Friday, September 30, 2011

The Great American Beer Festival

The Great American Beer Fest started yesterday. Based in Denver, Colorado it is the biggest beer fest in the country. Over 450 craft breweries send their beer to the fest to be both sampled and judged. This year the expected attendance is 49,000 people.

The one and only time Ben and I went was in 2007. We decided to make the trip out there and turn the whole thing into a vacation since neither of us had been there before.

First I must say, Denver as a city is awesome, Denver during GABF is even better. The entire city caters to the fest. They schedule their “beer” week to coincide with the fest so restaurants have special beer based meals and there are meet and greets and tours all over the city. Colorado has a great beer scene as it is, so between the brewpubs and breweries all over town you can try something different and beer oriented for every meal.

The fest itself is held over three days with multiple sessions. The hall is divided up by region of the country and it takes all of the sessions to get through everything. The highlight of our first fest was the “members only” session. This is only open to members of the Brewer’s Association and is where they give out the awards for the year. While the awards are being given brewers and owners are walking around sampling their peer’s beer. Watching the brewers walk around wearing huge smiles and gleaming new medals is truly amazing.

Every brewery you might visit has their medals prominently displayed where any visitor can see. If you visit somewhere like Sam Adams they have hundreds hanging from the rafters. (Talk about inspiration!)

Every year since then the anticipation of having our beer there has grown. Our excitement over the 2012 fest is the reason we made our highest kickstarter level a trip to the GABF to have that experience with us. Now we have a whole year to get ready!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What is all this kickstarter talk about?

Kickstarter is a site for what is called “crowd source” funding. It allows businesses to collect pledges from a vast majority of people to help fund projects. The best explanation I can give is that it’s like a PBS pledge drive, except online. For pledges anywhere from $1 up you receive gifts as a “thank you”.

It’s a new type of financing, but many companies have found great success through using this site. There are around a dozen breweries on the site that have gotten the backing that they need to get going. Many of them with goals equal to or above our $30,000 goal.

One of the key elements to the site is that your funding is all or nothing. That means if we don’t reach our goal we don’t get any money. This makes it imperative that the campaign holder work to get the pledges and stay connected with their audience throughout the entire process. Before we could even begin we had to be approved for the project and go through a lengthy set-up process. The site makes sure you cover all of your bases to ensure that your project is well put together and successful.

So why not go for investors or a bank loan????

We do currently have a bank loan in the works, so this money is to make up the difference. As for investors, we a have a couple reasons why that just won’t work for us. The main issue is that in New Jersey anyone owning 1% or more of your company must be listed in the license. That means they go through the same background checks, credit checks, bank account reviews that we as the license holders do. Then their name is on that license and they assume some liability of the company. That’s not overly desirable to investors plus we’d have to go back and start the license process over from the beginning and we just don’t have the time or money to do that.

Another appeal to kickstarter is how fast it works. We have 30 days from project start to completion. That means if we are successful on October 16, $30,000 (minus fees) goes straight into our business account.

Shameless Plug for Your Money

It takes a lot to shamelessly ask for your money, but we are. We’re on a tight schedule and have to be more liquid to keep moving at the pace we have been.

With that said, any and all donations help. Even your dollar will help or five or ten or twenty. If we have 1,500 people pledge $20 or more we will reach our goal.

Shamelessly spreading the word will help too. We all have 300 friends or so on facebook. If we can spread the word far and wide we should be able to reach thousands of people. Tell you mother, father, brothers, sisters, best friends, in-laws, co-workers, business contacts and anyone you know that loves beer.
 A little later today we will be posting an email link that you can use to forward the message to the non-facebookers in your life.

We are people just like you with a dream. Help us make it a reality! You will get cool gifts and get to brag that you helped a micro-brewery get off the ground. You can sit at the bar drinking a pint of Turtle Stone beer and know that you made it happen.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Looking, Looking, Looking for Equipment

We knew that we wanted a brewing system that we could physically see before we purchased it. Being new in the industry we were wary of buying something so expensive before we got a chance to touch it. Most of the equipment and brokers are on the west coast. If you’re not familiar with craft beer in this country, the West is where the industry we know today was born. Even after more recent growth on the East coast, the brewery concentration is still significantly lower here than out there. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know a thing about it here. On the West coast they have banks that specialize in brewery finance, out here bankers look at you like you are crazy. Seriously, I’ve gotten the “look” a dozen times.

In September of 2009 we found a system for sale out of a closed Rock Bottom Brewery just south of Boston. It was steam fired and 15 barrel capacity, exactly what we wanted. We set up a meeting to go see it that very weekend. We were the first to respond to the listing and knew that we were going to have to be quick because used equipment on the East coast gets scooped up FAST.

Ben standing on the platform of the brewhouse in Boston

We drove late into Friday and met with the broker first thing Saturday. We spent a couple hours inspecting, measuring and taking inventory of everything. On the car ride to Boston Ben had told me not to get my hopes up, since this was the first system we were going to look at. I knew from the moment he saw the brewhouse that it was ours. That was September 5, 2009. The very next day we called and told them we wanted to buy it. We were told it would take at least a month before it would be broken down to be shipped. This seemed like a decent amount of time for us to find a place to store everything. Then, 10 days later they called and said it was coming the 22nd. In less than one month from the time we saw the listing we became the proud owners of a complete brewery.

We hustled and found an available warehouse in the industrial park. The owners were extremely accommodating to us and let us use the space within a couple days. They seemed almost as excited as me the day we took delivery. It was one of the longest days of my life. I think in the end the whole thing took about 8 hours.

The first delivery truck

The equipment came on 2-50 foot trucks. The brewhouse was shipped separately to the west coast to have some refurbishing done to one of the tanks. That first delivery brought 5 fermentors, 6 bright tanks, a yeast propagator, mill, glycol unit, boiler and a paneled cold box that seems to have a million pieces. God only knows what the day we put that together will be like.

Ben & I the end of the delivery day

Buying the system then before we were ready was a leap of faith. It turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made.

To be continued…..

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Early Days

From the moment we started on this adventure, people have been telling us to blog. Every time someone would suggest it I would cringe and think about all the time it might take and wonder if it was really worth it. Sitting here now in front of this blank page I realize it was a fantastic idea. We’ve been through so much and chronicling it as it was happening would have been so much better than the way I’m about to approach it now. In some way our facebook page gives you a general outline, but not very much.

So here it goes! This will be the first post with another tomorrow to correspond with our kickstarter launch.

Ben and I decided to open our own brewery when we were on a trip to London in 2005. We had just been on a brewery tour of Youngs and were feeling giddy after generous samples of double chocolate stout. Ben had been a homebrewer for years and in the year we had been together I had become his “assistant”. I was finishing up my bachelors in business and had the “I can take over the world” mentality that sometimes comes from higher education. We both knew that we wanted to have a business of our own and we loved drinking/brewing/exploring beer. The idea was so natural for us that I don’t think we ever had a moment of hesitation.

Ben at Young's Brewery in London 2005

For the next year we traveled to breweries all over. We started to plan the majority of our outings according to beer. Someday I’ll have to take the time to compile a list of all of the brewers, owners and managers we talked to send out a giant “thank you”. Even the smallest tips we got have come together to provide us more insight then we could have gotten anywhere else.

In late 2006 we incorporated. By early 2007 Ben was off to Seibel for a brewery course and I was starting to get the initial paperwork ready that would become our business plan.

I’ve come to regard our business plan as my masterpiece. This 13 tabbed, 75 paged monster has been a constant source of both pride and agony for me. It comes only second to the monster that is the brewery license application, but that is a story for another day.

The Seibel course was a great way for Ben to learn more about the brewery business model and many of the industry standard practices. By the time he came back we had decided what type and capacity system we wanted and we began to look.

To be continued…..