Thursday, August 10, 2017

This is the end...beautiful friend...the end.

As most everyone knows by now I had to make the tough decision to close Blank Slate Brewing Company earlier this week.  My intent was to do it with little fuss or fanfare…just fade off into the sunset as they say.  I didn’t want to leave a sappy farewell.  I removed all social media to save myself the heartache of reading whatever comments would be written.  I have purposely “gone dark” with respect to anything in the media, whether social or traditional.  I am grieving at the loss of the business, the dream that I have worked tirelessly at creating for the better part of 10 years.  There’s a lot to process emotionally and I didn’t want to add the stress of having to deal with it publicly.

It has come to my attention that in the absence of an official explanation there has been much speculation as to the reason for the brewery’s closure.  It was never my intention to mislead anyone in that respect.  With as many breweries as there are now I didn’t think anyone would really notice if our little operation just faded away.  The reason for our closure is pretty simple.  We ran out of money.  There is no big conspiracy, no secret takeover, no legal troubles or personal issues.  We simply don’t have enough cash to keep going.  

If you know anything of the history of Blank Slate you know that it was built on a shoestring budget.  Just me, myself, and I in the beginning.  Every penny I have or will probably ever be worth went into starting and growing the business one day, one customer at a time.  It might surprise some people to know that the entire operation ran with 3 or less people for its entire existence.  It might also surprise some people to know that I have never personally made a dime from it.  I never even drew a salary.  I have relied on my loving wife for personal financial support for almost six years now.  Keeping the operation afloat has been a struggle every single day of its existence but we made it work...until it didn't.  There have been at least a half dozen times through the years that I thought we were going to have to go out of business but I always managed to cobble together enough money to pay the bills.  I was determined that we would succeed doing things “the right way” by putting the product above all else and growing business honestly and organically, on our own, by our rules, and without outside influences.  I never had much access to capital.  I never ran in the circles that put me in the same room as a bunch of rich guys who I could get to “fund my dream”.  I had to build it myself, physically and figuratively, and truth be told I wouldn’t have wanted to do it any other way.

Eventually as we grew I did ultimately find some people who believed in our product and philosophy enough to fund a needed expansion beginning in 2015 that would get us “over the hump” towards profitability.  However, by the time everything was in place by late 2016 the brewing landscape had seemingly changed.  A dozen more breweries had opened, all better funded than us with nicer taprooms and slicker marketing.  Instead of our volume growing as expected it stagnated and in some areas actually decreased.  We simply did not have the means to keep up with the ever increasing costs of trying to stand out in a crowd when compared to the next shiny new thing coming down the pike.  Put all this together and an already tight situation becomes untenable.  I tried raising more money but to no avail.  The shoestring finally broke and thus here we are.  Pretty simple in its complexity isn’t it?

I am truly appreciative of everyone who supported us through the years and I am sorry to anyone I have disappointed.  I am also sorry to the employees that I had to let go.  It’s like breaking up a family and I have cried many times since Monday about it.  Although there were many things left undone, many beers left unmade, I am very proud of every single thing that we ever did as a company.  Everything we brewed was for the love of the craft above all else.  Maybe it wasn’t to the extent that I had hoped but I’d like to believe that we helped educate and evolve the palate of beer drinkers in this town at least a little bit.  In the end there just wasn’t enough people who liked our beer or agreed with our philosophy to make us a viable company and that’s OK.  We gave it our best shot and it just didn’t work out.  There will be another ten breweries in this town in the next year to take our place (along with the 30+ that are already here).  There are more craft beer choices than ever in Cincinnati and in many, many ways that is a good thing.  Just remember that supporting the ones you like means more than just saying "I went there once and really liked their beers.”

I have heard bits and pieces about the outpouring of support that we have received in the last few days on social media and I am truly appreciative and humbled by it.  Whether Blank Slate ever exists in a physical nature again is pretty hard to say at this point but it appears that it may live on in people's memories for quite some time and that fills me with a sense of satisfaction that at least we accomplished something worthwhile.

As for me, I have a lot to do and a lot to think about.  I started this business by myself and now I have to dismantle it by myself.  I need time to grieve and time to heal the “wounds” that this experience has left me with.  There is still some product working its way through distribution that I need to deal with so be on the lookout for that in the coming few weeks.  

Hopefully we will all cross paths again at some point down the road.

Thanks again for the memories.
Scott LaFollette
Former Proprietor, Janitor and Yeast Farmer
Blank Slate Brewing Company

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
- J. Morrison

Saturday, July 8, 2017

What the heck is an East End IPA?

These days it seems like there is a new "style" of beer being created every day and I for one am all for it.  Creating new things that defy any current categorization is just the kind of anarchy we need these days.  However, it can get pretty confusing to the casual observer or anyone else who isn't as "wired" into the beer world as some of us are.

Most beer styles have historically originated from very specific regions of the world.  Everything from available ingredients to water chemistry to regional taste dialects have gone into shaping the many styles of beer created around the world.  Nowadays the world operates in a much more "global" fashion and we have the ability to brew styles of beer that are in no way native to the constraints of our local supply chain.  While this is great for product diversity and consumer choice, sometimes it seems as though a little bit of the history and subtlety of why a beer came to be is lost.  Beer is meant to be a product of its locality, best drank fresh and from the source.  Much in the same way that Champagne can only come from that region (all else is Sparkling Wine) there are also label laws that must be used so that people do not get confused about the origin of a particular beer.  For example "Kolsch Style Ale" must be used to represent a beer that is in the style of Kolsch, but not actually from that region.

What's the point of this and what does it have to do with the topic of this post?  Well if you are familiar with the history of IPA (India Pale Ale) you'll know that through the years there have become so many variations of the style that it is nearly impossible to keep them all straight.  Why?  Marketing gimmick?  Sure, somewhat.  Isn't everything these days?  In this case I believe there is a bit more to it though.  IPA originated as a very specific style of beer made for a specific reason.  The British needed a beer that would survive the long boat trip to colonial India and found that adding lots of hops to the beer preserved it for the journey.  When fresh, this beer was undrinkable and therefore made purely for export. Fast forward a few hundred years to America where we have taken this style and turned it onto its head in such a way that it now must be drank super fresh or else it is "no good".  It's been a very interesting evolution of a beer style.  More than any other beer I can think of it has evolved into something completely different than what it was originally meant to be and that's OK.  Adapt or expire as they say.

Because IPA has evolved into a product that needs to be drank very fresh to be best enjoyed, it has inherently become a more localized product.  In a modern world where seemingly everything you could ever want is at your fingertips,  IPA is almost a step into the past in that so many different regional variations have been created through the years in order to satisfy the people in that area.  So now we have NorthWest IPA, East Coast IPA, MidWest IPA, New England IPA and probably 10 other variants that aren't large enough to pop up on our radar screens yet.  While all of these sub-styles started from the same basic flavor profile a lot of nuance and differences can be found in them.  Nowhere else in the world of beer is this true anymore.  A Kolsch from California will taste pretty similar to a Kolsch from Georgia or Delaware.  Many styles are somewhat "codified" in that there isn't much wiggle room for how to produce it.  IPA on the other hand has become a refreshing change from the assimilation of all cultures that seems to be growing as the world becomes more "global".  It's fun to see brewers and drinkers from different regions of the country talk about how their IPA's are better than yours and debate about the nuance of appropriate haze and bittering levels.  It helps to remind us that we are all different people and we have different tastes and that not everyone across the country (or the world) is the same.  It's something that I think we need a little bit more of in the world today.

So to finally answer the question.  What is an East End IPA?  It's nothing.  We made it up.  We aren't in Oregon so it's not a NW IPA.  We aren't in Maine so it's not a NE IPA.  Our brewery is in the East End of Cincinnati and therefore what we are producing is an East End IPA.  Plain and simple.  It is an IPA brewed in this locality for this locality.  We aren't trying to recreate something that someone has already done somewhere else.  Where's the fun in that?  We are producing something that is for us and about us, here, in little old Cincinnati, Ohio.

But if you REALLY need a description, here you go....

We built this beer using bits and pieces of several other IPA styles that we enjoy and have put them together in our own way...the BLANK SLATE way.  Lots of new school fruit juicy hops but with a little bit of old school pine and resin mixed in.  The beer has a bit of body to balance the hops, but is brewed to be dry enough that it doesn't have a cloyingly sweet finish.  There is some bitterness, but not as aggressive as many others out there.  It is unfiltered and unfined but is NOT a yeast milkshake.  It is simply an IPA that we like to drink and we hope you will too.

Until next time...

-Scott and the BSBC team.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Time to Kick Things Into Gear...With Your Help!

A lot has been going on in the brewery lately.  We are putting the finishing touches on the expansion that was begun way back in October and are on track to start packaging our beer in cans in August. We are still a small operation in the grand scheme of things but we are constantly growing at a reasonable and sustainable pace.  Now that we have a lot more tanks we need help keeping them full so we are looking to hire a full time SECOND SHIFT brewer real soon.

If you have ever read one of our job postings before you know that I don't mix words when it comes to what we are looking for in a candidate and what the job entails.  Working in a brewery is no picnic. It is hot, sweaty, repetitive labor most of the time.  Contrary to popular belief we do not just sit around and drink beer all the time.

This position will entail all aspects of wort production on our (mostly manual) 7 BBL brewhouse including the following:

- Milling and moving grain.
- Operating several different pumps and valves to facilitate lautering/run-off/whirlpool and knockout.
- Transferring and treating brewing water.
- Cleaning the brewhouse and preparing materials for the next shift.

Some light cellar work may also be included from time to time.

Necessary Qualifications

- Must be 21 years of age and legally allowed to work in the United States.
- Ability to work a SECOND SHIFT schedule after an appropriate (30-45 day) training period on first shift.
- MUST have a working knowledge of all-grain brewing from grain to glass.  Commercial brewing experience and/or education is HIGHLY DESIRABLE.
- Good mechanical aptitude and ability to understand simple pump and valve controls as well as a reasonable understanding of fluid and gas flow dynamics.
- 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.
- 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 work independently with little supervision.
- Ability to lift and move 55 pound bags of raw materials.

Compensation will be based on experience.  We do not offer any other benefits at this time.

We need this position to be up and running very soon so I can't stress how important it is that we need someone with a working knowledge of brewing science.  If you have no idea how beer is made but are a "fast learner" please do not bother to apply.  Also, if you are interested in a position other than what is posted here, please do not bother to apply as we are only hiring for this position at this time. Only the most qualified candidates will be contacted for follow-up so please don't take it personally if you don't receive a reply.  I will post back to this blog as well as our other social media outlets once the application window has closed.  After that NO RESUMES will be accepted.

Please email all resumes to  Do not call or deliver anything personally to the brewery. EMAIL ONLY.  Please type "I know how to brew!" in the subject line so I know that you have read this entire post.

Thanks for reading!


We are no longer accepting applications for this position.  Thanks!

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  (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....