Let’s Talk About Start Ups

The last few months I have been occupied by consulting, often with people in startup mode for operations. Nothing groundbreaking in these ideas, but this is where I hear a lot of conversations going.

Legal issues
Hire a lawyer, someone who specializes in beer law. Get your trademarks established if you have a unique name. Every week I hear a story about someone who intended to open with one name but had to change due to it existing elsewhere. Checking Google, Untappd, and trademark filings takes all of 5 minutes, save yourself the hassle later. I know of a brewery that currently is over 6 months of it’s processing of it’s TTB application because the person hired isn’t used to do the filings. I have done one, they are a pain in the butt so hire someone who knows what they are doing.

Have a Plan
Write a business plan and have someone knowledgable review it. Do your assumptions make sense? Do you understand the market? Your place within it?  With over 5,000 breweries in the United States and lots still trying to open you need to find your niche. Bring something unique to the table. There are over 13,000 wineries in the United States so I won’t say the market is oversaturated, but just because your friends all love your homebrew you can’t just expect to open and the world to beat a path to your door.

Taproom
Have a taproom and make it a reflection of your identity. I wrote why it matters for your brand a while back. It is also your most profitable sales location, if I told you you can make $5 per sale or $1 per sale which would you prefer? Yes there are extra headaches, but as an old mentor said to me taproom sales keep steady income that can fuel growth until your brand is large enough to distribute effectively. There are breweries operating for decades without a taproom going back and building one now because they realized they were leaving money on the table.

Brew it Right
Quality matters. Make it your #2 priority (after SAFETY)! I saw a social media post recently a brewery proudly displaying their new Kolsch which was as murky as a San Francisco night. Not getting into the cloudy beer issue, but if you are having a style that is known for brilliant clarity give it the time to happen. Too much sulphur, don’t sell it. In the end bad beer hurts the industry as a whole. And remember if you have enough money to go to GABF, you have enough money to build a lab.

People think beer is easy and especially on a homebrew scale it is, but if you want to make a living at it is hard work. You won’t get rich overnight, if at all. And if you aren’t doing the above succeeding will be all the more difficult.

The Session #124: Late, Lamented Loves

This month’s edition of the Session is hosted Dave Bardallis asks us “Nevertheless, I think the chosen subject, “Late, Lamented Loves,” is still worth talking about. I mean a beer you remember fondly but which is no longer in production.”

This topic brings my mind back to the Bandersnatch Brewpub, the first brewpub I remember in the Phoenix area. It was located not far off Arizona State University campus. According to my research they first opened in 1988. The beer that made it memorable was their Milk Stout. I had never heard of the style before and it became my got to beer when I was down in the Tempe area. It had typical wood trim bar with a view of the brewery. It wasn’t until much later I learned they brewed on an extract system and while that was the kiss of death for many breweries they seemed to keep a good quality to their brews.

In 2003, the commonly told story was the brewery was in the way an expansion of the city government building, so the the bar and the building is gone, as often is the case the truth was something a bit different. They haven’t given up on the business though, I ran across their website and they posted last month that they are trying to get reestablished. I wish them best of luck.

Brewing in Mexico

A rooster crows next door, the rhythmic thumping of truck air brakes slowing for speed bumps roar on the highway outside, and the room is filled with the aroma of mash just doughed in and converting. The morning air is cool and fills the room. The traffic is just a constant background noise. It’s just another morning brewing in Salvatierra Mexico.

Whenever I tell Americans I am going to Mexico to work they laugh and say enjoy the beach. But the truth is in central Mexico we are about as far from the beach as possible, smack in the middle of the country. The state of Guanajuato which is one of the more industrial states in the country. Familiar names like GM, Mazda, and Honda all have production facilities just down the road, plus a very active agricultural sector. While I see lower income areas, I have also been to a malls that rival any in the US and restaurants that could compete for a James Beard award.

So what is making beer like? Different. Okay that is a cop out, the brewhouse is a Speidel Brewhouse 200L system. While some liken it to a boil in bag system large scale, it reminds me of an old school coffee percolator system. The mash tun is the percolator and the wort is recirculated through a pump through it. After mashing we hand crank the mash tun up allowing to drain and we do a light sparge, I’d like it with 80C water but for the moment it’s just tap water.

Then naturally we come to a boil. But it isn’t quite the rapid boil as brewers like to normally think of, Guanajuato is around Denver elevation and the electric heating element works okay, but between the two factors a fierce boil isn’t a reality. So we cover with a lid until we hit our first hop addition and then uncover just a bit to allow steam and DMS (the cooked corn flavor) escape but keep as active as possible boil. Another brewery in the region made a beer and it was obvious they had the lid on the whole time, all I could smell and taste was DMS in it.

We ferment in just over 3 barrel fermenters so we double batch to fill them. I am trying to talk the owners into a Hot Liquor tank (HLT) or even a home hot water heater so that we could double batch in a single time. Currently the brew kettle is our only large scale hot water device so doing a double batch in a day is a 14-16 hour day is my rough guess.

So how is brewing in Mexico? It’s more work and things are at a slower pace. It is frustrating to someone who is used to busier pace for breweries. I have been told ingredients would be here when I arrive and they weren’t. So we grabbed a truck then went and bought enough ingredients to get our first batch running. In the middle of brewing that batch the ingredients I was told would not arrive until next Monday showed up. We didn’t have a sanitary pump when I was first here, so I rigged our Premier Stainless manual keg cleaner pump to be our CIP pump, we use it for transferring wort to the fermenter too. It doesn’t have a speed regulator so we control that with the valve at the kettle, it can’t be good for the pump but it works for now. Finding access to simple things like washers, faucet wrench, and other parts can be a few days shipping to near impossible to find locally.

Air conditioning is opening the roll up door to the highway outside so even though my assistant I am training here is good on his cleaning there always seems to be a fine layer of dust on everything.

Speaking on the assistant, why spend the money to send a brewer from the US? They had a brewer nice guy initial part owner but after a few years he decided to move on, brewing wasn’t in his blood. Then they hired another fellow who supposedly had professional experience, he got drunk crashed the company vehicle and filed a false police report on the crash, so I don’t know where he is but the authorities down here would like to know if you have any tips. That left them without a brewer. So I have come down to help get production going and train the assistant, nice kid good heart, he has lived in the US, but his English skills are poor but he is learning. Being my second trip to train I have him doing most of the work, supervise and make suggestions but leave him to do it himself and try to protect him from doing something stupid.

The test will be in a weeks after I leave when he will brew without any supervision. The first one is a recipe we have done before, a beer he likes, he has progressed to the point he seems to understand the steps well enough and he has SOPs in English and Spanish (thanks google translate) so hopefully he will do a good job. Time will tell.

Ultimately my work in Mexico has demonstrated I could probably make just about anything work for making beer anywhere, which is satisfying. I have made some new friends and had some interesting experiences, so it has been quite the adventure.

Session #119 – Discomfortable Beer

Haven’t written a Session post in 17 months, but figure it’s good practice to get back in the saddle.

For Session 119 I’d like you to write about which/what kind of beers took you out of your comfort zones. Beers you weren’t sure whether you didn’t like, or whether you just needed to adjust to. Also, this can’t include beers that were compromised, defective, flat, off etc because this is about deliberate styles. It would be interesting to see if these experiences are similar in different countries.

My love of beer started with German beers, among them a good Bock beer, but years ago I first heard about this variant called Maibock. Not having any produced in my area at the time I decided to brew one. I studied the style, looked up some recipes online and at the homebrew shop I worked occasionally, until I had every detail down. I brewed the beer and it hit all the specifications. Okay honestly I doubt that I can say with certainty as when I was a homebrewer I didn’t often take gravity readings I figured, it converted sugars and fermented, it will be beer and that was my biggest concern at the time.

So after fermentation, then aging, I kegged and carbonated the beer and poured a glass of it. The weeks built my anticipation. Finally I got to taste my brew. My face fell flat, it tasted horrid, to me at least, my friends thought I did a decent job, but it had a certain character I disliked and couldn’t put my finger on.

That next weekend I was already traveling to San Francisco, I decided I would go to the Gordon Biersch brewpub and taste their example to find out how I compared. So I did exactly that. I brought that large Golden vessel of liquid bread to my lips drank deeply and realized my error.

My homebrew was a reasonable example of the style, clean, crisp, a bit of bready note. The problem was, I don’t like Maibocks. Their flavor is unappealing to me, much in the same way Irish Red Ale doesn’t appeal to me. I’d like to say I have learned to love them, I appreciate what it takes to brew both styles, but they simply aren’t what I like to drink. And that is perfectly fine.