Tuesday, April 23, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

So now what? 

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

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

At least until the next time....

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

You can't always do it alone...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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