Monday, October 22, 2012

The Distribution Dilema...

Picking a distributor is probably the hardest decision that a brewery has to make short of actually deciding to start the brewery in the first place.  I am fairly certain that I have a growing ulcer that if dissected would bleed the logos of all the local beer distributors.  Not an hour of the day goes by that I don't think about it.  I have made more than a few lists with pro and con columns listing all the finer points of how each distributor operates.  Did I mention it's a big deal?

But why?  As I have discussed before there's a lot of reasons why choosing a distributor is a big deal.  In Ohio a brewery can self-distribute but in Kentucky you cannnot.  So to sell beer in Kentucky you MUST have a distributor.  What most people don't realize is that in Ohio (and most everywhere) distributor agreements operate under franchise law which means that when you sign with a distributor it is essentially a perpetual agreement.  That means you don't sign a one year or three year agreement and then "decide" whether or not to continue the relationship.  Nope.  It means that distributor agreements are in effect until such time as they are "mutually severed".  If things aren't going well then the distributor can either let you go or they can tell you "tough shit".  At that point you can sue for negligence to try to get out of the agreement, but that generally doesn't turn out well for anyone but the lawyers.  This is not to say that a distributor would stoop to that level, and every agreement is generally done in good faith.  Still, it's something you have to be aware of when considering the "worst case scenario".

So if its that big of a deal then why do it?  Why not just keep self-distributing?  Well, as I mentioned you can't self-distribute in Kentucky so I am missing out on a big hunk of the local market.  But, there's more to it than that.  Self-distribution was never my long term plan.  I wanted to do it starting out so that I could learn that side of the business since it is where I was the least experienced going into this endeavor.  Boy have I learned a lot in the past 4 months.  Some good stuff, some bad stuff, and some stuff that makes me wonder what the hell kind of business I have gotten myself into.  I definitely haven't learned it all in this short amount of time but I have learned enough to know that I don't want to do it much longer.

As a self-financed "one man army" it is simply not practical to self-distribute long term.  I don't have the time to make the beer, sell the beer, deliver the beer and do the myriad of other things that go along with running a business.  To do it would require a lot of capital that I simply don't have.  To meet the sales targets that I have I would need at least one if not two full time sales reps/delivery drivers.  I need to get a bigger delivery truck (the Ranger has really taken a beating the last few months).  I have to pay these people (bear in mind I haven't even gotten a paycheck yet), insure the truck, and so on.  Essentially I am creating another "business" unto itself.  This distribution arm now has to struggle with being new to the local market and try to convince customers that they should write an extra check and schedule an extra delivery every week from a new supplier.  Some accounts are fine with that but others don't like the extra hassle (so I have found).  In the end you still only have one or two people out "hitting the streets" trying to sell your products through primarily "cold-calls" whereas the other distributors have many more people who already have relationships with accounts.  Certainly over time you can build these same relationships but it takes a while to build this kind of business and in the meantime I can't sell as much beer as I need to stay in business.  Granted, if we had a big bankroll maybe I could pull it off, but I simply don't have it.  In my mind I would rather spend any "extra" capital we may get on additional equipment to grow the business.  That in a nutshell is why we are getting a distributor.

So before I get into the particulars I want to put out a HUGE disclaimer.  All of the local distributors that I have talked to have been extremely nice to me.  I have had multiple meetings with several of them and they have been very helpful with information about their company and the distribution world in general.  My decision to go with one versus another was purely a business decision and not because of any personal reasons or "issues" with any of them.  I consider all of them to be my new friends in the business.  Also, my reasons for my choice were what I thought was best for me and my business and do not in any way constitute an "endorsement" of one distributor over another.  Everyone's "path" is different and what seems best for me may not be best for someone else.

Granted every market is different and one of the first things a brewery needs to consider is how it wants to fit into that market.  The market here in Cincinnati is fractured between Ohio and Kentucky due to different state laws that don't have much overlap.  So whatever you decide to do in Ohio doesn't necessarily translate into anything in Kentucky.  Indiana is different yet, but to be honest I haven't even looked into how things work over there.  In this area you can break the distributors down into a few "groups".  There are distributors that distribute the "big brands" along with some craft and there are others who deal only in craft.  Some of these distributors have territories that cover the whole state and others only operate in certain counties.  Some are strictly in one state or the other and some have branches on both sides of the river.  There are also differences in how sales forces are structured, chain account access (think Kroger's) and things like that.

So there is no one way to "skin the cat" as you can see.  It depends on what you want for your business.  Going with one of the "big guys" means being able to tag onto a large logistics network that can make moving product around fairly easy.  The smaller craft only distributors are generally less "corporate" than some of the "big boys" which can make them a little more nimble which is nice.  Which is better?  Well, both and neither, depending on how you want to be positioned in the market.

Choosing a distributor that covers the full state means that when you're ready to grow all you have to do is "turn on the switch" to expand into other counties without having to sign a new agreement with another distributor.  Signing with a more local distributor means you can choose different partners in different markets that may suit your needs better in that particular region.Once again, which is better?  It depends.

This may be a rather simplistic way to look at it and trust me, there are a lot more in's and out's that I won't go into.  To me, this pretty well illustrates the primary "paths" that I had to choose from.  For me there are advantages and disadvantages to each of these paths which has made this whole process mind-numbingly difficult.  You have to consider what is best for you now AND what will be best for you 10 years from now.  To be honest I have spent so much time and effort just getting this brewery off the ground that I can barely picture what may or may not be happening in 10 years.  This is where the ulcer part comes in.

So after weighing all the options, wavering back and forth for weeks and pulling out some of the little hair I have left, I have finally made a decision.  As of Monday November 5th our products will be distributed in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area by Stagnaro Distributing.  I'm excited to have finally gotten this decision out of the way and hope I have made the right choice.  Only time will tell but in the meantime I am looking forward to concentrating more on production.  This is not to say that I will never make a sales call again.  I still plan to be out in the market visiting customers once a week.  I just won't be doing it 3-4 days of the week like I have been!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Why the Arthur's tap conversion is a big deal.

For those of you who may not be aware, Arthur's Cafe in Hyde Park has been making some news lately (I hope the link stays working).  They are converting all six of their draft taps to only local beer making them the first establishment in the city to do so.  I wanted to take a moment to expound on some of the ways in which I think this is a HUGE deal in this town.

1.  It's not just a marketing ploy.
Well maybe it is a little bit.  But its the RIGHT kind of marketing.  Arthur's is a local establishment.  Arthur's is a small business.  As Chris states in the video, a big part of this whole thing is about supporting other local small businesses (aka the breweries).  A lot of people like to wave the "support local" flag.  Sometimes it's lip service and sometimes (such as this) it's not.  Arthur's is really putting their ass on the line here.  Some of the old standby beers that they have had on tap for quite some time are going away and they may risk alienating some of their regular customers by this change.  Still, they are willing to give this new concept a try and for that I commend them.

2.  This wasn't possible just a few short years ago.
The whole Mark Twain quote about Cincinnati being 20 years behind the rest of the world is sometimes more reality than hyperbole.  If you travel to some other states such as Colorado and Michigan you will generally find a larger number of local taps in bars than you will regional and national brands.  Here at home that really hasn't been possible until now.  There simply weren't enough local options.  With the new guys that have opened lately (yours truly included) and a few more that are coming down the pipe, the excuse that there just aren't enough local brands no longer holds water.  For all of those folks out there that like to talk about Cincinnati's great brewing tradition, well guess what....we're bringing it back and here is the first big indication of it in my mind.

3.  It will hopefully become a harbinger of things to come.
OK...this one is partly a selfish reason.  As I have been out self-distributing my product in the last few months I have noticed a lot of bars with a lot of taps that may only have one local beer at most (and sometimes none).  Granted it is certainly their perogative to sell whatever products they wish and I am totally fine with that.  Still, I can't help but think that maybe they don't realize that there are more options out there and maybe they are somewhat "afraid" to serve more than one local beer.  I hope that if the Arthur's change to all local goes well maybe other establishments will experiment with putting more local beer on tap.  Not necessarily all their taps but to get 2-3 out of the sometimes 20+ isn't too much to ask is it?  Of course this means I (hopefully) get to sell more beer thus the selfish comment.  But more than that it means more local options in more local establishments for more local people.

So hopefully this doesn't sound too preachy.  I'm not trying to insinuate that people should only drink local beer.  There's too many other good beers out there for that.  I just hope that someday we can have a great beer culture in this town similar to what can be found in places like Portland, Denver, or most everywhere in Michigan.  I think we are well on our way but there is still work to be done.  To that end I think this commitment by Arthur's is a big step in the right direction.  If you do to then get out and support it and your local breweries wherever they may be poured!

Monday, October 15, 2012

You don't have to go to California to get fresh beer in Cincinnati

There's been a lot of talk and fervor in the local beer world the last few weeks about the Stone Brewing Company "Enjoy by" IPA campaign.  If you are unfamiliar with this product it is a Double IPA brewed by a very well respected California brewery that is meant to be drank within a month of the time it was produced.  A lot of effort (and expense) was put into making this beer, packaging it quickly, and getting it to market at an incredible speed so that it could be drank at the peak of freshness (I was told that it was trucked here by teams of drivers so that the truck itself wouldn't have to stop in order to save time).  There was even a Twitter tie-in for people to request who got to tap it first.  The result.  The beer is all but gone within a week of hitting the market (and well before the "Enjoy by" date).  People are still asking for it, but almost everyone is out of stock.  As far as beer launches go I think everyone would agree it was a success.

But the whole thing has got me thinking.  While I understand (and totally agree with) what Stone is attempting to do by bringing the subject of freshness to the forefront with this concept I still find myself a little perplexed by the response.  People went absolute bat-shit crazy for this beer this past week.  You would have thought that the only beer anyone every drank in this town was a year past its date code and stored next to the furnace all the time.  Meanwhile, quietly, without any fanfare (and a much smaller marketing budget) I released a new seasonal IPA about a week ago as well.  I didn't have to drive it cross-country day and night to insure its freshness.  I didn't run a twitter campaign to see who gets the "opportunity" to drink it at it's freshest.  I just sold it to a few places and they put it on tap.  It's fresh.  Why?  Because I just made it and it hasn't traveled farther than 5 miles since then.  I didn't do anything special to insure that this batch was delivered any fresher than any of my other products because it is a part of my everyday mantra to make sure the beer is as fresh as possible.  This is the very definition of what local brewers do.  We make fresh local products that don't have to be trucked across the country.  I'm guessing that new batches of Mt. Carmel IPA and Rivertown Hop Baron hit the market last week as well.  Granted Stone is a brewery with a bigger reputation than any of us local guys, but our beers are every bit as fresh if not fresher in this market and that's what we do EVERY DAY, not just every once in a while as a special marketing campaign.

Once again, I do not want to belittle what Stone has done.  I think it is a great idea, and judging from the response a lot of local consumers did as well.  I just want everyone to remember that you don't have to wait around for a special promotion from a California brewery in order to drink fresh beer in this town.  That's what your local brewery is here for!

<Exit Soapbox>

Sunday, July 29, 2012

So now what???

The brewery is finally operational and we are finally making some sales.  In fact we just finished up our first month of sales.  So now what?  Sit back and watch the profits roll in?  Get ready for the inevitable calls from bigger breweries wanting to buy me out so I can retire to an island in the Caribbean?  Not exactly.  Let's just say month #1 was not a profitable one.  No worries though, I didn't expect it to be....and here's a spoiler alert:  month #2 won't be any better.  But that's OK because I have planned for this to be the case for a while.  So instead of sitting back with my feet up on the desk do I just sit around and pull out what little hair I have left worrying about how to pay the electric bill?  Nope, no time for that either (well maybe a little bit of hair pulling).  See getting up and operational and making those first few sales is only "Phase 1" of the plan. 

As much as I would love for the opposite to be true; self-distributing draft only product, in Ohio only, as a one man operation is NOT a viable success strategy long-term (or even short-term for that matter).  As much as it sucks to say it, the old adage that the beer business is a "volume game" is pretty much a universal truth.  There is a slippery slope that exists between the quest for volume and having the funds to do what's necessary to increase that volume.  To sell more beer you need more avenues to market but to do that you need more equipment/personnel/etc.  Of course as soon as you have to buy more equipment you now need to make more money to cover those costs thus you need to sell more beer.  You can see how "chasing volume" can quickly become an out of control spiral .  But let's back up for a second so that I may define the term "success" as I see it in this endeavor.  The success of Blank Slate Brewing Company is defined by the following (in no particular order):

1.  Make the best quality beer that we possibly can.
2.  Always be approachable to our customers and never forget where we came from.
3.  Further the local beer industry as best we can through our words and actions.
4.  Make enough money to pay the bills with enough left over to keep a roof over my family's head, food on the table, and take my wife on a vacation somewhere farther than 10 miles away sometime in the next 5 years!

There's undoubtedly a few others that I have missed but that basically sums it up.  I'm not in this industry to get rich.  If I wanted to do that I would have stayed in the plastic factory.  I'm not looking to become the next Greg Koch or Sam Calagione.  My version of "success" is pretty meager by most standards.

So if selling kegs of beer out of the back of my Ford Ranger isn't going to get us the volume we need to be even marginally profitable then what's the plan?  Well as I said so far Phase 1 is complete.  Now it's on to Phase 2.  Unfortunately Phase 2 is where things start to get a little hairy.  We need to increase our avenues to market and that means bottling.  And before you ask, I will be bottling, not canning.  For a number of reasons canning doesn't fit into my business model and I am currently ruminating on a whole post dedicated to that discussion so I will leave it alone for now.  The fun thing about bottling is that it nearly doubles the complexity of the entire brewing process.  First you have all the wonderful branding and packaging design that has to be done.  Different designs for bottle labels and six-pack carriers for every brand gets complicated quickly.  Then you have to find someone to do the printing of all of these items and usually it's not the same company doing all the printing on the different medias.  Then you have to get case boxes made...and don't forget the bottles themselves.  All told I will be juggling more vendors for the bottling process than for every other part of the brewery combined.  This of course doesn't take into account the bottling process itself which adds a lot more labor than coupling a keg to the tank and letting it fill.  Plus it's a lot easier to just stencil a keg with the brewery name and get some tap handle stickers printed and be done with it!

But that's not even the "hairy" part.  Now that we can sell beer in more places with bottles we are forced with the biggest decision of all.  Can we sell and distribute all this ourselves (and still have time to make it and bottle it) or do we need to get a distributor?  Distributors take a cut of the sales which means you now need to sell more beer to make up the difference.  However to distribute to more places on your own you need more employees and more delivery trucks (that aren't a Ford Ranger) which means you also need to make more beer to recover those costs.  To top it all off you can't self-distribute in Kentucky so you MUST have a distributor to sell beer there even though the brewery is less than one mile away from the state line.  Remember that slippery slope I mentioned before?  Why do I feel like the floor is suddenly covered in banana peels?

The distribution question is an even bigger decision when you factor in franchise law which means that when you sign with a distributor you don't just do it for a 2 or 3 year contract.  It's forever.  The distribution dilemma is a whole issue in and of itself which I will take on in a later post down the road so stay tuned for that.

Once we get Phase 2 worked out, it'll be on to Phase 3 - TAPROOM!  That's yet another discussion for another day....

So for now me and my ever receding hair line will keep working out the details to get bottled product out to the market in the next few months while still brewing, kegging and cleaning out the couch cushions to pay the water bill...


Sunday, June 24, 2012


Now comes the part I hate.  Sales.  In a lot of ways I've been dreading this day.  It's the part of this whole operation for which I am the least experienced and have the least tolerance.  In my former career I had to deal with salesmen making cold calls all the time.  I used to hate it and now I have to do the exact same thing.  I'm sure most bar owners hate it too.  They have a lot more important things to do than deal with some goofy looking guy trying to sell them something.  But hey, at least I'm selling beer and not cleaning supplies.  No worries though.  I'll get to meet lots of new people and hopefully make some new friends along the way.  I am starting with a "soft launch" and have already hit a few local establishments.

I don't really want to do a big "launch party" until all three beers are ready.  After having to dump a batch, I want to make sure everything is just right before planning any events.  I'm still working out the kinks in the process (I'll spare you the technical details) which is making the batches take a little longer to get finished than I would like.  It is an iterative process and with every batch things are getting a little better (and easier).  I have a batch of Movin' On ready to go, and another in process.  The first batch of Pour...Wait...Repeat will be ready in a few days.  Ryesing Up is taking a while as the Saison yeast is very finicky.  That beer probably won't be ready until around the middle of July.

So here's where I need your help.  As I mentioned earlier, I have already hit a few places in the area around the brewery to make some sales.  So far its been tough sledding.  When you are cold calling there's about a 20% chance that the person you need to talk to will be there when you show up.  Sometimes they don't have room for you on tap right now, and sometimes they "only buy from XYZ distributor because they give the owner Reds and Bengals tickets".  That last one is a true statement told to me at one restaurant (the distributor name has been withheld to protect the guilty).  Anyways, as I roll out around town to "peddle my wares"  it would be great if everybody could start putting the word out around your favorite watering hole that there's a new brewery in town.  When I go into a place to make a cold call my chances are better if the owner already has heard of me and has had people asking about Blank Slate.  Also, if anybody has any suggestions for places I should make a sales call, let me know.  I'll add them to my list if they aren't already on there...

Thanks for your support and maybe I'll see you out there "on the road"...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I will sell no beer before its time.

As mentioned previously, we are finally brewing!  Four batches have been made so far.  But, two of them may be headed for the drain...

Due to a combination of yeast and pH adjustment issues the first batch of  Pour...Wait...Repeat didn't ferment fully and nothing seems to be able to get it restarted.  It will be dumped as soon as I muster up the courage to do it (or need the tank space).  The first batch of Movin' On fermented OK but I am having a lot of trouble getting it to clarify.  I originally wanted to stay away from filtering my beer and just use finings to get the final beer clarity that I wanted.  For several technical reasons (that I won't go into here) this no longer appears to be possible.  So, the filter arrived yesterday.  If I can get the beer clear without messing it up, we just might have something sellable.  The first batch of the Saison is still fermenting (it takes a while).  The second batch of Pour...Wait...Repeat is going in the fermenter today so we'll see how it goes.

This wasn't completely unexpected.  When you are scaling up batches, learning new equipment, and basically just trying to figure out how to make it all work there's bound to be some issues.  You can only test so much by running water through the tanks.  Since the first brew day I have modified the mash tun screens, adjusted the kettle burner, modified my grain bins, and as I mentioned, determined that we will have to filter.  In the next week I will be having my heat exchanger modified to increase its capacity and be installing an additional glycol unit to help with some cooling issues that I am having.  All of this was unanticipated, but as I said, not unexpected.  I knew there would be some things come up in the brewing process that would need to be modified, I just didn't know what they were...until now.

So what impact does this have on the "official launch".  Well its going to be at least a few more weeks.  As the title says, I will sell no beer before its time.  You only get one chance to make a first impression so I want to  make sure everything is right before we hit the market.  The learning curve in this process is steep, but I'm getting exponentially "smarter" every day...

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Now we're cooking...

It's been a while since I posted and for that I apologize, but I've been busy.  Busy in a good way.  See, we're finally brewing!  I went through about seven different welders before I finally found a company that could do the job and do it right.  I find it amazing how hard it was to get someone to come out and look at the tank, be able to fit inside it, and not be "too busy with other jobs" to fix my leak.  (If you were too busy why did you come out in the first place?)

But no matter.  It's fixed and all is well.  I've brewed two batches so far and after tomorrow all the fermenters will be full!  In about a week or so the first batch should be done and ready to sell.  The first brew day went reasonably well even though it took 16 hours to get done.  We hit the gravity pretty close, although an issue with the wort chiller made that part of the process take quite a bit longer than expected. 

That's all for now, but I'll keep everybody informed of where and when the first kegs will be sold!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

If It Weren't For Bad Luck...

...I'd have no luck at all.  I know that's a cliche, but for the last few weeks it has been my fate.  Things were finally coming together.  Back on the 22nd I was pretty stoked to get started.  I was tentatively targeting to launch during American Craft Beer Week (which starts tomorrow).  It took a few days to get a few last minute things squared away and get ingredients ordered, but by the end of April, I was ready to brew.  Key word in that statement is "was ready".  I was conducting the final tests through the brewery and filling the boil kettle for the first time (with water) and found out that it leaks!  Of all the used equipment in this place, the only tank that's new leaks!  Go figure.

So after a few calls to the tank manufacturer and a few welders, I found somebody to fix it and the manufacturer is going to pick up the bill.  No big deal, but it will cost us a few days (which I really can't afford)...

Until I go to fill it again.  Apparently it leaks in TWO places.  So we have it fixed again.  Then we fill it again.  Apparently it leaks in THREE places.  So the welder is coming back today (yes, on Mother's Day Sunday) to weld it again.  Hopefully this will be it because I don't know if I can handle much more of this...

As I have said before, there will be setbacks and unforeseen problems that arise in this process.  I understand and accept them.  But is it too much to ask that a brand new tank be able to hold water without leaking?  Well I guess so.  It speaks to the sad state of affairs that the manufacturing world is in.  First, I had to have the tank made in China because all the American manufacturers I spoke to were "too busy" to even give me a quote in most cases.  Couple that with the fact that most of the American manufacturers are having most (if not all) of the fabrication done in China anyway.  I did a lot of research into these tanks before I made this purchase and there were a lot of mixed feelings out there in the brewing world about their quality but most agreed it was "worth the risk".  I guess somebody has to get stuck with the lemon and apparently it was my turn.  If you're in the planning phases of starting a brewery and you are looking into Chinese equipment, all I can say is you better build a contingency into your financials "just in case" there are issues with the equipment when you get it...

In the end it will get fixed.  We WILL brew SOON.  Still, it kinda sucks when you're building up to the precipice and everything you've worked for is about to come to fruition and then SPLAT.  I've already had to turn down some potential sales because I can't tell anyone for sure when I will have product.  I'm loosing the well timed momentum that I was getting from some of the local press.  I have yeast sitting here losing viability by the day...

On the bright side, the extra time has allowed me to get all the needed approvals for the Peppercorn Saison so we will be launching that beer after all.  The taphandles are all done and ready to go so I'll leave you with this pic of the initial line-up.  Hopefully you'll see these in your local drinking establishments sooner than later...

I'll let you know when just as soon as I know myself...

What do you think?  I wanted to keep them simple but still distinctive.  And yes, those are QR codes at the bottom.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Beer Name Game

As a homebrewer I never was much for naming my beers.  I don't know why but it just wasn't my thing.  Maybe it was the impermanence of a 5 or 10 gallon batch of beer that wouldn't be around for more than a few months that made it not worth bothering with a name.  Or maybe since I usually tweaked recipes from one brew session to the next it wasn't worth it to name an "unfinished product".  Not that I have a problem with people giving their homebrews names, it just wasn't for me.  For competitions I would just enter my beers by their style name such as "Robust Porter" or "Northern English Brown Ale". 

Well that doesn't really work in the world of professional brewing.  For legal and marketing reasons you gotta call it something.  Naming my beers after their style seems a bit boring and since a lot of what I brew doesn't fit into exact style guidelines it wouldn't be real feasible anyway.  Lucky for me I've been compiling a list of possible beer names for a few years now.  Some are specific names that fit a certain style or flavor characteristic, some are interesting plays on words, and some are just words or phrases that "sounded like they would make a good beer name".  I have compiled a pretty big list and keep adding to it regularly.

The trick is out of all those names probably about half of them will be unusable.  Not necessarily because they are vulgar, violate TTB rules or just don't make sense (although there are some on the list that qualify in this regard), but because they are already in use.  See there are a little over 1900 craft breweries operating in the U.S. right now.  If you assume (conservatively) that each brewery has 5 standard beers and 5 seasonal beers that's nearly 20,000 beer names that are in use.  Well that generally means all the "easy" names have already been taken.  But how do you know?  Well as luck would have it the TTB has a name search directory that can help you check for already registered labels.  However, as with many things in the TTB, it isn't exactly the most useful tool.  It is an exact name search which means you have to search for the exact name to see if anyone is using it.  That means you have to try all the different variations and spellings you can think of to make sure you aren't naming a beer RYESING SUN when there is already a beer named RYSING SUN (hypothetical example).

But who cares you say?  So what if there's a beer in Ohio named Hoppin' Wheat and a beer in California named Hopp'n Wheat (hypothetical example)?  Breweries and their trademark lawyers that's who.  Trademark law can be a real "sticky wicket" as they say.  There's a lot of in's and out's but the gist of it is if someone else was using it first and they think your name is too close to theirs (which is very open to interpretation) they can sue you for infringement, even if you had no idea they existed or have no plans to ever sell beer in a market that they service.  Ignorance is no excuse for the law as they say.  So, when naming a beer you have to not only check every derivation of it you can think of in the TTB directory but it's also a good idea to search Google/Yahoo etc.  just to be sure.  While you're at it a search of the US Patent and Trade database probably isn't a bad idea either.  Even then you have to hope you did a good enough job researching so you don't get into trouble later.

This scenario works for brewery names as well.  Blank Slate was actually the third name I came up with for the brewery (actually my friend Chad came up with it).  Several years back I was looking to use the name "NO LABEL BREWING COMPANY" so I did a bunch of searching and found it wasn't in use.  Fast forward a few years and when I was getting ready to incorporate I decided to double check.  Sure enough, somebody had started using it.  You snooze you lose I guess.  There are a lot of examples out there of others who had to change their names after they were already doing business.  There was recently a brewery in Louisiana that changed its name from "PELICAN BREWERY" because there is apparently a brewpub in Washington called the "PELICAN BREWPUB".  Even though the chances of either brewery selling beer very far outside of their own state is slim, in this "globalized world" in which we now live I guess this is just how it goes.  In our litigious society sometimes even very loose relationships between names can cause someone to change theirs.  I just read this past week about a new brewery in Columbus that was changing their name from "BORN BREWING" because Rolling Rock has a trademark on the slogan "BORN SMALL TOWN".  Seems like pretty shaky grounds to claim infringement but just to be on the safe side (since Rolling Rock is owned by Budweiser who has LOTS of lawyers) they changed their name to "SEVENTH SON".  Of course a quick search of that name yields a brewery in Florida named "SEVENTH SUN" so we'll see how that works out. 

So the next time you pick up a beer and think "what's in a name", the answer is generally "a lot of research and lawyers"....

As for me, maybe I should use a random word generator for all my beer names to avoid any legal entanglements.  Anyone up for drinking a "BATHROBE AGGRANDIZING METRONOME"?

OK, maybe not....

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Now the hard part begins...

If you haven't been following me through other social media outlets (twitter, facebook) I'm sorry for filling you in on this so late but it turned out to be a big week this past week.  We got the burner situation straightened out sooner than originally expected (thanks to the good folks at Stoermer-Anderson).  The electrical inspector was pleased so I was able to get my final building inspection last Wednesday and low and behold IT PASSED!  So what's next?  What other regulatory hurdles are left before we can get this thing off the ground?  The answer - NOTHING!  That's it, we're done.  City building occupancy was the last regulatory step and now, its complete!

Part of me feels a little weird.  For the last year I have been so focused on construction and permits and licenses that now that it's all done, I feel like part of me doesn't know what to do.  Sure there's still a few "projects" to put together but for the most part my focus must now shift to the truly hard part of opening a brewery - actually operating it....

Once the final inspector left, everything suddenly became very "REAL".  See, for me, the nuts and bolts of putting the brewery together were the "easy" (relatively speaking) part.  Now I have to deal with marketing and sales and invoices and inventory control and on and on and on.  These are the areas of running a business that are a little less in my "wheelhouse" so to speak.  It's not that I don't know how they work, it's just that I don't have a lot of experience doing them.  Let's just say that researching the finer points of credit card merchant accounts isn't my strongest suit, nor do I find it very fun.  But hey, if I only did the fun stuff I would have run out of things to do a long time ago.

Of course the operations side has always been in my mind and things have been in motion for months to get everything set up.  Now that the permit process is over though it really has to kick into high gear.  It wasn't an hour after the building inspector left that I was on the phone ordering 5,000 pounds of grain and 250 pounds of hops.  Even though the taphandles were ordered weeks ago (and still haven't arrived) I'm still working out the final details on the labels for them.  I've been brewing a few pilot batches so that I can have samples to take to potential customers.  I even have the first of what will be a few meetings with distributors next week (more on that another day).  The tanks need their final cleaning and we need to run a few water tests through the whole system to make sure everything goes where it's supposed to.  So even though we've moved into the next "phase" of start-up there's still lots to do.  If all goes well we should be brewing a batch by the end of this next week.  As far as an official launch, that still isn't fully decided but should be in time for American Craft Beer Week which is May 14-20.

I modified the tagline of the blog today to say "starting (and operating) a brewery is exciting and scary at the same time".  For as scary as getting this thing started has been, operating it is even scarier...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dead in the Water.....

I have been purposely vague when the question of "when will you be open" gets asked.  Since you can't ever say for sure until all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed I have been cautious not to commit to a specific launch date.  Sure I've had a timeline in my head ever since last March when I first registered the business.  At that time the best I would say to anyone was "probably winter 2011/2012".  As things began to progress with construction I began to narrow it down to "late first quarter 2012".  Even as recently as the beginning of March I was optimistic that there would be beer in the fermenter by March 31st, just in time for an early April launch.  That would put me pretty close to what I was thinking over a year ago.  Not a bad guesstimate if you ask me.

Being ever the pessimist I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Something to come along to screw everything up.  I previously mentioned the issues I had with the walk-in refrigeration back at the beginning of March.  Well after much consternation and many a phone call, we now have the "right" refrigeration system.  Unfortunately that turned out to be a three week mistake by the original supplier.

So the "new" target brew date became the first half of April.  Disheartening, but still not too far off the original estimate...until I had my electrical inspection last Friday.

Let me back up for a minute.  In order to conduct business in my place I must have a city building occupancy permit.  This is essentially the final culmination of the building permit process that "blesses" your building for use.  It started way back in August with the overall building permit application.  It was promptly denied due to a few minor things that were missing on the drawings.  After an architect revision and a few other hoops we had permission to start work in early October.  The plumbers and electricians then procured their permits and we were off and running.  An inspection of the bathroom framing, plumbing and electrical was needed before we could drywall.  That was done in December.  Once all the fixtures are installed you must get a final plumbing and electrical inspection and then finally, a final building inspection.  The final plumbing was done in February - no sweat.  The building and plumbing inspections are done by the city and believe it or not they have been great to work with (so far).  The electrical inspection is done by an outside company called IBI (Inspection Bureau Inc.) and from what I can tell Cincinnati is the only municipality in the US that "outsources" their electrical inspections.  Instead of the inspections being done by a city inspector who gets paid by the hour they are done by a for profit company that gets paid PER VISIT.  That means if they have to inspect you more than once, they get paid more than once.  This incentivizes the inspector to find at least one thing wrong so that they get to come back.  Ahh, the "free enterprise" system at work.

Due to the snafu with the walk-in, I couldn't get the final bits of wiring done until late last week.  When the electrical inspector came he had an issue with the gas burner on my kettle.  Apparently it is not UL (Underwriters Labs) listed.  UL is the little insignia that you see on extension cords and other electrical devices that lets you know it is approved for use in the US by an independent third party.  The inspector will not sign off without seeing a UL listing for the burner.  The problem is the burner was made in China (with German components) and does not have a UL listing.  It has a CE listing which is the European Union equivalent (and is actually more stringent than UL from what I can tell), but that apparently doesn't fly here in the good old U.S. of A.


I have worked as an engineer in a few factories in my day.  I was involved with UL a little bit in my last job as we had to maintain a UL listing for the products we made so I am somewhat familiar with the process.  In an industrial environment very little equipment is UL listed.  A factory contains a lot of custom built equipment, often from foreign manufacturers, for which you will find no UL listing.  It is specialized equipment and would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming to have every individual piece of equipment certified by UL (certification costs start at $4,500 per item and go up from there).  But what can you do?  You can't argue with an inspector or they will make your life a lot worse.

So what DO I do?  Well it looks like the path of least resistance is to buy a new burner that is UL listed.  After a few frantic calls the folks at Stoermer-Anderson (shameless plug) are setting me up with what I need.  Unfortunately it is going to take a few weeks to get here.....

Ugghh.  So the "new new" brew date is probably more like the end of April.  That's assuming the electrical inspector signs off on it and we don't have any issues with the final building inspection (which is a big assumption).

Don't get me wrong, I knew crap like this would come up, but it still sucks when it does.  I'm so close I can almost taste it and I'm at the point where time costs more than money.  So in the meantime I'll keep working on little projects, and continuing to try and find the hops that I need (a story for another day).

As far as the original question of "when will you be open".....let's just leave it at...soon....

Caution: "Dangerous Equipment"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

So where's the taproom going to be?

As many of you may or may not be aware the State of Ohio recently changed the law so that a brewery can have a tasting room without having to get an additional license.  Previously the state A-1 license allowed you to manufacture but not sell on premise.  To sell on premise required the addition of an A-1-A license which cost an additional $3,906 annually.  Along with that came several requirements which essentially made your business a brewpub (must serve hot food, etc.).  This puts you in the restaurant business which is something most breweries don't want to deal with (board of health, etc.).  The change in the law now allows breweries to serve their own beer on premise without having to pay the additional license fee or serve food.  This is a great step forward for Ohio and puts us on par with many other states that "appreciate" craft beer.  The breweries and micro-distilleries that lobbied for this change should be applauded because (as with anything in government)  it wasn't easy to get this passed.

So now I often get asked "will you have a tasting room?"  If people stop by to visit they ask "where will the tasting room be?"  It's a legitimate question but the fact of the matter is I can't afford to do one right out of the gate.  When I secured the lease on my space last year the law had not yet passed so it was not paramount on my list of "must haves" when I was looking at spaces.  I wanted to be sure to get the basics that I needed to build a functioning brewery together before worrying about things that (at the time) may or may not happen.  My brewery is one big open room and I will be using every square foot of it for production space.  Plus there are a few new requirements that come with adding a taproom to a brewery in Ohio that make it not as easy as some may think.

The new law requires that you must have separate bathrooms for Men and Women and they must be ADA compliant (Americans with Disabilities Act) which is pretty complicated.  You must also have a 3-vessel sink to wash glassware (or use disposable cups) or a commercial dishwasher.  While these seem like simple and legitimate requests the fact is I only have 1 bathroom and no 3-vessel sink.  So while the law removes the need to pay an additional $3,906 license to serve on premise it DOESN'T come with a $10,000 check so that I can become compliant with the requirements set forth in the law.

Again, I am not complaining that these requirements are out of line just that I am not in a position to meet them right now.  I'm self-financed and since everything is coming down to the wire financially as I approach opening (all I ate today was a Snickers Bar to save money) the fact is that these are not expenses that I could incur even if the law was already in effect years ago.

There is also another "hidden" aspect of this.  Depending on the zoning and occupancy permit of your brewery you may not be able to open a taproom without significant building expenses besides the bathrooms and sinks.  If your brewery (like mine) is zoned and permitted for manufacturing use then the allowable occupancy is usually pretty low.  Once finally approved (that's a story for another day) I think the allowable occupancy of my 2,000 square foot brewery will be 8 or 10.  That wouldn't make for much of a taproom.  To increase the occupancy would require additional emergency exits, additional parking, upgrades to the heating system and probably the addition of air conditioning  (I'm already sweating my ass off in here).  Again, things I don't have the cash flow to support at this time.

But fear not!  All this doesn't mean that I will never have a taproom.  One of the key features of my brewing space is that there is room to expand on either side.  Once we get up and running and get some money coming in it's definitely in the expansion plans.  If all goes well I may start putting those plans into motion in early 2013.  But for now I can't look much past the next few weeks of final installation, inspection and just getting a batch of beer made....

Until then please enjoy the taprooms being setup at Mt. Carmel, Rivertown, Listermann, Red Ear and eventually at Double Barrel.

As for me, its baby steps.....

Thursday, March 8, 2012

God Bless the TTB (not)

As I have mentioned before there is a lot of bureaucracy involved in starting a brewery.  You need a Federal Brewer's Permit (Tax and Trade Bureau aka TTB) as well as a State Liquor Permit (Ohio in my case).  There's a lot involved in getting these things done and it takes a good deal of research to figure out how to do them properly.  I started the process way back in September and am happy to report that as of last week I have obtained both of the licenses needed to manufacture alcohol in the state of Ohio!

While successfully navigating this bureaucratic process is definitely a big relief, unfortunately my main reward for all of this is.....more bureaucracy.  See once you have all the applicable licenses you are really only half done.  Once you get your Federal license you immediately have to begin filling out monthly excise tax returns even if you are not yet producing beer.  Once you do the first one though you can elect to file quarterly if your volume is small enough (luckily mine is).  Along with this you must also submit a very complicated form detailing all of your production and inventory (even if its 0).  As if I don't have enough to do right?

Next up you have to get your product name/label approved by a different subsection of the TTB.  This applies even if the product will only be sold in kegs.  The labeling group is concerned with making sure you have the proper government warnings in the proper font size with the proper contrast and other mundane things like that.  If your beer recipe contains anything other than malt/hops/yeast/water (and a few other pre-approved adjuncts), chances are you will also have to file for a formula approval BEFORE you can apply for label approval (this includes spice additions such as in a Witbier).  You also have to register your products with the state and pay them a $50 fee FOR EACH LABEL.

Fear not though because the TTB has an online system to make all of this "easy" for you.  Of course I use this term VERY loosely.  In order to get access to this system you must submit an application (about 2 pages) and wait approximately 20 days for a response.  At that point you get a login and password for the label approval system (known as COLA - Certificate of Label Approval).  You must then use this login to register for access to the formula approval system which then takes another 20 days or so to get approved.  ONLY at this point can you submit your formula which can then take (you guessed it) 20 days to approve.  THEN you can submit your label which is supposed to take about a week to get approved (but is more like...20 days).

Sound confusing and daunting?  It is.  ESPECIALLY when it doesn't work properly.  If you aren't using Internet Explorer 7 the whole system most likely won't work at all.  Knowing all this I started the registration process right after I got my Federal permit (back in early January).  My first COLA login didn't work and it took a week to get ahold of someone at the TTB to fix it.  Unfortunately I didn't think to check if my formulas account would work since it is supposed to be the same login.  I just figured out last week that it doesn't.  Apparently there was an error in the account set-up (on their end) that requires me to submit a change of registration request which takes up to 30 days to process.  Only then can I properly apply for the formulas system access which puts me right back in the line I referenced earlier.  AARGH!

Don't get me wrong, when you do track down someone at the TTB they are extremely helpful.  They are an overworked and understaffed section of the government and I don't envy them.  But this also means that for me to get a beer label registered for something that contains spices it looks like it's going to take about two months.  So it looks like I will be switching around the beer launch schedule a bit.  One of the first beers I was planning to launch was a Rye Saison with peppercorns.  Looks like that will have to be postponed until the summer since I won't be able to get formula/label approval in time.  So for now it looks like the first two beers will be:

Movin' On  - American Session Ale.  A variant of the "English Best Bitter" style with some American malt and hops thrown in for good measure.  Bringing back the flavorful session ale is what this beer is all about.  ~4% ABV

Pour...Wait...Repeat - Spring Wheat Ale.  It takes winter wheat to make spring wheat ale.  Crisp and clean with enough hops to not be confused with any of those "big box" American wheat beers out there.  ~6.5% ABV

Unless something ELSE unforeseen happens.....

My first two beer "labels"

Progress Update - I hate refrigeration salesmen!

I've been silent for a while now.  Things have been a bit busy.  It's been "balls to the wall" since Beerfest (except for a brief visit to Bockfest last week).  I figure I owe everyone a progress update so here's what's been happening....

Everything for the most part is in place.  There is still some final electrical hook-ups to be done but the plumbing is all inspected and ready to go.  My mill is back from getting the legs extended and just needs a switch installed.  The fermenters have all been re-insulated and the gaskets replaced.  The glycol system will be plumbed in the next day or so and that end of the operation will be all wrapped up.

Newly modified mill.  All the black frame is new.  It used to only be about a foot and a half off the ground.
Fermenter Insulation - Before and After
The kettle venting is almost done.  It just needs the condensate stack (the material is backordered for a few more days).  It's starting to look like an octopus since the building department made me put in a "make up air" duct.  This is a fancy way of saying that I have to have a 6"x6" hole in the wall with no damper or cover that allows cold outside air to dump into my building and make my heating system run overtime all in the hopes that I won't somehow asphyxiate myself when the kettle burner is turned on (can you tell I'm not thrilled about this idea?).  That's OK because they made me put another one on the furnace.  I may as well just leave the door open all winter....Gotta love city building codes.....

You may have seen the Benny Hill-esque movie my brother did for the walk-in assembly.  Well the part you didn't see was all of the caulking that had to be done on the seams.  I think it was about ten tubes worth.  Since there's no "windows" in there the fumes were pretty fun!  But the real fun part has been the refrigeration system.  When I bought the used walk-in I had a pretty good idea that the refrigeration system was junk.  No big deal, it was still worth it.  I know about a lot of things, but refrigeration is not one of them.  Since I had previously worked with a company that sells new and refurbished refrigeration systems I figured I'd leave this to the experts so I had them run the load calculations and spec out a new system.  A few days later it was here.  My installer took one look at it and said there's no way it is big enough to cool my unit properly.  A few phone calls later and I had 4 independent companies all telling me that the system needs to be bigger.  So now we're stuck because the company that sold it to me still maintains it will work.  The moral to this story, always ask more than one "expert" or learn how to do it yourself....

Looks nice, too bad it's too small...
Fear not, I won't let this keep me down (although it's kinda making my ass hurt).  We will get it squared away and get the right system hooked up.  After that we are a few small wiring jobs away from final building inspections and then we can brew!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Beerfest Wrap-Up

Hopefully everyone who wanted to go to the Cincy Beerfest got the chance to attend.  It was a crazy scene but one that made me feel good.  Good to see so many people interested in trying new beers.  I believe the final count will be well above 10,000 people for the two day event.  That's pretty good for a cold and slightly snowy weekend in this town.  Sure there were some people there just to "get loaded" but from where I was located this seemed to be a manageably small percentage. 

I'd like to thank everyone who stopped by to say hi and try the Octobersbest Brett Stout.  I was pretty busy pouring beer most of the time so I didn't get as much time to talk to everyone as I would have liked and for that I apologize.  I think the beer came out OK given the fact that it wasn't able to age on the Brett as long as the original homebrew version.  A little bit has been kept back for the Great American Beer Festival  Pro-Am in September which should give the beer plenty of time to let the Brett character develop further. This beer will definitely make a re-appearance as a Blank Slate beer in the future (probably even barrel aged).  Big thanks go to the Cincinnati Malt Infusers and Rivertown Brewing Company for making that beer happen.

But now the fun is over.  As good of a "distraction" from work as this weekend was, the truth is I have a LOT of things left to do.  The walk-in has been put together but still needs some sealing and sorting out of the refrigeration.  A couple things still need welded.  The kettle venting needs to be finished.  The state inspection is happening soon (yes the legal hurdles are not yet complete).  There's still a lot of odds and ends to get settled.  I'm probably going to have to go into "hiding" for the next month or so to get this thing done.  So for as fun as Craft Beer Week and Beerfest were, it might be a little bit before I see anybody out and about again...

Unless something really good comes up!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Past the point of no return...

Ok.  The point of no return was actually quite a while ago.  Somewhere between signing the lease and signing for a loan you realize there's no going back.  But I guess you could say I passed the emotional point of no return the other day.  Last Thursday was my last official day at my "real job".  Sure I'd only been working part time for the last 5 months, but there's something about having a steady paycheck that makes you feel like no matter what happens with the brewery everything will still be alright.  I guess you'd call it the safety net effect.

I worked there for nine years and made a lot of good friends so it was a bit of an emotional day.  After finally closing that chapter of my life I had a bit of a cathartic moment.  No more dealing with empty-suit venture capitalist #*%hole owners.  No more daily exposure to toxic chemicals.  No more working for a company that puts a truck full of plastic in a landfill everyday.  Of course this also means I'm technically unemployed.  An even trade?  No.  I'm way ahead.  Even though my security blanket is gone and there's a decent chance this whole endeavor could fall flat on its face, I wouldn't go back even if I could.

And that's what it's all about.  Whether its making beer or selling lamps, it's about following a dream (and telling "the man" where he can stick it)...

P.S.  Sorry for the sappy post.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Headed for a Crash?

It's time for another non-construction-related post.  As I have mentioned briefly before there are a lot of new breweries in various stages of opening in Cincinnati these days.  While I firmly believe we are overdue to catch up with everyone else in the craft beer renaissance that is occurring all over the country, the pessimist in me sometimes wonders how many breweries we can actually sustain in this area.  As I said before, there is definitely room for more breweries in this town, but how many?  Two?  Five?  Ten?  Of course this is a hypothetical question and I'm not asking it to stir any great debate, but some comments I read recently made me start thinking about this issue a little more deeply.

A few days ago on the Ohio Beer Blog Rick Armon interviewed Fred Karm of Hoppin' Frog Brewery in Akron.  If you haven't read the Ohio Beer Blog, its a  great resource for keeping up with the comings and goings of Ohio's breweries.  Rick Armon writes for the Akron Beacon Journal and also wrote the Ohio Breweries book last year.  One of his recurring features is "Five Questions With..." where he asks an Ohio brewer a set of questions about their favorite beer etc.  The most recent installment featuring Fred Karm contained an interesting answer to the question "What advice would you give to someone who's interested in opening a brewery?"  Here is his response (entire interview here):

"These days it seems everybody wants to start a brewery.  It is understandable.  I’d say DON’T DO IT — IT’S TOO RISKY, and oh, yeah, not to mention it’s really hard work.  Sure, everybody wants to start a brewery these days, but I’ve seen this before.  Reminds me of the American craft beer boom-and-bust of the late 1990s.  These lessons of the recent past can teach us that the availability of craft beer grew way too fast compared to the customers.  It appears that is the case again, with American craft beer sales being so predictable — they have been increasing at steady rate of about 11 percent over the last eight years.  That rate of growth has been matched in the last decade with many existing breweries increasing their production.  But in the last year many new American breweries have started up, and along with the growth of existing breweries, production recently has grown faster than the market can bear. And a lot more are already registering for 2012.  That is too fast of a growth for the customer base.  Back in the late 1990s, many newer breweries that weren’t as ingrained into the fiber of the community found themselves unable to make enough sales to stay in business.  It is possible that this will happen again, as history does tend to repeat itself."

This response struck me as interesting.  Usually this question is answered with upbeat statements like "keep at it, be true to yourself, etc" Fred Karm's candid response "don't do it" gave me pause.  I've never met Mr. Karm, but I admire his brewery and his honest response to this question.  He seems to have the data to back up his statements too.  As someone who was also present during the first boom/bust I have to say that I agree we must be careful not to let history repeat itself.  There were over a half dozen brewpub-type establishments in and around Cincinnati in the late nineties.  A few years later Rock Bottom was the only one left.  It's been 10 years and we're just now approaching the same level of brewing establishments we had back then.  But how many more can we handle?

One place where I do disagree with Mr. Karm is in the interpretation of those growth numbers.  While the growth rate may not be keeping pace with the expansion in output nationwide, there are definitely areas where this imbalance is much greater than here in Cincinnati.  Maybe it's because we are always "late to the party" in this part of the country but I firmly believe local trends towards craft beer are on the upswing here at a pace that can definitely sustain a few more players in the market.  According to the Craft Brewers Association Ohio ranks 32nd in breweries per capita but ranks 7th in population.  By contrast Colorado is 22nd in population and 4th in breweries per capita.  I think that means there is still room for improvement!

So, what's the answer?  Beats me.  I don't think we'll ever know where the "brewery saturation point" is in this town until we hit it (if we hit it at all).  Until then (if it ever comes) it's going to be fun helping to build a wonderful community of small breweries here in Cincinnati.....

Monday, January 23, 2012

Moving Day!

Building construction is 98% of the way done.  The floor is sealed.  Nothing left to do but move in.  Man, I thought this day would never come.  And it almost didn't.  It's just my luck to pick the morning after an ice storm to rent a 24' box truck to move all of my big equipment from it's undisclosed storage location about 30 miles away from the brewery.

In retrospect, it probably would have been a good idea to postpone since there was only one treated lane on I-71 and it wasn't treated very well.  But plans had been made, the truck was already rented, and help had been arranged so there was no turning back. It's fun driving a big truck, but not so much on ice.  After quite a bit of finagling we managed to get the truck there in one piece.  It was colder than a "cold activated" Coors Light which made things all the more fun but we got it all done (except for a few small straglers that wouldn't fit in the truck. (Yes we filled a 24' truck and still didn't get it all in).

Have brewery, will travel.
So on one hand I'm ecstatic that everything is finally here.  On the other hand, now all I see is lots more work.  Since most all of my equipment is used it means that very little is ready to "plug and play".  Most everything needs some amount of work done to it.  Whether its as simple as just needing a good cleaning or as complicated as needing some welding, EVERYTHING needs something.  So as much time as I've spent constructing the space, I can't rest on those laurels as there is now just about as much work to do to get all the vessels ready to brew.  Luckily this work is a little more fun than hanging drywall....

It's starting to get crowded in here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Great Flooring Debate

Yes, I am writing a post about the floor.  It gets no more mundane than this.  But in a lot of ways it typifies the myriad of seemingly small decisions that could have major implications down the road when starting a brewery.  A brewery floor gets a lot of abuse.  It needs to be able to withstand temperatures from near freezing all the way up to boiling as well as highly acidic and highly basic cleaning solutions.  There are a lot of different ways to protect a brewery floor from eventually disintegrating under these conditions.  None work forever, but of course the more expensive the covering, the longer it will last.  So do you go all out with a 10 -20 year solution and put down quarry tile and epoxy grout for about $20,000 or do you get some cheap garage floor epoxy from Home Depot that might last about a year?  Of course finances enter into this decision, but I don't really want to have to re-do the floor every year.  That's kind of the crux of the issue.  How do you balance the short term needs to keep capital expenditures down while still building out a workable space? 

How many outlets should be on this wall?  How far should they be spaced apart so that they are where they will be the most effective?  Which way should the door on the walk-in cooler face?  All seemingly minor decisions that can be a big deal later.  If the cooler door isn't facing the right direction then you might have to run longer transfer hoses (which are very expensive).  If there aren't enough outlets then you will have to get more electrical drops added.  All of these "little" things can lead to extra expense down the road that you may not be ready for.

I've drawn out the layout and re-worked it a few different times trying to get the best "workflow".  All the electrical and water requirements were figured from there.  Hopefully it'll all fit as designed and I won't realize I missed something major when I go to get everything installed (which should begin next weekend).

So what about the floor?  I went with a "midrange" solution.  It's an industrial sealer that is supposed to be the same stuff they use in food processing plants.  We'll see how long it lasts...

Scrub scrub scrub.  Gotta clean it before you can seal it!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"Dude...It's starting to look like a hospital in here."

Well not really, but someone actually said that to me the other day.  I guess in comparison to how it looked before the analogy isn't that far off.  As of today the walls are officially done.  Over 2500 square feet of pristine white semi-gloss as far as the eye can see.  For the first time the place is starting to look sanitary enough to make beer (except for all the dust all over the floor).

 I think by the time I'm done I'll be wishing it was a hospital.  The truth is I am beaten and broken.  I guess I just can't handle physical labor as well at 35 as I could at 25.  But the good news is my ceiling stapling/ditch digging/drywall hanging/concrete finishing days are over.  While there is still a lot of work to be done the scope of the remaining projects is a lot smaller and doesn't involve hanging off a scissor lift 20 feet in the air.  In fact, the scissor lift went back to the rental company today.  I'm fully content never laying eyes on one of those things again!

In other news, the kettle was delivered as promised last Tuesday.  It took some work to get it off the truck but it's resting comfortably in the brewery now.  I unexpectedly found a good deal on a couple of single head bottle filling machines so it looks like I may be able to do some limited release bottling sooner in the business plan than originally expected.  I wasn't planning to do any bottling until late 2012 or early 2013, but it looks like maybe by the summer it will be possible now on a limited basis. The trench drain concrete is done and in my opinion looks pretty good for a guy who has never poured and finished concrete before.  As I mentioned the walls are done so I can now call the plumbers and electricians back to finish up their work.  First priority will be to get the toilet and sink installed and operational.  It's getting way too cold to pee outside.  I still need to decide what to do about sealing/coating the floors in the next few days.  I'll update more in depth on that later.

So shiny.
Now that's a drain.
The big news is that I received my Federal Brewers Notice Permit yesterday.  This is the first and (usually) longest permit to get.  I had been reading that it was taking anywhere between 4-9 months so I was worried.  Luckily it ended up being slightly less than that (105 days).  If you are reading this and thinking/working towards opening a brewery take this one piece of advice above all else you may read in this or any other blog concerning the federal permit process.  MAKE SURE YOUR APPLICATION IS AS COMPLETE AND ACCURATE AS POSSIBLE BEFORE YOU SUBMIT.  It's a big long pile of paperwork, but double and triple check everything before you send it in.  If you have a question about ANYTHING call the TTB and get it answered.  My reviewing agent said that the biggest reason why some applications take up to 9 months was due to a lot of missing/incorrect information that took a lot of "back and forth" to get corrected.  Luckily mine only had a couple of very minor corrections that were needed and we were able to correct it over the phone during my interview.

So I'm glad that hurdle is done.  Now the pressure is back on me though.  The next step is to schedule the site inspection with the ODLC (Ohio Liquor Control) so that my state A1 permit can get finished.  However the place needs to be a little more set-up than it is now for that to happen.  Before the federal stuff was done I always felt like I still "had time" to get everything set-up as the time frame was "out of my hands".  Suddenly that's not the case and now the regulators are waiting on me as opposed to the other way around.  It's a good problem to have, but now I really need to kick things into high gear (if I have any higher gears left)!