Tag Archives: Strange Brew

34 days out …. sneak peak at our Layout

Not much to say on this post.  I am a little foggy this morning, and needing to get 2 blog posts out as I missed one from yesterday.  The first post today will be around the finalized layout and look of our tasting room, and the exterior elevation of our space

We agonized for months over how exactly to design and locate the entire production and front of house spaces.  There were likely 5 or 6 meetings with our architects to get this correct, and hopefully at the end of the day, we got it right from a production standpoint, but also a tasting room standpoint.

Some keys about the front of the house:

  • The tasting room has a direct connection to the brewhouse, where most of the fun stuff happens in brewing beer
  • The art gallery is directly connected to the tasting room, allowing people to view some artwork while they visit the brewery
  • We have 2 long communal tables, which is a direct result of bring people together through beer.  If you want to come to our brewery and sit quietly on your own, you might have a tough time
  • We will have lots of natural light.  There are about 14 windows across the front, that will provide heaps of natural light into the space
  • There is a moderately separated retail area from the tasting room, which will allow the patrons of each to not interfere with each others good time
  • The lines from our serving tanks to the tasting room are crazy short, as the cooler is right there
  • The front of the house has really high ceilings, something you can’t really see in the drawings, hopefully making the space very interesting and welcoming

As for the exterior of the building, not much to do other than clean it up, repaint and put a few new doors in to make the building secure and a little more functional.

There was a lot of found value in the space, which we have tried to salvage and add to in a positive and authentic manner.  Both Iain and like things that are authentic and interesting, and we hope to have created a space that is, if nothing else, both of these things.  We hope you pop-in and say hi the next time you are in the area.

Architectural drawings Oct 31.2014

 

Marketing Decisions

One thing I have underestimated up until now is the number of decisions that need to be made for marketing.  I always thought the big marketing decisions were the tough ones, but now walking through this process, it is the small ones that suck all your time and cause the most headaches with the schedule.  Paying others to do some of your work will help bring in a fresh opinion, move things forward, and get you to a place you wouldn’t otherwise have gotten.  It will still take hard work and lots of re-working things to get them right.

As a craft brewery, we kind of thought that marketing was secondary to making really great beer, and having a great tasting room to hang out in.  For the most part, it still is but the gap has narrowed quite measurably.  With so many amazing breweries swinging open their doors in the past few years (Brassneck, Parallel 49 Brewing, Powell Street Brewing, Postmark, 33 Acres, Steel and Oak, Yellow Dog, Main Street, and many more), it is now imperative that your brand be spot on.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you need to have a perfect brand for customers to see, rather I think you need to achieve a few important things in your message:  Authenticity, why you did this, and what makes you so different.

Yes, yes the quality of beer is still paramount.  Make crappy beer or have the same selection of beer at your brewery week in and week out, and you will find yourself floundering.  At the end of the day, consumers care most about this.  But the people that spend their hard earned dollars at breweries also want to see a brand that meets their expectations.  What makes it harder for a brewery to meet these expectations, is that no 2 people have the same ones.  Some want authentic, and others want playful, some want seriousness, and others want unique.  What do you want?

Getting back to my original point, we decided to go in the direction of making something we think is representative of us.  Authentic, Fun, and pretty straight forward.  However, what you set out to do, like everything in this process, is not necessarily what we are going to end up with.  You see, making thousands of decisions over a period of months, if not years, puts you down a path that you didn’t necessarily intend.

For instance, we always wanted our brand to be what it has become.  But to think that we named our company Strange Fellows Brewing is somewhat comical.  My partner and I always wanted a more serious name, but through indecision, other names being taken (this is huge) and the input of others, we ended up with Strange Fellows.  This set off a cascade of events that has slowly morphed our brand into something that neither of us could have imagined.

Also changing where we ended up is the list of decision that we needed to make, with each of these decisions having hundreds of little decisions to make the big decision:

  • website design and look and feel – hundreds of decisions in this bucket
  • can versus bottle versus growler – design, size and look
  • label for all product
  • logo – you will need to pick something that works on its own, with your can design, and in sizes all the way up to a decal on your car to sign-post at your brewery
  • bottle cap
  • merchandise
  • growler design
  • your story and how it relates to your brand
  • business cards
  • tasting room design meshed with your personal taste, budget and consumers taste

Each of these, and many others, have hundreds of layers to the decisions you need to make.  Its not as simple as just making the choice and living with it in a bubble.  Your decisions are not mutually exclusive, as one decision will impact another, often forcing you to rethink exactly what you are doing.  Let me give you an example.

We knew we wanted to put our beer into cans, so we charged ahead with this.  However, we didn’t know what kind of beer to put into cans.  So we had to decide which of our favourites we were going to brew, and put that out there to the world, without ever actually brewing these beers.  Which means you need to talk about flavour, alcohol percentage, etc without ever having tasted the beer.  Then you need to make a description of the beer, a beer name, a theme to your beer, create a UPC code, get preliminary approval from the LDB, get all the details on the can correct and be happy with where it is at about 10-12 weeks before you plan on packaging this product.  You see, cans need to be manufactured and that takes some time, which means before you even do anything, you need to have all your marketing complete.

It also means that once you make decisions, going back on those decisions will change other aspects of the design.  Invariably you will makes changes, and while you have your head down in the sand making all these decisions and changes, you end up with a can that may be great, but also may be quite far from where you intended to end up.  We’d be lying if we didn’t admit to this, as well as every other craft brewery in the Province.  So go easy on those people who have missed the mark with their marketing, as they may have gotten to a place they didn’t intend, and have no way of getting out.

To me, marketing matters most in terms of how much I connect with a brand.  This is everything from; what are the owners like, what is their message, what does the beer taste like, what are their thoughts on craft beer, why are they making beer, is this their passion, what other breweries do they like, and are they helping to keep Vancouver at the forefront of craft beer.  If a brand conveys all this information to me, or if I pick up on these things along the way, my decision on whether I like the brand is already made.  A company could miss 2 or 3 of these things and be alright, but if they miss 2 or 3 of these things and one of them is the quality of the beer, then I will move on.

For us, we’ve had the luxury of time, which has been our worst enemy for cash, but our best friend for crafting our story.  Having a brewery build-out that has taken about 9 months, in addition to a 12 month period that we were actively working on our brand, which comes after about 1 year of starting the process.  All this has meant we’ve been able to work out the kinks, and get it where we are pretty happy.  We could still make a few changes to our marketing, but for the most part we are pretty stoked about it.  I went through my diaries and have the following summaries from just our name selection:

  • January 2010 started working with my brother on a brand called The Crafty Monk
  • Over the next 18 months came up with a logo, and design for label
  • January 2012 met Iain Hill and started our partnership.
  • March 2012 Iain and I agree that we need to come up with a name together that is indicative of both us.
  • July 2012 changed name to Low Countries Brewing
  • Sept 2012 worked with Iain’s wife Christine on logo and branding.  We had a really tough time making the name look interesting and work well.
  • October 2013 after a year working with Low Countries Brewing, we decided to ditch the name as it was boring and not exactly what we wanted to do anymore,
  • January 2014 false start on Allegory brewing
  • February 2014 with our partnership about to dissolve over indecision about our name, we finally agree to Strange Fellows.
  • March 2014 to present we worked on our branding and marketing to end up where we are, which we hope is a pretty good place.

Without the time we had available to us, we might have ended up with a name like The Crafty Monk, or Allegory, both of which would have led us down a path that is much different than where we are today.  So take your time in making decisions, as creativity knows no time boundaries.  It would also relate to this entire process, as for us, getting all aspects of this project correct the first time is the most important thing.

 

The Cooler

Busy doesn’t even begin to describe our life right now.  We are so busy trying to get things organized with regards to all aspects of this brewery, it is literally starting to make us crazy.  We are dealing with it the best we can, but it seems we are taking less and less time to make constantly more important decisions.  There is just no time to think, it is more of a reactionary process now.  One of these things we have been reacting to over the past few months is the cooler.

Early on in the process of building a brewery, you will need to make some decisions around the cooler.  Most likely, the first will be where the heck to put the thing.  There is a bunch of factors in making that decision, like if you will have a tasting room, where are your shipping docks, how high are your ceilings all over the warehouse, how much space do you have, etc.  Generally speaking, if you are going for a model that has a tasting room, and you are planning for some production, make sure you put your cooler very near the tasting room, and make it big enough for whatever your beer sales are at year 3.

After you pick out the location, things start becoming more and more detailed in your decisions.  A big one is whether you want to have your cooler pre-fabricated or built on site.  A pre-fab cooler is a quicker option, but you may not get exactly what you want.  Also, depending on the size of the cooler, you may need to build a box around it to support it.  There are some coolers that are not meant to support any weight above them.  If you build your own, there are engineering costs, and the time and effort of putting the things together.  The bigger you build it, the more the costs for everything like labour, materials and professionals.

We also did a few extra things in our cooler that has made it more expensive, but will enable us to have a more functional cooler, and one that works better with our situation.

  • We insulated the ground beneath our concrete to R20.  This was an extra few thousand dollars to do this in extra digging, dirt removal, labour and materials, but we hope the energy savings will benefit us moving forward.  Cool air falls after all, so we thought best to insulate the floors.
  • Since we poured new floors underneath the cooler, we put in drainage.  I think Iain would say that drainage is a must in a cooler, but it can be a time consuming and difficult process.  We just decided to put all new concrete down, so we didn’t have to worry about these things …. we just did it.
  • And since we put in new floors we also put a slope on the concrete so water would run to the drains.
  • Make sure you put footings all around the cooler for the walls to sit on.  Since the cooler will be wet and damp, you should avoid having the walls touch the ground.
  • We made our cooler structural, so that we could store boxes, pallets and other stuff up top of it.
  • Don’t use drywall on the inside of your cooler … even the stuff that is rated to handle wet situations.  You can talk to Dave Varga about that one, as he told us at 33 acres they want to rip it all out.  Use marine grade plywood.
  • If you have any breaks in your moisture barrier, you will moisture in your cooler.  So plug these holes.
  • Use a big door for your cooler, and have a second man door.  The bigger your door, the easier it is for a forklift or pump truck to move pallets in and out of the space.  You want to try and avoid turning on the inside of your cooler with the forklift.  Our cooler is about 25 feet wide, and our door is about 18 feet wide or so.
  • Use a little man door to walk in and out of to avoid needing to open the big door to get something little.
  • We incorporated a cooler very close to our tasting room, so that we could have really short runs for the beer we will have on tap.  Again, Iain could tell you exactly why we did this, but all I know is that it will save us a lot of headaches in the future.
  • We will have jacketed tanks, so this means they will not be inside the cooler.  This frees up a lot of space and will allow us to store finished product in a cool place, ensuring it lasts longer and stays as fresh as possible.  This goes back to making sure your cooler is big enough.
  • Retail doors are important.  One thing we like about Bomber Brewing is that their cooler is also a place to put packaged product.  So you can grab a 12 pack of cans directly from cooler doors and purchase them on site.  This means you don’t need to get a separate cooler to do this, saving energy and costs.
  • We are placing 4 double stacked 15 hectolitre tanks in the cooler for holding our beer.  This will mean we don’t have to change loads of kegs for our most popular beers.  We have been told how much of a challenge this is, as tanks of your most popular beers can run dry 3 or 4 times a day.

All of the decisions around this cooler are pretty much made, so it is just a matter of implementing what we have planned.  The last decision we have to make is whether to use spray foam insulation versus standard insulation.  There are major differences, not the least of which is price and ease of install.  Like every other decision we have made, I am sure the answer will come to us in time …. and hopefully soon.

That is about all I can think of when it comes to our cooler.  For us, we definitely underestimated the spend on an engineer for this, as there is much to figure out when you are building walls that are 14 feet high, and span a 25 foot length.  There are lots of plates and reinforcements you need to install so that this thing will stand through worst case scenarios.

Have a few questions that I am not thinking of???  Send them along and I can surely help you out.

 

The jobs involved in opening a brewery …

There are many things to do in starting a business, that much is for sure.  But let me be the first to say that there are about twice as many jobs to get done as you first anticipate, when you are conjuring up your business plan months and years before actually taking that leap of faith.  With the help of this post, you can plan ahead, learn some skills, mentor from someone who has experience, take a few classes, or just meet someone with a complimentary skill set to yours.

In no particular order, here are the things you need to be good at:

  1. Salesperson:  Maybe I put this first because I feel like there is so much of this process that you need to get buy-in on.  Whether it be your spouse and why they should support you in opening a craft brewery, investors to see a bright future in your business, or even possible partners to believe in what you are doing, you are always pitching an idea to someone it seems.  Not a lot of people have sales experience, so I would recommend Spin Selling by Neil Rackham
  2. Janitor:  Get really good at sweeping.  This means finding a messy floor somewhere and getting a good broom and going to town.  A couple techniques.  There is the long stroke or the short stroke.  I seem to prefer long strokes on smooth surfaces and short strokes on rough surfaces
  3. Accounting:  There is no way you want to get behind on this one.  From the start, have a good idea of your plan for taking care of the books and reporting this information.  We use an accountant and they have set us up on a system that works with their office.  Essentially, we track everything in quickbooks, pay every bill and invoice, and then push this to them at the end of the year.  Easy enough, but it was a long road to get here.  My recommendation is to use Quickbooks, which is available online for $250.00 or so.
  4. Digger:  Another really important skill to have.  I suggest you head to the beach, and try digging a couple holes and a trench.  Do this a couple times a week, so that when it comes time to dig up floors, or shovel dirt, you are in prime shape to make this happen.  A key here is to manage your shovel loads.  Not too much dirt now …
  5. Marketing:  I have always kept marketing separate from sales as I think they are 2 very different things.  In short, marketing is the long term plan and vision for your brand, and sales is the day-to-day activity.  Read some books, look at other companies, brands and marketing whenever you can, and learn from others who specialize in this to get a better understanding of what you should (and shouldn’t) do.  My book recommendation here is Permission Marketing by Seth Godin.
  6. Steelworker:  My hands don’t lie, you will need to get good installing and tying rebar and wire.  I suggest you go get a job tying rebar for a week at a local construction site.  Make a B-Line for the site super and tell them how your baby soft hands are in need of toughening up.  Don’t forget to strengthen your lower back as well, as you will be bending over for most of the day.  Just find your happy place, and try to think about how great it will be to serve your beer to the world when you are finished.
  7. Decision Maker:  You will need to to learn how to make decisions based on the advice of others.  It will often involve a complex set of parameters with varying opinions, the exact answer you must decide on your own.  Good examples is whether to lease that warehouse that is empty or what floor plan to use for your brewery.  You will get opinions from realtors, bankers, lawyers, engineers, accountants, architects, and even your friends and family, but at the end of the day, you make the decisions, so don’t overlook or underestimate what is important to you and how this decision will play out long term.  My book recommendation is Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, a must read.
  8. Painter:  Up, down, up, down, repeat.  Think of Mr Muyagi in the Karate Kid, and practice for painting with painting.  This process should actually start with power washing, so find a dirty piece of concrete and let loose about 1,000 PSI to see what it feels like.  When you have mastered use of the wand, you can move to painting.  This involves a lot of cutting plastic poly, taping, and scraping.  So get ready for the time of your life!  Remember patience is the key to getting a good paint job.
  9. Social Media:  There are some breweries that open and they have put nothing out there, while there are others who tell everyone what they are doing every step of the way.  I wouldn’t say one approach is right and the other is wrong, I would just say if you aren’t active in social media, at least understand what is happening and how you will take part in that down the road.  My book recommendation here is Guerrilla Marketing
  10. Psychologist:  When you are dealing with trades people, construction workers, and general labourers you are going to hear stories that will make you cringe and make you smile all at the same time.  Time to talk some sanity into these people!
  11. Human Resources:  you are going to hire people down the road, so its important that you understand what skills your team has, and what skills you would like to add to the mix.  Without question, every person you hire is important, but the first couple out of the gate will truly make or break you.  Hiring for Attitude is my book recommendation for this bucket
  12. Bathroom Cleaner:  Thats right!  Get down on your hands and knees and scrub.  Great preparation would be to head into your local Frat house and start cleaning the toilets.  You see, trades people have the aim of a 3 year old boy, and the cleanliness of …. well a construction worker.  So rubber gloves and eye protection are mandatory, while hazmat suit and respirator are optional.
  13. Copywriter:  A bit of sales and a bit of marketing in here, but that is not the point.  You need to be able to convey information to others in written word.  Whether it is your brand statement to consumers, a letter to your architects expressing your desire for changes to a plan, or the content on your website, you need to be able to write in concise terms.  Personally, I am not the best at this, as those who read my blog with regularity can attest, but it sure is something you can work on … like I do in writing this blog.  My book recommendation is Writing that Works.
  14. Phone Hanger Upper:  You will get good at hanging up the phone.  This is a product of having a lot of phone calls, but also a lot of telemarketers call.  I find the best way to get out of the conversation is to cut yourself off mid-sentence, that way the other person will think the line was disconnected.  Don’t hang up while they are talking, as it is a giveaway you did the dirty.
  15. Retail Manager:  A huge portion of a new breweries sales take place at the tasting room and growler fill area.  For a company like Brassneck, the experience they gained from their previous experiences only helped to make their retail experience what it is …. amazing.  Same goes for Bomber and others, as their retail experience only helped them to make sure they got the retail area perfect.  For us, we need to find help on that front.  We need someone who will understand what we are doing, and help us to nail it.  We are looking for this person and hopefully they can come on board at the right time.
  16. Mechanic:  We have yet to experience this one for the most part, but it would be wise to learn some basic skills around fixing things.  I have heard the horror stories of things breaking down and needing repair in a brewhouse are too numerous to mention, so knowing what to do, or who to  call is a very important component of keeping operations smooth.  Remember, red is positive and black is negative.
  17. Delivery Person:  When the production gets going, we know that a good portion of time will be driving around and dropping off product.  We view this interaction as very important, and something that we need to do in person.
  18. Production:  Maybe I put this last because it is the most important on this list.  I still maintain that we can get everything else on this wrong, or not have any skills in those areas, but as long as you make a quality product that is consistent, you will do well.  Maybe I am a little naive, but having good beer will make everything else easier.  So this is where you need to make a choice:  Either find someone who knows and wants to handle production, or learn the skills necessary yourself.  Guys like Ben Coli are a good example of someone who wanted to handle production themselves.  I would be antithesis of this, as I always knew there would be someone else handling this part of operations.  I think at the end of the day, you need to decide what role in the business you want to have, and go for it.  Book recommendation here is any and every book that has to do with brewing or production.

The most interesting thing about this list is that you will be doing all of these things on a daily basis.  There are days I go from item to item to item, and then I repeat a few of them.  That makes the job interesting, but also means you have to get really good at prioritizing, multi tasking, and working in several silos all at the same time.  For instance, as I write this post I am also answering emails, texting my partner and yelling at my kids!