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Lots Of Balls (In The Air)

That's a lot of balls for one man. I wish someone could help me with my balls. My wife probably wishes I weren't so childish. Just for that she doesn't get to touch my balls.

That’s a lot of balls for one man. I wish someone could help me with my balls. My wife probably wishes I weren’t so childish. Just for that she doesn’t get to touch my balls.

I’m juggling a lot of balls at the moment. It’s hard keeping track of so many balls. But no matter what I’m not going to get testy. Hey! Get your mind out of the gutter! Don’t start reading into those innuendos and start thinking that they’re innuendos. That’s just nuts!

OK, enough of that, let’s get busy. (heh)

Here’s what’s going on in no particular order:

  1. First draft of the Private Placement Memo is completed, second draft should be in my possession this week. If not, that’s OK, I have plenty to keep me busy (heh). What this means is all you lovely, wonderful folks who’ve expressed interest in being a part of Panic Alarmist Brewing will soon have that opportunity. Stay tuned. Speaking of which, if you think you might be interested in investing in Panic please send me a message through the form on the Contact Me page. The minimum investment will be $8,000 and there will be lots of legal documents spelling out precisely what you get, what I get, what you don’t get, and what I don’t get. Everyone will be protected to the best of my attorney’s ability, whom I trust completely.
  2. The first draft of my real estate lease RFP (request for proposal) is in my possession and I’m trying to get time to review it. My real estate broker, “Nick”, has created this document which will be submitted to the real estate brokers/owners of the properties I’ve expressed interest in. This RFP spells out what kind of infrastructure I require such as electrical, plumbing, and floor loads. We’ll see who offers some TI and/or abatements. See here for an explanation of those terms.
  3. I’ve started the small business loan process. I’ve spoken to several commercial lenders thus far. The response has ranged from extremely enthusiastic to mild irritation. The banks that responded professionally, got back to me, or loaned me money will be lauded on this website. The ones who didn’t will also be mentioned as a warning to others. One lender, whom I spoke with on the phone today was very interested in the project. We will be meeting this coming Thursday. I am very excited.
  4. The first batch of beer from my 1 gallon rapid prototype process is ready to bottle. I split it into two different half gallon growlers and dry hopped them slightly differently. Can’t wait to try the final results.

So that’s a quick list of where I am. Still so much to do but things are really coming to fruition.

Oh, and there are quite a few secret developments happening as well. Really good stuff and I wish I could share, but instead I’ll just tell you that I have some cool things going on and you should be titillated (heh).

Cheers,

G

2 comments
As I understand it, Russia has this old power plant with plenty of clear height. The commute would be a disaster though. Get it? Disaster? Sigh.

As I understand it, Russia has this old power plant with plenty of clear height. The commute would be a disaster though. Get it? Disaster? Sigh.

In the past two weeks I’ve embarked on two commercial real estate tours with my real estate agent. We’ll call him “Nick” because that’s his name, but we’ll continue to put his name in quotes because that’s pretty damn funny. Anyway, “Nick” has thus far arranged for me to tour about 20 different commercial real estate properties which he thought would make suitable facilities for a brewery.

Probably the first criterion for my location is ceiling height. In the commercial real estate biz this is called “clear height” and means the distance from the floor to the bottom of the lowest ceiling support. Ideally I’d like about 16′ but I can certainly go shorter, I just don’t want to. Shorter clear heights means shorter fermenters which means, in addition to different fermentation characteristics, more square footage required for a given capacity. This is Chicago and like any big city, things are usually cheaper if you build up. I’ll be starting with 30 bbl fermenters, but in the not too distant future I’ll need 60 bbl fermenters or larger. I’ve toured a few spaces on the North Side with large clear heights, but the number of choices is surprisingly limited, but that’s fine, I’ll make do. There are more on the West and South sides, but those are just too far from my home to make them viable.

Other criteria are obviously price, square footage available now (minimum 5000 SF) and ideally additional adjacent square footage for future expansion, distance from my house, TIF/SBIF availability (we’ll cover that some other time if applicable), build out costs, etc. If you’re not aware, commercial real estate is priced by $/SF/year. So if you’re quoted a price of $10/SF, that means you’ll pay $10/SF/year, not per month. The first time I saw a quote, I assumed it was per month and damn near cried. That is not the case. Also, the price quoted will be either “net” or “gross”. “Net” means the price does not include property tax, maintenance, insurance, etc. “Gross” means all those costs are included in the quote. If you’re quoted “net”, your real estate agent will find out what the “gross” is. One way or another, you pay for all those things, it’s just how it’s quoted by the lessor.

One thing I’ve noticed immediately is that commercial real estate owners (or their real estate agent surrogates) run the gambit from very friendly and helpful, to stubborn, cheap, ass hats. I won’t be dealing with the ass hats. I have too much riding on this to put myself at risk of getting a bum deal with someone who doesn’t want to spend money to obtain and maintain a good tenant. When I say “cheap”, I’m referring to the two main ways that a commercial real estate owner can help a perspective tenant out: tenant improvement funds (“TI”) and abatement.

TI is where the owner agrees to pay for some of the build out costs you require. Obvious candidates for a brewery are: installing 230V 3-phase power on the property, concrete work, trench drains installation. The incentives for an owner to do this could be things such as getting a tenant into a space experiencing extended vacancy or poor condition of the property. The upswing for the owner beyond just getting rent for a previously unrentable space is that they can charge you higher rent to pay for the capital outlay. I’d much rather pay for high construction costs with additional rent payable over years rather than use up precious capital. As part of my business plan, and my overal assumption that nothing will go the way I want it to, I’m just assuming that I will receive little to no TI, but this is obviously based on the state of the property. If it’s a dump, then I will definitely expect TI, if it’s nice and clean, well then we’ll negotiate. The good news is that every space I looked at either already had the proper electrical and water supply or the owner was willing to pay for that in some capacity. This makes sense as all the properties are in commercial or manufacturing zones where appropriate infrastructure is essential.

Another way a lessor can help a tenant get up and running is by “abatement”. Abatement is simply where the tenant pays no rent during build out, permit processing (a fun subject in Chicago), equipment delivery and installation, etc. Once you sign a lease, the lease actually begins on an agreed upon date, perhaps 4 to 6 months after build out begins. This allows you, the business owner to not pay rent when you have no revenue coming in, and it allows the owner to get a good, long term tenant who doesn’t have to use up their precious capital and risk going out of business. Very negotiable and most owners have been very willing to do that. The ones that won’t will not be considered. This especially goes for the ass hat owner (whom was not present) and his douchebag real estate agent (about as personable as a sun dried turd) of a large commercial space on the West Side. The conversation went like this:

“Nick”: “So is the owner willing to offer abatement?”

Douchebag agent: “Oh no, he’s not willing to let someone use the space without paying any rent.”

Me with my sarcasm set to “kill”: “You mean like all the rent he’s collecting now?” (staring over a vast horizon of emptiness)

The space was very large and very empty and had been vacant for many, many months. No renters in sight. Fortunately this turd was an anomaly. Every other agent or owner we met indicated that there was room for TI and/or abatement. That’s just smart.

Another interesting facet of commercial real estate leasing that I was aware of but was reminded by lessors’ agents over and over is that the owner will be doing a detailed analysis of my business plan and business capitalization. Owners don’t want to invest tens of thousands of dollars in TI or abatement only to discover that you are undercapitalized or have a stupid business idea. One interesting location I looked at had been vacated by the tenant in the middle of the night without warning while the lease was still in force. I assume the owner is in the midst of legal action to recover their losses. So there’s snaky-ness on both sides it seems.

One other aspect worth mentioning and closely related to the previous point is a security deposit. Lessors might demand a bigger deposit from a start up such as myself. If that’s the case, then I’ll expect the lessor to release some of that security deposit back to me over time as the business matures and the owner becomes comfortable with my status as a reliable tenant. My business plan assumes a 6 month security deposit as recommended by “Nick”.

Side note: I can’t tell you how many lessor agents told me something along the lines of, “There’s a lot of you brewery guys looking at spaces.” My response was, “Yes, I probably know all of them”, which is true. Small world, even in Chicago.

There is much, much more to this commercial real estate leasing game than this, but this is just a primer based on what I’ve learned in the past couple of weeks. It’s a whole new world for me and I will tell you it’s been a source of stress, but I’ll get through it like everything else. As I learn more I’ll share. I’ll be very glad when a suitable location is found and the lease is signed.

Oh, and I found about five locations that I liked. I didn’t LOVE any of them, but all could work fine, just not ideal. I’m not done searching yet and I’m hoping to find a diamond in the rough. I won’t be revealing any location information due to the aforementioned note about other breweries looking as well. I’m here to share as much as possible, but some things are best left on the down low until the time is right.

Cheers,

G

4 comments

A friend of mine who owns a well known craft beer bar here in Chicago posted something on Facebook recently which really caught my attention for a variety of reasons.

These are the last three men on earth who have never drank a craft beer.  The craft beer movement ends on the day they order their first IPA.

These are the last three men on earth who have never drank a craft beer. The craft beer movement ends on the day they order their first IPA.

The gist of his comment was that he’s seeing a huge influx of beers coming to him from sales reps each and every week. Reps from distributors come in, bring in loads of bottles of craft beer and “craft beer” to try and he decides if he’ll try selling them in his bar. The problem is quite simple: he has limited space in his bar for bottles and kegs. Bottles sit in refrigerators, kegs sit in a walk-in cooler (which I’ve seen, and it is very cozy in there). He has a finite number of taps to go with those kegs. These are the same issues that any purveyor of goods has to deal with. Target stores can only put so many products on their shelves and if you have a new product you want to sell there, it takes a lot of sales effort to get in the door (I know both through personal work experience in another life, and through a friend who is doing this very thing).

So my craft beer bar owning friend wanted to know if other bars, restaurants, retail stores were seeing this same issue which he described as “putting 20lbs of beer in a 15lb bag”. After he posted this, many folks commented, many of them are in the beer business in some way, either as brewery owners, distributor reps, bar owners, etc. The comments ran the gambit but they reinforced what is an underlying question I think about all the time: What is the future of the Chicago craft beer market and the entire craft beer market in general?

There are so many moving parts in the answer to this question, if there actually IS an answer. How many breweries can Chicago support? How do we compete against non-Chicago craft breweries who are moving into our fine city fast and furiously? How do we get Chicago to support its hometown breweries first, much like Portland, Seattle, and all of Wisconsin? When will the growth slow? Is this the crest of the wave? If so, is it wise to open a brewery now?

I’ll just answer that last question right now. For me, yes. Even if we had 500 breweries in this city, I’d do it. To me, this isn’t about riding a wave. I got in on the ground floor of the craft beer movement in this country. I wasn’t the first, but I was definitely there close to the beginning. This isn’t a fad to me, this is my life. There is nothing I’d rather do for a living than own a brewery. There’s nothing else I CAN do for a living. This is it. I have to do this. I have no choice. So anyone who thinks there are too many breweries in Chicago or in the U.S. or thinks that any new brewery that is coming on board is just following the herd….well…they can fuck off. Do you say, “Another restaurant in Chicago? We already have too many!” No, you do not. We’re Americans, we crave choice. The more choice the better. Why would having choices in beer be any different? And specifically in a great metropolitan city like Chicago, I personally EXPECT to have a wide variety of choices for just about everything: food, beverage, entertainment, culture, porn. If I didn’t want so many choices, I’d live somewhere with a lower damn cost of living. I should clarify that none of this is referring to my friend, as that was not his point. It’s more of a reaction to some of the comments which conveyed, in my opinion, an obtuse understanding of what opening a brewery means to those of us who are doing it or have done it. Let’s move on.

Let’s talk about supporting local breweries. A few months ago, my friend Jessica Murphy had an excellent post about this on her blog, Girls Like Beer Too. Go into any craft beer bar in Chicago and you will find that almost without exception, Chicago breweries are a minority on the tap handles. Lots of California and Colorado beers, lots of imported beers, but a relatively small number of Chicago beers. And I don’t recall being in any craft beer bar where all Chicago breweries were represented at the taps. Bottles maybe, but I personally judge a beer bar by its taps. (I never order bottles. I can get bottles at the store and drink at home for far less money.) So why the lack of support for Chicago breweries compared to Portland et al? Where is the allegiance to the home team? Where is our pride in our Chicago beer culture? Well, I think there are several answers here. First: wait for it….there aren’t enough breweries in Chicago! Portland, OR has 40 breweries (including brew pubs) and a population of 1 million. Chicago has 2.8 million people. That would mean we would need approximately 40*2.8 = 112 breweries to have the same breweries/capita. We have less than 20, I believe. Does Chicago have the same appreciation for well crafted beers like the west coast? It should. Chicago was brewing commercial beers before any of those fuckers were!

But I don’t think sheer numbers is the complete answer. I believe it’s a huge part of the answer as it limits what kinds of beers we have access to locally. There’s another part of this answer that Chicago breweries need to address: make great beer. Now, we have great breweries. Metropolitan Brewing has carved a fantastic niche with clean German style lagers, which is quite unique not only in Chicago, but for the U.S. in general. Their “Crankshaft Kölsch” is just fantastic and can easily compete with any German version. Half Acre‘s “Daisy Cutter” is awesome. Revolution is making some terrific beers in their production brewery and shipping them all over the place. But we’re competing against Stone, Firestone Walker, Lagunitas (who will soon be a hometown beer), Oskar Blues, and now Deschutes, all well established and universally loved breweries. I see plenty of those beers on tap at any bar, not just craft beer bars. So what does that say? Are their beers better than ours? I guess that depends on who you ask. I love, love, LOVE Firestone Walker and Lagunitas. Two of my absolute favorite breweries, but I would love to replace them with hometown beers of similar styles. The problem is, for the styles of beer they make, I like theirs better. If there’s a hop centric beer, I’d take FW or Lagunitas over a hometown beer any day. They’re just terrific. They don’t make all styles of beers, but the ones they do are just superb. Where’s my allegiance to Chicago? The same place everyone else’s is probably. I want to drink the best beers I can get. I drink plenty of Chicago beers, don’t get me wrong, my larger point is we absolutely have to brew beer that is as good or better than the big guys out west or wherever. I don’t expect a bar to offer Chicago beer on tap just because of some sense of hometown allegiance. Bars are a business, just like a brewery, and they have to make money. If they can sell more Firestone Walker than a local beer, then that’s what they’re going to do, and I don’t begrudge them at all.

(Case in point: Deschutes Brewery just made a massive splash in Chicago last month. Hell, I found their beer at a local large chain grocery store on the very limited shelf space dedicated to craft beer. No Half Acre, no Metropolitan, but yes to a brewery that just entered our massive market a few weeks ago! What the hell? Where’s the Chicago love?)

Update 2/18/13: I just read Good Beer Hunting’s excellent post on Wirtz Beverage Group, the IL distributor for Deschutes. I have to say I am well impressed with their marketing and logistics savvy given that this is their very first craft beer brand. I think Wirtz is going to be teaching other established craft beer distributors a few lessons on how it’s done.

Now it seems that everyone and their brother is opening a brewery in Chicago. I keep finding out about new ones in planning all the time. It’s going to be a much more crowded marketplace in the next couple of years. I won’t lie to you and say it doesn’t worry me a bit but in the end, it’s going to push me to constantly improve my beers, my processes, and my marketing. That’s how capitalism works and regardless of who’s left standing, the craft beer drinker will benefit.

So what’s going to happen to the craft beer movement in general? Is this a fad? Will we turn back to wine or go cheap and drink the yellow fizzy stuff? Will people get tired of talking about hop profiles and malt backbones? Will the lines at Dark Lord Day ever get shorter? I don’t think it’s a fad, but honestly I have no idea. The number of breweries opening in the U.S. is at a fever pitch. The rate continues to accelerate. Obviously the rate of growth will slow down and when it does, what then? Can all of these breweries survive and grow? I doubt it. I foresee a lot of closings and consolidations. Typical business cycle stuff. I also foresee the day when craft beer loses its cachet and becomes, well, normal. Growth will continue but slow dramatically. Some breweries will continue to aggressively expand, but mainly, I see cities and town supporting their local breweries much like the days of yore in Europe. Nothing special, just normal and delicious and expected.

Oh, and the big guys will continue to fight off the craft beer onslaught by trying to further put a stranglehold on distribution, completing mergers, producing more fake craft beers with aggressive marketing. The usual. They’ll lose, but not for lack of trying.

So that’s my viewpoint. I’m sure I’m wrong on several fronts, correct on others. Only time will tell. Regardless, I will continue with this journey and I will make sure that Panic Alarmist Brewing is nimble and ready to adapt to a changing craft beer marketplace. If that means hot models wearing nothing but dynamite themed body paint, well, so be it. No wait, I’m doing that anyway. Never mind.

Cheers.

G

3 comments

Funny how things change in just a few weeks. Two weeks ago, I couldn’t stop wearing pantyhose and now I want nothing to do with them! No wait, that’s not what changed! I mean, yes it did. No, no…oh never mind!

Here we have a metaphor in which the turtle is Panic Alarmist and the turtle is panicked. That last bit isn’t actually a metaphor. The turtle really is quite terrified, and rightfully so.

What’s really changed is that my glacial pace, as mentioned here, has become more of a missile-like pace! A high speed bullet train-like pace! A Millennium Falcon-like pace! Some other analogy regarding something really quite fast-like pace! One reason for this change is that with the increased rate of global warming, glacier references won’t be very meaningful to people who should happen on this blog in a couple of years. Another reason is, well, I’m in my zone and it’s time to finish this up. I have beer to brew and people who want to drink it! At least I hope people want to drink it.

First, let me explain that even though I’m not blogging every day or even every week or even every year (it seems), I am constantly writing quick status updates on the Panic Alarmist Brewing Facebook page. So if anyone is interested in very up to date news, that’s the place to be. If you’re not interested in reading what I had for breakfast or why Panic Alarmist will not be brewing any beer with turnips, well, I can’t say I blame you.

Now, onto the news….

Here’s what I’ve done since the last brewery related blog post (not the post about correspondence, that one is boring):

  1. Worked with my attorney to finish up the operating agreement. It is now 99% completed. There will be amendments once the financial picture becomes clearer, but the hard part is almost complete.
  2. Hired a CPA to review the financial statements in my business plan for accounting accuracy (balance sheet, profit and loss statement). I will also be hiring her for all general accounting and tax issues for Panic Alarmist as well. She has my latest business plan in her possession and I should have that wrapped up next week.
  3. Received feedback from my CPA and made lots of tweaks and changes to my financial analyses. Most changes were simply accounting related, but I want to ensure that any would be lender or investor is confident in my business plan, and that confidence is directly proportional to the accuracy of the business plan finances.
  4. Requested and received an updated quote from DME, one of the brewing equipment manufacturers I’m strongly considering. They are the manufacturer of choice by no less than three brand new breweries here in Chicago and all three breweries have told me nothing but good things about them. I also have a lead time from DME as of yesterday. That lead time is 18-20 weeks, meaning the amount of time from the date I order to the time it arrives. Pretty typical timeline and not as long as some other manufacturers.
  5. Started the real estate search. That’s right, you heard me. Real estate. The location of Panic Alarmist Brewing. The answer to the most oft asked question about Panic Alarmist will soon be answered. I am searching for a space to lease somewhere on the North/Far North/Northwest/Far Northwest side of Chicago. Nothing fancy, just your standard commercially zoned area. I have a commercial real estate agent looking for me. We’ll be doing our first tour tomorrow. I’m very excited.
  6. Decided that Panic Alarmist will definitely have a retail store before a tap room. Eventually both, but due to probable capital limitations (the bane of all start ups) at the outset, I will only be able to do one or the other. After talking to Gabriel and Matt, owners of Half Acre Beer Company, which has both, it became obvious that the retail store was the way to go. I think when they said, “Retail store, not even close” was probably what won me over. Why a retail store first? Revenue. Money. Cash inflow. I’m going to be a nervous wreck until this brewery is cash flow positive and then profitable. Until that time, I will be focusing on figuring out how to maximize revenues. Based on Half Acre’s experience, a retail store generates much more revenue than a tap room because of sheer volume. Fear not, there absolutely will be a Panic Alarmist tap room, but first I gotta make sure the business is healthy.
  7. Decided to begin a new fast recipe prototyping process with 1 or 2 gallon batches using “brew in a bag”. I spent a couple hours working out the water calculations in my fancy brewing spreadsheet that I’ve been using for a couple of years. Now I simply click the “Brew in a Bag” check box and all volumes convert automagically. This involves using a single brew pot for both the mash tun and kettle. No sparging, no pumping. I’ll ferment in growlers which will allow me to try different yeast strains, fermentation temperatures, and/or dry hop schedules. I’ll then bottle/carbonate the finished beer in 22 oz bombers. I thought of doing this months ago and finally getting around to doing it. Should be interesting.
  8. Received the first draft of the Panic Alarmist Brewing PPM (Private Placement Memorandum) from my attorney. This is the second of three documents required to execute the LLC member interest offering. That’s the correct legal term for “investors” in an LLC.

Lots of big stuff happening all at once. Yes, it’s stressful, yes I’m busy, but I love it and this train isn’t stopping until the beer is brewing. There is oh so much more to share and I will when I can. Again, for quick updates, check out the Panic Alarmist Brewing Facebook page.

Cheers,

G

0 comments

Just A Quick Note On Correspondence

I’ve been very humbled by all the responses I’ve received from everyone over the past 14 months or so. It’s been overwhelming, in a good way and as we get closer and closer to launch, the number of correspondences I receive seems to be going up exponentially. I just wanted to say to anyone who contacts me through the blog contact form (which sends me an email immediately), Facebook, or Twitter that I read absolutely everything. I TRY to get back with everyone as soon as I read the message, but sometimes I don’t. If I don’t, that usually means I have something else I have to tend to (like two children fighting over Legos). Consequently, if I don’t get back immediately, there’s usually a delay as my attention gets drawn in a million different directions it seems.

So please don’t be offended if you contact me and I don’t get back to you immediately. I promise I will. If I don’t get back to you in say… a week or so, then feel free to contact me again.

Ok, fine. Since you asked me 346 times, I'll go ahead and buy life insurance on my poodle. I didn't even know I had a poodle. Thanks for helping!

Ok, fine. Since you asked me 346 times, I’ll go ahead and buy life insurance on my poodle. I didn’t even know I had a poodle. Thanks for helping!

The one exception to all of this is salespeople. While I appreciate and understand the need to find new customers, please, please only contact me once. If I’m interested, I’ll get back with you. If I’m not, I won’t. And the easiest way to ensure that I won’t buy your products or services is to repeatedly contact me. I promise that I read your correspondence the first time. I disdain pushy salespeople and you won’t get the response you want from me. Trust me on this. The normal aggressive sales rules to not apply with me. Seriously. Don’t. Fucking. Do. It. (Update 08/14/2013: No really, I’m not sure how much clearer I can be. You bug me more than once, you don’t get the sales commission. Is that clearer?)

Enough of the negative stuff. Again, thanks for the really positive messages and such. I get contacted from people all over the country who are also interested in opening a brewery who tell me how much my efforts here are appreciated. It is these responses among other things that make me know I’m on the right track here.

Cheers,

G

1 comment

Back To The Beers

I've recently hired these wonderful ladies as recipe consultants. At first I was resistant to using newts in my beers, but somehow they convinced me otherwise. Highly recommend!

I’ve recently hired these wonderful ladies as recipe consultants. At first I was resistant to using newts in my beers, but somehow they’ve convinced me otherwise. Highly recommend!

As much time as I spend thinking about the business part of the brewery, I spend at least as much time thinking about the brewing part of the brewery. That’s what this is all about, right? I’m thinking about recipes to the point that it’s actually become a stress point in my life. I really, really want to make phenomenal beers but my recipes are just not there yet. To add context to “not there yet”, I should cautiously note that I’ve had many craft beers over the years, both production and brew pub sourced, that I would also describe as “not there yet”. I think we all have and I don’t want to be one of those breweries making those kinds of beers. That’s my biggest fear of this whole business.

Almost all of my brewing starting from the last few months of 2011 through the present has been about recipe formulation and experimentation. Lots of experimentation. Up until the end of 2011, most of my brewing involved making mostly classic styles (usually based on recipes from “Brewing Classic Styles”) and honing my processes. Then in late 2011 I began to brew using only my own recipes, no training wheels. It’s been incredibly freeing, but equally frustrating. Now here we are in January of 2013 and what have I learned? Well, a lot actually. I’ve learned a lot about what doesn’t work and a few things that do work.

2012 was definitely the most prolific brewing year I’ve ever had but it also represented the year of more dumped beer than any other. That’s one thing I’ve learned: don’t be afraid to dump beer. I only have so much space, so many kegs, and I learned that holding onto a substandard beer just delays the inevitable. So I got VERY comfortable dumping corny kegs of beer that just weren’t up to my expectations.

I’ve learned that yeast doesn’t like to be messed with. Once you make a starter, use it, don’t store it for a couple of weeks, remember to build it up again, delay more, build again. I brewed a bock/doppelbock at the end of September, 2012. The poor yeast used in that beer (Wyeast Bavarian Lager) was abused as described and then just to add insult to injury, I damn near froze one of the starters which most certainly damaged some of the yeast cells. Did I dump the yeast and start over? No, I had to find out if the yeast would produce good beer. Despite all my usual careful fermentation process, that bock was easily the worst beer I made in 2012. It was fermented precisely at 50 degrees, it was lagered for several weeks, it was kegged, it was tasted, it was given a chance, then it was dumped. Lesson learned.

I learned that dry hopping with U.K. Fuggle hops requires a delicate hand. I dry hopped an English bitter with far too much. Combined with the over bittering of the kettle additions created a completely out of balance ale.

I learned that my hop bittering formulas in my brewing software (BeerAlchemy/BeerAlchemy2) were set incorrectly in preferences. Specifically, first wort hopping was set to below 1.0 x kettle hopping. It should’ve been set to at least 1.0. I’m now using 1.1 as a multiplier. The consequence of this was what should’ve been a beautifully balanced, hoppy pale ale became an overly bitter, hop cloying mess. My single biggest disappointment of the year, for sure. As a side note, I’m will be brewing this beer again this coming weekend and it WILL be much improved, come hell or high water.

That brings up another lesson. It’s one thing to follow formulas and recipes, it’s quite another to use….artistry? Yes, that’s it. Artistry. We brewers are artists, are we not? Or at least artisans. It’s very easy for me, with my engineering and computer programming background, to look at things very analytically and to not stop, take a step back and ask myself, “does this make sense as a brewer and not a technician?”. This, I feel, is my biggest weakness as a brewer, and one I’ve been working on for months to improve.

I learned that using high alpha hops, like Warrior, has no place in pale Belgian beers. Even if precisely calculated to the correct IBU’s. I made a Belgian rye ale that would’ve been really nice, dry, and tasty, but the bittering just killed it. Why did I use Warrior? Because I had to try it. I was thinking on the pro scale and wondering if using high alpha hops for bittering would work, thus saving lots of money on hops, as opposed to using lower alpha hops classically used by Belgian breweries such as Saaz or Styrian Goldings. Not so deep down, I knew this was a bad idea, but I had to try. Better to do it with 5 or 10 gallons rather than 15 bbl batches, right?

I learned that trying to fix the aforementioned beer by blending with a 2.5 gallon batch with no bittering hop additions doesn’t work. Again, I didn’t think it would, but I HAD to try. Dumped.

One thing I’ve very recently started doing is keeping an eye on the BU:GU ratio. I’ve known about this number for a very long time (first brought to the mainstream by our local Chicagoan, Ray Daniels) but never paid much attention to it. It’s not a perfect representation of the perceived bitterness of a beer, but it’s a great data point. Again, artistry will trump analytics, but I feel this number helps improve both. If nothing else, it’s a sanity check, and one that had I paid attention to more last year, I would’ve learned a lot about where bitterness should live in a given beer. (Update 1/8/2013: I forgot to include a link to this website I just discovered in the past week. Great chart representation of BU:GU ratios for all recognized BJCP styles. Great resource for sanity checking bitterness. But wait, there’s more! The author has expanded on the BU:GU concept with something he calls “Relative Bitterness Ratio” (RBR) which includes apparent attenuation in the formula. There’s also a chart for that too!)

I could go on and on but that’s the gist of things. Lots of experiments, lots of failures.

But wait, there were successes too! Version V of my Belgian Wit was fantastic. I split a 10 gallon batch into two 5 gallon fermenters and used different wit strains. One was noticeably better in my opinion which just happens to be the same yeast strain that I’ve always preferred for wits. I brewed my first Russian Imperial Stout and am about to enter it in a large competition here in Chicago. Again, my own recipe, but I did a lot of research first to get an idea of percentages of specialty malts to add. It turned out great (just brewed it in November and will be kegging/bottling today!) and I’ll definitely be tweaking it along the way for a debut at Panic Alarmist some day. Some day.

That’s all from the beer front. Lot’s going on on the business front. More updates coming.

Cheers,

G

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What’s Faster, Me Or A Glacier?

Once I kick this guy's ass in the 1,000,000 mile hurdle, I'm going to boil him and make beer.

Once I kick this guy’s ass in the 1,000,000 year hurdle, I’m going to boil him and make beer.

It’s been over a year since I first started blogging this adventure. I wish I had remembered the anniversary back in October! Here’s my first post. Hard to believe 14 months have passed. That brings me to today’s subject which is: “Where’s the damn brewery!”.

My wife brought up the point today that I’m moving very slowly on this and I agreed with her. I know lots of folks opening breweries in Chicago and they are moving quite quickly. Some have already begun looking for real estate, I have not. Now it’s hard to compare apples to oranges as we all have different stories including size of brewery, financial resources, life responsibilities and such.

Of all the folks I know here in Chicago opening breweries, I believe I’m the only one who has all five of these attributes: 1) has kids, 2) is in his mid 40′s, 3) has a mortgage, and 4) is opening a full sized non-nano brewery, and 5) has a good paying day job which happens to be the sole source of funds for the family. I could be wrong about the other breweries, but I believe this is the case.

These five things plus a few others combine to make me very cautious during this journey. I have a shit load of responsibilities on my shoulders that weigh in on every decision I make. I’m not saying others do not have equal responsibilities or limitations but these are mine. The only reason I mention my age is the whole idea of waiting so late in life to make these major changes is daunting. Add in children and all these other things and you get a very cautious man moving slowly and deliberately.

I’ve spent a lot of time playing out scenarios in my head. No failure scenarios, but lots of contingency plans. What if I can’t afford a canning line? Can I grow the business by packaging only in kegs for the first year? Would it be more profitable to open a tap room before spending money on a canning line? What about a retail store? Does Chicago need another xyz beer? What about those damn hops I want so badly?

Well, I’m at the point now where I feel I’m ready to deal with just about any contingency. The only really big hurdle that I will be facing soon is getting bank financing. The result of that will play a big part in all of these other decisions.

So that’s my litany on why I’m moving at the pace I am. Some might think it slow, some might not care one way or another. Just realize that this is my journey and I have to do it the only way I know how. Patience is not something I’m known for, so this enterprise is a real test for me.

Enough of that touchy feely Oprah crap! On to brass tacks.

I had a really productive meeting with my attorney a week ago yesterday. He’s been amazingly helpful in guiding me through the maze of LLC’s and member investment. We’re getting very close to the first draft of the Operating Agreement. From there we’ll move onto the other documents discussed in my previous post.

Despite my glacial pace, things are really moving along now. I’ve received rousing reviews of my business plan. People are complimenting me on how detailed and well thought out it is, which makes me feel like I’m on the right track.

I now have several commercial real estate agent referrals and I’ll be talking to them this week to try to find one who’s a good fit. It looks like the search could take several months so I better get my ass in gear to make sure I have a few choices once I’m funded.

Stay tuned, we’re getting into the good stuff now.

G

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