Tag Archives: Strange Fellows Brewing

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.

 

60 Days Out

Without a doubt, things get busier as you get closer to opening your brewery.  For us, there is so much going on right now at the brewery, it is hard to keep track of sometimes.  It is also a point that we are beginning to notice parts of the job getting significantly completed, and others that seemed so far off a few months ago, getting started.

One thing I know for sure, the less you have to complete and build in your space, the faster this project goes.  Since we have taken possession of our space early in the year, Yellow Dog has gone from building to finished, Moody Ales will go from start to finish before us, and a host of other breweries literally leapfrogged us during the past 6 months.  It is both an indication of the complexity of our project, but also the challenges we have faced and will continue to face with our space.

At 60 days from opening, there is a lot going on and as I said earlier, keeping on top of all that stuff can be a lot of work.  If you stop for a second and look down, you are going to miss what is coming at you.  Little things like Tap Handles, coasters, label deadlines, getting UPC codes, positioning of electrical outlets, timing of deliveries, and hiring of staff, can all creep up on you if you don’t think ahead and plan for the decisions you need to make.

One of the bigger issues we have right now is that there is so much going on in the brewery, its hard to schedule everyone at the right times.  We have electricians working overhead, sprinkler installation people, carpenters, mechanical contractors, floor coating technicians, welders, and our team of people helping where we can.  This means that with everyones tools, equipment and supplies, there is not a lot of room to work.  I would suggest that when you build your brewery, you encourage people to get their work done as quickly as possible and as early as possible.  The longer people wait to get stuff done, the more it makes your brewery busy and jam-packed.

Some of the big decisions we have to make are:

  • What beers are we going to launch with in the tasting room
  • Beer Names
  • Tap Handles
  • Order Chairs for tasting room
  • Beer Prices
  • Hiring of Staff
  • Hiring of General Manager for the front of the house
  • Delivery truck
  • Ordering of bottle caps
  • Ordering of 1st piece of new capital equipment
  • A million and one things in the brewery
  • Colours

Just writing this list gives me a strong desire to get working and stop blogging.  As such, I will carry on and leave this post here.  I could write more, so much more, but time would be better spent elsewhere.

Hammering out the Electrical Details … its sometimes a 4 letter word!

Actual Conversation that took place at 9am Friday morning:

Matt: What about the following Electrical items:

8.1c-3, 4.32b-1, 8.0a-9

Iain: Where is that in the plans?

Matt: I can’t find them, do they even exist?

Iain: Here they are. A 5 horse power pump 3 phase 220 volt and 2 outlets

Matt: Those outlets and pump aren’t in my plans

Iain:  They are in my plans, but they are in the wrong spot

Matt: Where is the number for the engineer, I need to call him.

Get used to hearing these kinds of things when it comes to putting electrical infrastructure into your building. The work requires continuous attention to detail, and meetings between your electrician, electrical engineer, general contractor and the end-users (us)! There are lots of false starts and errors, so prepare mentally for this. Getting as much correct as you can early in the process will mean fewer change orders, which ends up saving you a lot of cash.

One of the biggest challenges we have had around the electrical work is the process. It is an inexact science and one that is full of frustration and teeth grinding. The process kind of goes like this:

  1. Pick your equipment and finalize this before anything else can start.
  2. Determine the power needs of that equipment.
  3. This is a chicken or egg thing. On much equipment, you can choose what kind of power it will take, which means you need to know what kind of power you have available. For much of your equipment you can have it made to the power you want to provide.
  4. Convey this information to the architect and electrical engineer who produce drawings for your electrician.
  5. Determining the exact location of the equipment on the floor plan. You need to have this buttoned down, so that all the information can go back up the line to everyone that needs it
  6. Make sure that all this stuff meshes with the latest version of your layout. Sometimes you electrician is working with non-current plans, which means that different tables and arrangements will result in different locations for power needs
  7. Making sure that the workers who are going to do the work know what is going on.
  8. Check back with everyone to make sure that all is ok.

Clearly, this is an inexact process. It is one that seems easy at first, but when you really look at it during the process, it is really hard. Trying to coordinate all of this is so difficult. We have had meetings where people literally leave steaming mad because they have been given the wrong information, or their workers haven’t followed the changes … there is a lot of coordinate.  Moreover, if you get anything wrong in that process you literally need to spend an hour push up and down the line to everyone else, explaining what happened and what the new plan is.

It is also important to get equipment using 600V where possible. In short, using a higher voltage makes electric motors more efficient, as there is less current needed. We are lucky in the sense that we have the power available to do this, after we are spending a bunch of money to upgrade the service from the street.

There is always going to be the stuff that people have overlooked. For instance our electrical engineer missed a couple pumps in our layout, so it was never discussed again until we found this out. When this happens, everyone scrambles to find these on the plans, and when you don’t you start to question what has happened and what you can do.

To help make this process easier, you should always try and work with professionals and engineers who are supreme communicators. You will need to be in constant contact to ensure that everyone is on the same page and everyone within their teams are also on the same page. It also helps that the electricians who are doing the work are committed to the job. If they can’t have someone at the brewery all day 4 days a week, you should look elsewhere.

Don’t forget to plan for power outages, and share the plan for renovations with everyone and every sub-trade. People need to know when power is going to be cut, when deliveries are being made and when floors are being coated. If you don’t coordinate this information, others will waste time and become increasingly frustrated with your job, potentially leading to bad outcomes down the road.

It becomes so apparent through this process that things like the electrical upgrade, floor issues, seismic needs, and sprinkler additions/installation are huge costs and enormous burdens to have to deal with. It is one of the reasons I have always told people who are interested in starting a brewery to make sure you find a space that has some of these things done. You may not be lucky enough to find one with everything completed, but the more of these major items completed, the quicker and cheaper your retrofit will be.

 

 

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.

 

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.

How to Keep all the Balls in the Air – A Schedule!

Having a schedule for the process of opening a brewery is huge.  I am not talking a little to do list of what needs to get done and when.  I mean an excel spreadsheet with the major items of starting a brewery in headings and then a timeline of when decisions need to be made.  It is the only way to keep all the balls in the air and make sure you don’t delay in decisions that need to be made, or forget others.

Unfortunately, we have gotten away from our schedule and it has come back to bite us in the ass a little bit.  Let me explain, and hopefully you can create your own so that you don’t have the same thing happen to you.

When I was first writing our business plan, I had a schedule of all the things that I thought we would be doing.  It was really about 30-40 lines of action items, with a date.  Click the link below for a copy of an older schedule that I was using, and while I updated it partially along the way, it was never really a living document.

Schedule for LCBC

What we really needed was a document that my partner and I updated weekly, that was really much more thorough than the one you can view by link.  I would have put various headings like:

  • Sales and Marketing
  • Equipment
  • Retrofit of Warehouse
  • Accounting
  • Raw Materials
  • Electrical
  • etc, etc

Under each of these headings I would have subcategories with all individual items that need to be done.  For instance, under the equipment heading I would have the following:

  • Brewhouse
  • Kegging
  • Packaging
  • Conditioning/fermenting
  • etc, etc

This way we could track all the details that need to get done.  This is really important.  A lot of details can fall through the cracks, so make sure you have a living schedule document that you can refer to on a regular basis.

There are some other benefits to a schedule. It can track timeline for decisions, like getting quotes from suppliers.  A schedule can also set drop-dead dates for decisions, which I highly recommend, as if you delay some decisions they will have a snowballing effect on other decisions.  A schedule can also help to identify who needs to do what in a partner ship.  Having a responsible person for an action might seem redundant, but it can just make sure there is someone doing the work, and not a moment of, “I thought you were doing that!”  Lastly, a schedule can help you sleep at night.  Instead of thinking about all the things you need to do, just go to bed knowing that there is a list, and so long as you keep the schedule up to date, you need not lose sleep.

So next time I start a brewery (insert laughter here), I will be sure to use the schedule like I have used the cash flow, marketing plan and retrofit budget …. as much as I can.  Let this be a lesson for you as well.  Create a schedule and make sure you update and check it weekly.

 

The Nitty Gritty of Laying out a Floor Plan

When you come along to the choice of laying out your brewery, get ready for a long and winding road.  One that will likely lead you to the wall and back, and also lead you to a place that you never really thought that you would be.  The reality is there are factors involved in your layout that you can think about and plan for, and others that you simply must deal with as they come up.

Before you can even start to work on your layout, there are a million things you will need to go through.  I would start by talking to other breweries, and find out what they like about their layout and what they don’t.  Be sure to ask lots of why questions.  You will also need to figure out how much money you have, as planning for a huge brewery will also mean huge bills.  Other factors include the size of your space and your future plans for growth, among others.

One of the most important components to think about in your layout is completely dependent on what you are doing, and what your goals are.  For instance, if you want to follow in the footsteps of Brassneck Brewing, or other breweries that are just selling their product in their own retail space, you will have a much different layout than if you want to be a production brewery, like Coal Harbour.  For us, we wanted to be somewhere in the middle, which is likely what you want to do as well.

So the elevator version of how you layout your space goes like this:

  1. Lease space
  2. Walk through and work with architect to understand ins and outs of space
  3. Build business plan around this space
  4. Determine amount of finances needed
  5. Get first plan from architect

After you get the first floor plan from the architect, you will officially begin a journey that will likely last about 6 months, and involve head scratching, high-fives and deep lows.  At the end of it, you will hopefully get a floor plan that is not too much of a compromise  and enough of what you had in mind at the beginning of things.

Think about the process for a second.  Lets say you have 3 places you can put the brew house.  Each of these areas has pros and cons.  It is truly a prisoners dilemma.  You can have things in the optimal place, you can have it done quickly, you can have it done under budget, and you can have it for the best place for your future growth, but maybe you will get 2 of these things, but likely just 1.  What do you pick and why?

Once you agonize over the location, you then need to start figuring how all the ancillary services and equipment will get to the location.  This is no small task and will involve the help and advice of your architect.  Once you then figure these basics out, you will actually need to order your equipment.  You will know what configuration you want for your brew house, and how it connect into the footprint you have created, but then this another level of questions.

Think about some of the minutiae needed:

  • Where do you want the drains
  • Where do you want water and electrical services
  • Where do you want the grain hopper
  • Where do you want the slopes and what angle

Once you figure these things out, there is another level of detail.  And I am talking exact detail …. down to the millimetre.  For instance if you are going to put your brewhouse in position A, where exactly is the drainage pipe going to go.  That means you have to work it out with the manufacturer of your equipment where this is exactly, and then map it out on your floor plan, so your mechanical contractor can give you the drain exactly where it needs to be.  Getting this kind of stuff wrong can make your life a nightmare.  And this example is just for the brewhouse. The same also goes for all the other functional areas of a brewery.

All of this means that you need to have an attention to detail.  If you leave this kind of stuff to others, you are relying on their knowledge and effort, and that may or may not work out for you.  There are literally hundreds of decisions like this to make when you are building and developing your floor plan.  Make sure you put an effort in that will give you exactly what you want.

We have found that we are making decisions over and over.  It might be annoying for others, like our sub-trades or architect …. ok it is definitely annoying for them, but I can’t see the process carrying out any other way.  How could you not change what you want over and over when it comes to something so complicated like building a brewery.

So back to the original question:  What factors are important.  I would narrow the list down to 5 things:

  1. Planning for future growth
  2. The location and interaction of your tasting room to production
  3. Inherent issues, characteristics and flow of your warehouse
  4. Budget
  5. Maximal use of space

If you can focus on these things, then your floor plan should end up in a good spot.  Not unlike building a house, there are always going to  be things that you would change, but the balance between current and future needs, along with finances will most likely determine exactly what ends up going where.  In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns, Iain is a master of this kind of thing, so give him a call.