Friday, March 23, 2007

Cheers to Phil!

Earlier this week I eMailed Phil Sutton, President / Brewer for Skyscraper Brewing Co., if I could come to his brewery and spend some time with him looking over my budget and ask him a bunch of questions. Phil gladly obliged, and I went over there yesterday. He helped me out a ton. I'm fairly clueless when it comes to a lot of what it takes to open a brewery, and Phil has done a great job with putting together Skyscraper.

It's been said before ad nauseum by others, but craft brewers really are very helpful to one another. They don't see each other as competition, but rather as partners in a common goal, and most would like to see other craft brewers succeed. I hope the industry stays this way-- I know I'll do my share when I have something to contribute.

Thank you Phil for your help!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fermenters: New or Old?

EDIT (5/26/09): If you have any questions on fermenters (new vs. old), please eMail me (  I ended up haggling for a better price on the used fermenters and purchased those, which have worked fine for us but obviously aren't ideal.  We've also purchased new fermenters from Premier Stainless, which I recommend.


While I'm trying to find a location for my brewery's home, I'm also locating the equipment I need and making sure it will be available when I need it. I've already found my brewhouse, so need to put everything else together. Fermenters are the next most important piece of the puzzle.

I don't know if I've mentioned this yet, but I'm running on a tight budget. If I told you how much, you'd probably give me advice I don't want to hear. You might stop reading this blog. I won't mention the actual amount now, but be assured it is not enough by most brewer's standards. On paper it works, but it requires a great deal of time and luck in finding deals out there. Much of what I'll be posting on this blog is my attempts to find deals on equipment and the place I'll be operating from.

A few weeks ago I drove up to Northern California (about a 7 hour drive) to look at used fermenters. I hadn't seen any pictures before driving up to see them, and was told these were going to be sold fast so I should take a look ASAP. They were priced very well, and for good reason I found out. They were not glycol jacketed on the cone, may not hold pressure, didn't have a 60 degree cone, had a major buildup of minerals (beer stone) on the inside, didn't have a Clean-In-Place (CIP) system, and seemed to be difficult to clean manually, as there were multiple rings of brown krausen indicating that many batches went by without a good cleaning.

I drove home the same day, and resolved that they were the best I could afford. Driving for 14 hours in a day can affect your judgement and morale. My thoughts were "I'm a startup, and I can't afford to spend the money on good equipment. I can make these work, and I can do so better than the previous owner."

The next day looked at the pictures I took of the equipment, and I saw more problems. Scratches that weren't visible under normal light appeared with the help of the flash of my camera. I had to look elsewhere for fermenters.

A friend of mine, Curt Dale from Dale Brothers Brewing bought a system from Pacific Brewing System Technologies (or PBST) and is very pleased with the craftsmanship, so I decided to give them a chance. PBST is owned by Frank Ma, who lives in Southern California and runs a stainless steel manufacturing plant in China. He has a reputation for pricing under what other equipment manufacturers quote, including other Chinese manufacturers. I met with him and looked at Curt's system, and I'm very impressed with his new fermenters. They have all of the features that other equipment manufacturers offer on new equipment, and the quality is excellent. If I were to get the same size as the used fermenters I was looking at, they would be much more expensive, but if I scale up the size of the fermenters to double or triple batch size, they become more affordable than the used fermenters.

The disadvantage of them is that there is no official warranty on them, so there is some risk. However, the used fermenters don't come with a warranty either, so it's a wash in that department. Others in the brewery equipment manufacturing industry have knocked Frank's equipment, saying it's not 304 stainless steel and the craftsmanship is poor.

From what I've seen, the craftsmanship is not poor. As far as it not being 304 stainless steel, I don't think Frank would survive in this business if he is selling equipment claiming to be 304 stainless when it isn't. I've spoken with brewers who have been using Frank's equipment for some time, and they are very pleased with it and have bought more equipment from him.

My take is that those who have negative things to say about PBST are trying to sell me equipment, and they are assuming that I'm looking at buying from PBST. They offer similar equipment for a higher price, and they are willing to warranty the equipment for a year or so. It seems that they are threatened by Frank and his ability to price himself lower than everyone else. Other dealers of Chinese brewing equipment are just that, dealers. They contract out the manufacturing to the outside, rather than manufacturing it themselves. There's an extra layer of expenses that have to be tacked on.

When it comes down to it, I trust Frank's new equipment much more than the used fermenters built almost 20 years ago. Frank is looking to build a reputation among American brewers, not to make a quick buck. If he wanted to make a quick buck, he should charge more!

I haven't ordered the fermenters yet, as I'm waiting to find a location first and make sure I have enough ceiling clearance for 60 bbl fermenters. If some great used fermenters come on the market in the meantime, I'd consider those over new ones. However, the used equipment market is very dry right now, presumably because there's a lot of growth in the craft brewing industry, so it's doubtful I'm going to find what I'm looking for unless I buy new.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Branding and Packaging

Have you ever bought a beer not knowing anything about it, but you had to buy it because of the way the bottle and label looked? Perhaps the wording on the beer was a big part of your decision to buy the beer (like Arrogant Bastard*), or there was an ingredient that appealed to you?

I hate to admit it, but when it comes to the success of selling a beer in the marketplace, the marketing of a beer is as important, and sometimes more important, than the quality of the beer itself. I'm excited about the branding and marketing of my beers because this is one way of connecting myself with my customers. At the same time, I am reluctant to brand my beers in a way that maximizes appeal for the sake of maximizing appeal. I want the branding to be as authentic as the beer itself.

I've been disappointed many times when I buy a beer based on the branding. Yes, I'm a sucker for great packaging. When I buy beers, I think of it as a complete package-- if the way it looks on the outside is great, then the beer should be great as well. This is often not the case. On the opposite end, there are some fantastic beers with terrible packaging, and I have devalued the beer inside because the packaging set a low expectation.

I want the branding of my beer to be a reflection of the goals I hope to achieve for the beer itself-- quality, uniqueness, and value. The branding should give the first impression that this is a beer worth having in that it is very well made, it is unlike any other beer out there, perhaps it even sets a benchmark of a certain style. I want the packaging to be an indicator of quality and uniqueness, but I want to do so in a way where the cost of the packaging is not the reason why this beer is priced at a premium.

When I buy what looks to be an interesting beer (from a packaging standpoint), I also consider the cost of the packaging versus the cost of the beer inside before I buy. I don't buy beer for the packaging, I buy it for the experience of the beer. Even though packaging is part of the experience, I'm of the opinion that if the beer can be priced a bit lower because of less costly packaging choices, I'd like to package my beers with value in mind and pass along the savings.

Cans are now becoming very popular in the craft brewing scene, and for good reason. They are lightweight, are allowed in places like golf courses, sporting venues, and the beach (sort of), places where glass containers are unacceptable. Despite the high cost of aluminum, they are also an economical choice. As of this moment, I don't foresee The Bruery using cans, but I do see a lot of good reasons to package some beers this way.

My friend Gil (BeerAdvocate Handle: SwillinBrew) generously gave me a can of Furious from Surly Brewing, a fantastic IPA brewed in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, near the Twin Cities. The packaging surprised me at the time, it was in a perfectly sized 16 oz. can, and the top of the can stated "Beer from a can, for a glass". That states it perfectly-- this is not Miller High Life, pour it into a glass, damnit! The packaging demonstrated that this is a quality beer, and at the same time showed that the beer inside is more important than the container it comes in.

On the other end of the packaging spectrum, Belgian (and Belgian-style) brewers have been known for packaging into 750 mL champagne style bottled, either capped or mushroom corked with a wire cage. This is perhaps the most impressive and elegant presentation of beer today. If I was invited over to a friend's house for dinner, and wanted to bring the ubiquitous bottle of wine beer as a gift, I'd be more likely to bring over a bottle of Allagash Curieux than a four pack of Surly Furious. Even though both are fantastically great beers, I think the packaging that Allagash has chosen projects the image that this beer is on a level playing field with wine. I know I'd rather be given a bottle of Curieux than a bottle of wine!

I know we'll be packaging into 750 mL bottles, however I'm still deciding the shape of the bottle (champagne style or Belgian beer style) and whether it is capped or corked. The corked Belgian beer style bottle is surprisingly much less expensive than the champagne style bottle, so this is what I'm leaning towards, even though my preference is for the brown champagne-style bottles. Perhaps I'll use both, the less expensive bottle for beers that should be priced economically, and the more expensive champagne style bottles for when the beer is pure decadence, the bottle would have a lesser impact on price. The advantage of many champagne style bottles is they can be corked or capped. While the cork is nice, it is traditionally used for Belgian-style beers, and could lead to some confusion if I used for non-Belgian-style beers.

Wouldn't it be wild if I packaged in both the fancy 750 mL bottle and the lowly aluminum can? The can would be great for packaging hoppier, non-bottle conditioned beers, while the 750 mL bottle would be great for bottle conditioned beers meant to age. I don't think the budget can afford two different approaches to packaging right now, but it's something to think about down the line.

* I'm not knocking Arrogant Bastard, I think it's a great beer. However, I do believe the marketing has a huge impact on how popular that beer is.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Styles of beer: Saison

One of the biggest questions that keep me up at night is "What beers am I going to brew?" This seems like an easy decision to some-- brew a pale ale, an amber ale, and something light to appeal to those who don't like beer. Brew an IPA for the beer geeks. This doesn't work for me though; I'm looking to start a brewery that does not offer the standard, go-to beer styles, but at the same time I want my beers to have great appeal and success in the marketplace. I am a beer geek at heart-- I'm not going to brew something just because it'll sell.

My first thought is to make a saison. The saison is a versatile style, a style that covers many styles. When I think of saison I'd want to brew, I think of a saison in the model of Saison Dupont Vieille Provision or Fantome Saison-- a dark golden, spicy, complex, dry, effervescent beer with a rocky head. This is a beer style that could appeal to the most serious of beer geeks and those who only drink beer on the warmest of summer days. Most saisons made today are moderately high in alcohol, from 6% to about 9% by volume. The best examples I find are in the 6.5 - 7% ABV range, as they are thirst quenching and still sneakingly potent.

If I brewed a saison, I wouldn't exactly be a pioneer of this style as far as American brewing is concerned. There's quite a few breweries producing this style in small quantities as a seasonal. The Lost Abbey and Ommegang are the only breweries I know of in the U.S. that brew a saison year round (Red Barn and Hennepin, respectively). I do think it would set me apart, especially if it is the beer I intend it to be.

From time to time, I'll post about the other beers I'd like to brew. I think you'll find there won't be a whole lot of consistency in the types of beers I'll be producing-- they won't all be Belgian styles, and many won't adhere to styles. I love drinking IPA's, sour beers, pilseners-- I'd be better off telling you the styles I don't like than the ones I do. It is important to me that I brew beers I'll enjoy drinking on a regular basis.

I admire Jolly Pumpkin a great deal in that they brew extraordinary, unique beers and their sense of self comes from being out of the ordinary. I also admire Russian River because they are able to brew just about any style of beer and it doesn't dilute their reputation as a great American Wild Beer brewer or as a brewery that makes some of the best hoppy beers available. Both breweries have proven that as long as the beer is excellent, the beer will sell.

To me, success as a brewer would be to be thought of in the same vein as these excellent brewers.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Vote for me!

Not entirely related to starting up a brewery, I'm a candidate for the American Homebrewers Association Governing Committee. The Governing Committee acts like a board of directors for the AHA, and it would be a huge honor to be a member of it. I'm up against a group of great homebrewers and leaders, but there's four spots open and ten candidates, so my chances could be worse. If you're an AHA member, and think I'd be a good fit, please vote for me!

Vote by April 2nd:

My personal statement (also on

Like most AHA members and unlike most of the other candidates, I am not a celebrity brewer. I'm not a Brewcaster™, I haven't written any books, and I don't have a single brewing-related invention to my name. If you recognize my name, you're probably mistaken. Despite my lack of notoriety, I would be an excellent addition to the AHA Governing Committee. Beer is an important part of my life. I homebrew four batches per month, and I am currently pursuing my dream of opening a craft brewery in Southern California. I am an experienced leader as Vice President of my homebrew club BrewCommune, and I am also a BJCP Certified Judge. As for general qualities, I am an extremely organized, analytical, motivated person. I've been told I am an excellent communicator. Also somewhat related to beer, I am a recent law school graduate. As you might imagine, I drank a lot beer to get through it! During this experience, homebrewing was a source of joy, comfort and most importantly a diversion from the drudgery of law school. Once I graduated, it was all too apparent that my calling in life is as a brewer.
Regardless, I believe my legal experience would be helpful in achieving several goals I'd like to pursue as a member of the AHA Governing Committee. If elected, I would use my position to advocate the change of arbitrary laws at the state level that hinder homebrewing and the appreciation of craft beer. As an organization that represents a significant population of craft beer enthusiasts, the AHA is in the perfect position to be a catalyst for such important changes. I am also very interested in assisting with expanding the AHA Pub Discount Program, the National Homebrew Competition, or anything that supports the AHA.

I believe homebrewing to be the main source of innovation in craft beer, and I plan to devote my life to furthering it, whether I am elected to the AHA Governing Committee or not. It would be my sincere honor and pleasure to serve you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Looking for a location, deciding on equipment

I'm currently looking for a location to house the brewery. I'm limiting my search to Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Fullerton and Lake Forest for the time being as they seem to be the most agreeable with having a brewery in their city. I'm looking at industrial 'warehouse'-type properties in the 2000 s.f. to 3500 s.f. range with minimal office space. One of my hurdles is finding a place with floor drains already installed. The budget I have set out doesn't allow too much leeway in terms of tenant improvements, so I'm hoping to get lucky and find a place where only minimal improvements are needed. If you have any ideas, please post 'em!

As for equipment, I've found my brewhouse. It is a 20 hL brewery previously used by Mendocino Brewery, I believe in their Hopland brewpub. It's fairly old and manual, but it was priced well and I think it'll make great beer. It is simple and I'll be able to claim that I'm exercising while brewing on it, because that will be the case! It includes the mashtun, kettle, and whirlpool, so I'll have to piece everything else together.

The plan is to brew the first batch in September. That would require me being able to move into a place by May, so I hope to find something soon.

The picture of the mashtun with the kettle and whirlpool behind it. Glamorous? Not now, but it will be!

Next time, I'll post about the beers I hope to brew in September.

Coming up with a name

The name of the brewery ("The Bruery") is not exactly self explanatory, but it might as well be. My last name is Rue, and I wanted a name that is distinctive, hard to forget, but still simple. So I incorporated "Rue" into "Brewery", and came up with "Bruery". It doesn't sound right without "The" in front of it, so it's "The Bruery". Wish I had a better story to share, but that's it! When I was homebrewing, my home brewery was named "The Bruery". It sounded odd at first, but it grew on me. I don't think I could call my craft brewery anything else.

As for how it's pronounced, I pronounce it like it reads (brew-ry), not like brew-ery. I don't really care how you pronounce it though, as long as you enjoy the beer.

The names of my beers won't follow this model of naming. I want them to have their own identity, but also be recognizable as a product of The Bruery.

Enough of this for now. Thanks for reading, by the way.