Tag Archives: Vancouver

6 Months after opening – part 1

I just visited my blog again for the first time in about 6 months, and I was shocked to see that people are still visiting it, looking for information on starting a brewery.  I felt a little inspired so thought I would jot down a bunch of things that come to mind regarding running a brewery.  In no particular order, it would be the following:

  • Man you will be tired:  Unless you are flush with cash and you can afford to have extra staff around, you will be working like a dog.  Minimum 60 hour weeks, week-in and week-out.  Get ready for this, or if you are adverse to this kind of thing, get ready to hire additional staff to make life easy.
  • Cash flow:  People look at our brewery and see that we are doing well, and we are.  People love our beer, we have great tasting room staff, we love what we do, and craft beer in Vancouver and BC is on such a huge upswing.  However, cash flow is an ongoing challenge and something that needs constant attention.  The bigger you grow, the more of a buffer you need for working capital.  So know this:  The cash flow needs of your business will get worse over the first 6 months and not better.
  • Managing people:  I don’t say this in terms that it is an issue or a problem, just something that you need to be aware of.  When you are building your brewery, you manage yourself and a team of people that sooner or later will leave and move onto something else.  However, when you hire staff there is so much more to the relationship than a do this do that approach.  You must deal with peoples feelings, strive to make the staff get happiness from doing what they do, and strike a delicate balance between being the good cop and the bad cop.  There are many other small components as well, and to be honest there will be days you suck at being a boss and others that will come easily.  For me, I need to work on this part of my skill-set continuously.
  • Dealing with government:  Don’t know what else I can say here.  Just get ready for inspections, forms to fill out, paperwork, bureaucracy, bitting your bottom lip, and general frustration in this bucket.
  • Customer is always right:  We get lots of feedback from people on all sorts of things.  Mostly though, people who pass along feedback have found something they don’t like or think could be improved.  There are 2 ways to take this information:  Defensively or as constructive feedback.  As much as we may disagree with what people say and how they approach us, there is always value in taking this information and using it to make your business better.  You may not always do what a customer wants you to do, but you can always take a little from the conversation.  Moreover, if you don’t listen to your customers and they take their hard earned money elsewhere, you will have nothing.
  • Did I tell you this process is tiring:  Can’t overstate this enough.  Get your ass in shape, prepare people around you for the workload and find your release so you can stay sane.  For me its exercise … what about for you?
  • Not enough time in a day/week/month to get everything done:  You will need to prioritize on a daily basis as there is never enough time to get everything done.  The fulcrum is never in balance, just make sure you are always checking on where it should be.
  • Know when to hire and add staff:  Hand in hand with the point above, before you burn out, hire someone to help.  Each person has a different threshold for workload, stress and the ability to get things done.  So don’t judge a partner or employee for what they are or aren’t doing.  Just focus on getting your work complete, and help others where you can.  When the burden of your to-do list becomes too much, spend some money and hire someone.
  • Stick to your plan but detour when necessary:  This is a tough one, but certainly one that should not be lost.  There are times when you should stick to your plan and resist going off course, and there are others where you should do the opposite.  How you know which way to go?  For me, taking an extra day to make a decision is often one of the best ways to find my path.
  • More to come … I actually enjoyed writing these points.  Maybe I will start finding time on a weekly basis to fill this sheet in.
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37 Days Out …. Tasting Room Details

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

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

Some random thoughts on designing and building your tasting room:

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

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

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.

 

Best Practices: Tank delivery

After having received our fermenting and conditioning tanks, there are some things that we learned, and I would like to pass them onto anyone else that is ever going to receive tanks.  There is a lot to know, but basically it comes down to preparing properly and having someone to help.

We ordered our fermenting and conditioning tanks from China, so ours arrived in the least convenient manner possible.  By shipping container, at a random time during the day.  This was the start of the challenges, but thanks to an amazing person, we quickly learned how to get everything off the containers in a safe and efficient manner.  Here is my list of things to do and not to do.

  1. Plan the day ahead of time:  Duh!  Just make sure you tell all the other trades what is happening, and plan for guests to not show up, even though it is a really exciting day.  It is not one that you can socialize on or anything else.
  2. Work with Customs Broker:  Don’t leave this to the last moment.  Make sure you have someone that can help you get the shipments into your port of entry.  We selected a company about 1 month ago, and it was a very good choice.  If you are BC based, let me know and we can connect you.
  3. Bring in other shipments into Canada ahead of this shipment:  Order something, anything as if you have a history of bringing shipments over $2,000 into Canada, then customs is much less likely to open one of your containers.  Why is this an issue?  If they open any containers, they charge you an inspection fee and it can run over $1,000 per container they look at.
  4. Rent a second forklift:  Having a second forklift made our job a lot easier, as one forklift could focus on bringing the equipment into the warehouse, which left us with another that could support or help out where needed.  Get the second forklift with long forks, and get a pair of fork extenders for your own forklift.
  5. Get strapping, wood and other materials ready beforehand:  You should have lots of cardboard on hand for putting between the forks and any tanks, wood pieces for resting the tanks on, straps for securing the tanks when offloading, etc.  All of these things will make your day go a lot smoother.
  6. Have your team all ready and available during the day:  Even if 2 or 3 of you are unloading the stuff, everyone else who is around should be ready to help out as needed.  We had a few tricky moments, and if we didn’t have 5 or 6 sets of hands around, it would have been a lot more difficult.
  7. Think about a professional:  Lucky for us, we employed the services of someone who works for Ripley tanks.  This person was the only reason we got through the day.  He has unloaded heaps of containers in the past, so his knowledge about the process was more than invaluable.  He led our team, and he made things go quickly and easily.  We had only one mishap and that was due to driver error.
  8. Plan for a long day:  It took us 12 hours to unload 20 tanks, which ranged in size from about 15HL to 30HL.  If your tanks are smaller, it might go a little quicker, but we averaged about 2-3 tanks per hour depending on the size.
  9. Work efficiently for cost savings:  We received 2 free hours per truck that was delivering the tanks.  If we went over, we would have to pay.  So be quick and get things off and move on.  There was a time that we had about 8 tanks sitting in our parking lot.
  10. Plan for the wrong order of tanks:  We received our tanks in an order that wasn’t ideal.  The result, we had to have a plan of where to put them, and how they would go into our space.
  11. Get your Glycol and Floor Coatings completed ahead of delivery:  Our tanks are still in the same position as when they arrived, as we don’t have all our floor coatings complete, and our glycol system is still a work in progress.  If we had these things complete, we could easily  start putting our tanks in their final position.  My advice, plan ahead and get this stuff done as quickly as you can.
  12. Make extra room:  You will need twice as much space as the tanks will occupy, for storage, moving them around, placing and re-placing.  So the day before, make sure you create this space.

I am sure there are other things we did and didn’t do, but I can’t think of them right now.  Hopefully this list helps, and if you have specific questions, please don’t hesitate to email me.

10 BBL Brewhouse for Sale

During the process of starting a brewery and writing a blog about starting a brewery, I have met and continue to meet many fascinating people.  These are people who are willing to do as others have before us, and risk everything they have achieved in order to start a business.  You see all sorts of personalities and business ideas come through, and they run the range from amazing to crazy.  Some people have leased a space without even having a business plan, and others have strong marketing backgrounds, and others lots of home brewing but no commercial brewing experience, etc, etc.

One of the groups that I have recently met purchased a brewhouse with the hopes of using it for their own purposes, but their circumstances have changed and they are looking to sell this.  So there isn’t much more to say than this:  If you are looking for a 10BBL brewhouse with all the parts and potentially someone to help consult with you, send me an email, and I can connect the two of you.  I don’t know the price, and I don’t even know all the equipment that is included in this set-up, but from the quality of the individual who is selling it, I am sure it will work out well.

If anyone you know is looking for used equipment, please pass along this information.  I know it is very difficult to find equipment in the marketplace, given the growth of craft beer throughout North America.  Having  an inside line like this can be a huge help in starting a business and saving cash on the most important part of your business.

As always, send any information to:

startingacraftbrewery@gmail.com

 

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.