Circle and Square Brewing Company provides Oxford with its ‘third place’

Published 8:03 pm Friday, March 15, 2024

Profile 2024: Circle and Square Brewing Company provides Oxford with its ‘third place’

By Jake Thompson
Bruce Newman photo

Between home life and work life, it gets hard sometimes to find the time to relax in a neutral environment that does not remind someone of those two environments.

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With Circle and Square Brewing Company, Sumner Abraham and his group — consisting of Taylor Webb, John Adrian and Rick Hollander — worked to create a location that could be that “third place” in Oxford residents’ lives.

The city of Oxford’s first brewery is one that is embracing not only its unique location, but also providing not just another place for beer and food, but a place that becomes more than the local watering hole.

A native of Jackson, Abraham was living in Charlottesville, Va., working on his medical training. This is where the concept of wanting to mesh several concepts into one was formed. 

“[I] first became infatuated with this idea of a brewery being a third space,” Abraham said. “We had seven breweries where we could go with our kids.”

When Abraham’s brother-in-law was visiting in 2019, the question came up about why Oxford didn’t have such a place similar to those breweries in Charlottesville. 

Fast forward a year later; Abraham went to work on providing an answer to that question. However, there was already an answer in place.

State laws were keeping Oxford from moving into the craft brewery industry without having to cater to some specific requirements. After the law changed in 2021 to allow breweries to sell 80 percent of its beer made on-site, Abraham and his group were all set to create that “third space” for Oxford’s residents. “That was the game-changer,” Abraham said.

Craft beer was not necessarily the passion for Abraham or the motivation behind creating Circle and Square. That was left to head brewer Joel Weyenberg, who moved from Minneapolis and the ‘créme de la créme of craft brewing, according to Abraham. Instead, the drive behind this passion project for Abraham was cultivating a place of fellowship for all of Oxford’s walks of life.

“I was more interested in creating spaces for the people, by the people,” Abraham said. “Our goal was that we wanted to go find the best people to do what they do and combine our forces together to create a really cool space that Oxford can be proud of.”

The food and beverage community that has been cultivated in Oxford is attributed by Abraham to the success of chef John Currence for “putting Oxford on the map.” Abraham also credits and thanks Emily and Joie Blunt of Saint Leo for being welcoming during the incubation process of the think tank that became Circle and Square.

When it comes to the location and the name, it was one of those “chicken or the egg?” type of situation. The name came from the early rounds of brainstorming, but was not the favorite of the group, Abraham admits. But the location where the brewery currently resides at 100 Depot St. just happened to be exactly half a mile from Oxford’s historic downtown square and half a mile from The Circle on the campus of the University of Mississippi. Everything fell into place.

“It’d be fun to go back and look at our initial naming exercise,” Abraham said. “We knew we needed to leverage what makes Oxford great, and, (for) a lot of people, that’s synonymous with the Square. There’s a lot more that makes Oxford great, but when people think of Oxford, the Square is kind of synonymous. With the university, we didn’t want to be the university’s brewery, but we wanted to leverage that.”

Two years after coming up with the idea, Oxford’s first microbrewery opened in the late summer of 2023. Ever since the doors opened, the community has latched on to the ideas that Abraham wanted Circle and Square to become.

“Oxford, I think, has deserved a place like this,” Abraham said. “We were just happy to provide it. I enjoy having a cold beer and it’s even better when you have a really talented brewer to make it. …Living in Charlottesville and seeing what breweries can do for a community [revealed how such businesses] create spaces for people to hang out and to bring their families. I do think that’s where we’re at an advantage is that you can bring your family here.”

After a slow and intentional rollout of the beer menu, there are about 10 different varieties on tap currently, with the eventual goal of having 12 beers on tap at all times. The menu caters to nearly all appetites, kids included, plus, there are cocktails available and even a coffee menu for early risers.

Circle and Square is even ingraining itself into the sporting community, partnering with The Grove Collective. The brewery has its staple beer, “Full Ride,” sold at all Ole Miss football, basketball and baseball games, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Rebels NIL collective.

Abraham’s said another goal was to make sure to have a healthy relationship with Ole Miss Athletics. “We sat down and said what would it take for us to do [that],” he said. “About that same time, the collective came to be and college sports as we know it changed forever. Our thought was that people are drinking beer in the stadium – how can we support the collective?”

The brewery is a passion project for all involved, yet for more than just making money by providing alcohol and food to hungry customers. The reason is to help Oxford residents have a place where they can feel comfortable to spend time with family and friends while enjoying good food, beer and atmosphere.

Oxford has found a “third place.”