For the March 2017 edition of "Entrepreneurs Heart Greater Hartford," we spoke with Joseph Ploof, co-owner of Hanging Hills Brewing Company.
Tell us about Hanging Hills Brewing Company
Hanging Hills is a 10 barrel brewery and tap room in the South Meadows neighborhood of Hartford. We produce a variety of beers that focus on German, British and American styles, emphasizing big flavor and balance. We opened on 7/9/2016 and have been putting in 70 hour weeks ever since. Check out the Facebook page here!
Why did you decide to start your own business in Greater Hartford?
I could give you the stock answer here but, probably to my own detriment, I'll go with the full blown honest answer. From the inception of the business plan, we saw Hartford as an opportunity and a city we could easily call home. Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy may have called Hartford "America's Filing Cabinet" but there's so much more to this city than an insurance haven. Having lived in Portland, OR and Brooklyn, I've seen more businesses and residents trying harder than you can swing a dead cat at. Don't get me wrong, Portland is my spirit animal. And I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for my old Flatbush neighborhood. But Hartford is a city jam packed with people from all over the world which influences food, music, art, the way we talk and think about the world. There's a creative community that thrives on being an underdog. We make do with what we have. If that doesn't make sense it's because I'm still working through all the great things I love about Hartford and how to put words to them.
As someone who's not from here, I feel like I have a bird's eye view. This city may be segregated from the cushy bedroom communities that surround it and there is heartbreaking poverty in plain view and those are real problems but it is because of those struggles that greater change is possible. I joke that I'm a recovering teacher but one of the reasons I applied to the NYC Teaching Fellows to teach in under-served communities was because I like being an agent of positive change. Brian, Scott and I opened Hanging Hills to make beer, have fun and focus our marketing on the outdoors but we also wanted to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Yes, we only make beer. But we wanted to create a sense of community around a tap room.
How does your business impact the community?
We raised awareness for LGBTQ folks through the release of Pride Pils. We offer teachers, firemen and women, police officers and nurses $1 off/pint on Friday nights. Every 4th Thursday, the Hartford Hot Several and a slew of super talented Hartford musicians, rappers, poets, singers perform at the brewery. We have donated beer to 50+ fundraisers across the state. We have hosted fundraisers for Senator Richard Blumenthal and John Fonfara. We hosted the Hartford chapter of the ACLU's Christmas Party at no cost to them right after the election. There's a lot I'm forgetting here but that's a good start.
What wise words of wisdom would you give to an entrepreneur who may be hesitant to take the plunge into entrepreneurship?
I follow the advice of the first and last lines of poet Charles Bukowski's poem "Roll the Dice" If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise don't even start. And you will ride life straight through to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is."
What is it like being an entrepreneur in Greater Hartford? What difficulties or challenges have you faced?
Being an entrepreneur in Hartford is like being an entrepreneur anywhere: there are various government agencies with often arcane policies to follow, we have to drive business to our tap room with a limited marketing budget, we're always worried about money, we don't sleep, etc.
The biggest challenge we faced was coming very close to not being allowed to serve pints in our tasting room which would have been a death sentence. We had to go in front of the zoning board and get a unanimous 'yes' vote in order to change zoning policy. For about a month, we used more bad language and lost more sleep than at any other point of this company. Ultimately, reason prevailed, and we collaborated with a reasonable group of folks at the City to make the changes without too much fanfare.
What is your vision for your business venture over the next five years?
So much. I want to boost production to around 10k bbls of high quality beer. For some perspective, we're on pace to do about 1200 this year. To reach that goal, we'll expand into Rhode Island, Massachusetts, NYC and Philly. The first few steps of expansion should happen by this coming summer. Brian and I have been scheming up a barrel aging and souring program to offer a wider variety of beers. I want my beers on at 40% of the bars and restaurants in Hartford proper. I want to expand our marketing and sales from non existent to a team of 5-8. At the end of year 5, I hope to have broken ground on a purpose built facility. We have a lot of irons in the fire right now, some I can talk about and some I'm feeling out.
This blog series, posted in partnership between HYPE and reSET, offers a platform to showcase the commitment that the Greater Hartford Region Entrepreneurs have for their work and this City. It will examine how young entrepreneurs have chosen their work, and give examples of the ways in which they are having an impact in their communities.