from printing into brewing, Smith wouldn’t have it any other way. “It was a logical extension for me to do it,” he says, “and it’s been a lot of fun for sure.”
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.