PRODUCTION: TURN DOWN FOR WHAT
A look at our current and upcoming brewery initiatives.
Our taproom is celebrating 5 years of being open. Seven years ago when we first moved into this space, we really didn’t have enough money to start a brewery. We were naïve and always figured we would just scrape by and figure it out as we went, but we soon found ourselves in a situation where we didn’t build tables because we wanted to, we built tables because had to – we couldn’t afford anything else. A month before our scheduled grand opening, we obviously couldn’t open without tables but had we bought them we’d be short on our rent payment. That’s how close things were financially.
If you visited us in the beginning, you’ll remember tables that looked like an 8-year old learned how to build them from a YouTube video. It really wasn’t that far from reality, it was that somebody with the carpentry skills of an 8-year old went on YouTube and chose a video the same way people chose watermelons at the supermarket (stand around patting them like you know what you’re listening for and then leaving with the one closest to you anyway). They may have turned out looking like the Reality picture in an Expectations vs Reality cooking fail but hey, they got us through some of our most cash strapped days. Two of those tables are still around today, one of them is actively being used, can you spot both of them?
Our taproom opened looking like an unfinished furniture catalog while it seemed like every other brewery taproom looked like Pottery Barn. It’s becoming more and more the case every day, each new taproom that opens seems to have better funding and better décor. You know - matching furniture, wood trim, fancy paint, lights that aren’t fluorescent white, and maybe even wall colors that had interior design intentions behind it. Not many taprooms used Coleman portable camping tables from the owners’ personal stock to double as side tables. We figured if it was good enough to hold undercooked chicken at a Yosemite Valley campground, it was good enough for beer.
Quietly & Steadily Upgrading (UPGRAYEDD)
Over the years we reinvested as heavily as possible, quietly upgrading whatever we could. We have no investors and no loans (aside from a small vehicle loan and an equipment loan to capitalize on 0% interest) so any gains we made were immediately recognized and usable. Low starting cash meant we spent a long time being broke but at least nobody had influence on our business decisions. Well, except you, on whether or not you bought our product, which thankfully you have been.
The series of investments below are all things we never thought were possible when we started the business, they all seemed so necessary yet so far away financially. And even crazier is they have all occurred or were put into motion during the 15 months of COVID restrictions.
Managing cashflow is like standing in front of a massive layout of switches and playing financial DJ. Success depended on whether this series of switches were turned on and off in the right order. In some cases switches are linked so as they’re turned on, other switches turn on or off with it. If you read our blog entry “The Day The Brewing Stood Still” you’ll know we protected our most important asset first, our employees. Keeping our staff safe financially through COVID was priority #1 and all switches set at achieving that have been turned on. As soon as that goal was expected to coast to the finish line, we fired up all projects on hold. Here are our recently completed or upcoming projects:
Sales & Deliveries/Farmers Market Van
With increased 4-pack case deliveries and our participation in farmers markets we needed another van. This van was instrumental to our farmers market presence and farmers markets were instrumental to our financial health while the taproom was under COVID restrictions. Farmers markets were an initiative born out necessity, it’s a more expensive way to sell beer but was needed in able to make ends meet.
Canning line (+20% PRODUCTION)
Even before SIP, we could see the direction was trending towards cans. We had reached out to Wild Goose in February 2020 and had a plan to invest in a Gosling (1-head canner). With the way things unfolded (aluminum shortage during the pandemic) we accelerated this plan so we could stay ahead of this phenomenon some have referred to as “can-or-die” or “can-demic.”
With the canning line on the way, we needed a way to label the cans! In able to fully benefit from our Gosling, we purchased the model that connects directly to it. We especially appreciated being able to purchase this when somebody sent us a picture of their labeler and it was a picture of their empty hands turned upwards – meaning that they hand labeled every single one of their cans. FYI – One “very small” canning session of 50 cases of beer equals 1200 cans! That would be an estimated 1.67 extra hour(s) just to hand label cans, assuming each one take 5 seconds and goes on perfectly. Time is precious in production!
Oxygen in beer makes it go bad, all it takes is a little bit of contact. DO means dissolved oxygen, a high DO number means the beer is unnecessarily coming into contact with oxygen and there’s something wrong procedurally. Through the beermaking process, one of the challenges is to have as little DO as possible. Without this test equipment the best a brewery can do is be as careful as possible and assume their procedures are solid. But with this meter we can confirm and be sure we’re releasing high quality products. We purchased one of the best in the industry, an Anton Parr. It’s expensive for something that’s the size of a shoebox but it’s peace of mind and an essential quality control tool.
(JULY 2021) 3 Big Fermenters (+50% PRODUCTION)
We have one last bit of unclaimed real estate in our space, the back corner on the brew side. This project was set in motion February 2021 and at the beginning of July we’ll be receiving 3 big (20bbl or 620gal) tanks that will up our overall production by 50%. This will enable us to better keep core beers in stock and possibly keep our production levels up for long enough to support future expansion opportunities.
(JULY 2021) Pilot Fermenter
This will be our fermenter for taproom one-offs and experimental beers. This will allow us to turn out small brewing projects quickly. It will make the taplist more intriguing and cuts down on risk when experimenting with new brews.
So why all this now? Because we are in a full-on sprint. All efficiency/production/process improvements are on hold, any admin tasks that can be delayed are delayed. Our brewhouse is one of the smaller systems out there at 10BBL (310 gallons). Many breweries have larger systems. A brewery that has a 20BBL system means they’re producing twice as much beer as we are but using essentially the same fixed cost. We’ve had to be razor thin on expenses and keep an obsessive watch on margin in able to keep up the pace. Breweries that had more startup funding were able to skip many of the steps we’ve had to struggle through. Coming out of the pandemic we have expectation there will be renewed investor interest in our industry so it’s even more important we tilt the landscape a bit in our favor and ultimately all this is necessary for us to compete. As with any situation, starting with less resources just means it takes ingenuity, hard work, and discipline in able to catch up and stay relevant.
One of the core questions we had to answer for ourselves when we first started was: Who opens a brewery with a taproom that isn’t all that nice, and who comes to an industrial park to eat and drink beer? Well, luckily we did and luckily you did (and thank you everyone!).
With restrictions lifted, there is a lot to do and we’re ready to take it on. We’ve essentially lived through our motto, “Beer Today, Apocalypse Tomorrow” and we’re ready to brew another day!
Epidemic We Go
Look at me and you
All the big things we strive to do
A pandemic we’ve now been through
To end up here and here we brew
We fear nothing as we forge on
A malt, yeast, and hops sing-a-long
Making progress we can’t be wrong
All us here we know we strong
Once it hits your lips it’s so good
Rich citrusy hoppy aromas that could
Makes you dance carelessly in the hood
Leaving a smile as we know it should
Our future is bright and clear
Like a master fisherman we do steer
Our path lay steady none can thwart
Thank you all for your amazing support!!