Brew Buddies: How Two Best Friends Turned a Beer Passion Into a Thriving Business
The founders of Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co. remember a time when their first batches of beer tasted nothing like a beer they would drink, let alone sell.
Long before the wild success of their brewery, Andy Sistrunk and Robbie Carelli slogged away to craft a delicious local beer they could be proud of sipping and selling.
In 2014, after months of physical labor remodeling an old parking garage, the duo opened their original brewery and taproom in DeLand. Throughout their remodeling process, residents would poke their heads in to say hi and check the progress of the taproom. It encouraged the pair throughout what they deemed their “labor of love” project. Even though it took twice as long as they thought it would to remodel and open, they eventually opened their doors to the public’s delight.
“The whole community completely embraced us,” says Sistrunk of opening the taproom. “The first night we were open, we were full and it never really stopped.”
Now they brew enough beer to have new releases each week through their four locations. Their brewing schedule always includes five core beers they send to local restaurant and bar partners and then four types they package in cans and sell in addition to the flavors on tap.
Their crafting process hasn’t always been so smooth, though. Sistrunk and Carelli recall the first batch they made together as a bit of a disaster.
“We just about ruined the kitchen on the first try,” jokes Sistrunk. “From then on, we were banned to the outside.”
Since those early beer experiments, they admit they’ve come a long way.
With 81 employees and upward of 25 beers in rotation at their locations, it’s safe to say the pair is far removed from their days of making “vinegar” when they brew. When they first opened, they were a novelty to the Port Orange and DeLand areas.
Now, word has spread how fun and unique local taprooms are, Sistrunk says.
“We were the only brewery in a 20-mile radius,” says Sistrunk. “We’ve seen it really catch on, and starting to go to a brewery is now a mainstream thing. People wanted to do things like tours. Just about everybody’s got a brewery within a few miles.”
So mainstream, in fact, that aside from the regular locals, the founders even see knitting club
members come in to have their gatherings at their taproom locations.
“We want to be the neighborhood gathering place,” says Sistrunk.
It turns out, quite a few people gather inside the walls of the Sunshine State’s local breweries.
Florida boasts 374 craft breweries and brings in big bucks for the state. In 2021, the industry brought a whopping 4.1 million to the state, according to the Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade association.
What makes Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co. standout aside from its beer is perhaps its ability to embrace each of the communities its locations reside in — downtown DeLand, Lake Eola, Port Orange and Flamingo Crossings Town Center. Each location has the same beers —with names like Beach Hippie, Freddy Fitz, Blood Orange Wheat and more — rotating as much as the customers that come through the doors.
That, says Carelli, is what sets them apart from other breweries: the sense of community and friendship.
And, their motto of “Drink Sensibly, But Get Weird.”
Creating a passion for craft beer that resonates with their customers has been an important part of their growth process as a business. Now, they get to share the art of craft brewing with fellow brew lovers during the creative process.
“I think that we are still as passionate about the Persimmon Hollow Experience as we were then [when we first opened],” says Carelli. “The difference now is we have a bigger team that shares the passion with us. That flows out to the guests and the community.”
Their community-focused business goes beyond the four walls of their breweries, too.
When Hurricane Ian hit in late September, smashing southwest Florida before leaving a trail of destruction across the state, the Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co. crew got to work. They collected supplies, including baby food, water, flashlights, non-perishable foods, trash bags and more, to donate to relief centers in southwest Florida. On top of the collection efforts, they also chose to donate a portion of the proceeds from their DeLand location’s eighth anniversary celebration on October 8 to help local communities recover from the hurricane.
Aside from helping locals, they also take pride in caring for the earth. Another unique-to-Persimmon Hollow trait: they promote a zero-waste mindset amongst the brewing staff.
“We have had a commitment from day one that we put zero brewing by-products into a landfill,” says Sistrunk. “All the bags, packing products and cardboard gets recycled. We have zero landfill waste from the brewing side of things.”
When they aren’t brewing, the two beer-making best friends play music together and plan the next big thing when it comes to Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co.
That includes a new 8,000-square-foot production facility that will be in the DeLand airport Industrial Park, which will allow the team to quadruple their beer production and distribution.
Fans of the team’s beer will also be thrilled to know they’ll have another spot to stop by for drinks. Sistrunk and Carelli are scouting another brewery location to open sometime in mid-to- late 2023.
The growth of their business can be dizzying — yet thrilling — at times.
“It’s sort of like standing on the edge of a cliff,” says Sistrunk. “It’s amazing, but it’s also terrifying some days.”
Photos courtesy of Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co.