Tag Archives: Clark Drive Brewery

Is this the end or just the beginning?

We did it!  With the help of countless individuals, family, friends, and our construction crew, we have successfully opened a craft brewery in Vancouver.  On Wednesday 17th, we had a non-posted (soft)opening and it was a huge success.  None of our systems crashed, our beer poured like it should, and we were able to see some close friends and family share in the room we created.  We opened for the weekend, and it went really well.  All our staff showed up for their shift, we didn’t piss anyone off, and our beer poured without any serious problems.

This is also the end of our journey in starting a craft brewery.  I do plan on continuing to blog about running a craft brewery, and what is happening at Strange Fellows, but how that looks and what that means is something that I am not quite sure of yet.  Without a doubt I will miss writing this blog. It gave me a chance to add to this amazing community of craft beer in BC, Canada and the world.  To know that we may have helped someone else avoid the errors and mistakes in starting a craft brewery is a very cool thought.  The blog also allowed me to express my feelings, so when I would have a bad day, have really great news or really bad news, I could blog about it and I would immediately feel better.

Opening a brewery of this size takes the effort and support of hundreds of individuals.  It would be impossible for us to name everyone that was involved in this process, but let me take a stab at it.

  • Disher Construction:  Graham, Jim, Darryl, Seamus, Shawn, Joey, Ed and the other helpers who were here day in and day out.  You are all amazing and have earned our praise on your efforts.
  • Simcic and Uhrich Architects:  Marko, Bill and the crew for pulling everything together and pulling strings when they needed to be tugged.
  • Meridian Plumbing:  Nathan and his amazing crew, your mechanical sub-trade was out of this world.
  • Clear Energy Electrical:  Matt, Will, Jordan, Adam and the rest of your crew.  You guys did a huge amount of work throughout the entire process and we are grateful.
  • Broadway Welding:  Nedda, Kyler and your crew.  Amazing work in the front of the house and back of house.  Amazing metal work that we love.
  • Cove Concrete:   Excellent job pouring all the floors and making things slope the correct way.
  • Amec Contracting:  Chris and the crew, outstanding work.
  • Luca Campagna and Crew:  Your structural welding was a huge part of getting our permits and approvals in a timely manner
  • Specialty Coatings:  Our floors work and look amazing thanks to you.
  • PS Drywall:  Thanks for finishing all our important spaces to glass like finish.
  • Roofing Matters:  Thanks for fixing our leaks and taking care of things as quickly as you did.
  • West Coast Slab Jacking:  Thanks for helping shore up the slab that made us so crazy for so long
  • Olnor Investments:  The best landlord we could ever ask for.
  • Jeff Lo (RBC Banker):  Without your help and guidance, we would have been up shit creek more than once
  • Jonathan Ronkai (Sun Ronkai Chartered Accountants):  You are the best … period.  If anyone is starting a brewery, they NEED to work with you.
  • BTM Lawyers:  Grant, Sam, Michael and the rest of the group, you guys are amazing.  Thanks for helping us set-up a company that we don’t have to worry about the back-end side of.
  • Bay City Brokers:  Manny was amazing at helping to bring in all our goods from outside Canada.
  • Coquitlam Concrete:  Thanks for bringing in all the crete for us on this job.
  • Greg Ven Huizen:  You are a most excellent Geotechnical Engineer.
  • Opal Engineering:  From the get-go you were responsive and accountable, which we really appreciate more than you know.
  • Fraser Valley Refrigeration:  We are thankful to you for keeping things cold that needed to be.
  • Structural Solutions:  Andrew it was an absolute blessing to have found you and work with you.  A million thank you’s from us.
  • Sterling Cooper Consultants:  You were so important to us figuring out what to put where in our space, and we are forever thankful to the great decisions you helped us make.
  • Superior Signs and Graphics:  So glad that the exterior sign finally came together.  Thanks for helping to make it so perfect.
  • Affordable Security:  Stuart, you and your crew helped us after our break-in, and have helped prevent it from happening again.
  • Dan Jonckheere, Michael Keffer, Tyler-Andrew Milne, Peter Thiersch, Ryan Bennett, Hill family kids, Jonckheere family kids, and a few others, you helped to do the small things that we really couldn’t get done on our own.
  • Adam Berson:  Thanks for your continued dropping in and finally helping us get all the moving parts together for creating our amazing tap handles.
  • Brody Stonehouse:  Not only a great insurance agent, but also our first ever paying customer.  You are definitely going to be remembered forever.
  • All the City of Vancouver workers who helped us get our permits and navigate the bureaucracy that is our local government.
  • Anchor Glass:  Thanks for making an amazing window for everyone to see into our brewhouse, and of course those double entry doors.
  • Ripley Stainless:  You helped us more than just with your brewhouse, but also with installation of other equipment.
  • Richard Cole:  Amazing work on finishing the drywall in the tasting room.  We look forward to your first show in the art gallery.
  • Dr John-Luke Edwards:  Helping us remove the evils spirits and protect ourselves for the future was an amazing thing.
  • Lawrence:  Your amazing mill and hard work exemplify the Canadian spirit
  • Nick Black and Kayin Fields:  Thanks for helping at the end of our build, and with the starting of our tasting room.  Being able to push all the work associated with running the front of house was so incredible, especially to you guys.  Would not be here without you!

I know there are people and companies I have forgotten, but just know that you are always welcome at our business to come by for a beer and share a moment reliving the amazing experience that was this brewery.

There are 3 other people that I want to mention, as without their support, effort and passion, this project would not have come together.

My wife Deanne:  Allowing me to get up early, stay up late, not clean, cook or take care of my obligations around the house, all allowing me to focus my time and energy on the brewery is something that you did selflessly and I will always be thankful.  You are truly an amazing partner and an amazing mother, and it was so much fun sharing this experience with you.

My partners wife Christine:  Thank goodness you were part of this process.  The way you took the personalities of Iain and I, merged them into a brand is nothing short of amazing.  Working with you was an absolute pleasure, and your care and attention to the details never ceased to amaze me.  You were able to juggle 3 kids and our brand, which is nothing short of amazing.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping make our dreams a reality.

My partner, Iain Hill: What can I say about someone who I see more than my own family and friends.  It has been an absolute pleasure working with you, and I respect and admire you more than you could ever imagine.  I have learned more from you, and gained a skill set I would not otherwise have, if we didn’t walk down this road together.  The next few years might be just as much work, but I think they will be just as much fun.

During the hard times and hard days, I always dreamed about writing this last blog post, and now that I am here, it is a very bittersweet moment.  While this is really the beginning, it is also the end.  And while i am optimistic about the future, I am also sad about the process of getting here being over.  People ask me what it was like to start a brewery, and honestly, it is impossible to sum up in a sentence or two, and for that reason I am thankful I have this blog to remind me of all the highs and lows of that process.

In the end, the journey of starting a brewery is completely worth all the sacrifices you make.  There are days that you want to quit, and days that you feel like you can do no wrong.  When I dreamed of starting a brewery, I selfishly thought of the day we would sell our beer and be open to the public.  I never realized how thoroughly the process of getting to that first day would change me and make me the person that I now am.  I don’t know if I would ever do this again, but I am so thankful that I did this in the first place.

So thats it for this blog and starting a brewery. I am sure I missed a bunch of things throughout the process, but in the end, no matter how much I write about it, most people just need to experience it for themselves.  Good luck on whatever path you decide to take, and no matter what you do, remember these 2 sayings:  Go confidently in the direction of your dreams & life is a journey not a destination.  Much love and respect to everyone.

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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 ….

 

15 Days to go …. The importance of Pre-Inspections

Whenever possible, if you are starting a brewery, or any other business for that matter, I would suggest always get a pre-inspection inspection.  Having someone come through ahead of when you need your inspection will not only tell you what you need to fix, but also show them (if they are going to eventually do your final inspection) that you are trying to get things correct.

We did this with our electrical, and we are doing this with our Coastal Health inspection.  Getting the inspection ahead of time will provide us a with a real list of things that we need to complete, so that when it comes time to get our final, we should (in theory) be good to go.

Inspectors are an important part of the process, as all the work you have done rushing to get to opening day can be lost if you start spinning your wheels on your inspections.  Ask Dave at Powell Street Brewing, as they took about an extra 3 weeks to open because they kept getting new things to do from their inspectors.  It makes it really hard as a business trying to get off the ground, if you keep getting new things to complete and finish prior to being allowed to open for business.

Anyhow, just a little advice for everyone.

19 Days to Go … Anxiety has reared its ugly head again

I am worried.  Yes, worried about what the heck we are going to do in order to open successfully in less 3 weeks.  In short order, the list of things we have to do is huge, and we all have anxiety about the things we have to do, and not letting anything drop through the cracks.  The next week is especially huge as we have lots of major decisions that have to be made.  More about that later.  But the biggest thing is to not let anything major fall through the cracks.  Kind of like packing for a vacation:  Don’t forget the passports, camera, money, prescriptions and plane tickets …. the rest is kind of unimportant or can be bought.  We are the same, but a different set of things to not forget.

The biggest things I have anxiety has changed throughout the process.  At the start it was the big stuff:  Finding a warehouse, budgeting enough money, finding good construction crews, and making good choices on capital equipment purchases.  Now, about a month from opening, the list has changed to the details that make up some of the big decisions.  For instance, I have anxiety about actually opening on December 5th.  That is a big thing to push towards, but it is the multitude of items that make up this.  Like passing all the inspections, producing beer that is going to meet our standards and expectations, finishing the construction, etc.  There are a bunch of little things, many of which we have little to no control over, that are proving slow to overcome.

One of the other challenges is that you think you get past a hurdle, but somehow you get caught up when you thought you were free and clear.  Take our exterior sign for instance.  We thought it was going to be installed this past week, but the sign company dropped the sign and it broke in 2 pieces.  As such, they had to re-order and it will possibly be another week or 2 before it is ready.  Now that is cutting it close.  There is all sorts of stuff like this that can slow you down.

We really feel like we are at a point where we are right there.  We can see the opening day coming quickly, but while we are so close, it does feel so far away.  Off the top of my mind, here are some of the big and small things we don’t yet have complete:

  • tap handles
  • 750ml bottle design
  • painting of interior walls in packaging area
  • a pass of all the inspections
  • painting
  • finishing of the tasting  room
  • exterior work on the new entrance and canopy
  • securing of a loan for additional cash into business
  • AV in tasting room
  • art gallery submission process
  • the fellowship
  • website
  • t-shirts, hats and other merchandise
  • overhead doors in warehouse
  • exterior sign
  • hiring staff for tasting room
  • hiring staff for production
  • tent and associated equipment for tastings
  • PR kits for various groups

As you can see, there is a lot to think about and keep a person up at night.  Without a doubt, there is so much to be done, that we are looking to just make decisions on things and pass the buck to someone else.  On that note, time to get cracking as I think the best way to deal with stress is to tackle the things that are giving you stress.

 

 

21 Days to go …. The Importance of an Amazing Team

This post is key for everyone that is looking to start a brewery.  Get a kick ass team around you.  Don’t make quick decisions on these areas, and I would focus on the following as key:

  • Electrician
  • Mechanical
  • Engineer (Structural, Electrical and Mechanical)
  • General Contractor
  • Architect
  • Accountant
  • Lawyer
  • Banker
  • Landlord
  • Business Partner
  • Graphic Designer
  • Equipment Suppliers

Of all these things on the list 1 stands out as the most important.  Can you guess which one it is?  Of course you know its the business partner.  Having a great partner can make everything else seem like nothing much or something substantial.  For us, we only screwed up on one of these major categories, and it really came back to bite us in the rear-end.  I would hate to think if we made bad decisions on more than one of these.  Our lives would have easily gone from manageable to a nightmare very quickly.

At various times throughout this process, we have been supported by these people.  The true sign of a great team member, is someone who is honest, supports you when you need the help, and is willing to work with a changing job.  You will change direction thousands of times throughout the process.  Having a group of trades people that is understanding of this and won’t gouge you is really important.  There will be change orders, and its how they are dealt with that really matter.

There is one person not on the list that one could say is even more important than a good business partner, and that is a good life partner.  Having someone who supports you when you need it, kicks you in the ass at other times, is huge.   My wife has supported me in every way imaginable throughout this process.  Without her, I can’t imagine what I would have done.  Hopefully you have someone like this in your life, as it is crucial to success IMO.

So kind of a fluffy post today, but I didn’t really have any other option, as I am falling asleep at the computer here.  Off to bed very shortly and up 4am to get cracking at our bookkeeping.  Not the most glamorous thing in the world, but pretty darn important.

23 Days to go …. Finally Received our Manufacturers Licence

With 23 days to go, our days are pretty busy, and with the news we received today, they are just going to get busier.  As of today, we are officially allowed to manufacture beer in our brewery!!!  Yeehaw, thats right, after submitting our manufacturers licence to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch 12 months ago, we finally received permission to brew beer.

It is a long and drawn out process, one that I have blogged about under the Process of Starting  a Craft Brewery Page.  Essentially, I can’t see anyone getting their manufacturers licence any quicker than 6 months.  Given the amount of decisions you have to make, the people you need to work with, the government agencies that lack a sufficient quantity of personnel on this, etc, all combine to make the process go slow.  It is why I recommend that as soon as you know you have a lease in place, this is the first thing you should do, apply for permits/licences as they are going to take the longest … really anything to do with government.

Anyhow, what this means is that Thursday we are going to brew our first batch of beer, which will then be followed by brew number 2 and 3 in quick order.  I will be heading to the brewery in the morning to readjusting the webcam so that we can point it at the brewhouse and you can have a birds-view of things.

Of the many milestones in the road to starting a brewery, this is the one that you think about the most:  Brewing the first batch of beer.  A lot of work, preparation and effort goes towards making this day a reality, and next to the first day you get to drink your beer.  This day is coming and until then, we have a long list of other things to get completed.  We hope that our beer matches what we hope it will be, and really, what we expect.

The best part of having a tasting room is that we will get to make a lot of different beers.  Barrel Aged, Lambics, Sours, Hoppy Beers, Strong Beers, Blended Beers, and even Lagers will be part of our tasting room.  What makes all these beers possible is the crazy good mind of Iain Hill and the support of so many loyal craft beer supporters.  Without your encouragement, preference for craft beer, and support none of this would be possible.  We thank you for making beer unique and even strange beer something we can all be proud of again.

Very exciting times for us, and we hope to share our brand and beer with you very soon.  Until then, keep reading this blog, checking our webcam and following our social media feeds.

26 Days to Go …. Inspection, We’re Hiring (Soon) and Marketing

On Friday of last week, we had our contact from the Liquor Control and Licensing branch pop in for an inspection.  This is a super important moment, as they are essentially the eyes and ears of the government arm responsible for allowing us to make beer (a manufacturers licence).  Our inspection went well, at least we think, and we should be getting some answers this week, so we can legally start brewing beer in the next week.  That is a big if, and should we get this license, we are on schedule for a early December opening.  If not, we can kiss goodbye an early December opening.

Iain has promised he can brew beer that takes about 3 weeks to go from brewhouse to glass, though it will be a lot less time than he hoped, it is possible.  We are definitely going to swing open the doors and have a beer line-up that is not necessarily reflective of our exact wishes, but we wouldn’t be the first or last to do this.  Over time, we will brew a larger armamentarium of beers that will make beer lovers and newcomers to craft beer happy.

With this eventuality, we have many other things to do, not the least of which is to hire staff for the front of the house.  We expect that we are going to need to hire about 10 – 15 people to work in the tasting room, depending on the number of shifts each person is looking to work each week.  If you are interested in working with us, prepare for a call for resumes in the very near future.

We are also busy working on the marketing material and information for our brand.  While many of the major items have been decided on (like logo, can design, business cards, beer glasses, growlers, etc) there is a seemingly endless list of small things to do.  Items like pricing of all items, food in the tasting room, an artists call for submissions, meeting with neighbours who may visit our brewery, sales calls to resellers, video, photography, getting exterior signs fixed, etc.

With all this going on, it is hard to find the time to help out in the brewery very much of late.  Both Iain and I have been contributing less and less to the job of completing the work in the brewery, and more on the task of getting ready to make and distribute beer.  I know my time in the brewery is down to about 25 hours per week of hard labour, and Iain is even less as he is spending time cleaning, preparing, turning valves …. god knows what the heck a brewer does, but I am sure it is all important stuff.

Anyhow, lots of stuff to do, so I am going to get cracking at it ….