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37 Days Out …. Tasting Room Details

With the changes to tied-house and the ability to have a tasting room and retail area within the brewery, there has been a paradigm shift in the way breweries in BC construct their operations. For a long time, many spaces just took a little retail area, cobbled together a small bar and sold their beer.  However, led by Main Street Brewing, Brassneck and 33 Acres, there is a new breed of tasting rooms that have fundamentally altered the model we are all following.

We have benefited from starting our brewery at a time when these tasting room areas are now allowed in Vancouver by-laws, and as such, we have focused a lot of resources and energy on building and designing this space.  We hope to make it everything we would want in a tasting room.  We have learned a few lessons along the way and it seems right to pass them along.  I have written posts in the past that relate to the tasting room, but this has the best nuggets of information in one place.

Some random thoughts on designing and building your tasting room:

  • Keep the cooler close to the bar, so your beer doesn’t have to travel a long distance to get to the tap.  Pretty self explanatory here.
  • Balance the area between tasting room and retail area.  We have a little retail area on both halves of the tasting room, which means our space seems a little bigger than it is in reality.  This might be a good thing some days and a bad thing on others.
  • Make sure your retail area and tasting room is a reflection of yourself.  Iain and I had a tough time with this, as we see things through pretty different lenses.  I am more modern and Iain is more traditional.  Our space, like our brand and everything else we do, is a amalgamation of both our opinions and preferences.
  • Plan out the flow of people.  Nothing worse than having a space that is hard to move around in when you are busy.  Think about bathroom locations, and also the layout of the retail area, and how it interacts with the bar.
  • Location, separation and number of tap handles for pouring the beer is super important.  We have gone with 2 sets, that Iain can tell you all the specifics on.  Essentially we had Bamford bar service install the lines and taps, and we followed much of their guidance on this.
  • Plan to spend a bunch of money in the tasting room.  The best way to save cash in this area is to do a lot of the work yourself and also to keep it simple.  We will end saving a lot of money, as we found salvaged wood from a few different places, and used materials from our job site in the construction of different parts of the tasting room.
  • Take your time planning the bar.  We went through this over and over on how to layout the bar.  Go see what others are doing, think about all the things you will need in a bar, and also how your space will function, down the to the last detail.  I am talking cash drawer, POS, line-ups, etc. etc.
  • Get a metal fabricator for stainless that is CSA approved.  We used a metal fabricator that is not, which is fine, except when it comes to putting in your sink, which you will need to find a metal fabricator to do that is CSA approved.

I am sure I could find a lot of other things that may or may not be worthy of putting onto this list, but this seems pretty good for now.  I am pretty tired, so need to get some sleep.  We are looking at a crew of about 3 guys 8-10 weeks to finish our tasting room.  That is a lot of work, time and energy they have expended, which also means it is expensive, so try to get everything right you can the first time.

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38 Days Out … Boiler Installation and Inspection

Don’t drop the ball on this!  There are a lot of details and a lot that has to go right.  Most importantly, don’t overlook the cost on this.  When you look to purchase a boiler, expect a good chunk of change.  I believe our boiler cost about $13,500 which is only part of the cost.  Installation of the boiler can be almost double the cost of the boiler.  A few best practices that may or may not help you:

  • Get the right size boiler for your operations:  Anything too small or too big will give you headaches, additional cost, take up too much room, not have enough/too much power, etc.  This takes some planning, projecting and ultimately guessing at the end of the day.  We ended up getting a bigger space, so we figured we needed a bit bigger of a boiler to handle future production (we hope!).
  • Put it close to where you need the water:  At first I didn’t understand why Iain wanted to put our boiler so close to the brewhouse, as it was in an awkward spot.  Having seen all the pipes and connections a boiler has, and the incredibly thick gauge of pipe connected to it, put the boiler as close to the brewhouse as you can.  The further away you put it, the dollars and cents will quickly add up.
  • Pre-Inspections are important:  We had a company come in and do a pre inspection to make sure we were putting it the correct distances away from other objects, it was positioned right, and we would be able to get our eventual inspection passed.  This was money well spent as they gave us some good advice that helped us down the road.  On their advice, we ended up rotating the boiler 180 degrees and thank god we had them tell us this, as otherwise, we would have failed our inspection and re-connect all the pipping at a huge time and financial cost
  • Inspection required before you fire it up:  Before you can’t start using your boiler, and that means start cleaning and sanitizing your equipment, until you pass your inspection.  Period. So make sure your boiler is ordered, delivered and installed well ahead of time.  If not, you will be leaving no margin of error

So that is my little advice on a boiler.  Our mechanical contractor Nathan Pulice was incredible throughout this process, but especially for us during the boiler install.  I would highly recommend for anyone who needs any mechanical, plumbing, HVAC, etc to contact him … especially if you are starting a brewery in Vancouver as he has superior knowledge about everything.  Nathan can be called reached at (778) 227 8219 or visit his website here http://www.meridianplumbing.ca.

Tomorrow I will talk about finishing of the front of house.  There is a lot of navigation required for this, and a few best practices to share.

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.

 

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.

 

Landing Page Is Live

The process of getting all your customer facing material complete is full of ups and downs, set-backs and great moments.  For some reason, we always seem to be behind everyone else in getting this stuff complete!  If you have followed this blog, you know that things like our name, our logo and our packaging are works in progress.  Some days it feels like we will never get all the the items completed in time for launch which is now less than 5 months away.  Yikes!

This week we crossed of one small piece of our brand off the list:  Our Landing Page.  It was completed over the course of about 12 weeks, and while it is pretty simple, the process was full of change and tough decisions.  In the end, we are super happy with what we ended up having.  If you want to view our landing page, click on this link to be redirected.

Key learnings from landing page development, and web development for that matter:

  1. Start on this sooner rather than later:  Don’t wait as long as we did.  Consumers want to connect with you, so make sure you allow them the opportunity to do that.
  2. Expect 12 weeks start to finish:  If you are anything like us, there will be changes, u-turns, miscommunication, and a few other things that I can’t even mention.  All this makes a rather simple task a lot more of a grind.
  3. Prepare a brand guide:  This is a key step in the process to getting your brand ideal and message known to yourself, and then to others who are going to work with you.  Don’t leave it to a 30 minute meeting to let a web developer get a feel for your brand.  There has to be something concrete they can sit and read, minimizing the margin for error.
  4. It takes a while to see progress:  It feels like trying to get out of bed some mornings.  There are a couple false alarms, there is snooze involved, a little confusion, and a lot of light steps to get going.  Sometimes, after getting going, you just head back to bed and let it go for a little.  Building a website is a LOT like this.
  5. Stay connected with those helping:  No doubt about it, the more leash you give someone, the more likely they are to go down the wrong path and end up at a place that doesn’t mesh with you and your brand plan.  So have regular meetings and ask to see enough information to be kept abreast of things.
  6. Get detailed scope of work:  When you first sit down to finalize an agreement with a developer lets say, you will agree to a scope of work for your project.  If you want to add something down the road that is not in this scope of work, you are going to pay out of pocket.  As such, either agree to a rate for extra work, or budget in 10% of the total hours for misc work.
  7. Speak up: If you don’t say what you do and don’t like, you will not end up with a finished product that matches what you thought you would have.
  8. Balance:  Not sure what else to put as a heading here.  Sometimes you need to let someone else decide what is best for your brand, which goes against your taste or preference.  Others you need to get that person to change direction, against what they like.  It is a balance and one with no prescribed way of moving forward.  Just hope that you, or those you surround yourself with, have enough similarity and differences in opinion for a healthy relationship.
  9. Build from Scratch or use a wordpress:  Thats right, you will need to decide whether your website is built from scratch or uses wordpress as the foundation.  One costs more, but gives you a very custom website, and the other is much less expensive.
  10. Do something unique:  For us, in addition to writing this blog about starting our brewery, we added a webcam to our website, so people who are interested can view what is going on during construction without having to be there.  Just having another website with the usual information is not enough in my opinion.  Craft beer is booming, which is a great thing in so many ways, but also means you need to stand out a little bit.
  11. Brand Continuity:  Make sure that your website reflects who you are, the beer you are going to make, the brewery you are going to build, and what you think you should represent.  If you get away from this, you will end up at a place that is entirely what you don’t want.

So there it is.  Another set of best practices for starting a brewery.  There is so much more to a website than meets the eye, so don’t take this for granted.  Get thinking about this early on, and start much sooner than you think you need to.

Floorplan Update and Best Practices

Some of you may have come across a story written by Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News.  If you live in Canada and you are serious about beer, you should be checking his website on a regular basis.  Click here to link with our story and Canadian Beer News.  His article focused on Strange Fellows operations and what our full floor plan will look like when complete.

I have included both the layout we have moved forward with as well as the side profile of the space, so you can get a sense of the way our operations will look.  Not unlike anything else we put out there, things will change somewhat as we move ahead; however, 90% of what is on paper here will be represented in our build-out at the space.  Once you commit to submitting building, electrical and mechanical permits, you are also committing to what you have on paper.  So in other words, the size of a window in our tasting room that overlooks the brew house may get bigger, but we have committed the location for the bathrooms, the trade waster interceptor and the trenches.

Brewhouse Layout March 2014

Brewhouse Profile March 2014

We have allocated a total of $12,500 for permits throughout this process.  I have blogged about them a little bit under The Process of Starting a Craft Brewery, subcategory X:  Government Stuff.  There are lots of permits you need and getting them all in a timely manner is important.  To be honest, the process of preparing for permits and approval is one of the keys to getting this process right.  In short, for your business to move forward you need to submit for your permits in a timely manner, with information that is well thought out, thorough and correct.  Changes or missed steps here will cost you down the road.  Read more about permits at the page linked above (and I will add more details in the next week).

Anyhow, coming full circle here, our floor plan was a real labour of love.  Like any decisions you make with a partner, there is give and take.  However, when you add in an architect, mechanical and electrical engineers, a general contractor and your finances, you get a mish-mash of opinion and information.  You can never make a decision without effecting every other decision you have made in the past, and every other decision you will make in the future.

Some of the keys when creating a floor plan are as follows:

  • Keep everything as central as possible.  The longer runs you have for any electrical or mechanical, the more cash you will bleed.  For us, moving our main electrical panel 10 feet saved us $3,000.  So you can see that small changes can make a big difference.
  • Plan for the future, but prioritize getting to day 1.  It is important to think a couple of steps ahead here, at least that is what I have heard from other breweries, but don’t lose sight that you need to get to day 1.
  • Look to save money at every step.  Ok, maybe you are better at this than I am, but we are in full cash saving mode, and we feel like we have been for a long time.  Any chance we can save money on something, we are doing it.
  • Tasting room and Retail area.  A huge part of all these breweries starting up in Vancouver is the ability to sell your products from your business.  It takes what was once an impossible task, and makes it so much more realistic of an opportunity.  So make sure you design a space that works for your brewery.  For us we wanted something intimate, open to the brewery, and simple.
  • Work with sub trades early in the process.  You don’t have to pick who you are working with, but bouncing plans off them will give you real world answers to questions you have.  It was also help you find savings and efficiencies in your space.
  • Another dilemma on decisions.  You can have things done quickly, you can have things done for your budget, and you can have things done inline with your dreams, but at best you will get 2 of these things, but most of the time you will only get 1 of these things.  What will you pick?
  • Call the room where you mill your grains a “grain cracking room”.  Trust me on this one, it will save you a bunch of headaches at the City
  • Depending on if you are focusing on production or focusing on tasting room/retail sales, your layout may be different.  For us, we are a production brewery first, so the layout and design of the space tried to take this into account as much as possible.  Process workflow, material in and material out, future expansion are all important to us, and are reflected in our space.
  • Keep your cooler close to the tasting room.  Iain has so much experience with this kind of thing, that he is adamant that these 2 things need to be connected.  He talks about the shorter the run of lines, and being able to connect our taps to tanks instead of kegs will save us heaps of time.

What really gets us excited about our space is the connection between the tasting room and the brewery.  When you are sitting in our tasting room, you will quite literally be 10 feet away from the brewhouse.  Want to watch Iain add hops to a brew, just sit back enjoy your beer and watch from your perch.  You will also be able to have a first hand view of the barrel storage area, which we think is a really cool thing.  We also think the art gallery will add a nice connection to the local community, and we hope the growler and retail area will have good process flow so as to not back-up too much.

As I have always said, Iain is really good with this kind of thing, so if you have questions about how to lay your brewery out, feel free to contact us.  At the end of the day, follow your instincts on the way things should be.  Whether you have experience with this kind of thing or not, make sure you follow what you would want as a consumer.  You will deal with enough people along the way that aren’t into craft beer (like contractors, architects, etc) that their opinion will help to balance yours out.  Stay positive and you will find the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I have never felt so many different kinds of stress!

One of the things about opening a brewery that you go through is STRESS!  Thats right, a word deserving of capital letters, because it is not something, when you are dreaming of this, that you think about at all.  In fact I had friends and other entrepreneurs tell me about stress, and I always dismissed it, or paid it some superficial lip service about how I was a laid back guy and it wouldn’t get to me.  Well it did get to me over the past month.

What I have realized is there are different levels of stress.  I will try and talk about each and how it relates to starting a brewery.

Instantaneous Stress:  This is the stress that comes out of nowhere, like being late for a meeting, which is very intense and lasts a very short period of time.  Often it is unexpected, and comes and goes before you even realized what the heck happened.  I don’t mind this kind of stress, as I don’t loose sleep at night thinking of how I am going to be late for a meeting the next day because of traffic or not leaving enough time to get there.

Decision stress:  As I have blogged about previously, there are heaps of decisions you need to make when you open a brewery.  Name, bottle size, engineers and architects, size of tasting room, branding, financials, company structure …. you get the idea.  Sometimes, you only have the odd decision to make, but other times you have 5 or 6 big decisions to make and they compound to make the decision even harder.  How do each of these decisions cumulatively effect your business, and will you end up with the company that you thought you would have?

Performance stress:  Ok, it might put a smile on your face, but it isn’t that kind of stress!  This is the kind of stress I feel when I think about me as an individual living up to my expectations, and those of my shareholders, and everyone else that is depending on this business to be a success.  Full stop, I worry that my performance in the day to day operations will be good enough.

Long term success stress:  This is the kind of stress that keeps you up at night.  Will I be able to make money, will I be happy, how will this business effect my personal/work life balance, and will I have any investors that want to be friends with me if this business goes bankrupt?  When you are investing thousands of hours in time, and thousands of dollars without a paycheque, failure is not an option.  I am far too old and far too deep into life to have another “learning experience.”  The only way I can cope with this stress is yoga before bed and exercise.  It seems to be the great balancer in my life, an I hope to always have time for this.

Family stress  I think we all feel this, and it goes without saying; the stress of my families well-being and happiness is more important than anything else.  I love my wife and kids too much to sacrifice their long term happiness.  How will my kids respond to me being gone 12 hours a day for the first year of this business?  How will my wife feel about the same thing?  I think the only way to deal with this is to unplug 1 full day a week, and to pick your spots when you work versus when you spend time with your loved ones.  I only hope I get the right mix!

Beer Nerd Stress:  Thats right, I said it.  I worry about how our beer will be received from the world of beer nerds.  While we are certainly going to sell our beer to everyone that wants to purchase it, I think the opinion of local and abroad beer nerds really matters to me.  I want to make beer that I would be proud to serve to those “in the know”.  Unique, unapologetic, and delicious.  I would hate my brewery to be a company that was put alongside other less than respected breweries.  It would ruin this whole process and take away from my dream to be a respected brewery.

I’ve Got Something to do:  This is the stress associated with having a deadline, and a finite amount of time to complete this task.  This stress is right up there for me.  Its like a real life episode of Chopped.  Recently I ran a couple focus groups on naming my brewery (I will blog more about this later), and the days leading up to the first focus group was intense.  It was 2 days of preparing, emailing, calling, booking, rebooking, re-emailing, buying, printing …. etc.  This is a really hard type of stress to deal with, as any escape from this stress will only put more pressure on you.

The stress of all these things …. In other words the stress of all this stress!:  The last bit of stress that comes to mind, is the stress of all these things.  Cumulatively, all these stresses can stress you out.  This is the kind of stress that can really impact you both in the short term and definitely in the long term.  The only way to deal with it is to stay positive, believe in yourself and those around you, and to make lists.  Ok, maybe there are some other ways also, but every person is different, and I am certainly one that falls into that category.

My next blog will focus on the naming contest, and the 3rd stage of that process.  I hope that we have our list of 3 names in the next couple days, and then pass this out to the world for their opinion.