Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Getting "Smaller" To Get Bigger

Hey everybody!  Long time no talk.  I wanted to take a minute to make everyone aware and explain some changes we are making to our local distribution footprint.  As you may or may not know, we are distributed in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky by Stagnaro Distributing.  They are currently our only distribution partner and up until now we have been available to retailers in their entire distribution footprint which extends from Dayton, Ohio down to well past Florence Kentucky.  They have been a great partner with us for nearly 3 years now and we are happy to continue working with them for the foreseeable future.

As we have begun to grow and make a name for ourselves in the local beer world it has become increasingly difficult to support all of the bars and restaurants throughout this fairly large distribution area that are interested in carrying our product.  Recently we have had to turn down numerous opportunities to attend events or otherwise be involved in happenings around town simply because we just don't have enough beer to go around.  Our goal from day 1 has been to stay as local as possible and to never "bite off more than we can chew" as they say.  Over the last few months we have had a lot of difficulty keeping even our closest neighbors supplied with beer so we have decided to reduce our distribution territory for a while.  This will allow us to adequately serve SOME people instead of inadequately serving a LOT of people.

So.  Effective this week you will only be able to buy Blank Slate in Hamilton County Ohio.  I apologize to those bar and restaurant owners outside of Hamilton County who have been supporters of us in the past.  This decision wasn't made lightly and I hope that you will still support us when we are ready to resume selling in your area.  Again, thank you for the support.

The logical question to ask is "why don't you just make more beer".  Well, we're working on it.  Our business model has always been one of slow, sustainable growth, much slower than many of our peers.  For one, we don't have the deep pockets needed to pull it off but more importantly I feel strongly that our ability to maintain the high standards we have for quality and consistency dictate that we do it this way.  We are currently preparing to triple our capacity and hope to have that online by early 2016.  However, by our best estimates this will only begin to meet the demand that we currently have inside Hamilton County.  I'd love to put a time frame as to when we will be ready to add other counties back into distribution but right now I really don't know when that will be.  I don't want to make any promises that I don't think we can keep so I'll just say that we'll see you when we see you.

Thanks for listening!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Will Someone Please Come And Clean These Kegs?

So.  It's been an insanely long time since I have posted.  I have a million things and tons of stories I'd love to get on "paper" for everybody.  However, there's no time for that these days so I'll cut right to the chase...

We are in need of a part-time assistant to work here in the brewery.  Now before everyone goes off half-cocked and starts flooding me with emails, hear me out.  We need someone to wash kegs about 12-16 hours a week.  The hours are SLIGHTLY flexible in that as long as the work is done between 9:00 and 5:00 between Monday and Friday (thus no nights or weekends) we can make it work.  This will be the ONLY task associated with this job, at least for the foreseeable future.  It COULD turn into a larger role in the brewery at some point, but there is certainly no guarantee of that right now.  The keg washer is one of the last points of quality control for the entire brewing process so it is still a critical step, even if it is mind-numbingly repetitive.

Pay will be $8.50 per hour.

Necessary Qualifications

- Must be 21 years of age and legally allowed to work in  the United States.
- Flexibility to work anytime between 9:00 and 5:00 Monday-Friday a total of 12-16 hours per week.
- Must be meticulous in their attention to detail and able to follow procedures and instructions to the letter as well as fill out data logs completely.
- Must be able to multi-task. 
- Must have a good mixture of analytical common sense as well as a desire to think outside the lines when needed.
- Good mechanical aptitude and ability to understand simple pump and valve controls.
- Must have a working knowledge of all-grain brewing, especially as it relates to sanitation.  Doesn’t have to be commercial experience (although that would be nice), but homebrewing experience is a must. 
- A simple understanding of basic chemistry is highly desirable as well.
- Must have a basic understanding of beer styles and off-flavors. 
- Should be able to communicate well with others and comfortable speaking to groups.
- Ability to maneuver full kegs of beer weighing approximately 130 pounds each.

If that seems like some terribly specific requirements for a grunt job cleaning kegs, it is.  As I have said before, I want to bring in folks that have a desire to move beyond just an introductory level position at some point.

With all that in mind, if you are not deterred, please send an updated resume detailing your specific skills and experience that you feel makes you right for this position to scott@blankslatebeer.com  (I’m not terribly interested in knowing that you spent 3 years at Kings Island checking kids’ height for the roller coaster so you can leave stuff like that out).  Please type “yes I want to be a grunt” in the subject line that way I know you read this posting completely and fully understand what you are getting yourself into.  I will only be responding to emails from folks that we want to speak to in further detail.  I'm sorry but I simply do not have the time to respond to everyone individually any more.  Also, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not send me an email saying that you can only work night/weekends, or that you are looking for a marketing/sales job or something else besides what we are specifically looking for in this posting.  Do not call or stop by the brewery as all correspondence needs to be done through email.  We are looking to fill this position quickly and will conduct interviews in the next few weeks if possible.  I will let everyone know through this blog and/or Facebook when the job has been filled.


Thanks for reading!

***EDIT 2-23-15***  We are no longer taking applications for this position.  Thanks to all those who applied!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Happy Birthday to Us...

So I let it go by without much fanfare but a few weeks ago BSBC turned 1 year old.  Yep, it was just over a year ago that we made our first sales and did our first few events at MOTR and Arthur's.  It seems like it was only yesterday and yet it seems like it was 10 years ago.  It's taken me a few weeks to get around to it but I finally got some time today to stop for a minute and reflect on "the year that was" as well as what may or may not be next for us in the coming year.

First let me say thanks to everyone who has supported us this year (and even before that).  The response to this little operation and our not so straight forward brewing philosophy has been great and without you we would not have survived to see this day.  Seeing and talking to you at events is what gives me the energy and drive I need to survive the long hot days in the brewhouse.

So here's a little of the "year in review" both positive and negative....

Our first year goal was to produce 350 BBL's of finished beer.  Well we finished a little shy of that at 290 BBL's.  Still not too bad considering I made it all by myself (and sold it myself for 4 months).  I am firmly convinced we missed this goal entirely due to the overestimation of my abilities to produce beer at a rate that would yield 350 BBL's by myself.  Turns out that I only have two hands, and that's apparently not enough!  The recent addition of Colin to the "family" should get us up to that pace (and beyond) pretty quickly though.

Demand has been steadily growing since my decision to give up self-distribution.  I never planned to do it forever, and in retrospect probably should have given it up sooner.  Stagnaro has been doing a great job of building up the business without overselling our capacity.  Unfortunately because we only made a few hundred barrels last year we couldn't just go out and start selling anywhere and everywhere or else there would be major supply issues and many unhappy wholesale customers.  I am trying to be cautious about bringing new accounts on-line if it means potentially running out of beer at other accounts.  Other than a few short term instances here and there (which were entirely my fault due to some unexpected time off that I had to take) I hope we have been successful in that effort.  Unfortunately it means that sometimes it can be hard to find us around town as we just aren't on tap everywhere.

The business was breaking even after about 8 months which was right on schedule.  Of course breaking even simply means we are covering all of the bills.  It doesn't mean there is anything leftover for frivolous things like paying me a salary....yet.

I discussed it in detail previously but the decision to start bottling and then to not start bottling was a big oops on my part.  For that I am sorry to anyone who got their hopes up.  It's a decision that I am still regretting as it has set us back a little bit in our growth plans and as of now I am not even thinking about when we may take another stab at it.

Yes, we still don't have a taproom.  I guess we have the dubious distinction of being the only brewery in town without one.  Without rehashing that story I will simply say that we will have one...someday...

I am very proud that we did 3 collaboration beers here in our first year.  Determination with Triple Digit Brewing, Savage Blank with Quaff Bro's and The Awakening with Beer and Sweat winner Brian Jackson.  Don't look for that to change this year as collaborations with Triple Digit and Quaff are already in the planning stages as well as possibly a few others including the Beer and Sweat winner again this year.

We just started barrel aging our first sour.  It took some time to get around to doing it, but we now have souring bacteria at work in the brewery.

So in summary, we are surviving.  And growing.  Slowly.  All of which has been (pretty much) according to plan.  It is every bit as hard as I thought it would be and sometimes even more so.  It is also just as rewarding as I thought it would be and sometimes even more so.

But what's next?

Well if you read between the lines above you may see that the common theme is that we just can't make enough beer.  If we could make more beer we could sell more beer.  So that's what we are going to do.  Within the next few months we will be increasing our fermentation capacity by almost 85%.  This will nearly double our output capability for the coming year.  Hopefully it will mean the ability to turn on some new accounts and push farther into the outer parts of the city (and Dayton) as well as give us the excess capacity that we will need to support a taproom sometime in the next 12 months.  Yes I said it.  Unless something goes sideways I plan to have the taproom operational within the next 12 months (actually less than that but I decided to build a lot of fluff into the timeline).

So you'll have to forgive me for not throwing a big birthday bash.  It's been a little busy around here.  Maybe we'll do it next year....


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What to do when your eyes get bigger than your stomach?

A couple weeks back I posted briefly that BSBC was postponing the start of bottling operations indefinitely.  I realized a few days ago that I didn't give a whole lot of detail which is not in keeping with what this blog is all about.  So with that in mind I wanted to circle back and give everyone a little more info on what happened and what we plan to do next.

The original plan for the brewery was to be draft only for at least a year, if not longer.  Bottling beer is a whole different operation than kegging beer.  The demands of shelf-life under less than optimal conditions are an ever present issue with packaged beer, much more than keg beer which lives its whole life cold.  The equipment to fill a keg is a couple hundred bucks.  The equipment to fill bottles is several thousand.  Given everything that was involved in just getting this brewery operational bottling was only a distant glimmer in my eye on day 1.  That being said, somewhere along the way I found a "deal" on three used single head counter pressure fillers.  It was a deal that (at the time) I felt was too good to pass up.  So I didn't.  Now these machines were never meant to be a long term solution, just a way to get some bottles out here and there.  In fact we used them to bottle the Determination collaboration with Triple Digit.

Now fast forward to the end of last year.  As I sat looking through all the sales figures vs. capacity and all that fun stuff I started to see that it looked like there was some unused capacity starting in early 2013.  That coupled with the constant barrage of "when are you going to start bottling" questions led me to decide that the time to start bottling was coming sooner than expected.  A bit of a deviation from plan, but a good one I convinced myself.  So the long process of setting up packaging began.  Lead times on printed boxes and labels can be pretty long so it took from December through March to get everything in place.  Not to mention the capital outlay for the design work, artwork proofs and printing everything.  There's labels and six-pack carriers and case boxes to source and purchase, not to mention bottles and caps.  All of which must be paid for in advance and bought several thousand at a time.  It was a daunting task that took just about every bit of available capital that I had at the time.  All the while I was working on the machines to improve their speed and performance.  Even though they were used to bottle Determination we had to do a lot of "fiddling" to get them to work well enough to package that small amount of beer.  When the time came to start bottling for myself the machines were working better but still not great and at excruciatingly slow speeds.  It took 6 people 6 hours to bottle around 30 cases of beer.  (An even modestly automated machine will do 60 cases an hour).  The process was very labor intensive and at times even dangerous (my brother-in-law cut his thumb pretty bad when a bottle broke in the capper).  The implications were that I would need to have 6 people here all day every weekend just to have a chance of making the amount of bottled product that I had committed to.  Because the machines were still a little finicky to work with I could not guarantee that every bottle would be consistent using volunteer labor (plus that's just too much work to ask of volunteers).  The odds of running out of product in the market on a week to week basis were just too high so I decided to scrap the whole thing.  It seems my eyes had definitely gotten bigger than my stomach and I had taken on more than I could handle.

In the end it has probably been a blessing in disguise.  Over these same months that I thought we would be growing some excess capacity in reality it has been the opposite.  Draft sales have picked up as we have come out of the slow season (if you can believe there is such a thing, but apparently there is) and now I can't make enough kegs to properly supply demand.  I am regretful that I had to back out of several commitments at the last minute as that doesn't generally reflect well on any business.  In the end though I think it is better to pull the plug at the start rather than put out an inconsistent supply of product and I hope everyone understands that.

So now what? 

Well the moral to this convoluted story is STICK TO YOUR PLAN!  I spent a lot of time working out the business plan for this venture and so far it hasn't led me astray.  So it's back to plan A.  We will continue to make only draft beer until such time as our capacity dictates that we must begin bottling.  At that time we will source the equipment needed to do it properly and (hopefully) never look back from there.  When will that be?  Who knows.  Maybe six months, maybe a year, maybe never.

So this premature foray into bottling has been a bit of a learning lesson for me.  In the brewing business (as in any business) it is all about managing risks and balancing growth in a way that works for you.  For some people the motto is "damn the torpedos, full speed ahead".  Not me.  When I see a torpedo I take the long way around.  In this case I guess I stared at the torpedo a little too long and it stung me a little, but staring at the 20,000 6-pack carriers will stand as a constant reminder to never get too far ahead of myself again.

At least until the next time....

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

You can't always do it alone...

As most everyone knows, I am the only employee here.  When I tell people that I run a brewery completely by myself, most people say "how in the hell do you pull that off"?  Well quite frankly I have no idea.  It was never the plan to "go it alone" for very long.  Truth be told if I was able to I would have hired someone 3 months ago, but it just wasn't in the cards as they say.  Well I think the time has come where it is now unavoidable.  There have been many folks who have emailed me in the past regarding job opportunities, but to respond to each of them individually at this point would be an insurmountable task.  If you are one of those people, please don't be mad. Just take a look at this and respond again if you want.  So without further ado, here is the first ever Blank Slate Brewing Company job posting!  It doesn't read like a "normal" help wanted ad, but then I don't usually do things the "normal" way.  Regardless, thanks for taking a look....




So you say you want a job in a brewery?  Well you’re in luck.  I’m looking to hire a part-time assistant brewer.

Awesome you say.  Where do I send my resume?  Well hang on a minute.  Hear me out first.  What I am offering is probably not at all what you are expecting so let me give you the details before you run and quit your current career for the “glamorous life” of a brewer's assistant.

First, the basics.  Starting out 20-24 hours per week, but will most likely lead to full time employment down the road for the right individual (no promises or guarantees).  2-3 days per week during the day/early evening.  Exact hours and days are somewhat negotiable, but would need to be weekdays.  I am looking to have this person start sometime in May if all goes well.  The pay, well it’s not much, too low to even mention at this point.  We’ll discuss that if you come in for an interview.

So far, so good you say?  What does the job entail?
I’m not going to sugar coat it.  This will be one of the crappiest jobs you’ve probably ever had.  You will be assisting me in all aspects of brewing operations, including cleaning kegs, dumping spent grain, filtering, cleaning tanks, moving inventory (grain and beer) cleaning floors, labeling boxes, maybe even cleaning the toilet.  Did I mention cleaning?  That’s 90% of what you will do.

Still with me?  Well you will be doing this work in extremes of temperature (it’s 110° in here in the summer and 36° in the walk-in cooler) while working with scalding hot water and chemicals that could potentially eat a hole through you if you aren’t careful.  You must be able to lift 55 pound bags of grain chest high and be able to work off of a ladder as well as in tight spaces.  You must be able to maneuver full kegs on and off of pallets.  You will get dirty and you will sweat…

OK you say?  Sounds like any able bodied grunt could handle this job.  Are there any other qualifications?

Yes.

Aside from the usual stuff such as must be 21 years of age or older, and legally allowed to work in the United States, there is more.  The right person must also have the following qualifications:

Must have a working knowledge of all-grain brewing.  Doesn’t have to be commercial experience (although that would be nice), but homebrewing experience is a must.  A simple understanding of basic chemistry is highly desirable as well.
Must have a basic understanding of beer styles and off-flavors. 
Must be meticulous in their attention to detail and able to follow procedures and instructions to the letter as well as fill out data logs completely.
Must be able to multi-task. 
Should be able to communicate well with others and comfortable speaking to groups.
Must have a good mixture of analytical common sense as well as a desire to think outside the lines when needed.

If that seems like some terribly specific requirements for a grunt job that’s 90% cleaning, well it is.  Why you ask?

Here’s the deal.  I’m not trying to be flippant.  While this is a menial job that doesn’t pay well and is only part time, I am looking for more than just a grunt to clean my toilet.  I am looking for someone who can grow into a bigger role at BSBC and help me take this business to the next level (whatever that may be).  While nothing is guaranteed, I am looking for someone who can eventually (sooner than later if all goes well) become a full time employee and maybe even run the day to day operations someday.  I am trying to be perfectly honest though in saying that I don’t know when that will be if ever.  I wish I was able to offer a full time, well paid position with lots of benefits.  The company just isn't there yet.  This is an entry level position, no doubt about it.  I will teach you as much as you are willing to learn and in return I hope that you can give me a hand in the short term and become a valuable part of what BSBC is all about in the long term.

With all that in mind, if you are still not deterred, please send an updated resume detailing your specific skills and experience that you feel makes you right for this position to scott@blankslatebeer.com  (I’m not terribly interested in knowing that you spent 3 years at Kings Island checking kids’ height for the roller coaster so you can leave stuff like that out).  Please type “yes I am still interested” in the subject line that way I know you read this posting completely and fully understand what you are getting yourself into.  Depending on response, I will conduct interviews in the next few weeks.   

Thanks for reading!

ADDENDUM 5-9-13:  As of today I have completed all the interviews for the position and am no longer taking applications.  Thank you to all those that applied.  I can't respond individually to everyone but I just wanted to let everyone know it was tough filtering through so many good applicants.  I've never been on "this side of the desk" for the interview process before and I don't know which is tougher, being potential employer or potential employee.....

Thursday, March 28, 2013

False start...

This one will be brief...

I've alluded to it in the past and if you've seen me around in the last few months you've probably heard me talking about it.  The impending launch of bottled product.  When asked the question "when are they coming" I have been answering "April".  Well I really hate to go back on a promise but it looks like I am going to have to do it.  Due to issues with the bottling equipment I have decided that we must postpone bottling for a while.  After rebuilding and refurbishing the used machines that I purchased I still cannot get them to perform in a manner that produces the quality of fill that is needed to meet my standards...and if it doesn't meet my standards, it doesn't go out the door.

I want to apologize to everyone for the delay.  As most everyone knows BSBC is a very small and self-funded operation so setbacks like this tend to hurt a bit but I will do everything I can to get the situation resolved in as timely a manner as possible.  I do not have a timeframe right now for when that may be though.  Could be a few months, could be never.  In the meantime, please continue to enjoy all of BSBC's beers on draft around town!

Thanks.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Beer Week, Beerfest and the TTB

The second annual Cincinnati Beer Week is almost upon us.  If you are unfamiliar with the concept, it is a week long celebration of all things beer.  Several establishments around town will be hosting special beer events, tappings, dinners and what-not from February 7th through the 14th.  The week culminates in the 6th Annual Cincy Winter Beerfest on the 15th and 16th at the Duke Energy Center.  I wanted to take a moment to let everyone know where BSBC will be during the week in case anyone wants to come out and say hello (hopefully you will!).  So, here's the list of where I'll be and when:

Friday Feb 8 - Valley Wine and Spirits in Ft. Wright from 4:30-7:30.  Several BSBC beers on the growler station.

Friday Feb 8 - Arthurs in Hyde Park from ~8:30 until ???.  Arthur's is donating part of each sale to different local charities of the Breweries' choice.  BSBC is donating to the Freestore Foodbank.  Whichever brewery sells the most, Arthur's will match the donation.

Saturday Feb 9 - Jungle Jim's bottle signing of the collaboration Embree's Baltic Porter.  From 12-1 in Fairfield and from 2-3 in Eastgate.

Sunday Feb 10 - Lagerhouse downtown meet and greet with other collaboration brewers from 12-3.

Monday Feb 11 - Firehouse Grill in Blue Ash.  Sandwich specials and Q and A session with me.  Q and A starts at 7:00.

Tuesday Feb 12 - Cock and Bull Mainstrasse.  Meet and Greet.  I should be there around 7.
Wednesday Feb 13 - Buckhead Mountain Grill in Newport.  Meet and Greet with other collaboration brewers from 6-8.

Thursday Feb 14 - Olive's in Clifton.  Pseudo tap takeover with Triple Digit/Listermann.  I should be there around 6 or 7.

Friday and Saturday the 15th and 16th look for us at Beerfest!  Also, I will be taking part in a panel discussion on Saturday as part of the 5B bloggers conference.

So you ask, will we be putting out anything new/rare/interesting at any of these events?  Well, maybe.  I actually have a few different things that I WANTED to debut during beer week, but alas the TTB is being very slow in approving formulas right now.  I have the Beer and Sweat winning Saison ready to go.  I have our new beer called Shroominous ready to go.  The Quaff Brothers Sauvignon BLANK will be ready to go in a few days.  Unfortunately due to national budgetary issues the TTB has downsized the formulation review department down to 1 person.  Yes.  One.  For the whole country.  Until that gets taken care of the beer must sit here in the brewery.  At this point it is pretty much too late to hope that any of this will get approved in time for Beer Week.  I am cautiously optimistic that we may get a few of them ready in time for BeerFest.  If this sounds familiar, that's because it is.  I've complained about it before in another post.  So who knows.  Maybe we'll have some surprises during BeerFest, maybe not...