Monday, June 30, 2008

Barn Party

We hung a stack of business cards next to our tap at Furthermore's barn party, and a lot of them were gone by the time we left. For those of you who found this website because you resisted the urge to put the cards in your bicycle spokes: great party, huh? We met a lot of cool people, drank some delicious beer and listened to a couple of incredible bands. The party was our beer's first public appearance, and we couldn't have asked for a better debut. Feedback on the mint porter:

-Smooth, free of defects and easy to drink.
-Needs more mint, but too little was better than too much.
-One person commented that the beer was too cold. That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!
-Mixed feelings on the body and general intensity. A few people wanted less and a couple of people wanted more.

If you were at the party and have more to say about it, don't be shy! Constructive criticism will result in better beer. Anyway, tweaking this recipe is going to be fun. My first step will be to buy some commercial porter and taste it with various amounts of Creme de Menthe. In addition to allowing me to compare intensities, it'll give me some insight into what might happen if I change the way I add the mint to the beer.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Weekly Brief Numero Uno

I'm gonna try doing these on the weekends, but I'll play a little catch-up right now.

Last week:
-May have secured a 3-year contract for organic hops. I don't want to jinx myself by revealing too much, and I'll have a better idea of where I stand in a month.

This week:
-Expanded the income statement into a 5-year forecast.
-Reviewed the first draft of our operating agreement. Mmm... 50 pages of legalese.
-Walked through a vacant restaurant. I'm not sure that I should mention specific places we're checking out, so I'll show some restraint for now.
-My beer fridge temperature is already set to 'lager', so I might as well brew a Dusseldorf Altbier tomorrow (like lagers, alts are traditionally cold-aged).
-Spread some RePublic love while partying with Furthermore and Metropolitan Brewing!

Next week:
-Do some market research to support the revenue prediction that all of my financial projections are based on. Everything I've read says "just pay for a dang feasibility study." I'll look into the merits of that next week.
-Talk with an accountant who has experience with restaurants, startups and LLCs (is that a lot to ask?) to review my pro formas before I stuff them into the business plan.
-Set up an appointment to check out another vacant bar.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Public Accountability

Opening a brewery is something that I started to take seriously in August of 2006, when I reduced my hours at Whitney's to 4 days a week so I could focus on the planning process. I was pretty naive to think that I was ready to start getting specific quotes on equipment and construction, but I managed to create a generalized cost estimate of a new brewery. I wanted to open a packaging brewery at the time, but didn't have any experience working in one, so I took a temporary brewing job and spent most of 2007 at Otter Creek in Vermont. I thought that I'd have gobs of time to work on my business plan out there, but the only thing I really accomplished was deciding that bottling lines are for suckers. Working on opening a brewpub became my full-time job when I moved back to Madison at the end of December.

A former co-worker once told me "you can do it cheap, you can do it fast or you can do it right. Pick two of the three." I've definitely taken the "right and cheap" approach so far. It wasn't a big deal when I was at Whitney's because I was still making money and I wasn't dragging anyone down with me. I asked Jane to be my business partner shortly before I moved to VT, and she thought idea of owning a brewery was so cool that she put other large-scale plans on hold to do it. Thanks to guilt, planning for an opening date of "someday" became less acceptable. At least Jane is just as responsible for our timeline as I am, though. When my job in VT ended, Rachel and I decided that she'll pay the bills while I work on opening a pub. It would be more expensive than if I were to get a job, but I'd get the business started faster and we'd still have enough money to live comfortably.

Even though I'm moving faster than I was, it's tough to shake the fact that I'm still at the same place I was at in January: sitting at a computer and writing a business plan. Not that the business plan doesn't need to be written - I'll need it to convince people to give me hundreds of thousands of dollars, which will be necessary to secure a location - but it feels like I'm going slower than I actually am. The reality of the situation is that I've been working way more than 40 hours a week to do things for the business that need to be done. If Rachel wasn't able or willing to support both of us financially, it would probably take me years to catch up to where I am today. I did the same thing for Rachel while she went back to school, but I don't think she felt like as much of a mooch as I do right now. School is usually perceived as a productive activity, while working on a business from home sounds an awful lot like "free time". Opening a brewery isn't like turning homemade birthday cards into a business: it takes a lot more planning up-front and probably won't make nearly as much money in the long run :).

In an effort to speed things up, or at least convince myself that I'm working effectively, I'm going to try setting weekly goals and using this weblog to hold me publicly accountable for meeting them. Every week, I'll briefly report on what I accomplished in the previous week and what I hope to accomplish in the following week. It usually takes me a long time to write any given blog entry, so I'm not going to do it during regular working hours. I'll even try to post my updates on the same day each week, but I haven't decided which day yet. Are you ready to keep me on track?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Quick Update

The crickets are taking over around here. Sorry about that! Here's what's been up the last couple of weeks:

Beer! The sour red, summer lager and mint porter are all cellaring in my basement. In case I haven't mentioned them yet, the summer lager was brewed with some grapefruit zest and the mint porter was brewed with some Corsican mint. Corsican mint is what's used to flavor Creme de Menthe, and Creme de Menthe is used to make mint chocolate chip ice cream. It's really easy to overuse mint as a brewing ingredient, so I'm glad to report that its contribution to the beer is subtle. I'd like to bump it up to a more dessert-like level, but I'll need to use a different method than the harshness-inducing late kettle addition. Like adding the liqueur straight. Yeah. If you want to try the prototype beer, come out to Furthermore's Sh*##y Barn Party on June 28th (wait for the flyer to pop up on the website). We tasted the beer in float form with some vanilla custard, but it was pretty gross. The beer's bitterness, which isn't very high on its own, absolutely had its way with the custard. It wasn't pretty, or even funny. I haven't given up on the idea, but it'll require a dedicated recipe with almost no hops.

I finally broke down and contacted the National Restaurant Association for their Restaurant Industry Operations Report, which outlines a standardized restaurant accounting system and allows me to compare my projections with median data from restaurants around the country. So far, I've done pretty well with the financial projections!

Blogger is about to shut down, so I have to end this but quick. Have a great weekend!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Thinkin' 'Bout Food

If I thought it would be feasible, the only thing for sale at my pub would be my beer. Brewing it, drinking it and sharing it with other people are the driving forces behind this whole process. Craft beer isn't as prolific as its media coverage seems to imply, though. Individuals may go out of their way for it, but groups of people generally demand a variety of drinks. Selling nothing but house beer might work in a bar-heavy block of NYC with lots of pub crawlers, but it wouldn't fly here. Not yet, at least. Enter Jane, who will hopefully quit her job soon so we can tell you who she is :).

The word 'brewpub' is synonymous with food, but would we really need to make it ourselves? Early in our conceptual planning, we figured we could set up a deal with someone like Glass Nickel and have our food catered, sort of like how High Noon Saloon does. I started being honest with myself, though, about why I choose certain bars over others. When I go to the Great Dane, for example, it's usually for a meal. Even though they brew great beer, I'd rarely go there if the food wasn't stand-alone good. If that's true for me, a @#$% brewer, how could I expect other people to behave differently? Selling food that's already available around town would satisfy hungry people who are already at the pub, but it probably wouldn't draw new people in.

Enter Tristan Straub. Tristan is a chef at the Maple Bluff Country Club, and had previously cooked at L'Etoile. His altar ego is SiNiK.aL.KiNiD, an artist trying to find a home for hip-hop in Madison. We're extremely impressed with his food knowledge and he's helping us figure out things like ingredient sources, recipe design and kitchen layout. We're hoping he'll stick with us for a while, and even let us pay him at some point. Right now, though, he insists on helping us out of the goodness of his heart. We'll take it!