He Brews

From Arsenal to Entrepreneur: Clay Smith, Main Channel Brewing

In 4th grade Clay Smith won the blue ribbon for a science project on yeast growth, and his brewing future was put into motion. Smith, owner of Main Channel Brewing, was born and raised in Guntersville. "My dad was a business owner in the area since I was born," Smith reflects. "After I graduated from Auburn I moved where employment took me - back home, close to family."

An Auburn Chemical Engineering graduate, Smith remembers, "My Intro to Chem E project was designing a brewery." By his senior year he began hearing about previous graduates getting jobs at Budweiser. After graduating, Smith began sending resumes in to every craft brewery he knew about. "Unfortunately I never heard anything back, but after a few years of working on the Arsenal, my brother and I just decided to give it a shot and start our own."

At Redstone Arsenal, Smith works for the US Army Garrison - Environmental Division on the Restoration team. As far as learning skills that have helped him in starting his own business, "I’d say I’ve learned a lot about dealing with various federal and state regulations which helps with aspects of running a brewery. I’ve also become pretty adept at cost estimating."

A key lesson he's learned is on managing people and listening. "What I try to do is listen to employees and take their ideas into account. I think everyone can potentially bring some smart ideas to the table that help make things run better or grow the business. In almost all of the groups I’ve worked in at Redstone I’ve felt I could bring an issue or idea up to the group. They let you feel your voice is heard."

When it comes to owning his own business, Smith sees results of his hard work come to fruition. "It’s a good feeling to see people coming into the taprooms and letting us know how much they like what we are doing and the product we are making." He continues, "That’s my favorite thing about my job on the Arsenal as well. When one of our environmental sites gets a regulatory 'all-clear,' it lets you know you’ve done a good thing."

The greatest challenges he has faced in starting his own business are learning and dealing with the various laws and regulations that govern brewery sales.

The greatest part of owning the brewery is the community, "The people I’ve gotten to meet over the years."

When asked What advice would you give to someone starting their own business, Smith advises, "Make sure you love what you are doing and that you won’t get tired of it. I understand that’s really hard to know. You see people get burned out on their businesses all the time. Stay involved, stay curious. Many times when people start to check out of their business that’s when you see things take a downturn."

Smith loves Lake Guntersville and the river. "I love the weather. Spring and fall here are amazing." He goes on, "One thing I also love about Huntsville is that it’s a big city but it doesn’t really feel like a big city."

The Arsenal's history in Huntsville and the world is something that fascinates Smith. "There’s a lot many people already know about it, but there’s some really interesting things I’ve learned working for my group. They had to really dig deep into historical documents to get the cleanup work started before I became a part of it." 

Favorite military movie: Saving Private Ryan

Favorite Alabama book: With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge

What are the 3 greatest strengths you've gained on the Arsenal and how have those helped you in starting your own business?

  • Working in large teams and coordinating with other large teams like our contractors to make sure projects run smoothly. 
  • Scheduling projects has helped with various aspects of the brewery. 
  • Cost estimating and analysis have been very beneficial. 
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