American Craft Beer Week in Miami is almost over, and it's nice to think that all the fun you've had is because of the local craft breweries. But stop for a moment and raise your beer to the other independent players in the game, such as local keg proprietor Zhi Yang.
Originally from China, Yang graduated from Florida International University. The school has turned out many local beer industry professionals, including the Tank Brewing Company's Matthew Weintraub, Nick Armada from CerveTech, and Miami Brewing Company's Jacob Lindsay, all of whom studied under the tutelage of chemist and wine and beer expert Barry Gump.
While other students went into brewing or distribution, Yang started Standard Kegs with the mindset that as the American craft beer industry grows, so will the companies that support them. The Washington, D.C.-based Beer Institute estimates the beer industry as a whole supports more than 1.75 million jobs nationwide.
Yang became the local counterpart to the larger companies. The young entrepreneur not only sells kegs but also specializes in fermenters and does a bit of research and development on the side. He created four-inch stainless-steel conversion plates that attach to kegs and turn them into carboys. "I like to do things for the brewers," Yang says. "It's not a moneymaker for me, but it's interesting and cool, and I like to give back a little."
This helps prevent keg theft and the $90-to-$120-per-keg deposit that cuts into small breweries' profits, Yang says. It costs brewers and beer importers up to $50 million each year, according to the Beer Institute.
Before starting Standard Kegs, Yang was a Motel 6 travel manager covering the entire east coast of Florida. He quit and went to China for five months with the intention of traveling more, but he eventually took to hustling kegs in November 2014.
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March is a record-breaking month for Yang. He did six month's worth of business in that month alone and expects to quadruple his business in the next year. He's currently working with former Wynwood Brewing Company brewer Naga Reshi in Los Angeles to establish a distribution hub there.
Most of his clientele are beer production facilities outside of Florida. In fact, he sells more kegs out of state, shipping to the west coast, New England, the Carolinas, China, South America, and he has a client in France.
Success comes with hard work and long hours. Yang doesn't really give himself days off. Usually he'll rest on Saturday, then resumes on Sunday because that's when China starts working. "My schedule is crazy right now," Yang says.
And it's only going to get crazier. Yang signed a contract for a a 7,200-square-foot headquarters in Miami Gardens and is building a sales team. He's bringing on two people and already started the hiring process for a sales manager.