With that thought in mind, I spend a great deal of my free time doing research on other start-up breweries, brewery equipment, malt, hops, and brewing processes. If I have a few minutes at the end of the work day before heading home, I’m doing research. When the wife goes to the gym…research. After she goes to bed…research. Sitting in traffic…research. Walking the dog…research.
Our entry into social media a few months ago has made this even more of a compulsion. Each time I come across a twitter account of another brewery in the works, I immediately go to their site and see what they are doing. It’s become increasingly rare that my iPhone battery holds its charge for the full day due to the amount of time I spend browsing through brewery websites.
In particular, being that the actual brewing side of the business is what interests me the most, I try to find out what their brewing equipment looks like. I want to know what kinds of kettles they are using. What size they are. How they heat them. What they are using for fermenters. The size of their space. Did they piece their setup together on their own? What kind of pumps are those? Are those triclamps or camlocks? How big are those hoses?
Simply put: I spend a lot of my time thinking about brewery equipment.
I couldn’t even tell you how many spreadsheets I have compiled to examine different pros and cons of various brewing options. I have filled countless sheets of paper with equipment sketches, wiring diagrams and plumbing plans. I actually fell asleep two nights in a row last week researching and pricing out options for solenoid valves on my kindle. Talk about your page turners!
One of my favorite research tools is Google Image Search. I am a visual kind of person, and I can understand things much easier by seeing them. Whenever I find an image that piques my interest, I will click through to the page that the image was found on. I will then read the article that it came from or peruse the site that hosted it. A lot of good ideas and thoughts have stemmed from these searches.
Often, when I find an image of particular interest, I will save those to my computer for later viewing and inspiration.
Here are a few samples from my “Brewery Ideas” folder:
You’ve probably noticed that none of these are particularly big systems. Nor are any of them particularly pretty. But they are all functional and have been used to produce quality craft beer that customers were more than willing to buy, try, love and support.
These were systems that were good enough to get their respective owners off the ground. I couldn’t tell you at this point where all these photos came from (though that is probably something I should track better), but I can tell you that many of these systems have since been replaced by much bigger brewhouses. Not because these simple systems didn’t work, but because the brewery had more demand for their product than they could produce at this small of a scale. And that’s not a bad problem for a business to have.
They weren’t systems built for the long haul, but they were more than sufficient for their owners to build a devoted customer base and get their product out the door.
That’s what Justin, Brian and I are looking forward to doing.
As I have said on this blog before, I am a huge proponent of function over form. If a system like these can provide the functionality we need to brew quality beer and get it into the pint glasses of paying customers, who am I to object? The wort won’t know that it’s being brewed in a steel drum. If it don’t know, it can’t care. If it doesn’t care…why should we?
So what if they are a bit on the ugly side. They work…and that’s all that truly matters. If 55 gallon drums, a bit of cedar planking, and a plastic fermenter are capable of brewing tasty and marketable craft beer…at a fraction of the startup cost as larger and sexier options, we’d be foolish not to consider it. Besides, a small ugly brewery is better than no brewery at all.
I read an article a while ago…no idea where…in which one existing, and already successful, craft brewer was bemoaning the nano-brewery trend. He couldn’t understand why anyone would want to start as small as we are thinking about starting. He just couldn’t grasp where the money could be made. A commenter to that article made a follow-up point, suggesting that people that start nano-breweries must be independently wealthy and are just brewing for fun, like some kind of super-sized hobby.
I found both their points of view to be very short sighted.
We want to start a brewery. We are not independently wealthy. We have kids and families and houses. We have never owned a brewery. We never even took a class in brewing. We have limited experience in running our own businesses. We don’t want to take on any debt. We want to minimize our risks.
So we probably won’t be able to quit our full-time jobs right away. And yes, we will only be able to brew enough beer to satisfy the needs of a few establishments and it will be a lot of hard work to do even that.
But nobody said it would be easy. They just said it would be worth it.
If this whole brewery thing takes off, we would love to quit our day jobs and purchase a bigger, better and much shinier system. But as it stands, we are playing with our own money and while this is something we truly believe can and will be a success, we have to be responsible about how we do things. Doing research late at night and crunching numbers in spreadsheets can only do so much to prepare us.
What we don’t know now we will have to learn as we go. We would much rather start small and grow organically from there.
We plan on focusing on becoming a really good tiny brewery. Once we have accomplished that, then we will start looking at bigger and shinier brewhouse options.
I can’t wait til I can show you the photos in THAT folder.