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.


Megan Coleman said...

Nice work this week! The bakery idea is very interesting. I like it!

Joe said...

Thank you!

Matt Lange said...

I think the bakery idea would be PERFECT for a brew pub. I'm thinking British style ploughman's lunch: a big piece of crusty bread, a chunk or two of cheese and a little salad. Great accompaniment for a pint of beer, and would be even better with fresh bread baked on site! Hope it works out.

Joe said...

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!