With the astounding growth of the number of craft breweries this year, chances are thereâ€™s a new one in development, or has just started out in your area. My challenge to you is to seek out a new brewery and think about ways in which they could be welcomed into the existing beer community. How does their beer compare to the craft beer scene in your area? Are they doing anything in a new/exciting way? What advice, as a beer consumer, would you give to these new breweries?
I’m going to take a little bit of a different tack on this because I am, myself, a New Kid on the Block. In fact, I’ll be cross-posting this post on my brewery’s website and so, in a most amazingly selfish manner, I’m going to write about me.
I want to tell you about my crazy plans to make only seasonal beers. I want to tell you about how I’m never going to make the same beer twice and that consistency only needs to be in quality not in flavor. I want to detail how I’m going to offer a food pairing with every single brew I make. About how I want to steal marketing ideas from the wine industry and how I never want to sell a 6-pack. I want to tell you about how I plan to market to nerds with literature references and appeal to history buffs because I’m tired of beer pong and tit jokes. I want to go on about how I want to use the web and social media to engage customers in ways that I don’t see anybody doing right now. I think that I’ve got some groundbreaking new stuff in mind that could change a lot of people’s minds about how beer exists in the marketplace and how it gets in to restaurants and bars.
But I’m not going to.
Instead, I want to talk about how awesome everybody else has been using two aphorisms that you tend to hear in and around the industry.
Beer People Are Good People
You hear this a lot. Hell. I say it a lot. Beer people are good people. Let me show you what I mean. Click on this link. What you see there are the results of 243 people who appreciate good beer enough to help some lucky bastard (ermm.. me) chase his dream. That is nothing short of absolutely phenomenal. (I should also note that 1 of those 243 people is the host of this month’s Session. Thank you, Carla!) I have received support from local beer people that is beyond anything I could have hoped for. I received offers for help with everything from construction to design to manual labor. Sure, maybe there’s the hope that some free beer might change hands here or there, but I haven’t heard much about it. Instead, I’ve heard, “I’d just like to help.” As a new brewery coming onto the scene it’s heartwarming. It’s great to run into people in bars and hear their excitement. It’s humbling and ridiculously exciting.
A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats
Let me tell you a starry-eyed plan that I have for my brewery. No! Let me tell you first about North Carolina beer. Here in North Carolina, we have a great beer scene. There are breweries up and down this state that are making world class beer. There are ground-breaking new breweries, veteran award-winning breweries, brewpubs, nano-breweries, Reinheitsgebot-following breweries, and everything in-between. The past year has seen 5 new breweries open in the state, 3 within an hour drive of me. On top of that? I have received nothing but kind words, support, and help from the local industry. Instead of competition, I am being treated like.. well.. a new kid on the block, a new friend. So that starry-eyed plan?
I have a clause written into my business plan that says that, whenever possible, I would like to avoid taking another North Carolina beer off tap in a location where I go on. Is it always going to be possible? Probably not. It’s not my decision, after all. But I would rather go in next to a great local beer – and have the establishment that I’m in sell the local option than replace a local beer and go in next to … whatever. Sam Adams Seasonal. Hell – keep the Boston Lager tap, but let the locals roll together because a rising tide does lift all boats. What helps one of us, helps all of us. We’re all riding this wave together, and we’ll get there a lot better if we act in unison against the forces of bland sameness instead of individually. United we drink, divided we sink.
Maybe I’m going into this with rampant naivety. Maybe all this support is merely a facade of good will, warm-fuzzies, and glowing elf hugs and it will all be whisked away by the cold light of The Need For Sales and Revenue, but I think that, as the topic of this Session suggests, there is a groundswell of support for new breweries, even in the wake of so many new openings in the past few years.
The question has been posed in the past: Are there too many breweries? I still contend that the answer is a resounding, firm no. Rather, there are still too many people in this country settling for less. There’s room in the marketplace for all of us new breweries and many more. Beer people – good people – are making that clear with their vociferous support.
Thanks to all of you good beer people. I look forward to reading the advice posted for new breweries in response to this Session.
Ã€ votre santÃ©,
If you’ve never started up a brewery before, as I haven’t, you may be interested to learn of what I think is the most interesting challenge up front. I’ve been thinking of it as the “Order of Operations” problem. Allow me to explain:
In order to sell make/beer, you need to be licensed by your state to do so. This process can take months, depending on your state.
In order to be licensed by your state to make/sell beer, you need to be licensed by the TTB to do so. This process can take months (they quote 95 days).
In order to be licensed by the TTB to make/sell beer, you need to have a place of business outside of your home.
In order to have a place of business outside of your home you need money to pay a lease.
Okay, now go!
This, all of the “construction” or “buy equipment” or “make good beer” crap aside, might be the single most prohibitive process I can think of in new brewery startup. Why? Because it means that you can’t make your product, aka make money, aka pay your expenses from cash flow, until months after you’ve begun paying rent and, quite possibly, paying people.
Can you begin building out your brewery while waiting for licensing to come through? Certainly, as long as you have a floor plan design in place that you can submit to the TTB, but new startup brewers beware: You need capital up front to be able to pay for MONTHS of operations before you have the slightest possibility of being able to make any money back to put into your bank account and start to pay off your debts.
The thing that I hear most in brewery startup is that the #1 reason for failure is under capitalization. Now, I can be snarky and say that that should apply for any business, but it seems to me that in many other businesses you probably don’t have to pay for months worth of space and utilities while simply waiting for a piece of paper to come in that says you’re allowed to actually make/sell your product. Maybe I’m wrong. I feel like yarn stores don’t have this kind of long startup period.
To be fair, I don’t know how this works if you’re starting a nanobrewery, say, out of your garage. When I talked to my state board, they were very explicit about having a place of business outside of your home, but maybe it’s because I’m applying for a wholesaler’s license right off the bat and they don’t want you to distribute out of your living room.
So, potential startups, there’s your first warning from startup land: Be ready to pay out up front and be ready to wait.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!
I come here today to fulfill the final item from my first post of the year which is to say, I’ve launched my brewing company.
I’ve ended up doing things a little differently than I had originally thought I would. I started off the year thinking about going the nanobrewery route, having been sufficiently convinced after the long conversation on that post that it was a feasible startup strategy. I lack a garage, which, frankly, seemed like a huge detriment. Renting space means rebuilding space and if I’m doing that, brewing 1 bbl at a time seems a little ridiculous, so I scrapped that idea.
What I ended up finally settling on is starting out contract brewing. A few decisions went into this, one of which is that I can get started, now, while I’m still working my day job. You can tell me that it’s possible to do that while starting my own brick-and-mortar packaging brewery, but I’d argue semantics with you and then I’d remind you that I don’t have a partner in this project to share the workload. It’s me, baby.
I’m planning on doing a form of contract brewing that’s called “Alternating Proprietorship.” What that means is that the brewery that I contract with actually allows me to go in and brew the beer myself. Other breweries you may have heard of that are using (or have used) this concept are The Pretty Things Ale Project or Mikkeller. I can’t say that I purport to be as awesome as either of these formidable examples, but I’ll certainly try my hardest.
Since non-traditional startup seems to be part of my burgeoning oeuvre, I’ve also hooked up with a micro-investment site for part of my startup funds. What that means is that you can be involved in the startup of the company in small amounts. $10. $20. $50. Whatever. It’s a way of getting as many people as possible involved in the company as I can, a way for me to start building a community around the idea of the brewery, and also a way for me to able to give back to people who help with the startup funding.
As you can imagine, this isn’t nearly as much money as I need to actually start the company. I’m also pursuing traditional investment strategies, but this is exactly what it purports to be: A kickstart, a way to get the idea off of the ground and moving. It’s enough money to get me licensed and to get beer into people’s hands at least once.
I’d love to have thousands of people involved: a community built brewing company. It’s my dream. I hope you can join me. And tell your friends! There just might be beer available for everyone involved somewhere along the line.
I’ll post updates here occasionally, but aside from this post (and that nice little widget on the upper-right you see there) almost everything about the brewery will be happening over on its own website, and I’ll be keeping Top Fermented set on snarky commentary.
And now just ask yourself: What better possible way to celebrate American Craft Beer Week is there than funding a brewery?
This post was originally going to be for this month’s Session, #35: “New Beer’s Resolutions, but I canned it. It’s a cute topic, but I can’t do it. I don’t believe in looking back at mistakes. To learn from your mistakes is paramount, to dwell on them is folly. They are done and I won’t revisit them, but rather stay positive with their lessons in mind and move forward to greater achievement.
At the same time, I feel like resolutions are bunk. The number one way to not get something done is to make it a New Year’s Resolution. If you want something to get done, you need to roll out of bed in the morning and do it. Screw tying it to the calendar. Just get up and go.
I also won’t attempt to make any predictions about what could happen in 2010. The problem with predictions is that they are based on the past; they’re based on our current knowledge set and our current environment. We cannot forsee individual random events or, even more importantly, what will be invented that will change the world in the next 12 months. It’s impossible and fruitless to speculate. You can only be ready for anything and enjoy the ever-living-crap out of it.
But! The dawn of a new year is an opportunity to look forward to all of the wonderful things to come that you DO know about. Here’s my personal list of things to come in 2010:
Homebrew and Competition
After withdrawing myself from homebrew competitions for a while, I plan to get my feet wet again to see what comes out of it. I’ve had some rather snarky judges in the past that have made me feel rather jaded about entering competitions, but in the spirit of “I’m going to start a business.” I’ve decided to say screw-all to the critics, throw my hat back into the ring, and wait for the Gold Medal to arrive in the mail. If the rest of my big bold headings work out as I expect them to, this will also be the last year I enter into homebrew competitions.
Here’s where my beer is going:
2010 Craft Brewers Conference Panel Presentation: I’m a Social Media Guru Now!
One of the things that I am both looking forward to and slightly terrified of is the 2010 Craft Brewers Conference where I will be part of a panel presentation entitled Storytelling 2.0: Social Media as Conversation with some colleagues that I feel rather starstruck about. Fullsteam’s Sean Wilson (one of my co-panelists) posted a nice up front review of what we’re attempting to do. Here’s the selected excerpt from our draft pitch that sells it best:
Itâ€™s time to stop thinking of Twitter, Facebook, and blogging as simple extensions of your press releases. Storytelling 2.0 will help you discover your own unique voice, and connect, build, and bond with your fan base. Itâ€™s time to talk with â€” not at â€” your audience.
Craft brewing is story-driven. Each individual brewery has a unique story to best engage its customer base. Social media empowers your brewery to include enthusiasts in that story, giving them access to your narrative voice in an unparalleled way. Well-crafted updates, photo postings, and personalized responses engage your customers, giving them a chance to see inside your operations and meet the characters in the story first-hand.
By the by, I hope nobody ever calls me a social media guru. I don’t use it enough (I’m sure my wife would argue that I use it way too much) – on purpose – because I feel like it’s easy to spam and therefore achieve negative impact through annoyance, but I think that automatically takes me out of “guru” running.
As we work on the conference panel over the next few months, you’ll probably see a few columns here about social media and how it pertains to breweries. These columns will not be meant as part of the presentation or may not even be related, but it’s the best way I have to work through things. At the same time, I hope that my ramblings will be useful to the internet/brewing community at large.
Know Your Brewer Re-Launches
We haven’t said a whole lot about this yet, but I am working with Sean over at Fullsteam on a little project that I think will turn out for awesome. Know Your Brewer, a website that was originally focused on North Carolina Beer as part of Pop the Cap 2.0. The site provided the basic template and early content for the North Carolina Brewers Guild website NCBeer.org, which I’m also helping on, but that left a domain and a concept unoccupied. I’ve somehow managed to convince Sean to let me help retro-fit Know Your Brewer for a new life.
The re-launch is coming and it’s coming nationwide. I’m not yet sure of our official re-launch date, I can say that I think it will be pretty terrific. The site will focus on the men and women behind craft beer – the people that make it, the brewers – and look at their beer and their breweries through their eyes. We’re hoping to have writers and bloggers across the country interviewing brewers from across the country, with lots of added content – recipes, Q&A, etc, all in a regular weekly format.
I’ve already done interviews at a couple of breweries and I have a half-dozen more scheduled in the next few weeks. It’s been a ton of fun talking to brewers about their work, how they got into it, and what they enjoy the most about it. It’s been a ball and I can’t wait to share it.
What you see there isn’t the final design, but it’s on its way. Look for an official announcement here (and, of course, on Know Your Brewer) soon. In the meantime, we’re recruiting writers – are you interested? Let me know!
Announcing the Location of Mystery Brewing Company
Finally, in either the second or third quarter this year, I will be making the announcement on the geographical location of my own startup: Mystery Brewing Company.
At that point, the blog will likely go through a slight transition where you end up hearing a lot more commentary about startup issues. On of my major criticisms with startup brewery content I have found, read, and yes, even paid thousands of dollars for, is the lack of practical detail. I get a lot of “you need to fill out TTB forms and apply for licensing.” And while it’s true, it’s not necessarily as helpful as telling me what forms are around, what information they tend to expect, and what pitfalls I should look out for. Not to say I’ll be posting how to fill out your TTB label forms here, but I will, whenever possible, post practical information about the startup process specifically pertaining to startup breweries in the hopes that others coming after me will find something useful. I believe that the future of the industry lays in continuing spread of the individual small brewery, rather than the continual creation of more megabreweries, and I hope that I can help the industry in the right direction.
Back when I was in high school, as a miserable teenager, I remember somebody taking me aside and telling me: “Remember these days, because these are the best days of your life.” And then I remember thinking, “Oh god – kill me now.” They were wrong. Totally and completely and in all ways possible: wrong. They were not even remotely the best days of my life. Every year that I’ve been alive, things have just been better and better, more fun and more awesome, and I can’t imagine that changing now. I’m looking forward to 2010, for all of these reasons up here and the hundreds of reasons that I haven’t found out about, yet.
Happy New Year, everyone. It’ll be a great one.
And thus I have failed.
BrewDog, if you’re not familiar with them, are a Scottish brewery that, according to lore, are busy modeling their public image after Stone in their reverse psychology, “You’re not cool enough to be drinking this beer.” type of message. It’s all very cute and apparently incredibly effective.
The reason that I’ve been trying not to comment on them is because they’re punks. By punks, I think that it’s important that you realize that I don’t mean the sort of punk that rocks the Kasbah or the sort that promotes anarchy in the kingdom. They are the sort of punks with really consistent and compelling graphic design that have just recently had a public offering of their stock (EU residents only). They are punks in a sort of MTV “Punk’d” kind of way, which I don’t really mean as a compliment, but a sad statement of fact.
They also make, honestly, some really great beer. In a way, it’s too bad, because their beer is really overshadowed by their actions. Pretty much anytime I read about BrewDog I read about the company and the fact that the beer exists, not about what the beer actually tastes like. That I’ve had to find out on my own.
Without casting too much judgment (I’ll leave that to others) here are a few pieces that have caught my eye:
Earlier this year, BrewDog’s Tokyo* Imperial Stout was banned by The Portman Group, which is an organization in the UK which essentially acts as a watchdog group to promote responsible drinking in the UK. In and of itself, this isn’t really awful except that it was apparently banned due to a complaint by Brew Dog’s co-founder James Watt, which is just weird.
In response to the fairly ridiculous response that Tokyo* got by the media in the UK, the brewery released an “Imperial Mild” called Nanny State. They say it best in their own words:
Nanny State is our quiet and dignified response to the ongoing controversy surrounding Britain’s strongest ever beer, Tokyo*. Nanny State is a 1.1% ale. We have gone from making Britain’s strongest beer to a brew so low in alcohol it is below the legal classification of beer and not strong enough to be subject to beer duty.
Nanny State is an extraordinary little beer. It contains more hops than any other beer we have ever brewed. There is over 60 kilos used in our tiny 20HL batch. It contains more hops than any other beer ever brewed in the UK. It has a theoretical IBU of 225.
It hasn’t been very well received, but I haven’t tried it, myself. It would seem, to me, to be a bit out of balance.
This past week, they released what they say is the strongest beer in the world: Tactical Nuclear Penguin (which I think is an awesome name), an imperial stout weighing in at 32% alcohol on the same day that Scottish Parliament was debating a bill setting a minimum price for alcohol sales and raising age at which people may buy alcohol. It’s been posited, rather angrily, that the timing was intentional. Normally, I’d think that was a stretch, but after watching BrewDog operate its releases as social statements previous to this hard to think it’s anything but planned.
(Note: Apparently, it’s only going to be the world’s strongest for a little while. A small German brewery is releasing a 40% alcohol Eisbock. Yikes!)
As for me, I can’t decide if these guys are marketing geniuses or just making shit up as they go along. They seem to be operating under the aphorism by Oscar Wilde, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” I’m not sure I really agree with that. Statements from neo-Prohibitionists with words like “childlike attention-seeking” are the kind of things that get picked up by people who don’t know what you’re all about. That’s the backwards way to publicity. You want the Prohibitionists to be the ones defending their stance against the incredulous media, not you defending yours. You want to convince people in general that the crazies are railing against nothing, not give the crazies ammunition.
I’ve also read suggestions that this is just the wacky Scottish sense of humor coming through. I have to say: I do find some of the things that they’ve been doing funny. There’s amusement to be had. On the other hand, if I had laid down Â£230 per share on this company for any significant amount of shares I don’t think I’d be laughing. I think I’d be wanting them to stop fucking around with my Â£230 and get back to what they do best: Making good beer. The UK beer market isn’t that wild and out there. I’m sure there are plenty of boundaries that can be pushed in the UK without stirring up quite as much shit as they have. But I guess then they wouldn’t be punks.
Maybe they’re just being the wrong kind of punks. Myself, I’d shoot for Joe Strummer over Ashton Kutcher. I’m old school, like that.