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.