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Brewing success

Alumni couple use 'complementary skillset' to create thriving taproom

two people sit at a table with drinking glasses

For Brian and Nicole Cendrowski, 11 years passed between brewing their first batch of beer and realizing their dream of opening their own brewery. Then just as their young Fireforge Brewery & Taproom was getting its legs under it, the pandemic shut everything down.

But the two University of South Carolina grads survived the storm with ingenuity, business smarts and the help of federal COVID recovery programs to emerge stronger than before and a stable part of the downtown Greenville business community.

The two Midwest natives who finished high school in Columbia are relishing their role as part of that community. They are members of the Visit Greenville local tourism board and the South Carolina Brewers Guild. Nicole also has served on the board for the Conestee Nature Preserve, a 640-acre wildlife sanctuary just a few miles south of downtown Greenville.

One of their key goals when starting the taproom was to create that sense of neighborhood and community for their customers and their 25 full- and part-time employees.

“It’s bringing people together that really drew us to the industry,” says Brian, a 2003 MBA graduate. “We wanted our brewery to be focused on the community aspect of it. We wanted to brew beer, but also to have good food and live music and all the other things to create a fun and relaxing experience for customers.”

Brian is the brewer, but like so many of their projects, Nicole provides the inspiration — including buying that home-brewing kit as a gift way back in 2007.

two people sit at a table with a bar in the background

A 2002 English and Honors College graduate who had a career in marketing and communications before becoming co-owner of Fireforge, Nicole still provides that inspiration, most recently for the spring 2024 lineup of beers.

“I was trying to brainstorm a new fruit beer and I'm flipping through a magazine trying to get some ideas, and I was thinking mango, that’s super popular right now,” Brian said on a January  morning as the team readied the taproom for lunch. “And then Nicole's like, ‘Oh, there's this thing I've been wanting to do for a long time. It's called a mango lassi.’”

“It's Indian, a creamy cold drink, dessert-like thing where it's mango and yogurt and fresh herbs — nonalcoholic,” Nicole adds.

“So Nicole has a lot of that creative energy,” Brian says. “Then my job is to translate that into what's that going to be in a beer. So I'm coming up with some ideas of ingredients we can incorporate, what kind of yeast strain are we going to use, what's the base beer going to be. It works out really well.”

The couple mapped out their plan for the mango creation with a goal to start brewing in February and have a batch ready in time for spring. While Brian works on the beer, Nicole works on a name for the new brew and designs a label just in case they decide to can it and sell it as a take-away product.

“So while he's executing that, I've got to come back in later once the beer is available, to kind of see that idea through from a marketing standpoint,” she says.

It is that team effort and the skills they learned at Carolina that keep the business moving forward.

two people stand in front beer vats

“We have a very complementary skillset,” Brian says. “I'm more of the technical, analytical; Nicole is much more the creative people person. So she handles a lot of the ‘people’ things and I handle more of the ‘thing’ things.”

The couple chose the taproom route vs. bottling route when deciding on a path for their beer-making because of the hospitality aspect.

“It kind of comes from our homebrewing background where we'd brew a batch of beer and we couldn't drink all of it ourselves,” Brian says. “So we would invite friends over and we’d have parties. People would bring food and share beers.”

Before opening Fireforge, the couple belonged to the Upstate Brewtopians club, which has since dissolved. But the spirit of the club lives on through its sign that now hangs in the taproom.

“It's kind of an extension of our home,” Brian says of Fireforge. “And we enjoy entertaining — basically we throw parties pretty much every day.”


Gamecock Nation: Greenville

If you studied at the University of South Carolina and are now living and working in the Upstate, you might sometimes feel like you’re alone as a Gamecock. But the truth is that the Greenville area is home to more than 28,000 USC alumni, making it the top destination for USC graduates after Columbia. We spoke with several alumni who are making an impact in Greenville.

Meet our Greenville Alumni
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