3 Sons Brewing / Instagram
The Untappd reviews of Corey Artanis’s beers seem like the overly-friendly backslaps lofted toward a local homebrewer everyone knows and kinda likes. But look at Beer Black Book -- a website that monitors the black market for buying and selling rare beer -- and you’ll notice a weird outlier lingering in their top 100 highest valued beers. Alongside rarities from venerable breweries like Toppling Goliath, Cantillon, and Drie Fonteinen, there, sitting at #10, is Summation -- a bourbon barrel-aged imperial vanilla coffee stout -- from Artanis’s 3 Sons Brewing.
But, wait... 3 Sons doesn’t have a single active beer listed on Beer Advocate or an entry on RateBeer.
Is 3 Sons even a brewery?
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After digging a bit further, one might realize why: Improbably, 3 Sons Brewing Co. is still an amateur operation. So why are some people willing to go through all the trouble of hunting down Artanis's homebrewed beers? And how are they getting their hands on them?
“It’s a very humbling feeling,” Artanis tells me when I finally get him on the horn. It’s a Friday afternoon, and he’s in the middle of cleaning up at The Brass Tap in Naples, Florida, one of two locations of the national brewpub franchise where he currently works (he also brews at the Ft. Lauderdale Brass Tap location for what is called Flagler Village Brewery). The beers he brews for Brass Tap management hardly sound boring -- including Chocolate Love, a barrel-aged stout made with cacao nibs -- but all anyone seems to want to talk about, trade for, taste, are Artanis’s 3 Sons beers. Even if they don’t even really exist. Yet.
“Someone called me yesterday,” Artanis recounts. “He was getting a 3 Sons bottle in a trade. ‘I just want to make sure it’s really your bottle,’ he told me. ‘Can I send you a picture of the bomber?’” After some back-and-forth, Artanis realized it was probably a solitary 750 mL of his Lumberjack Morning Break he had once bottled for a cancer charity raffle. “It’s hard to keep track of what’s out there. But it’s an amazing beer. And this guy was trading it for something that, in my opinion, isn’t as good. Whatever.”
If Artanis doesn’t sound humble here, that’s hardly the case. He’s not a guy who’s had a meteoric rise in the industry, but someone who has struggled to become the overnight sensation he currently appears to be. An army veteran and former paramedic for Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, Artanis started homebrewing for fun in 2006, using a kit. Back then he was mainly serving his beers at family reunions, weddings, and kids’ birthday parties (yes, he actually has three sons). He got good responses from his friends and family, but he didn’t really develop a confidence in his brewing skills until he started bringing these homebrews to bottle shares attended by serious connoisseurs.
“They appeared shocked I was brewing the beer that I brought,” he tells me. “‘This is really good.’ ‘Really? Oh wow.’ I trusted their opinion way more than, like, my uncle’s.”
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From there, Artanis started trying to serve his beer at any events he could, “to get my name out there,” he explains. “Let me build up my resume, get feedback, create a small following. Instead, it started taking off.” After impressing Cigar City Brewing owner Joey Redner with one of his homebrews, Artanis was offered a slot at the Tampa brewery’s Hunahpu’s Day. Back in 2014, the organizers allowed homebrewers to pour at their festival.
“I brought some really nice beer, some really nice stouts,” Artanis recalls. “People from all over the country were calling me the ‘sleeper’ brewery of the event. I had a crazy long line.”
This was where Artanis first introduced the world to his intense, dessert-like offerings. “Willy Wonka beers,” he calls them. There was Neapolitan, an imperial stout brewed with vanilla beans, cocoa nibs, and strawberry puree. (“It takes you through all the flavors: strawberry, then vanilla, and finishes with that chocolate.”) He also had Irish Winter, an inventive Irish coffee stout infused with Irish whiskey and Irish cream; then aged on coffee. (“No one, really, to this day, have I heard [is] doing that.”) He also had Summation, his first barrel-aged stout, and the beer is currently valued at $1600 on Beer Black Book. (“People were just going crazy over that one.”)
The following year, Hunahpu's Day became a ticketed event, and Cigar City began acquiring all festival beers via standard distribution. So Artanis brewed through his local St. Petersburg brewpub, Brewers Tasting Room, and won the People’s Choice awards for Best Brewery and Best Beer (Kopi Summation) in a field that featured such heavyweights as The Alchemist, Side Project, and Toppling Goliath.
“A shocker. Completely out of the blue,” Artanis tells me.
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At 2016’s Hunahpu’s Day the same thing occurred, although, this time, Artanis won first and second place for Best Beer of the festival. The buzz was becoming insane -- though it was still generally impossible for people to try any of these beers, save for at a random festival or two. Thus, Artanis started partnering with breweries such as San Diego’s Abnormal Beer Company, Anaheim’s Bottle Logic, and St. Petersburg’s Cycle Brewing. That latter collaboration produced Rare Scooop, another Neapolitan-style imperial stout that became one of the most ballyhooed releases of 2016 and currently sits at #15 overall on RateBeer’s best beers list.
Artanis even produced a special batch of Summation for BeerzAreGewd, one of America’s top black market “muling” groups -- assuring hype would be perpetuated even more amongst the cognoscenti. The beer press would soon follow. Paste’s Jason Stein was perhaps the first national beer writer to fawn over Artanis, noting last summer: “Corey’s talent and dedication to his craft exceeds the expectations set forth by [his] awards.” And beer geeks kept trading, buying, and selling his beers for astronomical amounts of money. That is, if they could find them.
For his part, Artanis keeps a healthy perspective on the matter. “It is crazy, absolutely crazy," he says. "Quality matters, of course. But I think the main reason for [these black market prices] is supply and demand,” Artanis explains, noting that any batch of beer he’s ever packaged has had a count of around fifty total bottles. “When people get my bottles, that’s because I ‘gifted’ them. I’ll literally give them to my friends and then they can trade them for other cool beers. That’s how they get out there. So that’s literally a homebrew! That someone is selling! I made it out of my kitchen, and they’re selling it for $1600!”
If we’re going to keep mentioning money, we should probably note that Artanis’s prestige and following quickly allowed him to find investors. After an intense search of almost two years, Artanis finally picked a brewery location that would allow for a tasting room and have enough parking space for the large crowds he anticipates. He hopes to break ground on his Dania Beach brewery spot in the next month or two.
Once 3 Sons finally opens, Artanis plans to serve lower-ABV hoppy beers, unfiltered lagers, and fruit Berliner weisses alongside his already-famous Willy Wonka stouts, which also include Vanilla Face, PB King (a peanut butter stout), and the chocolate and cherry barrel-aged Always Cordial. I have to wonder if he worries about meeting the intense hype.
“Expectations are going to be very high,” explains Artanis, noting that brewing on larger-scale equipment during the collaborations he’s recently done has put him more at ease. “I’ll always worry about expectations. I am my own biggest critic. But I won’t ever put anything out there that’s not up to my standards.”
Even if those standards produce beers worth $1600.