Tag Archives: 33 Acres Brewing

The End of One Dream …

How do you thank someone for the ultimate sacrifice?  OK, we aren’t talking giving up a kidney, or sacrificing their own life in the line of fire, but my amazing wife has provided me with the means to start this brewery.  Thats right, starting this brewery is taking sacrifices from more than just myself and my business partner.

Let me give you a little context.  There is nothing my wife has wanted more over the past 5 years than to build a home.  A place to have memories, raise our family and get away from the daily grind that is our life.  We both envisioned the process as an arduous one, but at the end of it, you would have a home that you helped bring together.  It was her dream, and we worked hard to make it happen.  We bought a piece of land about 3 years ago with the dream of building our home …

Let me take a further step back.  About 10 years ago, I started talking to friends and family about the dream of opening a brewery.  Thats right, this has been a 10 year process for me.  In a way I have become the definition of patience (and for anyone that knows me, this in itself is a little hard to believe, but thats another story).  For the first 4 years, it was a lot of business planning, sampling, and more planning.  The dream seemed very far away  About 6 years ago, I started to get more serious and decided to get my real estate licence, allowing me the time to get out of my full time job, and focus a little more time on my brewery, as being a Realtor allows for a healthy dose of flexibility.  I ended up parting ways with my job in 2011, and have been focusing on real estate and starting a brewery for the past 3 years.  As time has moved on, I have kept getting more and more serious.

So back to 3 years ago, when my wife and I purchased a property for developing.  We purchased knowing that my brewery dream may or may not come together (it has been 7 years that I was talking about it with no progress after all), so we just went with it, and hoped things would work out.  As you can imagine, we followed down both paths simultaneously and didn’t try to overthink much of anything.  My wife hoped that things would work out with her dream of building a house, while I hoped that things would work out with my dream of starting a craft brewery.

You can imagine where this headed.  About 6 months ago we subdivided our property and were finally in a position to think about building our dream home on one lot and selling the other.  This was a moment that we waited for about 20 months to happen, so it was a great moment for our family.  It was about the same time that things with our landlord got very serious for the brewery space.  We made an offer on our commercial space for the brewery, and we were finally in a negotiation with a landlord.  You see, we had tried unsuccessfully for 12 months to lease spaces, and never got to the point of actually being in negotiations.  The process with this landlord was going so well that we applied for a development permit (what you need to get to be allowed to produce beer … a key step to say the least) with the City of Vancouver before we had a lease in place.

Not knowing how all this would go, we continued forward with the dream of building on our property.  We continued to meet with an architect, and we moved forward house plans to the point where we were ready to build.  We just needed to sell one of the lots and we were ready to start building on the other lot.  Selling anything in the last 4 months of 2013 was difficult, especially a property like ours.

Fast forward to very early January 2014.  We finally found a dance partner for one of our properties.  This meant we could sell a property and begin building on the other.  However, it was also in January that we knew we were going to sign our lease.  So it meant my 2 worlds were colliding and we had no certainty with which to make a decision.  Essentially, do we move forward with selling only one property and hope that we can find a way to finance building a house on the other property, all the while, financing a significant part of the brewery.  If you have been following my blog, you know that I always think Cash is King, so it would be so tough to do both.

At the end of the day, after a lot of tears, arguing, and selfishness to be completely honest, my wife and I agreed to follow the dream of starting a brewery.  The time and financial burden of building a home, in addition to the time and financial burden of starting a brewery proved too much for us to handle.  So we decided to sell both halves of our property instead of just one half, allowing our family to focus on my dream, and bringing to the end another dream.

Think about it from the standpoint of my wife.  Every time I talk about the brewery, I stay up late or get out of bed early, every time we write a cheque to pay for something, every time some asks how things are coming along, and every time I come home to our rental house, my dream is at the expense of satisfaction in her life.  People ask me about the brewery and I get excited, and when people ask Deanne about building a house, she just sees my dream, at the expense of hers.  When people ask what has been the hardest thing about starting a brewery, it is this.

So, to come full circle, I hope one day to be a brewery owner and build my wife a house of her dreams.  It might be a few years before his happens, but I do plan on returning the favour to her for the sacrifices she has made for me.  I can’t think of a more selfless person, and for this I am forever indebted to her.

My amazing wife has given up her dream of building a home on our property, allowing me to start a craft brewery.  Her sacrifice is the ultimate and one that will allow me to stat a craft brewery.

My amazing wife has given up her dream of building a home on our property, allowing me to start a craft brewery. Her sacrifice is the ultimate and one that will allow me to stat a craft brewery.

Tasting Room Feedback Please

We are in the middle of planning the exact layout and functionality of our tasting room for the brewery.  There are a lot of variables that go into the fit and finish of the space, not the least of which is the experience of all our supporters/patrons.  A close second would be the amount of money we have left over at the end of this process to finish the space.  As such, and likely because you have more experience than anyone visiting tasting rooms in Vancouver and beyond, we want your feedback and help so that we build a functional, interesting and immersive space the first time around.

So given this, please pass along your feedback.  You can send it directly to me at startingacraftbrewery@gmail.com or you can post a comment below.  I want to know everything!  The good, the bad and the ugly on anything and everything.  If you need some help with what we are looking for, here are some items we are looking to get feedback around (don’t feel limited by my list, you can push any information you think is relevant our way):

  • How much separation between tasting room and brewery: Brick wall, no wall, or glass window, etc.
  • What kind of seating do you want:  Bench, smaller tables, long communal tables, bar seating, lots of standing room areas, etc
  • Do you want TV’s?
  • What do you want to see on the walls?  Artwork, Descriptions of the brewery equipment?
  • What works and doesn’t work in a growler fill area?
  • Would separate bars for Growler and Tasting Room sales be a good thing?
  • What are best practices for growler fill areas?
  • What is the average price of growler fills and pints in the tasting room out there?
  • What kind of food would you want to see on a menu given there would be a very limited kitchen?
  • Would you want pre-filled growlers so you could just switch your empty out for a new one, making your stay very quick?
  • What would your expectations be around brewery tours?
  • Do you care about the details/finishing of the space?  Concrete floors OK, if we are broke are picnic tables OK, etc?  In other words does a tasting finished like P49 matter versus one finished like 33 Acres?
  • Anything else come to mind?  I want to hear it.

So that is it.  In the future, we are likely going to hold another focus group on a bunch of stuff around our space, and what we learn from your feedback now will help set the stage for that.  Thanks for our help and feedback, it means more to me than you can imagine.

Making an Offer and Finding the Right Brewing Space

Well its official, we have made an offer on a space in East Vancouver.  This will be our 5th property that we have made an offer on, and I hope that its 5th time lucky.  My friends who know me well, and have been kept abreast of the past 3 or 4 years of this process, are the ones who encouraged me to start this blog, as there always seemed to be so many ups and so many downs throughout the process.  None more than finding a space to call home!

In my opinion, the biggest and most important decision a brewery can make is the space you lease.  Sure other decisions are important:  Like, the name of your brewery, the beers you make, the employees you hire, the way you disperse your cash, and the image you present to the marketplace.  But what I have learned is the space you are going to be married to, for better and for worse, is the most important decision you can make.

For starters, finding a good space for brewing is difficult as the list of requirements is long, making an ideal space unique.  You benefit from having high ceilings (18 feet is ideal), a good water supply, good floors for taking the load of full fermenters, about 400 amp/3 phase power, and solid overhead loading doors.  If the list were limited to just these items, the search would be difficult in itself.

But lets not forget some of the other key items in a warehouse that are important in starting a brewery.  In Vancouver, M2 Zoning is the only commercial zone where brewing is an outright use.  All the other zones (for instance I1 and I2) are conditional use, which means you need to apply for a Development permit from the City of Vancouver.  This costs about $5,000 and takes anywhere from 8 to 16 weeks.  I heard Brassneck took 16 weeks, and I have heard rumours that Bomber brewing got their DP in 8 weeks.  Most importantly, you can’t apply for a development permit until you have a signed lease on a space.  That means you have to take a giant leap of faith you will get a development permit.  Why you ask?  Well inEast Vancouver good quality commercial real estate is so hot, and you likely won’t deal with a landlord who will let you have getting a development permit as a subject of the offer.

The list doesn’t end there …. Another key component is the size.  Small breweries need at least 2,000 square feet, and the size can go all the way up from there, depending on how ambitious the brewery is for sales.  I think a space of about 6,000 square feet seems good for starters, but it comes down to how much beer do you think you will sell?  Will you follow the path of Storm Brewing, and have sales that are modest, and keep the operation small?  Or do you plan on having higher sales, like Parallel 49 Brewing, thus requiring more space for production?  Like everything, there is a direct correlation between the size of the space you lease, and the risk an owner takes.

With the new Tied-House rules in the City of Vancouver, another huge aspect is the Tasting Room and Retail Area within the brewery.  It is hard to explain to people how oppressive the bureaucracy is when starting a brewery, and the ability to have a tasting room on site is huge bonus. It not only allows for a tangible connection with consumers to gauge their opinion and interact with, but it also helps to add a few dollars in sales to the bottom line of a brewery.  As such, the location of your warehouse, along with the design, aesthetic and interactivity with the brewery is huge.

The last big point that comes to mind is scalability of the space.  It costs about $500,000 to retrofit a space for brewing.  In other words, this whack of cash goes to upgrading power, floors, water, pipping, cooler/cold room, installation of brewhouse, offices, tasting room, grain handling, etc, etc, etc.  You essentially never get this money back, as its an investment you make in the landlords building.  Hence, its important that you find a space that works now, but also for 5 and 10 years down the road, as you need to avoid having to move spaces because you have outgrown your current facility.  This is of course a good problem to have, but at the same time, its important to be mindful of this fact.

There are obviously other factors like the quality of the landlord, the neighbourhood you locate in, the look and feel of the space, and the lease rate you pay.  All of these items go into making a space for brewing difficult.  However, if patience and an ability to pounce on the right space when it comes available are kept at the front of everything, it is possible …. just ask 33 Acres and Brassneck who both did very well with their spaces.

I hope today is the first day in securing the right space for my brewery.