Category Archives: The Journey

39 days out …. The beginning of the home stretch

Its about time we can say this:  We are now in the home stretch!  Man-o-man that feels good, as this process has really dragged on  …  What I have come to realize is there are many challenges to opening a larger than average brewery, and while it will work out for us in the long term, it has made both Iain and I much more grey!  We also understand that bigger breweries are usually the domains of big companies and investment groups, as cash gets sucked up pretty quickly on a million and one things.

So we are about 39 days from opening, and the list of things to do is immense, not the least of which is blogging to help everyone prepare for this step in their process.  Trust me, you will be tired, tired or being tired, broke, tired of being broke, looking at a to do list about 100 things long, anxious about the beer you will make and if everyone will like your brand, hopeful that you get good reviews, and most importantly enjoying the most amazing ride of your life.  Both Iain and I find that we don’t celebrate our little victories enough, and it is something I would suggest you do at every stage of the process.  There are many milestones in the road to starting a brewery, and take each one in stride.

From here on out, I am going to try and write a blog post every day, so I can highlight some of the details in the home stretch and what that means to you.  There are a lot of details to come together in the very end, and hopefully by sharing these bits of information, you can prepare for the end of the job, which is the most important part of things.  Getting sloppy here can give you bad beer, poor marketing, less than ideal staff, and a host of other issues you never thought possible.  But have no fear, there is no rocket science involved in things … just hard work and strategic decision making.

 

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Its official, we are going to be delayed in opening …

We received some disappointing news about a week ago!  We have been synthesizing what it means and how it will impact our business, but more importantly what we can do to mitigate the risk we are going to experience.  It looks like we are going to push our opening day from late October to December 1st.

We know how people really hate a company saying one thing, and then going about their business only to do something else.  It was not our intention, and to those people who have been following closely, we are sorry.  Not unlike anyone else, it was never our intention to put a date out there that we couldn’t make.  We tried to keep our foot on the gas pedal, while being realistic with our expectations.  We lost quite a bit of time at different points, considering the number of trades we had coordinate and the size and scope of our retrofit.  I have written about managing the schedule, working with a contractor and other items around the build in the past, so I won’t rehash those again.

This I know as true:  The bigger your build, the more expensive your build will be and the longer your build will take.  I would use the analogy of having both the wind and tide against your boat, where the wind is money and the tide is time.  The sum of these 2 problems becomes greater than each part.  Let me try to explain, when you have a bigger build than you expect, it will cost more than you budgeted because of the size of all your work gets bigger.  Like longer electrical wire runs, mechanical runs, more concrete, etc.  What also happens is it takes longer to build, which means you will need more money in getting to day 1.  No matter what you pay for lease, insurance, wages, etc on a monthly basis, whether you are ahead or behind the schedule.

Getting back on topic, some components to our build will be delayed by about a month.  So instead of having these items in place to move things along, our build-out of the brewery will be measurably slowed because of this delay.  It is crushing and cruel all at the same time.  All the effort we have put into beating drop-dead dates, the overtime we have paid to our construction crew, and the early mornings and late nights we have experienced all seem for not right now.

The biggest impact of this delay will be to our finances.  Instead of having the money we need to make it to day 1, we are now going to dilute our company, and raise more money.  There is no creative accounting that can make up for a 1 month loss of revenue, while still experiencing many of the fixed and variable costs our business will come up against.  We don’t quite know what options are available to us, but hopefully we can find a solution that keeps us afloat and allows us to make it to day 1 intact.

So I guess the good news is that I will keep blogging, as I seem to have a little more time on our hands.  More importantly, we can stop rushing so many decisions in order to make sure we make the correct choice.   I plan on blogging about a few other things, all of which will help with people who are following our path.

 

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.

 

 

 

60 Days Out

Without a doubt, things get busier as you get closer to opening your brewery.  For us, there is so much going on right now at the brewery, it is hard to keep track of sometimes.  It is also a point that we are beginning to notice parts of the job getting significantly completed, and others that seemed so far off a few months ago, getting started.

One thing I know for sure, the less you have to complete and build in your space, the faster this project goes.  Since we have taken possession of our space early in the year, Yellow Dog has gone from building to finished, Moody Ales will go from start to finish before us, and a host of other breweries literally leapfrogged us during the past 6 months.  It is both an indication of the complexity of our project, but also the challenges we have faced and will continue to face with our space.

At 60 days from opening, there is a lot going on and as I said earlier, keeping on top of all that stuff can be a lot of work.  If you stop for a second and look down, you are going to miss what is coming at you.  Little things like Tap Handles, coasters, label deadlines, getting UPC codes, positioning of electrical outlets, timing of deliveries, and hiring of staff, can all creep up on you if you don’t think ahead and plan for the decisions you need to make.

One of the bigger issues we have right now is that there is so much going on in the brewery, its hard to schedule everyone at the right times.  We have electricians working overhead, sprinkler installation people, carpenters, mechanical contractors, floor coating technicians, welders, and our team of people helping where we can.  This means that with everyones tools, equipment and supplies, there is not a lot of room to work.  I would suggest that when you build your brewery, you encourage people to get their work done as quickly as possible and as early as possible.  The longer people wait to get stuff done, the more it makes your brewery busy and jam-packed.

Some of the big decisions we have to make are:

  • What beers are we going to launch with in the tasting room
  • Beer Names
  • Tap Handles
  • Order Chairs for tasting room
  • Beer Prices
  • Hiring of Staff
  • Hiring of General Manager for the front of the house
  • Delivery truck
  • Ordering of bottle caps
  • Ordering of 1st piece of new capital equipment
  • A million and one things in the brewery
  • Colours

Just writing this list gives me a strong desire to get working and stop blogging.  As such, I will carry on and leave this post here.  I could write more, so much more, but time would be better spent elsewhere.

Strange Fellows Brewing (Progress Report #3) – East Vancouver

Here is a great little write up from one of our biggest supporters. Thanks for the great article Mike and I look forward to sharing a beer with you in our tasting room in the near future.

Mike's Craft Beer

I have been very busy with work recently so I have not been able to make it back to the brewery since early June.  Things are really starting to take shape with the cooler and tasting room.  It looks like the electricians are getting busy wiring up the brewery currently.  It was good to see that Aaron and Iain were not actually doing the framing while I was there like they did with the rebar.   Probably does not mean they are any less busy but it is backbreaking work on top of the other hard work they are doing getting everything ready.

It looks like construction has really ramped up at the brewery.  I can’t wait until the brew house itself starts to arrive.

If you want to keep up with their construction keep it locked here.  If you want even more coverage check out the breweries Web Cam,

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90 Days Out?!?!

Give or take a few days, we are about 90 days from opening our brewery, and the list of stuff we need to do and decide on seems to have only gotten longer and bigger.  When you are about 90 days out, the major decisions have been made, but there is still a lot of decisions to be made that can change the outcome of this process.  Let me recap where we are in the process so you can see what needs to be done.

We have finished all the in-ground mechanical work.  So plumbing, running conduit, reinforcing of concrete for tanks, upgrading floors, pouring curbs, trade waste interceptor, flow meter, drains, and a bunch of other stuff has all been decided.  That means we have made decisions galore to get to this point.  Having someone on board like Iain Hill, who has experience in starting a brewery is huge.  He has been down this road before, and knows what is a need to have and a nice to have.

We are currently getting all of our walls built  for the brewery interior, and while there is little work for the partners to do, there a lot of office work for us to complete.  The work of our carpenters is really important, albeit very slow.  Building walls and making sure they are square, level and plumb is tedious work at best, and requires a crew to make sure it all goes well.  While construction is at this point, there is a lit of other things we need to accomplish.

Most of the items revolve around the front of house.  We need to take the bar from conceptual to design.  That means we need to know what we are putting in the bar, the dimensions of those items, where we want shelves, drawers and other items, where does the sink go, where the POS goes, how many POS, etc.  All of this information then gets meshed with the best practices of our architect and then created into a set of drawings for us to send out to tender.  Once we choose who makes them, they then need to be manufactured, delivered and installed. The whole process seems to take about 12 weeks, so timing is of the essence.

While all of this is happening, our mechanical contractor is running pipes overhead, to and from all the important locations in the brewery, and our electrical contractor is upgrading our power and making things happen from an electrical point of view.

Now is also the time to start deciding on exterior colours and upgrades as we are nearing the time when this will need to be completed.  We have been working towards getting our sign ordered and it has been a bit of a mess in knowing who to use and what to get.  Our exterior sign is old and is going to cost a bunch of money to repair.  So do we pick something that is going to hold for a couple years, until we have cash to really replace it, or do we make the big upgrade now?  We are leaning towards saving the money as we have made a mess of our budget.  Saving money when we can seems really important.

All of our major equipment has been ordered, and we are just looking for odds and ends to round out the brewing side.  Iain is busy working on the draft system/growler fill area, and what we are going to do and how all that is going to come together.  I can’t say I know much, but what I know seems to confuse me.  Looks like we can go with a few different options, and each has pro’s and con’s, which I can fully describe at this time, as I haven’t been working in that bucket.

The schedule which I spoke about in my last post, gets changed almost daily, and drop dead dates are really important to adhere to.  So is having regular meetings to stay on top of all the decisions that each partner is making.  For instance, I have the exterior sign, website construction, marketing buckets to figure things out in, and Iain has the bar and equipment buckets to work in, and before you know it, you can make decisions in your own mind without talking to the other person.  So you seem to spend hours writing emails and following up on things with your partner, just so they know what they heck is going on.  A bit tedious, but sooooo important.

From here, we have lots more to do, and while we are very close, it feels in a way like we are so far away.  Its hard to think that in the next 90 days, all that is our space and mess of things, will get cobbled together into a usable brewery and tasting room.  Sometimes it still doesn’t feel like it will happen.

Quick Update on Things …

I think back to the days when we were first getting started with the brewery, and I can’t help but think how much time I had to do things.  It didn’t seem like I had a lot of free time, but in reality I did.  What I really had was the ability to get on top of things, which I have completely lost now. Let me try to explain.

When you first start writing your plan, you have time to dream, think about your beers, your brand, name, etc.  It is a natural part of things, and something that if we didn’t do, we wouldn’t be doing this.  As time moves on, you tend to get to more of the meat of the operation, and you need to start figuring out some details.  As time progresses, you think you have figured out a lot of the details of your space.  Things like brewhouse, packaging size, general location of warehouse.  You think you have made a lot of these decisions, but you haven’t.

You continue to work on your business plan, making what you think are decisions and changes of direction …. and then you do it.  You find a space to lease and you take possession.  This is when it starts to really happen.  You actually start making decisions, like general contractor, architect, brewhouse size, etc.  You think you are doing well, because you have made actual and concrete decisions.

What you don’t realize, is that you have only started on the tip of the iceberg.  There are thousands of decisions to make.  None of them are more or less important than any of the others.  Think of details such as these:  Size of cooler door to the inch, length of drainage trenches down to the inch, slope on concrete pour down to the degree, exact location of trade waste interceptor, etc, etc.  There is so many small decisions to make, it can become overwhelming.

Coming full circle, each of these decisions take time, and trust me when I say, you have very little of it.  Your funnel at the top is getting loaded faster than you can empty it.  About a year ago, you could pound out a good 60 hour week and be back on top of everything, but that is a pipe-dream now.  A 60 hour week will only mean that I have about 300 hours of unfinished work sitting around waiting for me to complete.  There is no way of catching up short-term, it is a matter of prioritizing and getting small jobs done.

Add to all this the work around the brewery.  I have been tying rebar and working around the brewery 7 days a week for the past few weeks, and there is still so much to do.  Take for example a typical day in my life.

  • Get up at 5am to 530am
  • Work in front of my computer until 745am
  • Get kids off to school and lunches made 830 to 9am
  • Drive into brewery to do work 930am
  • Manual labour all day at brewery until about 930 am to 3pm
  • Home to do work in front of my computer (accounting, marketing, business planing, etc) 330pm to 5pm
  • Down time, hang with family, 530pm to 8pm
  • After kids in bed, back to computer for more work 8pm to 11pm
  • Off to bed to do it again

This is a pretty standard day, and I know one that my partner also goes through.  If you are going to open a brewery, and you want to take an active role in starting it, be prepared for a day like this.

What you will find is that how badly you really want to do this will go a long way to making the above feel like work, versus feeling like a dream.  Luckily for Iain and I, the long days are a dream and the passion is burning brighter than ever, so we know we have made the right decision.