Thursday, April 30, 2009

What is a Restaurant?

A few days ago, Jason from WKOW's Brew News weblog asked me what I thought of the brewpub bill. After unloading my usual tirade about its injustices, my lawyer asked me "where is this 50% food/beer thing coming from?" Oh, that's easy. I'll just pull up the Wisconsin statutes and run a quick search... where the @#$% did it go!? I was under the impression that if you wanted to open a restaurant in Wisconsin, alcohol could account for no more than 50% of your total sales. That doesn't seem to be the case, which I confirmed by calling the Department of Health Services. The woman on the phone sounded offended that I was asking about alcohol and directed me to the Department of Revenue, which has nothing to do with restaurant permits. So here's what the brewpub law really says about food sales:

-A brewery can't sell food at all.
-A brewpub must sell food, but the amount isn't specified.

This realization makes me hate the brewpub law a lot less. I still hate it, but the alcohol sales restriction is a Madison issue. As far as I can tell, receiving a Food and Drink license from the city doesn't depend on alcohol sales. However, the city's alcohol ordinances (item 38 at this website) define a restaurant as having alcohol sales that account for no more than 50% of gross receipts. Using that definition, as well as an additional definition of "bona fide restaurant", the city makes liquor license approval much easier for establishments that sell a lot of food.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lautering Efficiency

Ever wonder why your brewhouse efficiency decreases as your target gravity increases? It's because you're leaving extract in your lauter tun. The following graph approximates the lautering process for 500 lbs of grain with a continuous sparge:

The chart shows that the same grainbill can be used to make about 15 barrels of Bitter, 8 barrels of IPA or 4 barrels of Barleywine. The areas beneath the curve and to the right of each mark represent the amounts of extract that don't make it to the kettle. No matter how strong or weak of a beer you're making, the mashing and lautering processes don't change very much. The only major difference is how much wort you collect from a given amount of grain.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pursuit of Information

Jane and I will be spending next week in Boston for the Craft Brewers Conference. Last year's event was well worth attending and indirectly saved RePublic about $8K in legal fees (for a private placement memorandum). I don't expect the trip to pay for itself this year, but Jane and I should benefit from having narrower objectives this time around. Continuing my drinking sabbatical at the conference will be pretty awkward*, but it'll be a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.

I forgot to talk about the Midwest Hop Production Workshop I attended last month. In short, the information was solid and the turnout was much larger than I expected. A lot of Midwest farmers are interested in growing hops! Gorst Valley Hops is planning on hosting a second workshop on May 30th. Visit their website for more info.

*If Rachel can convince me that it won't bother her at all if I drink at the conference, I may indulge. Words won't be enough, though. I'm fluent at reading her nonverbal cues.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hard Work: a Trivialization

My friend Scott shared this on Google Reader yesterday:

Study Finds Business Plans a Waste of Time

The golden nugget of wisdom: "Social connections trump business plans by a long shot". Boy howdy, can I attest to that. It makes me hope that the commenters' claims (about venture capitalists falling on hard times because they don't read business plans) are true.

The concept of networking is completely abstract to me. Essentially, two people create a relationship of little substance so they can trade business favors. It's absolutely nothing like genuine friendship, and realizing that Jane and I will either have to play the game or fail at raising money is somewhat soul-crushing. It reminds me of the Radiohead song "Paranoid Android". The fact that it's illegal for me to publicly advertise my investment offering is immensely frustrating. Is networking much different, aside from being less efficient?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Designing Session Beers

Low-alcohol beers that are suitable for extended drinking sessions, i.e. session beers, are challenging to brew. Their reduced grain usage makes them prone to wateriness. They're easy to overpower with hops, fermentation flavors and carbonation. Their shelf lives are short and their low levels of alcohol make them easy targets for contaminating microorganisms*.

It's become conventional wisdom in the U.S. that brewers should decrease the wateriness of session beers by mashing (mixing the grain and water) at higher temperatures. Doing so increases the ratio of unfermentable sugars to fermentable sugars, which results in higher final gravities, but I disagree that it's a good way to build body in session beers. I don't want to get into heavy brewing geekery here, so I'll keep my reason simple: I've never brewed a wonderful session beer by doing so. For me, high mash temperatures always lead to a syrupy viscosity that reduces drinkability without making the beers more interesting.

The best session beer I've made, by far, was my first batch of House Ale. I intended to follow the "mash high" advice of my peers, but I accidentally mashed at a slightly lower temperature. However, because I had recently switched base malts, the beer was also stronger than I was shooting for (4.2% abv instead of 3.5%). How much did each variable influence the beer's deliciousness? We may never know.

For my second batch of House Ale, I reduced my grain usage and mashed at the designed high temperature. I hit the target alcohol content and the beer tasted ok, but it wasn't nearly as excellent as its predecessor. A syrupy character was present, as were watery undertones, and the beer didn't invite me to drink more.

I'll be brewing House Ale #3 on Friday, and I'm going to mash at a medium temperature this time around. I reduced the amount of caramel malts in the recipe and added a bunch of Munich malt, which I believe will increase the malty backbone more than a high mash temperature. Stay tuned to find out how it works!

In other news, the Chocolate Porter turned out very nice. It's flavorful and has a light body, but it's not watery at all. It has a relatively low alcohol content (4.8% abv), but I wouldn't consider it a session beer. It'll be tough to decide whether the Chocolate Porter or the Cardamom Coffee Stout will be the pub's year-round dark beer.

*I'm talking about organisms that can ruin a beer's flavor, not make you sick. No known pathogens can grow in beer because the pH is too low and the alcohol content is too high (even in session beers).

Monday, April 6, 2009

Napoleon Complex

I totally have it. I don't pick fights or put giant tires on my Dodge Stratus, but I do have a vague suspicion that people would take me more seriously if I were six inches taller. Fellow "Underachievers", do you feel the same way? Tall people, is it sort of surreal to have adult conversations with your gravitationally-enhanced peers?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sense of Urgency

Jane and I recently met with a banker to talk about loans. We already knew that a Small Business Administration (SBA) guaranty would probably be required, and that it would take a while for the government to process our loan application. What we didn't know was that we'll need to be sufficiently funded, and have a location picked out, before we apply.

According to the SBA, banks typically like to see equity account for at least 25% of financing. That means if our expected startup cost is $800K, Jane and I will need to come up with $200K before we can apply for an SBA loan.

Location-wise, we won't be able to sign a lease until we've received a loan. We'll definitely need to have a place picked out, though, and have it thoroughly inspected (with the help of our trusty architectural team) so we'll be able to claim a specific renovation expense instead of a broad range.

To meet our goal of being fully capitalized by the end of May, Jane and I have a lot of work to do. The SBA can process a loan application in two weeks, but they're swamped with applications right now. Hopefully we'll be able to raise enough investment capital and choose a location by the end of this month, and hopefully the following month will be enough time for the SBA to make a decision. At least we picked a suitable political climate for audacious hope.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What Kind of Smoke?

When I first caught wind of The Brewpub Bill in July of 2007, I emailed my state senator (Mark Miller) to outline some of the proposal's consequences and request that he withdraw his support. Four months later, I received the following email:

Thank you for your email. I appreciate your patience. It is my understanding the new law change included in the state budget will allow an establishment like the one you describe – no food requirement. You may want to consider opening as a brewer, rather than a brew pub. There are higher limits on the amount of beer you can sell. I look forward to hearing about your opening.

In my opinion, it said "thank you but F you." I replied to say that I was disgusted with the legislative process but would rather move forward than make enemies.

Last month, I emailed Senator Miller to voice my support of a statewide smoking ban* but urge him to reject any state budget that contains non-budgetary items (such as a smoking ban). The point of my email was "I'd like to see a statewide ban, but let's give it a proper approval process instead of taking the path of least resistance." Yesterday, I received a typed letter from his office that essentially said this:

Thank you for your support of a statewide smoking ban. Tobacco causes a bunch of problems. Governor Doyle included a smoking ban in his budget proposal. I support a statewide smoking ban.

Umm... ok. May I hit that bong, senator?

*While I enjoy the lack of smoke in taverns and recognize that second-hand smoke is a public health concern, I'm not entirely sold on smoking bans. In fact, I'd love to exploit an unregulated market by opening a smoke-free brewpub. The reason I support a statewide ban is because it's less unfair than municipal bans, which already exist and aren't going away.