Tag Archives: craft beer BC

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.

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New Breweries Opening In BC

We are set to be part of an amazing community.  It is the quality of people in this business that not only encourage new breweries, but also support the current breweries in the market.  People like you to be honest.  You read blogs about beer, you support craft breweries, you tweet about beer, you talk to all your friends about the amazing beers you’ve had, and you travel near and far to taste different beers.

The result of this is to encourage new breweries to open.    In fact, I pulled this graphic from the Brewers Association in the USA to show how the number of breweries has skyrocketed over the past 25 years.

126-Brewery-Count-HR

It makes a person ask the question, how many breweries is the market capable of sustaining?  Trying to guess this is like trying to figure out how much higher real estate prices can go in Vancouver.  So I grabbed the closest comparison to beer …. wine!  It made me wonder how many wineries are there now.  I found this graphic from wines and vines and it shows the number of wineries in the USA over the past few years.  As you can see, there are more than 7,500 wineries in the USA, which is about 5,000 more than the total number of breweries.

Winneries in USA

So when I see this, it makes me feel like there is a lot of room in the market for more breweries right?!?!  If there are 5,000 more wineries than there are breweries, then there must be room for anther 2,500 to 4,000 breweries???

So what does all this mean to the number of breweries in BC?  Well, the most excellent beer writer and blogger Jan Zeschky of the Province Newspaper recently published an article on new Breweries opening in 2014 in this great province.  Click here for the full article.  He identifies 19 new breweries that are set to open this year, which will surely be a record for British Columbia.

We are set to be part of this amazing community, and when I think pragmatically about things, I believe there is a lot of room for all the breweries opening up, and more.  So if you dare dream about opening a brewery, or any other business for that matter, do it.  Life is too short to put it off any longer.

I am living proof (and so is this blog) that your dreams can become reality, so long as you have a plan, you spend the time needed, and you surround yourself with amazing people.  Of course, there are a few other details that need to go along with these big picture things, but don’t let them get in the way of following a passion.

So bring on the 19 new breweries this year, and I say bring on another 19 next year and 19 more the year after that.  Lets fill the marketplace in BC with as wide a variety of breweries as possible.  I also hope that these breweries continue to do wild and amazing things with the beer they make.  Lets push the boundaries, lets challenge the ordinary and lets realize the potential that is within each and every brewery in this province.

The Odds and Ends of this Process

One thing that takes a lot of time, especially of late, is the final layout and design of the space.  It is quite easy to get approximate locations of the brewhouse, walls, grain room, bathrooms, etc., but it is another thing to lock in the exact location.  This goes against what I ever thought would happen, and makes you choose between saving time, saving money, but only getting one of these at once.

Are you as confused as me?  Maybe the words are not flowing from my brain to the keyboard this early in the morning, but the final location and final detail of things is taking a lot of time.  Why are these things important?  Well, without knowing how long of runs you need for mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, your general contractor and others, you can’t really get accurate quotes on work needed.  If you can’t get an accurate quote, when it comes time for an electrician to do the work, and they need to do something that is not in the original package, there is an up charge for this.  In other words, if the electrician needs to run power to 10 extra lights that were not in the plan, they charge extra.  It is also the time that they can “bend you over the table so to speak.”

So in trying to button down all the details of what to put where, it makes life really difficult for the individual(s) putting together the final plans.  For us that means our architect, our brewhouse designer, and our contractor are all working in tandem, with emails and phone calls going back in forth at the rate of about 10 per day, with weekly meetings, and with miscommunication at every step of the way.  It is very difficult to orchestrate, as often people are not focused on our project alone, meaning sometimes it is not convenient for others to work on our project.  There are also vision issues, time issues, communication issues, and issues with our issues.

One of the biggest issues you cross when it comes to the odds and ends, is saving money versus saving time.  At the end of the day, we try to save both at every step along the way, but it has proven impossible.  If you want something done quickly, you are going to pay more as you narrow the window of options you have.  On the flip side, if you want things done economically, often the time needed to save the money is huge.  For our project this means trying to balance out these 2 things, so that we can save a little time, but also a little money.  Let me give you an example.

Should you build a cooler yourself or have one prefabricated and installed by someone else?  There is something about a cooler that makes it very expensive to pay a company to design and install.  It is not like the engineering is difficult, the materials are relatively inexpensive, and the amount of time needed to put it together is nothing exorbitant.  So when you get a quote from a company that specializes in putting this into your brewery, the cost blows your mind.  The cooler can literally cost $40,000 to supply.  WTF.  So this naturally leads us to look at designing and building our own cooler.  Quickly you realize that you can build the same thing, and save yourself about $20,000 which is huge in the grand scheme of things.  The challenge with this route is the time involved.  The time needed to procure the pieces, put together design specs, meet code, coordinate trades, etc, etc.  What we are now realizing that building our own cooler will save us money, but it will suck a lot of time from spending it elsewhere.

When you have time sucked away from certain things that need it, then you are delaying the process for other things moving forward.  So in other words, there is always a delicate balance between time spent on a project, and time lost on another project.  There is also a balance between money saved and time saved.

Let this be a lesson to other future brewery owners, the balance of these things is a hard thing to do, and you will spend a lot of time heading down a path, and then after a certain amount of time, backtracking and going down the other path, only to realize that you should have stayed down the first path.  The key is to always be aware which path is the best to travel down, and to recognize when you are running into a brick wall ….. because as we have learned, there is never a brick wall to show you are on the wrong path, only a few hurdles, making recognition of this even harder.

My key learning is this:  Sometimes getting overcharged is alright, so long as you spend the time you save elsewhere to move another aspect of the brewery forward, or save money.  There are other times an owner needs to make a greater effort to save money, at the expense of time, as the cost savings outweigh the time spent.  Choose wisely!

Finish of the Tasting Room

So I received some amazing feedback from readers on what is important in a tasting room layout, and key attributes of the space.  It has proved very helpful in helping to construct a space that meets the desires or craft beer enthusiasts and also those who will be visiting our space.  However, the progress we have made has naturally led to another huge question:  What do you want in the finishing of the space?

Does an ultra modern space like 33 Acres go over well, or would you prefer a look and feel like Brassneck.  Are there other tasting rooms outside of Vancouver and BC that stick out for you?  Tell me what you would like to see?

  • Minimalistic/Stark
  • Traditional
  • Modern
  • Ornate
  • Made to feel like a bar
  • Left to feel like a warehouse
  • Repurposed materials

More than talking about our space, I would love to know what other restaurants, bars, and spaces in Vancouver you like.  Of course our space will have a personality of its own, but we are keen to know what direction you think we should go with the finish.  As always, thanks for the thought and the feedback.

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.

The Biggest day in this Process – Lease Signing Day

It looks like the day might finally be upon us.  This is the day that seems like it should be the first step in the process, but realistically is more like the 500,000th of 1,000,000 steps in starting a brewery.  I have thought about this day for years.  It’s like I need to pinch myself to make sure this isn’t a dream.  We have signed subject removal for leasing our space.  After a 12 month courtship, and months of negotiating, feeling elated, feeling depressed, and most importantly uncertainty, we have done it.

I know what you are thinking:  Whats the big deal?  You found a place to brew your beer.  Thousands of other breweries across North America have found a suitable place to brew their beer, what makes your accomplishment any different?  When I think about it that way, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  But when you consider that we live in Vancouver, where land and warehouses are at a premium, it feels like a huge accomplishment.

I would say the key learnings from this process would be as follows:

  1. Don’t even consider buying a space, unless you are rich.  And that begs the question, if you are rich, why are you starting a brewery?
  2. Dilemna:  You can only have a one of the following:  A good landlord, a good location, a good space.  Which will you choose?
  3. Get ready for a personal guarantee.  Unless you have a brewery already, and if so why the heck are you reading this blog, get ready to lay whatever personal wealth you have on the line with your landlord.
  4. Expect to spend a lot of money fixing this space up.  Our bill is going to be huge, because we have a larger space, but even for small spaces, expect to spend $300,000 minimum.
  5. Use a good commercial realtor, who works exclusively in an area.  Don’t use a friend or family member who doesn’t know a lot about what they are doing.  We used Matt Smith from Colliers, and were very happy with our choice
  6. If you are ordering new equipment, don’t order any until you get your space secured.  I’ve heard too many horror stories to go down that road.
  7. Expect the unexpected.  There will be a fundamental problem with your space that you didn’t anticipate, so budget some contingency for your build out.
  8. Engage with architects, engineers and other professionals from the get-go.  They will help you understand what is needed and what is to come.
  9. Don’t lock yourself into a size of brewery, type of brewery or anything else until you find your space.  We totally changed our strategy based on the space we found.  Committing to a space is important to do before you commit to a type of brewery you are creating.
  10. Last and most importantly, PRAY.  Thats right, because when you find a space that seems really good, I can guarantee that there will be someone else who also finds the space really good, brewery or otherwise.  There is a lack of good space, and expect landlords hold all the power to pick who they work with.

So now, the process of starting a brewery truly begins.  It is hard to believe that from the time I started to write a business plan to this point in my life has been 5 years.  So patience, if not a inherent characteristic you have, will definitely be something that you develop.  If you don’t, I would say that your journey into the world of starting a brewery might be a short one.

Today will be my last shave, and I can start officially telling people that we have a space to brew our beer.  Many thanks to all those people who helped encourage and support us in getting to this point.  Without all that you have given to this process, I am afraid I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

Sneak Peak at our Plans!

OK, I can’t release all the plans for our space, but I sure can give you a “teaser” of what things may look like.  More will come when we actually sign a lease …. which should be the topic of my next blog.  “Lack of signing a lease stress.”  Anyhow, hopefully those who know the rules around brewery lounges in Vancouver will appreciate the connection we are going to have.  The brewhouse is literally within arms length of the tasting room!

Sneak peak brewery