What’s in a name? That which we call a beer
A beer by any other name would taste as sweet
– Shakespeare … pretty sure, or was it Shakesbeer? (sorry)
Just the name Grove Roots evokes thoughts of a good time, seeing old friends, and making new ones. Or, as my editor would put it, “Going to Grove Roots is like putting on your favorite pair of jeans. It’s just comfortable.” The enduring roots of a Polk County orange tree branching out, connecting the community to its heritage also comes to mind. A name can mean a lot.
Grove Roots Brewing Company opened in September of 2016. The last three and a half years in business have been a dream for home brewer turned brewery owner, Joe Dunham. In that time, the space itself and the beers they make have become iconic. It’s the people like Joe, and director of operations for the brewery, Morgan Wilson and all of the familiar faces behind the bar and in the brewhouse that makes Grove Roots great. Of course, it’s also the delicious selection of craft beers that they serve across the counter. We talked with Dunham and Wilson about what exactly goes into the etymology of our favorite beers. The next time you order a Seven Saddles or a Talk to me Gooseberry, you’ll know why.
First, Some History
“I started out of my garage,” said Dunham. “I like to cook, and I love craft beer and back then you couldn’t get a beer with twenty ingredients in it.” If he wanted a beer with hints of jalapeno and pineapple, he’d have to make it himself. “I talked my wife into buying $300 homebrew kits […] The hobby grew into about three grand,” he laughed.
This wasn’t an out of the blue operation – Dunham has always wanted to own a brewery. In his previous job as a contract administrator in project management at an engineering and construction firm, he would work on his business plan. For a year he put his finance education background to good use, calculating the logistics of this grand beer plot. “I wrote a plan that involved financing, equipment purchases, branding. It was a full sixty, seventy-page, fully-vetted plan,” he said. He pitched it and found a group of individuals willing to invest in his idea.
Similar to the naming of their toasted oatmeal brown ale, Toast (more on that later), family member, Morgan Wilson was hired just in the nick of time. Dunham’s attention had been wrapped up in brewing the beer and other aspects of opening a business that two weeks before the grand opening, he realized he had no employees. Wilson has since become Dunham’s right-hand woman, the wizard behind the proverbial curtain, and a fixture at the brewery.
Since opening the doors in the fall of 2016, Grove Roots has solidified itself as “Winter Haven’s living room.” The brewery started a popular monthly craft vendor market called Moonlight Market, expanded distribution to restaurants and bars around the county including LEGOLAND, and has produced upwards of ninety different beers. Between 13 and 15 barrels of beer, roughly 465 gallons, come out of the Third Street brewery every week.
“It’s been fantastic,” Dunham reflected. “It’s doubled what we thought we would do. The community has really gotten behind us and that’s the coolest part. It’s the organic side of marketing where people talk about this place as if it’s their own.” If you ask many Grove Roots regulars, the brewery feels at least a little bit, like it does belong to them. Morgan Wilson has found a sense of pride and ownership in the brewery as well. “I could fill this entire issue with why this is the best job in the world, but I’ll save you,” she laughed.
“Seeing the impact we can have on our community is by far the best,” said Wilson. “I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for giving back and helping others – knowing we have the chance to spread some good and love is humbling. Whether it’s as simple as a mid-week pick-me-up or through the cause and effect chain with non-profits; knowing we helped make someone’s day better, even if it’s just a fraction, has become my drive.”
What’s in a name?
Ninety plus beers – that’s a lot of names to come up with. The ingenuity behind the beer names at Grove Roots comes from heritage, puns, people, or simply flavor inspiration. Some were carefully thought out and some were titled only minutes before the doors opened. According to the craft beer cognoscente, there is no industry standard for naming beers. “Some people chase heritage, some people chase trendy,” he said. It’s more about the mantra of the brewery that determines the titles on the taps. “Ours is a heritage brand, so we try to focus, at least our main beers off of heritage, Winter Haven culture,” he said.
“Grove Roots took me about three months to name,” said Dunham. “I had a list of about 100 names and was trying to decide something that explained what our model is. Our model was always ‘Community-centric and Winter Haven focused.’” He combined the heritage essence of “Grove” and the community connection of “Roots” to represent how he wanted people to feel about the brand.
Like the orange grove origins of the brewery’s name, its four flagship beers’ themes are also situated around citrus. Slanted Ladders, a white pale ale, is an ode to the wooden grove ladders tilted against an orange tree to be harvested. Of such importance to the brand, antique slanted ladders are used around the brewery as part of the décor.
Dunham described Wakes of Grain as a lifestyle brand. It’s all about life on The Chain, lake days, tubing, and skiing. Rind & Shine, a tasty citrus Wit beer with Valencia oranges, evokes citrus elements with a kiss of the sunshine state. “You’re sitting on the lakes and you’re feeling the lifestyle,” he said of the beer. Their breakfast stout with coffee and chocolate, 6 AM Pickers pays homage to the early risers that would head to the grove to pick oranges.
Toast made it on the board last-minute. “It was our grand opening day and I hadn’t come up with a name for our brown ale yet,” remembered Dunham. He thought it could have a double meaning – something to ‘toast’ to and it did have that toasted bread flavor. “That was going to be a placeholder for another name in the future, but the beer took off and we left it the same name that’s it’s always been,” he said.
Wilson’s favorite beer backstory is Talk to me Gooseberry. It too was a beer about to hit the taps sans name. “This beautiful beer was an Imperial Wheat brewed with Nelson Sauvin Hops from New Zealand and gave off notes of white grapes and gooseberries,” she said. “The name pretty much slapped us in the face: “Talk to me Goose” from Top Gun, thus Talk to me Gooseberry.”
For each of their beer names, there is a corresponding photo, according to Wilson. She told the hilariously charming story behind the Talk to me Gooseberry picture. “Taylor Norrell, our head brewer can officially put down “beer model” on his resume for the number of times I’ve used him as a prop,” she said. “We printed out all of the patches from Top Gun that Goose wore and taped them to a jacket we found lying around in the back. I think we even tried to convince him to shave his beard. That was a hard, ‘My wife will kill me, no.’ After close to 30 minutes of making him pose I got the perfect picture to go with the perfect beer. My mouth is watering just thinking of it.”
Seven Saddles, an amber lager, is dripping with Winter Haven history. A story told to him by museum director of The Museum of Winter Haven History, Bob Gernert, inspired the beer’s cowboy culture spirit. As Gernert points out about the frequently told story, it is “More likely folklore, but there’s no one to say otherwise now.” The story of Henry Tandy as written by Josephine Burr in “The History of Winter Haven” goes like this…
“It seems that Mr. Tandy liked his liquor as did many other citizens of those days and on Saturday nights the Tandy Store was a gathering place for friends who enjoyed a drink with Henry. One Saturday night, after the crowds had left, Tandy said to his bookkeeper, ‘I know that I sold two saddles tonight but I just cannot recall to whom.’ After much thought they decided to bill several likely customers for the purchases, being sure that whoever did not buy the merchandise would complain at once. To their amazement, of about ten bills sent out, seven paid.”
Seven Saddles will be one of the first they bring to market with their new canning line. Dunham loves the tale behind Seven Saddles because it shows off the Central Florida heritage he’s proud of and has made the center of his brand.
Dunham and the Grove Roots team have a group chat that has been the birthplace of many a beer moniker. Brewers and bartenders will throw out their wittiest ideas that they then vote on. “A lot of our bartenders are pretty good with puns and it makes it fun,” said Dunham. “We love puns – almost too punny sometimes.”
Trappe Queen, for example, is a play on Trappist beers, “an abbey-style of beers that are brewed by monks.” It’s a Belgian Trippel that I will leave up to you to Urban Dictionary the other meaning behind. This is about as risqué as Grove Roots will get with names said, Dunham. You won’t find any colorful language of the four-letter variety, sexual innuendos or dirty double entendres on the Grove Roots beer board. He wants to keep things family-friendly. “We try to keep most everything clean and classy,” he said.
One of Dunham’s favorite wordplays is Tropical Dilemma. It’s made with strawberries but comes strong with grapefruit or passionfruit. “That’s why it’s a dilemma, it tastes like tropical fruit but it’s really strawberry,” he said. When filmmaker/ bartender, Jeremy Gardner left to work on his film After Midnight, regular patrons would ask, “Where’s Jeremy?” Dunham said that Gardner is a fan of hoppy pilsners. “We did this hoppy pilsner that ended up being kind of sassy and kind of bitter and we figured, that’s who Jeremy is,” he said. So, they named it the “Where’s Jeremy” complete with a wanted poster. Miss Betty’s Lemonade, a lemon Gose, is named after Dunham’s great aunt who is a big fan of sours. Naming beers, at Grove Roots, Joe says, is all about people, places, lifestyle, and heritage.
A CAN-Do Attitude
This month, the brewery hopes to launch their first series of canned beers with the investment of their very own canning line. The plan for canning – the “can plan” if you will – is to start with in-house sales to test consistency, quality, and operation. “It will be nice to have a smaller canning line because I can do a lot more variety in-house and get it out to the public,” he said.
Dunham has his eyes on eventually getting into places he isn’t already, like resorts in Orlando, Disney, and on the shelves of Publix. “We are going to start with eight branded items and then start doing special releases,” he said. The first eight will include their four flagship beers along with Lip Ripper, Seven Saddles, Tropical Dilemma, and Toast. In other news, doubling its barrel-aging program and embarking on more fruited sours are on the horizon for Grove Roots.
Growth is always in Dunham’s sights. “You have to grow up or out and eventually we’ll reach capacity either via the height of our tanks or more tanks,” he said. “The goal right now is to add the canning line, add a couple more fermenters, potentially go after cider production […] If the cans and our distribution network take off as I hope it does, then we’ll have to have a second facility for production.”
Grove Roots lovers have no fear, Joe will always keep his downtown 10-barrel system location. Expect big things in the future though. He said, “If we decide to go to the next level, we’ll put something triple or quadruple this size off-site.”
Food Truck Beer Pairings by Joe:
Chubby Wubby’s Hot Dogs chili dog + Pilsner
Fritan’Go Nicaraguan cuisine + Amber Lager
Adler’s Classic Burger + Pilsner
Sawadee Thai Food’s green curry + IPA
Anything BBQ + Toast
Gizzys of Nutley Pizza + IPA or Pilsner
Grove Roots Brewing Co.
302 3rd St SW, Winter Haven, FL