Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hash Browns

Brewing and cooking have a lot in common. My process for making hash browns at home goes something like this:

-Peel a bunch of potatoes.
-Shred the peeled potatoes into a strainer.
-Place the strainer into a huge bowl and fill with water.
-Allow the potatoes to soak for a couple of hours.
-Remove the strainer and briefly rinse the potatoes.
-Dump the bowl water and put the strainer in the bowl.
-Set the bowl in the fridge and let sit overnight.
-Pan fry the potatoes in an elaborate ritual involving oil, onions, seasoned salt and pepper.

During the soak, a bunch of white powder falls through the strainer and settles at the bottom of the bowl. The brewing angle: how much of the white stuff is potato starch and how much of it is precipitated calcium carbonate from the water reaching equilibrium with atmospheric carbon dioxide? Hmmm...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Important Note:

Jane is doing very important research on cask ales in England right now. This requires many visits to many pubs and many many taste tests. Gathering of important scientific data, you know.

Business Banking

Did you know that business checking accounts have monthly fees? We didn't! I'd heard good things about Johnson Bank, so Jane and I talked with them about opening an account. The woman we met was extremely nice and very honest, which was awesome. She recommended that we open a money market account to hold investments until we're ready to make a lot of withdrawals, but not do so until we check out some other banks first. She admitted that bars and restaurants aren't Johnson's strong suit, emphasized how important location will be in choosing a bank (daily deposits once we're up and running), and even recommended a few banks for us to talk with. Given that my research of the restaurant industry has gone mostly as follows,

Restaurant industry: give me $500 and I'll give you a tiny clue towards solving this one problem.
Me: that's not much incentive for me to put some clothes on and leave the forest.

talking with Johnson Bank was pretty refreshing. We didn't open a checking account, but the process didn't happen without progress. Having an IRS Employer Identification Number is required to open a business checking account, so we got one.

We didn't make a hard decision on having a bakery, but we're going to proceed as though we chose 'yes'. I'm halfway through a surprisingly good book about opening a bakery, and I'm just getting to the chapters on equipment and space requirements. Those plus ingredient, labor and energy costs will give us the foundation of making a feasibility decision. I did some work on updating the business plan to include a bakery, but I still have a ways to go.

Jane will be out of town for a couple of weeks, so I'm flying solo. My plan is to finish the book and work on the logistics of a bakery-focused menu. I'll be trying to answer questions like "how much do ingredients cost? How will we transform bulk purchases into individual portions? What will our prices be? What equipment will be required for each step? How much space will it take up? How much can we expect to sell each day? How many employees will that require?" If I can get that done by the time Jane gets back, I'll be pretty excited.

The latest pilot batch is a biere de garde with maple syrup. I fermented the beer at cool temperatures with a blend of Saison Dupont yeast and a neutral American ale yeast, then warmed it up as fermentation began to slow. My goal is to keep the saison character subtle while fermenting as much of the sugar as possible. Jeff brewed the beer with me last Saturday and it's still fermenting away, which is a full 2-3 days after fermentation usually stops. My plan just might work, mwahaha!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Death of a Beer Fridge

My second (as in consecutive) beer fridge died last night. The light still works, but none of the moving parts turn on. I unplugged the fridge for a few hours to see if the compressor just overheated, but its status remains unchanged. I'm starting to feel like someone who keeps replacing dead pet fish instead of learning how to care for them properly. Putting fridges outside and calling the salvage company is going to become a mundane routine instead of something I'm slightly uncomfortable doing. The people who come to haul the fridges away, who I'll eventually know on a first-name basis, won't drink coffee in the morning because they'll know that I'll have some waiting.

Jane and I made a preliminary menu and outlined some of the wine types we'd like to serve last week. We decided that "full bar" is a sufficient business plan description for the spirits. It sounds like available wines change all the time, so saying "our five wines will be blah blah blah" would be silly. We also signed the operating agreement, so RePublic is more official than ever. Amidst the business plan revision, we need to open a bank account. I'm going to go ahead and make that a goal for next week, even though Jane is skipping town on Thursday for a couple of weeks.

We didn't get much farther on researching a bakery, although Tristan told us that baking is heavily influenced by the weather and Wisconsin doesn't have a very good climate for it. At least the playing field is even for local bakers.

Here's the official to-do list for next week:
-Open a bank account.
-Decide yes or no on a bakery.
-Strengthen the descriptions of kitchen and bar operations in the business plan.

That's all folks! If you're trying to get rid of a fridge with at least a 24"x24"x30" (WxDxH) cube of space - or know how to repair refrigerators and will do it for less than the cost of a cheap used fridge - let me know.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

File Sharing Season Finale

I snuck some files onto Napster RePublic when you weren't looking, including a big one: our financial projections. Note that the file doesn't say "give us money" anywhere, so all you securities lawyers can still be our friends.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Giant Update, All

Last week was pretty busy. Here's what we did:

-Served an altbier at the pre-Great Taste brewers' dinner.
-Finalized the operating agreement.
-Discussed our plans with Peter of Potter's Crackers.
-Talked with a couple of bakers about baking our own bread.
-Brewed batch #2 of mint porter.
-Finished the rough draft of the business plan.

The altbier turned out decently. The beer was clean and crisply bitter, but I was disappointed in its malt character. When creating recipes, brewers will often use ingredients from each beer's region of origin. For example, German-made malts are typically used to brew Oktoberfests. However, the game changes when you want to use organic ingredients and not be a hypocrite by shipping thousands of pounds of malt halfway around the globe each year. For my pilot batches, I've used entirely Briess malts from nearby Chilton, WI. In general, their malts are clean-flavored and perform well in the brewhouse. So far they've been great for beers where other ingredients provide the dominant flavors, such as pale ales (hops) and Belgian ales (yeast). For beers where malt flavors are the highlight, though, I find them lacking in complexity. A large part of the problem would be solved if Briess produced organic versions of their Pilsen, pale ale and black malts. I may be giving Briess an unfair rap because their malts' subtleties might be overwhelmed by unwanted esters - it's much harder to control fermentation temperature in a home brewery than a commercial brewery. Still, it'll be pretty telling if I see better results with the international malts that I'm about to start using.

A couple months ago (I think), Peter sent me an email saying he was interested in our project and available to talk. I took him up on his offer and he gave me a lot of really good advice. I wanted to introduce him to Jane, so we met again last week. One thing he said was that he'd love to see a brewpub with a menu of light food built around an on-premise bakery. After he left, Jane and I were like "hmmm..." I'd heard that baking is very difficult in a restaurant setting, but our pub won't be a full-blown restaurant. Picture baguettes served with things like garlic butter, cheeses, fruits and sausages. Maybe some sandwiches with veggies or shaved beef and gravy. Whether we hire a baker or buy bread from a local bakery, or whether we use bread as the focus of our menu or simply as a component, I like the idea a lot.

I talked with a couple of bakers last week: Jeff Renner from Ann Arbor, MI and Randy George from Red Hen Baking Co. Jeff bakes small batches of bread in a bakery attached to his house, and is also a well-known homebrewer. Unfortunately, I never got to taste his bread while I lived in Michigan. Randy kept me fed in Vermont with the best bread I've ever eaten: my weekend ritual was to eat half of a seeded baguette with cheese and a pear, then turn the other half into two pizzas (and sometimes turn the pizzas into a delicious grinder). Both people gave me a lot of good advice, but Randy is concerned that we won't be making enough bread to justify building a bakery. We're still talking via email and I'm really interested in what else he'll have to say.

Mint porter #2 has about twice as much mint, 1/4 as much hops and about 1/3 more specialty malt than batch #1. I added the mint earlier in the boil and the beer tasted pretty good out of the kettle, which is rare. It was very dessert-like. This batch is going into bottles instead of a keg because I'm going to give a case to Matt, the aspiring hop grower we met last month. I think it's funny that he'll be getting a beer with almost no hops in it, but his girlfriend - a professional baker, mwahaha - wanted something dark to go with a rye bread.

I don't want to talk about the business plan. The rough draft is done, but we need to do a lot more research to clean it up. Industry numbers are nice for making financial projections, but writing the plan made me realize that we don't really have a plan for anything besides the beer. What kinds of food and other beverages will we serve? What will the place look and feel like? How will we hire, train and retain employees? What exactly is the competitive landscape we'll be entering, and how will we fit into it? How will we say things that we know intuitively - e.g. organic beer is a good fit for neighborhood X - without resorting to stereotypes? I'm feeling sort of overwhelmed, but I'm happy with the progress we've made in the last week.

To do next week:
-Continue to research baking logistics.
-Define a preliminary menu, wine list and bar inventory.
-Print and sign the operating agreement.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


In a prior update, I said something like "water chemistry will consume me if I work on it outside of lunch." I should have said "water chemistry will consume me if I work on it at all." It needed to be done eventually, but obsessing over it last week was poor prioritizing. The good news is that I'm done with it, and I even fixed the phosphoric acid calculations. As usual, updates are on The Taped Plastic Glasses Fan Club Homepage. The bad news is that I didn't do much with the business plan. A wholesale lack of discipline isn't my only excuse: I had to deal with a shattered car window as well. Jeff finished the operating agreement, and he's waiting for the final stamp of approval from me and Jane.

Today is the only day that I'm in the office. Rachel and I spent last weekend camping and watching Radiohead with my brother and his fiancee. The show was excellent, and we drove home from Ohio yesterday. I'll be spending the rest of the week with my friend Destiny. She's a brewer at Otter Creek, was responsible for most of my social life in Vermont, and has never been to the Great Taste. I'll be back at work on Tuesday and hope to catch up on the business plan by the end of next week.