Category Archives: Packaging

Delay to Opening ….. Also Marketing, Production and Tasting Room Advice

We are going to be delayed in our opening.  I wish I could sit here and tell you something different, as we are so excited to open and share our journey and beer with you, but not unlike everyone else …. we are delayed.  It will end up being a combination of beer not quite being ready to go, not receiving all our permits, and construction of the tasting room not quite being complete.  I would say we are going to be open sometime before Christmas.  How much before is anyones guess.  Hopefully around the middle of the month.

Thank you for everyone that has offered their support and encouragement.  There have been days like today where I needed the words of encouragement.  Trying to get things finished in order to get final inspections, in addition to making sure you get all the inspections you need, plus submitting all the paperwork needed to move ahead is a lot of work … and stressful.

A few other things.  Take it from me, when you get a label that you are happy with, something you think you want to produce for your beer, go to a bunch of Liquor Stores and see how it looks on the shelf.  You will be surprised what you learn and I have no doubt that something about your design or direction will change.

For us, we have kept in touch with as many people as possible.  Bloggers, writers, craft beer enthusiasts, home brewers … basically anyone that wants to talk to us about craft beer.  We have asked as many people as many questions as we can about what we are doing, how things work, what they like, preferences in the marketplace, etc.

We did this with our name, via a focus group, and we did this with a bunch of other key items.  However, one thing we didn’t do was take our proposed can design and imagery into the marketplace to see how it would work on shelves.  What we have learned is key, and is something that you should know for when you design a can.  If I could distill the knowledge down to a couple things it would be this.  Put your key items on the top half of your can and make sure you get all the regulated information on the can correct (UPC number and positioning, font size, labelling requirements, etc).

We waited too long to do this, and what we found out was that our imagery, as cool as we thought it was, needed to be moved up the can, made bigger and work with the shelves and flats that would hold our beer.  Luckily for us, we hadn’t yet produced our can, so we can make the changes and then send the can off for printing.  Yes we are going to launch our packaged product in early 2015 once we are happy with the consistency and quality of beer.

Our tasting room is coming together very nicely.  We need to finish a few details, but today our tables went in, and they were bolted to the ground.  It means that we are getting close and soon we will have the final lights, chairs go in, POS and Stereo installed, and warm bodies to make it all come together.  We can’t wait to share this journey with you and we hope you find it as interesting and awesome as we hope you will.

Off to bed ….

 

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50 days out update … this may be my last

For a long time this blog has been a pleasure to write.  I enjoyed going over my notes of things, and putting that into the greater community.  The response and positive energy I received along the way was amazing and helped encourage me to continue writing, especially at times that I was either tired or busy (which seems like all the time).  About 2 months ago, the blog started becoming more of a burden, as the amount of time I spent working at the brewery and on my computer increased weekly.  Add in a complete gut of a house my wife and I purchased, and all of a sudden all of my free time evaporated.  Poof!

So given the state of my personal and professional life, and for the sanity and health of my family life and longevity in business, I have made the decision to free myself from the burden of having to write this blog.  Rather than see a note pop up in my calendar every Sunday night to write a blog post, I have removed the reminder from my calendar, and will let things run their course.  For those of you who follow my blog with regularity, feel free to email me with questions you have.  Also, I promise to continue taking my notes, and should I not find the time to blog about this process until the day we open, I will catch up afterwards.  That way this process will be complete.

So for now, this last blog post may actually be 4 or 5 posts rolled into one, as I update all the different aspects of starting a craft brewery that happen about 2 months out from opening.

Brewhouse:  Ideally, you will have your brewhouse arrive about 60 days prior to opening,  Definitely make sure you put any coatings on your floor.  Also make sure you have your installation procedure decided well in advance.  I am sure by this point you know what you are doing, but it had to be said.

Tank Farm:  Big or small, your tank farm should also be in about 60 days prior to opening, most ideally just before or just after your brewhouse goes in.  Be sure to have your Glycol system scheduled for installation, which needs to be done before you can move your tanks into position.  Also plan for your unloading of tanks for the truck and installation into position.  This can be a really finicky process that needs an experienced touch.

Kegs:  You ideally would get these delivered with about 30 days to go until opening.  Getting them delivered too soon (like we did) means you lose valuable real estate in your brewery that could be used for some other things.  More on use of real estate later.  At the end of the day, get the kegs early, but not too early.

Electrical:  If you are getting major upgrades as we are, make sure you the majority of the work done as soon as possible.  Don’t use an electrician who doesn’t commit to getting things completed by certain dates.  More important than saving a few thousand is someone who works with your schedule, and is always ahead of the game.

Mechanical:   I could literally write the same thing again for this heading that I did for electrical.  Make sure the work gets completed when there is the space and option of doing it.  Never wait for stuff to get done.

Marketing:  Holy crap, the marketing becomes a beast by this point in time.  The decisions you make mean the brand you are creating is formally taking shape.  The big important decisions are long complete, but there are a million and one details.  And the saying goes that the devil is in the details.  Some of the important balls in the air right now are:  Website, content for website, business cards, merchandise, increasing social media presence, glasses, sell sheets, coasters, keg labels, etc.  I would say marketing at this point will likely be taking you about 15 hours per week if you are doing anything similar to us.

Tasting Room:  This is one of the last things to get finished, as the production equipment needs to prioritized, but certainly by now the tasting room is well on its way to completion.  You are definitely making the finer decisions now on this.  Things like designing tables, finishing of walls, merchandise area, etc are all needing decisions to keep things moving forward.  We are about to start on construction of a bar, and I can tell you that there are a lot of factors that go into putting this together, and I promise to one day blog about it.

Accounting:  By now, I hope you have figured out a system for managing your books.  It is easily something that gets left, and before you know it, your GST reporting is due, and instead of a few hours work, you have 3 days worth of book keeping to catch up on.  Dave at Powell Street Brewing gave me the recommendation early to do your accounting every 2 weeks, and while I haven’t yet gotten to that frequency, I can see why he recommends it.

Organizing Trades:  We are sooooo thankful we have a general contractor.  Trying to organize and manage the schedule is a full time job, and one that we couldn’t have imagined not having the support of Graham Disher and his fine team.  They have helped us immeasurably every step along the way, and we are firm believers that paying someone to help is the best move we made.  Organizing trades and their schedule is so important as you come down to this point, as when things get done (or not) has a cascade on all the other things that have to happen after.  Any delays means a delay to every subsequent job.

Cold Room:  After going through the building of a cold room, we are really happy we did this, but man, we think getting a prefab cooler would be a lot better choice next time.  I know we will get exactly what we want and need, but the process of building a cooler is an expensive one, that takes a lot of time, and draws people away from other tasks they could be completing.  Depending on your space and the size of a cooler you need, strongly consider a pre-fab.

Cash Flow:  Hopefully you are meeting your budget, but most likely you are not.  This is where you need to make a decision if you have investors.  Do you take a bigger loan to cover your shortfall or do you raise more money.  In about another month we are going to be pressed with this decision, as we will be out of money.  Managing your cash flow until you get open is the most important part of this process and one that you need to keep on top of constantly.

Government Stuff:  Make sure you keep on top of all the interactions you have with government.  You can easily drop the ball on this one, and the resulting error could be catastrophic to your business.  In British Columbia the government has a website that itemizes all the things you need to do and I suggest you refer to this consistently.

Hiring of staff:  About 50 days out you need to figure out your staffing situation, and start getting ready to hire people.  For us that means people in the brewery and also in our tasting room.  We have been dragging our heels on this one, so do as I say and not as I do.

Other General stuff of note:

Use of Real Estate:  During the process of building a brewery, as you reach about 2 months out, your space is a mess.  There are a hundred things inside your brewery that are at various states of completion, which means there is a lot of stuff sitting in different areas.  For us, even though we are in 9,000 square feet, we are running out of room to put stuff.  We have kegs, barrels, packaging, tanks, wood, plywood, insulation, drywall, tools, work stations, etc taking up space all over.  My advice would be to work on being organized as best you can from day 1.  Don’t let the mess and organization become an issue, as it can overwhelm you.

Manage your Expectations:  I am someone who was raised by a very European father, who was adamant that we were never late for things.  While I am not 100% on time, I do think that making a scheduled deadline is important.  When it comes to something as complex as starting a brewery, just plan for 7 months of building if your size is 6,000 square feet or smaller.  And if you are over 6,000 square feet like us, plan for 8-9 months of building.  I know you will always be able to point to examples that go against this timeline, but do so at your own peril.  Just expect things to go wrong and problems to come up that add time.

Manage your sleep and stress:  For me, a lack of sleep goes hand in hand with being more prone to stress.  To give you an idea, right now I am working about 75 hours a week.  I easily work 12 hours per day 6 days per week, and I do try and take a 1/2 day off on the 7th day of the week.  The 2 things that I hate to lose is my sleep and my exercise.  If I do, I get more stressed, grumpy and unhappy.  So for me, I need to continue to exercise (a lot less intensely with all the physical work at the brewery) and get my 6.5 hours of sleep a night.  Any less than that, and I start to burnout.

Celebrate:  If you don’t stop once and while to celebrate the process, you will miss out on the process of following your dreams.  We are all following our dreams when you start a brewery, and if you don’t take a moment to recognize this, then the process will be less rewarding.

Decisions are now to save time or save money:  The process of making decisions has gone from really taking your time and agonizing over the details, to one that is marked by a lack of research and a plethora of going with your gut.  We are still trying to save money as we always have, but now there is a healthy dose of getting decisions made.  In fact, I would say the first question we usually ask is which option is the quickest?

Stay connected with your partner(s):  It is really easy to divide out a job and then not keep in good enough contact with your partner.  We are all guilty of this, but make sure you take time every day to speak with anyone that needs to be part of a decision.  It also helps to have a master sheet schedule, as I have talked about before, so you can itemize the decisions you need to make, who is doing it, and when the drop-dead date is.

Hopefully, with all this stuff going on you can understand why I am going to blog if and only if I have time over the next 50 days.  My to do list is insane, and I can’t keep up with all the items that need decisions.  I hope you understand!  As such, I am going to take off and get some of these things done.  Until next time …. and always email me with any questions.

 

 

 

Bottle vs Can for a Craft Brewery

One thing we have long struggled with is the type of packaging we are going to put our finished product in.  Speaking with other craft breweries, we are not alone in the uncertainty we face in making this decision.  I have summarized the pros and cons of each decision, and I hope at the end of the post, you can give me some feedback on what is the best in your mind.  Starting your own brewery is a great thing, but it is important to have a firm sense of what you want, and merge that with the financial and marketplace dynamics you face.  In other words, what you started out wanting may not be what you end up with.

Really there are 2 choices that you can put beer into.  Either cans or bottles.  Before I dissect each of the options, here are some general comments.  I had long thought that cans were the clear environmental choice, but a few articles haver pointed me back in the direction of uncertainty.  Click here to read one article.  So with no clear winner on the environmental side, what about taste.  I hear anecdotally that people can taste the plastic in cans.  Does this mean they don’t pour the beer out of cans into a glass (yikes).  Also there is the image.  Is the wider market really ready for high quality craft beer in cans?  I know Steamworks and Central City have their beer in cans, and by all accounts do very well, but could you imagine a much smaller player, like 33 Acres or Bridge Brewing putting their beer in cans?  Would it make a difference at all to your perception of them.

Cans:   Cans are a good option for a brewery for a variety of reasons, but there are some downsides to them, which I have tried tried to summarize below.  Essentially, there are 2 options for can sizes 355ml or 500ml.  The smaller can is more North American while the larger can has a much more European feel to it.

  1. More transportable and lighter than bottles
  2. Beer keeps better in cans than bottles
  3. Per unit cost is less expensive than bottles
  4. About 66% of all beer sold in BC is sold in cans
  5. Government liquor stores want new listings in cans
  6. Canning lines are more expensive than bottling lines and notoriously more finicky.  We have quotes for a canning line at $90,000, and the price can go sky high from there
  7. Minimum orders for cans are about $30,000
  8. You need to figure out what beer you are going to sell and then hope the market likes it, as production time for cans is much longer
  9. Image of someone drinking from a can doesn’t always conjure up quality craft beer
  10. Lead time for can orders is much longer than a bottle label order
  11. A couple different sizes of cans which completely change the look and feel of the marketing

Bottles:  On the other hand, bottles are a great option for a new brewery, as the 650ml bottle is the standard size for craft beer, and is well established in the BC marketplace.  Not unlike cans, there are both pros and cons to packaging beer in bottles.

  1. About 33% of all beer sold in BC is sold in bottles
  2. A beer bottle doesn’t put off any odd tastes, whether perceived or not
  3. A beer label allows for more colours and detailed artwork
  4. The amount of time needed for artwork and printing is much shorter than producing cans
  5. Bottling lines are less expensive than canning lines, and you can buy change-over parts to switch between bottle sizes
  6. We have quotes for bottling lines at about $60,000 and the price can go way up from there
  7. There is a much wider variety of bottles available to put beer into (all are in ml):  330, 341, 350, 500, 650, 750, 1000
  8. Government liquor stores are trying to get out of bottles, so a listing with BCLS is much harder to obtain
  9. In my opinion, a bottle of beer put out a different image than a can of beer

So you can see how we are conflicted on the decision that we are going to make.  We have flip-flopped back and forth from cans to bottles and we have really wrestled with the decision.  What would you do?  What would you want us to do?  The trouble we now have is that we can no longer waffle on this decision.  We need to place our order so that we can get our equipment in time for the launch of our brewery.

So vote here, and let me know what you think.  I would love to hear from you as well.

Another general update on progress and happenings at the Brewery!

It seems like I have been knee deep in the process of starting a brewery, that I have neglected to update the readers on our progress.  From the brewhouse to tanks, and forklifts to logos, there is a lot happening at the brewery, and the level of activity seems to have picked up.  In addition to the office and administrative items that have kept us busy for the past 6 months, you can add in the retrofit of our space to things to do.

For starters, Iain Hill has officially left his position at Yaletown Brewing Company to join operations full time.  For several months Iain has been burning the midnight oil after a long day at the office, and he now has the ability to focus on starting our brewery, which is amazing on many levels.  Finding a brewery (and in my case a business partner and equal) is a huge step in the process of starting a brewery.  Its one thing to be a home brewer like many of you.  You understand some of the components of brewing beer, and you have experience with the lingo and terminology, but its entirely another thing to be in charge of a commercial brewery.  With a qualified partner, the beer we make will be of good enough quality that it will offer us a chance to have success.  If you want to follow Iain Hill on twitter, his account can be found here.

We have sent out tenders for our warehouse to electrical and mechanical contractors.  This has been a bit of a process for us.  When you apply for building permit, you have a sense of where things are going to go, and this is reflected in the drawings your architect prepares for you.  However, when it comes to the technical details of these aspects of the brewery, you engage with mechanical and electrical engineers to complete these drawings.  Getting the details correct on these drawings is critical to getting accurate quotes from trades people that will be doing the work.  If you hand over a set of drawings for tender and they change immensely, you will get dinged for additional expenses throughout the build-out phase.  My advice would be to push ahead with these drawings at every opportunity, so that when you get your building permit, you are not at a standstill like we were.  We will literally lose a month from our possible start-date as we were not ready the next step.

Doing things in the brewery that don’t need a permit is also something that is very important.  We have decided to paint the inside walls of the brewery with a marine grade paint, to keep mould from becoming a problem.  Well painting a house is a job, but painting 6 metre high walls in a brewhouse that is 9,000 square feet is a little bigger of a job.  This is something that we really should have started earlier as well, but given the delays in getting started with the rest of the work, we will have this finished within the week.  Once the walls are painted we can move forward with cutting floors open, and getting our brewery ready for building.

If you ever need advice on buying a forklift, I can tell you that we had a great experience and I would love to share it with you.  At the end of the day, when you are spending so much money on everything at a brewery, trying to save money on items like forklifts can go a long way.  We managed to save about $5,000 against our budget, and while that will get sucked up quickly elsewhere, the point is you need to save money when and where you can.  We had a budget of $10,000 for a forklift, charger, and man cage (for doing work on the ceiling of the brewery).  After about 30 hours of work, research and seeing what the options were, we purchased an electric forklift that will hopefully meet all our needs for now and into the future.  Sure we might have to spend money on repairs, but we are not going to lose much money on this machine as it already has depreciated to nothing.  If you are looking; side shift, electric drive, 40 inch forks, 180 inch lift height, and a smart charger that is compatible with your machine are all must haves.

In terms of the voting on our logo, it looks the voting has ended up at 50-50!  After all that, we have a divided opinion on what we should be going ahead with!  As such, Iain and I are going to meet and make a decision on what we should move forward with.  We look forward to making a decision so that we can move forward with other aspects of our marketing.

Our landing page for the website should be up and running in about a week.  I know there has been delays (like everything it seems), but we hope to have an interesting landing page that will continue with giving everyone a sneak peak into starting a brewery and our operations.  More to come on that front shortly.

I have found an individual that has helped me with odd jobs at the brewery so far, and I would recommend to anyone else who is looking at starting a brewery, to find someone with some technical background in general labour … what I mean is find someone to help you that can do some electrical, plumbing, painting, heavy lifting, etc.  We have found a man to help us, and he has been a saviour for us.

From an equipment standpoint, we have ordered our brewhouse and we are very close to ordering our packaging equipment and conditioning/fermenting tanks.  We are trying to determine exactly packaging equipment we want, as the choice we make will help determine our entry point into the market.  If you go cans, you come across as more of a middle of the road company. If you go with bigger bottles (650ml) then you come across as more of a craft operation.  So we are wrestling with what exactly to do, and I hope we can make a decision in the next week.  As for the tanks, we are grinding the suppliers on their price, and hope to get our ideal package within our budget.  We think it is better to go a little bit smaller on the tank farm, knowing that you may run out of capacity quickly, than spend all your money on equipment and have very little left over for everything else.

Thats it for now.  Should there be anything else you want an update on, as always, let me know and I will include it for my next blog.

What size Bottle would you put your beer into?

If you could only choose 1 size of bottle to put your beer into, which size would you choose?  This is a decision that we need to make, and one that I have had a difficult time making a final decision on.