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And Then There Was One

Did I say no partners? If the right woman person came along, I might be persuaded. They'd have to be perfect though. And blonde. Very blonde.

Did I say no partners? If the right woman person came along, I might be persuaded. They’d have to be perfect though. And blonde. Very blonde.

The past 6 weeks or so since I announced my partnership with Nate have been very busy and very intense. Within just a few days of Nate saying he was on board we were dividing and executing tasks like mad men, sharing what we learned, making decisions. Lots of stuff knocked out very quickly. (As an aside, we’ve been using Asana to accomplish all of our task management and follow up. It’s free and highly, HIGHLY recommended. Seriously, check it out.)

Nate and I have been a well-oiled machine bouncing ideas off of each other, taking on tasks that best suit our strengths and personalities, compromising on ideas that then turned into better ideas. It’s been great. However, there have been some big issues dividing us.

For me, a big part of this journey, a big motivator to finish this, is leaving something for my kids to take over should they choose (and they damn well better!). That desire has always been at the base of the Panic Alarmist Brewing pyramid. I want my kids to see that if you work hard, dreams really, truly come true. (Ok, not all dreams, ’cause if they ALL came true I’d be writing this aboard Charlize Theron’s yacht anchored off the coast of Sardinia.) This is a very big deal to me. Well, guess what? If you have a partnership, you can pretty much kiss that goodbye. You partner doesn’t necessarily want to work with your future grown up children, and vice versa. So that means you have to get a partnership agreement together to address what happens if you die or if you want to retire. Do your survivors get the run the business too or do they just get to collect checks from the business? What if the surviving partner runs the business into the ground? What if a partner wants to sell their share of the business because they’re tired of the other partner coming to work naked every day save for the Green Bay Packers body paint he’s sporting?

Yeah, lots of potential problems. Now, as cautious and methodical as I’ve been during this venture, I still manage to make mistakes. The single biggest mistake I’ve made thus far was not really sitting down and thinking about what a partnership means today and more importantly, tomorrow. I’ve never started up a business before, solo or otherwise, so I’m still learning. But I really fucked up when I offered Nate a partnership without considering all the implications.

Now there is NOTHING wrong with Nate. He’s a great guy and we’ve become really great friends (and despite a tough week still are). Nate brings a LOT to the table and any brewery that were to take him on would be a very lucky brewery indeed. He has all the passion, energy, and intelligence required to make it happen.

At the end of the day, however, we have different needs from the business. Not recipe needs, which we were in a lot of agreement on, or marketing needs or anything specifically related to a brewery. As a 45 year old man, I always have an eye looking down the road a ways. Seriously, when you get my age, you’ll completely understand. Things just change, especially with children involved. Nate is in his early thirties and he has a few more good years ahead of him than I do. That alone makes for a difficult path to a partnership agreement.

So Nate and I will not be partnering on Panic Alarmist Brewing. I will continue solo and will not be partnering with anyone. Nate and I agreed that we should post about this for the simple fact that most brewery start ups involve two or more founders, it seems. We wanted to try to help anyone considering a partnership by letting them know what it was that kept our partnership from becoming a reality. We put far too little thought into the future of the partnership and we were dumb. I was the dumbest. Don’t just think about what your needs are today, really, really think about what you need in the partnership down the road.

And don’t think this is the last you’ve seen of Nate Barth in the Chicago craft beer scene. Oh no. We have some other ideas floating around. It’ll be awhile, but I have a strong suspicion he may be back on the radar down the road.

Nate and I had a great run, we learned an incredible amount of stuff, not just partnership stuff. It’s been a great life lesson and we’re both much better off for having gone through it. Better to figure this stuff out now then when we’re running a 50,000 bbl brewery and I have to keep seeing Nate’s green and yellow dyed junk during football season. Right?



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Hot Dog! We Have Some Big News!

Yesterday I posted about how Nate and I have been presented with an “awesome opportunity that will make this journey a lot easier and cheaper”. About an hour after I posted it, Nate called me and told me the deal was approved and we are in business! So what is this deal that we’ve been chomping at the bit to share?

Let’s start at the beginning. Once Nate came on board as a partner about a month ago, we started bouncing ideas off of each other as to how to further mitigate our risk. We’re both married with mortgages and children and despite our passion for brewing beer, we’re not interested in putting any of that needlessly at risk. That meant we needed to seek funding from sources other than just banks and individual investors. Banks are fine and all, but we would have to put up personal guarantees which could put our houses at risk. Investors are a great option but the more investors we bring on board, the greater the risk of someone rocking the boat and expressing dissatisfaction with how the business is going.

So what’s left? Well, there are venture capital firms, but those deals require relinquishing control of the business you’ve built with your heart and soul. That wasn’t an option. What we needed was a partner with lots of cash who would let us run the business our way and trust our judgement and vision. Someone who maybe wanted to get a foothold into the craft beer industry but wasn’t quite sure how to make it happen, and someone who was based in Chicago.

Well, after mining through many business and personal connections, making about 30 phone calls, and with a heaping dose of blind luck we’ve found our partner.

Luckily Nate didn't notice the clause in the contract regarding who has to wear the obligatory Vienna Beef Man suit to all events.

Luckily Nate didn’t notice the clause in the contract regarding who has to wear the obligatory Vienna Beef Man suit to all events.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Vienna Beef, Ltd to the Panic Alarmist Brewing family!

Wait, what? What do hot dogs and lunch meat have to do with craft beer? Well, perhaps that might seem a stretch at first. Initially it definitely seemed incongruent to what Nate and I are trying to do. Allow me to explain.

One of our mutual friends has a close cousin who is not only a huge craft beer fan, but also happens to be an executive at Vienna Beef. Our friend was at a family gathering and mentioned in passing that she was friends with some guys opening a brewery and they were looking for a business partner based in Chicago. Her cousin’s ears perked right up apparently and by the end of the day, Nate and I were on the phone with her discussing our vision for the brewery.

Well, it just so happens that Vienna Beef, founded in 1893 here in Chicago and still headquartered here is looking to branch out from its ubiquitous hot dogs, Italian beef, and deli meat business. The owner, Josef Schulkerstein, is 5th generation of the founding family and still runs the company as a family business.

Two days after our initial conversation with our contact, Nate and I were sitting in Mr. Schulkerstein’s office discussing brass tacks. We educated him on the economics of the craft beer industry, the capital requirements for starting up and future expansion, and our passion for brewing beer. Josef (I’m tired of typing “Schulkerstein”) was genuinely fascinated by the industry. He freely admitted that he was not a craft beer aficionado but greatly enjoyed new beers whenever the opportunity presented itself. Nate and I shared the same vibe about Josef: a very open minded man with solid business sense. We were hooked. And so was he.

So it’s been two weeks now and we, along with our attorney, have been in intense negotiations with Vienna’s executive team (and their attorney). As of last night, we’ve reached a tentative agreement. The contracts need to be drawn up, reviewed, and signed, but all signals are green and I’m 99.999% confident the deal will happen. Josef is equally confident and gave us permission to share the great news!

What does this mean to Panic Alarmist Brewing? Well, it means we’ll be starting off with a larger brewery, 30 barrel brewhouse vs 15 barrel. We’ll definitely have our canning line, we’ll be able to sign a lease on a particular property we’ve been eyeing, and we can be up and running by early 2014 no problem! But wait, it gets better.

Vienna will actively market our beers wherever they have an existing foothold including sports stadiums, grocery stores, you name it. They will also encourage all the various Chicago “hot dog stands” that carry Vienna Beef products to obtain Chicago liquor licenses so they can serve our beers! That’s about 350 outlets in the city of Chicago alone!

But wait, there’s even more! Josef is so excited about this whole new world of beer (to him) that he’s offered really great ideas for unusual ingredients, many of which Vienna Beef uses in their various products. So Nate and I will be experimenting with Vienna’s various spices used in their Italian and Polish sausages! And we’re going to brew a special beer specifically for Vienna Beef outlets called “WeinerBrau”. It will be a traditional German style lager but spiced with sage, fennel, onion powder and garlic powder. Our idea is to have it taste as much like a delicious sausage as possible. So much so that customers will actually want to buy a Vienna Beef sausage product to go with the beer. And more sausage eating means more beer to drink! It’s true honest to goodness synergy.

We have so many ideas in the hopper now so once we have things figured out we’ll announce all the great happenings!

So please, once again, welcome Vienna Beef to the Panic Alarmist Brewing family! We are thrilled and honored to have them as a partner in this adventure!


Update: April Fools’


Ahhh, the eternal question. Second most popular question we get after “Where is the brewery going to be located?” and “Do I have to call the police on you again?”. I’ve been blogging this journey since October 11, 2011. You would think this thing would be up and running right? I remember back when I first started thinking about opening a brewery. I foolishly assumed that the entire process would take a year. Youth is wasted on the young.

In this artists rendering, the City of Chicago will look much like this by the time Panic (now named Alarmist) is operational. Fortunately by then we'll be able to transport beer directly to customers via the "Ionic-Suds-O-Particleizer 3000".

In this artist’s rendering, the City of Chicago will look much like this by the time Panic Alarmist is operational. Fortunately by then we’ll be able to transport beer directly to customers via the “Ionic-Suds-O-Particleizer 3000″.

Here’s the deal. Nate and I have been presented with an awesome opportunity that will make this journey a lot easier and cheaper. We can’t divulge all the details yet as there are many things that need to happen to make it come to fruition. It will no doubt add a few extra months to our timeline, but it will be totally worth it, trust me. We’re calling this new development “Plan A”. We spent hours coming up with that name. Nate initially wanted to call it “A Plan” but I pointed out that he was stupid and he agreed. Our original plan is now entitled “Plan B”. Nate also wanted to call that plan “A Plan”. Again I pointed out his stupidity and then he parried with “Plan B”. Touché Nathan Barth, touché. We will one day do battle again and you will not be let off so easily.

Regardless of which plan ends up working out for us, and one of them definitely will, we won’t be opening doors until early 2014.

The reasons for this timeline are quite simple: new equipment requires at least 6 months to be manufactured and delivered, business loans require 2-3 months of processing and analysis (especially SBA ones, according to our sources). We can’t buy the equipment until we have secured the loan. Then there are construction timelines, but those in theory would run in parallel with the equipment manufacturing. Oh and the leasing process. That takes some time as well. And then there are some other events that need to occur prior to all of these, adding some extra months as I mentioned previously.

Nate and I have really started to get the loan process figured out and we’ve begun to reach out to all the potential investors who’ve contacted us over the past 18 months or so. So all the financing stuff, the most important part of this process, is really starting to come together. Our ability to get a loan looks fantastic and it appears we won’t have much trouble getting enough investors on board.

I can tell you that between now and opening day, we will be very, very busy. There are so many things we need to do and there will be very, very few lulls during the run up to opening day. We have to update our branding, figure out package design, finish our recipe formulations and trials, conduct investor meetings, legal documents need finalizing (including partnership stuff which is new to the game), planning our hop contracts, the list goes on.

Nate is as big of a fan of having one’s ducks in a row as I am and we are both ruthlessly researching numerous aspects of opening a small business. I can tell you that once we are open, we will have rock solid legal and financial foundations so that we can immediately get to the task of what this is all about: making great beer and getting it to customers.




A New Sheriff In Town

As much as I want to own and run a brewery, of equal importance is gaining independence. I’ve been in corporate America for a very long time and quite frankly, I just don’t fit it. I never have. Whenever I have a moment of doubt about opening this brewery, there are many things I can think of to get myself back on track. One of the best motivators is realizing I’ll finally make my own decisions about what I need to do and not answer to anyone else but my customers. That feeling of total independence is going to be incredibly satisfying to me, so much so that any risks involved are far outweighed by the ability to call my own shots the way I want to call them without anyone else telling me I can or can’t. And no stupid meetings either. Part of this fierce independence I’ve been seeking is to do this alone. No partners. No arguments, no compromises, just me and enough rope to hang myself.

So it came as a surprise to me a couple of weeks ago when I decided that perhaps I’d like to share that independence with someone. Which seems somewhat dependent. The story goes like this:

I have this friend whom I met through one of my homebrewing clubs (shout out to HOPS!) a couple of years ago. Over time we’ve become pretty damn good friends. My passion for craft beer and brewing is equaled by his. So a few months ago I threw the idea out to him that maybe he’d be interested in working for Panic Alarmist at some point down the road. He liked the idea, but felt it was impractical due to finances. I didn’t put much thought into after that and just proceeded as usual. In the interim, by friend had a bit of an epiphany. So a couple of weeks ago he wanted to know if we could hook up and drink some beers. He came over to my place, we had a couple of brews, then he said something along the lines of, “So you remember you asked me about working for you a couple of months ago….”

That conversation began a whirlwind of phone calls, texts, and emails between us and a dinner at our house with my friend, his wife, and their new baby boy. Another week passed, more messaging, a few fits of panic (see?) and now here we are. In the past couple of weeks I’ve changed my mind about how to get this brewery up and running and successful. I could definitely do it myself, but the problem is I don’t have all the answers and the ones that I do are going to be wrong sometimes. I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas or bad ones. And my stress level is increasing on a daily basis due to more phone calls, more emails, more texts. There are so many moving parts to this process and I have a full time job that I have to balance with family life.

I need a partner. Someone who is passionate about this business, someone who knows how to brew well, someone I can easily work with, someone with an excellent sense of humor, someone who’ll rub my feet when my wife can’t. That someone is:

Charlize Theron Nathan Barth!

Here we see Nate and is lovely wife Rebecca enjoying a cocktail in the tropics. What I haven't told him is that the only vacations any of us will be taking in the next couple of years will be to Branson, Missouri to see the "Three Redneck Tenors" show.

Here we see Nate and is lovely wife Rebecca enjoying a cocktail in the tropics. What I haven’t told him is that the only vacations any of us will be taking over the next couple of years will be to Branson, Missouri to see the “Three Redneck Tenors” show.

Nate brings a lot to the table and I think we’ll be great partners. Yes everyone seems to have a story about two friends who became business partners and then hated each other. I have one of those stories as well. There’s a big difference here and that is we seem to agree on just about everything and when we don’t, we are able to complement each other in a way that’s kinda scary. I’m loud, obnoxious, opinionated where as Nate is quiet, unassuming, and thinks before he speaks. Nate is a native Wisconsinite and Green Bay fanatic. I am sports agnostic (and I’m from Indiana).

Nate also brews some bad ass beer including an IPA which won a homebrew competition (in which I also competed) and was then brewed at Haymarket Brewing. We are in a lot of agreement as to where we want to go with our beers and any differences in opinion on ingredients or processes will only make the final beer better. We are both in strong agreement that New Glarus is one of the best breweries on Earth.

I’ll let Nate introduce himself in a future blog post but for now please welcome him to Panic Alarmist Brewing. Nate will be a full 50/50 partner with me. I’ll be getting him up to speed on all research and we’ll be splitting up tasks and knocking ‘em down twice as fast. We’ve already starting mapping those tasks out, discussing recipe ideas, marketing ideas, lots more.

Nate has already got me thinking about how we can improve the Panic Alarmist logo and overall branding. There will be plenty of dynamite, but we’re going to head in another direction with it and it’s going to be fabulous. Stay tuned for that.

In other news, I met with an SBA lender last Friday and it was fantastic. Lots of good feedback and well, it looks like we may have ourselves a lender. Lots can go wrong until the deal is signed, but I’m feeling very, very good about where we are. I’ll have lots more to write about that as we figure out the details. This is the single biggest piece of the Panic Alarmist Brewing puzzle.




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).