“Making good beer is number one. But making a beer that gives back to Veterans and the environment by being USDA certified organic—those are the two reasons we’ve been able to scale our growth at a rate of about 40% year-over-year since we’ve started,” says Sean Haggarty owner of Protector Brewery.
In 2017 Sean opened Protector Brewery as the first and only USDA-certified organic brewery in San Diego. Since then, he’s expanded his manufacturing facility and tap room, grown his distribution nationally, and soon internationally, and next year he plans to open a new tasting room at the downtown harbor front.
Sean grew up in Illinois and came to San Diego when he joined the military. He served as a Navy SEAL for 11 years, going on four deployments in the Middle East. During his third deployment in Iraq, he was craving a cold draft beer, but none was available, so he decided to make his own and “a new passion was born.”
Back in San Diego, Sean met his wife, Cory, and they began working on a brewery concept. Cory suggested that they look into making their brewery fully organic. After leaving the military Sean earned an MBA from the University of California San Diego and he and Cory got started on Protector Brewery.
Being organic takes a lot of work. Not only does the beer have to be made from USDA certified organic ingredients, but every process, from canning and kegging the beer, to the chemicals used to clean the fermenters and the brewhouse, must be documented and approved by the USDA. It’s a monumental task and one that very few breweries undertake. Sean says that's one thing that sets them apart, “When consumers see the USDA-certified organic stamp on something on the shelf, they know exactly what they’re getting, a clean and sustainable product” he says. “Everything that goes into our products is 100% natural and nothing synthetic.”
Sean also credits San Diego for Protector’s success. “A lot of San Diego breweries have put this town on the map,” he says. “I thought doing it here would make our company better because our beers would be competing with some of the best in the world."
“We’ve won 10-12 international awards against conventional breweries with our USDA certified organic beer, so it’s proof that you can make great awesome beer and have it be organic.”
Sean says following the pandemic they lost half their retail sales overnight, so an important lesson he learned was to diversify and he’s been pushing distribution sales ever since. He sells his beer on military bases across the county and soon will sell it internationally. He also sells them in local organic food co-ops, grocery stores and club stores.
Sales have continued to grow, and after five years, he could no longer meet demand, so he turned to U.S. Bank for equipment financing. That was critical. It allowed him to invest in new tanks, rakes for the mash tun, a keg washer and a few other upgrades. Since upgrading the equipment last year, sales have doubled.
The secret to his business success comes down to a very simple idea, “you have to believe that what you’re doing is going to work,” says Sean. But as simple as that is, it can be very hard to achieve. That’s where his military training has helped.
“SEAL training is said to be the hardest physical training in the world, but a common saying is that it's 90% mental and 10% physical. Which is absolutely true,” says Sean. “What that means is don’t be overwhelmed by the scenario. Don’t be overwhelmed by the pain, by the fear of losing or failing. Just look at yourself in the mirror every day and just fix things. Keep moving forward and have a good head about you. You’re not going to win every day. But if you don’t stop, you don’t quit, you can’t lose every day.”
Making good beer is just part of Sean’s passion. He and Cory also want to improve the industry by encouraging sustainable practices. For example, they use 100% renewable energy to power the brewery. And Sean says that sourcing organic ingredients has a ripple effect because “when you buy an organic product, you’re voting for more sustainable farming practices.”
“Going into the Navy and being a SEAL is something I always wanted to do,” says Sean. “It's an attitude I’ve been able to put into use in our company too. Everything we do, it really does come down to ‘service.’”