Wearing a suit and grinding it out with a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday schedule is only for some. Punching your timecard and answering to The Man for eight hours until the glorious moment you punch out for the day is daunting. Doing that day in and day out can certainly take a toll on the psyche and overall morale. Corporate Ladder Brewing asks the question: Why not stick it to The Man?
The Palmetto, Florida-based brewery takes this quite literally, with their rags story turning to riches in just a few short years.
We chatted with the co-founder of Corporate Ladder, one of our most successful Ollie partners, to hear their story of bucking the corporate grind and turning a passion for beer into a growing, award-winning brewery.
(Above photography courtesy of Corporate Ladder Brewing Company)
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What Is the Corporate Ladder Origin Story?
Founded in the spring of 2018 by Blake Kleppe, Corporate Ladder represents Kleppe’s jump from corporate to community.
“Corporate Ladder Brewing Company is the fire inside all of us yearning to break free from the norm, to chase your passion and abandon the nine to five,” the company’s website explains. “Each beer is dedicated to forgetting every cubicle you’ve ever sat in and to every boss who just didn’t quite get it.”
In 2019, Co-Owner James Herrholz joined the culinary-inspired brewery.
“We do a variety of different hazy IPAs using different hops, fruited sours, lagers, stouts,” Herrholz says. “We do different beers across different styles while keeping the finger on the pulse of the market.”
The brewery sits in a 2,400-square-foot building, which includes a taproom and seating in the front of the house, with the back of the house featuring a five-barrel, two-vessel hot side system, a canning line, a ten-barrel Brite, a five-barrel Brite, six ten-barrel fermenters, four five-barrel fermenters, and some cold room storage, Herrholz explains.
Recently, the company did a remodel.
“We lost some seating but gained perceptive space,” Herrholz says, noting the taproom has forty-six seats and couches inside, as well as some outdoor seating. He says there are plans also to add a kitchen to the taproom. “If we can, we will. If not, we will look elsewhere to add one.”
Where Does the Name ‘Corporate Ladder’ Come From?
“It was an excuse for Blake to run away from the corporate world, where he did insurance and finance,” Herrholz says.
In addition to the remodel at the Palmetto taproom, the company rebranded recently.
“In the early days, the company was hyper-specific to Blake,” Herrholz says. “We changed the tagline [of the company] to be more encompassing.”
Herrholz adds, “Before the rebrand, the tagline was ‘Quit Work. Brew Beer.’ Now the tagline is ‘Defy the Grind. Be Your Own Boss.’”
Herrholz says the new branding effort reflects Corporate Ladder’s goal to move away from the corporate world and to own your own socially responsible place.
“Dream big, pursue passions, while avoiding poor business practices, bad management, poor pay,” Herrholz says. “We wanted to change the norm.”
He adds, “We do that by enabling our team and our customers to see that through our lens with our beers.”
The rebrand coincided with the company’s personnel growth. Herrholz explains how, in the early days, it was just himself and Kleppe doing all the work, and they were stretched thin, limiting themselves.
In 2021, Corporate Ladder brought on a couple of integral parts—“cornerstone pieces,” as Herrholz describes—to the team from Urban South Brewing in Houston. Justin Slanina and Angela Slanina came as a team and essentially ran the back of the house in Florida.
“We vibed with them a lot, and we knew we needed brewing talent to move this [company] forward,” Herrholz says. “We brought them on and gave them time to get acquainted with who we are and let them do what they want based on that.”
What Is the Brewing Ethos of Corporate Ladder?
“Creative is the biggest word for sure,” Herrholz says. “We’re also nostalgia-driven and make culinary-inspired beers. We hang our hat on emulating the desserts as best we can [in beer series like our most sought-after Dessert Station]; cherry pie needs to taste like liquid cherry pie.”
Herrholz says that the company also strives to make beers for everyone.
“Beer is inclusive, and we do our best to accommodate that while being fun and creative and finding new ways to do it,” he says.
Among those are beer-flavored beers, lagers, stouts, barrel-aged stouts, hoppy beers, and more. Corporate Ladder’s taproom has nineteen tap handles, and Herrholz explains how they shoot for a bunch of lagers—eight were on tap at the time of publication—as well as IPAs, stouts, and lagers, which ebb and flow with seasonality and events. They even have some nitro or beer gas faucets and side-pulls for Czech-style lagers.
What Are Corporate Ladder’s Core and Hype Beers?
Herrholz points to the brewery’s Dessert Station: Intangible as its top core beer. Inspired by a creamsicle, the 6.5% ABV gluten-free sour beer includes tangerine and vanilla.
“It’s our most popular beer. We have made it the most of any of the fruited beer,” Herrholz says. “It’s a nice mix of sweet and acidity from the tangerine. Not super thick, which makes it more approachable.”
Another core beer is their Paperweight Pilsner. The 5.5% ABV house lager is virtually always on tap and in cans at the taproom.
“It’s a neo-American pilsner,” Herrholz says. “We make it with modern hops, including Motueka and Hallertau Blanc.”
Herrholz says the brewery’s hyper-beer nerds flock to their barrel-aged stouts.
“Usually, they are culinary-inspired, but we do a cocktail-inspired Tiki series,” he says. “It’s been really fun to bring those beers to a wide audience.”
Which Beer Brings Corporate Ladder the Most Pride?
Without hesitation, Herrholz says it’s Board Meeting, a 14% ABV pastry stout brewed in collaboration with Bottle Logic Brewing.“We finished it with toasted coconut and three different varieties of vanilla beans,” Herrholz says. “It is a really cool beer across the board.” No pun intended, of course!
Initially aged in an Old Fitzgerald barrel for eighteen months, Board Meeting spent an additional thirteen months in a Stag barrel.
“I love the blending process of barrel-aged beers, with different wood, different spirits,” says Herrholz. “The depth is unparalleled and lends a cool drinking experience.”
Board Meeting won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival last year in the first-ever pastry/dessert category, which Herrholz says fits Corporate Ladder.
“This was the height of dessert beer and barrel-aged beer,” he says. “Marrying the two with care and effort paid off.”
What’s Next for Corporate Ladder?
For 2024, Corporate Ladder plans to expand with a full production facility set to open in Walstonburg, NC, about an hour east of Raleigh.
The new spot will house a three-vessel, twenty-barrel system with a 10,000-square-foot warehouse space. Ultimately, Herrholz says this will allow Corporate Ladder to expand its distribution into Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
The Florida taproom will remain status quo, and the brewing will feature R&D operations, more or less.
“We are taking those [core] beers away from them to let them brew up new, innovative beers,” Herrholz says.
Outside of the production facility, in the short term, Herrholz will focus on opening another taproom and kitchen in North Carolina—somewhere in the Raleigh/Durham triangle.
“We want to establish ourselves in this region as we make our production home here and build [and] evolve on that,” Herrholz says. “We also are working with cool executive chefs to make food and cocktails that blend with what we do as a company, with that whole inclusivity and creativity as the mantra.”