Tag Archives: Starting a brewery

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.

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.

 

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.

Marketing Update – Website, Blog, Social Media, etc

It seems there have been 2 buckets that I have been working in lately:  Fixing the warehouse and building our brand.  I love the physical aspect of working in the brewery, and I am sure you would too.  What I have found is that when you build a company, its hard to see progress and win the little battles that make up the war.  For instance, when it came to picking a name, it took literally hundreds of hours of work and effort, and you don’t see any milestones along the way.  One day you just have a name.  But when you have a physical project like constructing a brewery, its easy to see progress along the way, and I like that.

We have been busy painting the warehouse lately.  The amount of time and energy this has taken astounds both of us.  We have had great help from family and friends who are incredibly supportive of our journey.  Without their help from the get-go, none of this would be possible, and I am sure this is going to continue onwards in the future as well.  Even with this help, we have spent 2 weeks preparing the space for painting and first coat of primer.  I guess that is what happens when you have a 9,000 square foot space, with 19 foot ceilings.

inside brewery pre paint

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So when we are not going up and down the forklift preparing walls for paint, and applying paint, we have been busy with organizing what our brand will look like.  That means meetings, meeting and more meetings.  I have come to realize that it is incredibly important to express how you feel in a positive and straight forward manner.  When it comes to the way I feel about something, I owe to my partner and the business to say what I need to say, all the while improving the relationship with my partner and leaving my influence on the business.

We have picked a logo, and it may not be finalized, it will look similar to this.

SF-logo#8-max-res

 

 

 

 

 

 

Online I can understand why people are torn between the 2 logos we had everyone vote on, but when you see them on a bottle printed out, the decision was quite easy.  The text on the other option seemed too small, and didn’t stand out on the  bottle like this logo.  So thank you to everyone for your feedback and input into our decision.  The results were virtually even on our blog and also the Vancity Buzz poll, so at the end of the day, we had to make the decision.  There might be people who strongly dislike our image and brand, and we have quickly come to realize that we are ok with that.  But we have also come to realize that our brand is so much more than a logo.

All of our social media is now live:

Twitter:  Strange_Fellows

Instagram:  strangefellowsbrewing

facebook:  strangefellowsbrewing

We are busy working on our landing page for the website, and it will likely be another couple weeks before we have something up and running.  Until then, the main contact points are the above …. and of course this blog.  As Iain so shrewdly put the other day, he is the one doing all the work in starting a brewery, and I am the one telling everyone about all the work he is doing in starting a brewery.  Seems like a good set-up to me!

Your feedback is always welcome and helps us to know what we are doing well and what we can work on.  Should you think of anything we can do to make this company better, we would love to hear from you.

Success … Building Permit has been Granted!

For the past week I have had my head down, working on our accounting and driving ahead a bunch of projects that are in need to time and attention.  So this blog has been something that I keep thinking about, but couldn’t find the time or the energy to put towards it.  While we were busy with our heads down, we received some great news:  Our building permit was approved and we are good to start trucking ahead with construction.

This sounds great on paper, only we thought the process of getting a permit would take a little longer, so we don’t have all our sub-trades in place and need to refine a few more of our plans.  Given this, we hope that construction will begin on April 1st, so that we can be open sometime in very late summer or very early fall.

My advice to people who are going through the process of starting a brewery, or any other business for that matter is this:  Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal.  When you lose focus and when you lose the drive to push things ahead, small delays can have a cascade effect on the process.  For example, our dithering on a few specifics around the brewery and tasting room, which didn’t seem like huge delays at the time, effected a bunch of other items.  It delayed our architects in making the changes, it delayed our contractor in getting quotes, and it delayed next steps in the process.  It ended up that a couple days delay in one decision ended up delaying the process by 2 weeks.  Arghh!

To be honest, I thought I would feel more happy about getting our building permit, and while this does put a smile on my face it doesn’t make me jump up and down like getting our development permit did.  I guess the difference is that we knew we were going to get the building permit, it was just a matter of when.  I also think that we just have so much work to do, its hard to take a breath to give each other a high five.

Anyhow, we will keep you up to speed on some of the next steps with our brewery in the coming weeks ahead.  Lots of activity and hopefully we can drive this project ahead to start operations sooner rather than later.

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.

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.

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.