HAMMOND—Gnarly Barley, a microbrewery, originated as a hobby that turned into a career for Zac Caramonta and his wife Cari Caramonta.
Caramonta said he acquired the taste for craft beers after visiting states outside of the southeast region. He said the lack of craft beers in the south inspired him to recreate the craft-beer-taste with his own twist.
“This all started as a hobby,” Caramonta said. “I fell in love with craft beers and started brewing my own in my garage.”
Caramonta said his beer was first introduced to the public at the On Tap Beer Festival in New Orleans, and he continued presenting them at other festivals. He said he received enough positive feedback that he began to do research on expansion possibilities.
“At first, I was just doing research on a dream,” Caramonta said. “All the publicity from the festivals snowballed until my beer had gained a good reputation.”
Caramonta said it was his wife who encouraged him to turn his hobby into a career.
“Cari told me that she believed my beer was good enough to brew full time,” Caramonta said. “I thought about it and figured it was now or never if I wanted to turn a dream into a reality.”
“The two biggest challenges were funding the project and building a facility that would support growth,” Caramonta said. “We decided to go the route of funding Gnarly Barley through the bank instead of investors, because we felt complete ownership was necessary in order to fulfill our vision.”
Caramonta said it wasn’t easy to get a loan from the bank, because neither he nor his wife had previous experience or a real way to forecast success. He said eventually a bank funded their vision and they have remained partners ever since.
“The other problem they had was figuring out a way to build equipment large enough to be established as a manufacturing brewery that sells offsite to grow quickly and produce a lot of beer,” Caramonta said.
He and his wife chose to locate the brewery in Hammond because they both attended Southeastern Louisiana University, which is also where they met, Caramonta said.
“In my opinion, Hammond also has the best skate park in the state, so it was a no-brainer,” Caramonta said.
The inspiration for Gnarly Barley’s logo, name and label designs comes from the life style and lingo of skateboarding, Caramonta said. For example, the logo is designed to resemble the wheel of a skateboard, and the label for their beer, Catahoula Common, is a dog riding a skateboard.
Caramonta is an avid skateboarder, and is a member of the YOURS foundation, which is an organization that works to build skate parks in local communities.
“I was able to merge two of my passions into one,” Caramonta said. “The care-free attitude of skateboarding combined with the art of brewing.”
Caramonta said the competition between microbreweries has its pros and cons. Microbreweries are popular in the United States, however are not as popular in the south. Caramonta said he supports surrounding breweries in the state because he feels they all have the same goal.
“Obviously I want people to choose our beer over our competitors, but the more people who discover craft beer the better,” Caramonta said. “The people buying our competitor’s craft beers are more likely to try our beer than those drinking domestic beer.”
“I don’t even drink my own beer when I get home, because I’m around it all day,” Caramonta said. “I buy beer made by other microbreweries, because I want us all to succeed in our common goal.”
Gnarly Barley is tied between 17 other breweries in the state for largest manufacturing brewery, Caramonta said.
Caramonta said his goal is to make beer that makes people fall in love with craft beer. Caleb Kerstens, first time craft drinker, said Caramonta accomplished that goal after his first visit to Gnarly Barley.
“I never thought I would stray from domestic beer,” Kerstens said. “I’ve been drinking Bud Light for as long as I can remember.”
Kerstens said he was skeptical about trying craft beer because he knew so little about it.
“I had no idea what I was missing out on,” Kerstens said. “Lets just say that I’ve discovered a whole new world of beer that I am looking forward to exploring”
Caramonta said customers like Kerstens are the reason he started brewing in the first place.
“Making a beer that converts a domestic beer drinker into a craft beer drinker is what it’s all about,” Caramonta said.
Caramonta said that Gnarly Barley has been very successful and has a lot of potential for more expansion. He said the brewery is a dream-come-true and that he loves his job.
“My wife and I are our own bosses, and I love that,” Caramonta said. “We don’t have to answer to a boss, which makes us happy.”
Caramonta said he looks forward to what is in store for Gnarly Barley and having fun doing what he loves.
“We try to have fun with everything we do here,” Caramonta said. “We make sure to not over think anything and just maintain a care-free mindset.”