Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Flip Flops Don't Work in Breweries

I should really know better. I was dragging around this awkwardly shaped rusty mild steel handrails around the brewery to send them to the scrap dealer and I was wearing my flip flops (i.e. thongs). I always wear flip flops because I don't like wearing socks, and it's part of the liberation I get to experience as a brewer. I get to wear flip flops and walk around my brewery and dress like a bum because I can. Anyway, a sharp edge of this rusty piece of crap came across my foot, causing a good deal of blood loss. Actually, it wasn't that bad, but I'll be wearing shoes from here on out. I have a doctors appointment tomorrow to get a tetanus booster shot. I'm not a big fan of shots, but it's better than lockjaw.

I hope this image doesn't show up on a foot fetish website (at least without me getting royalties).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Construction About to Start

Good things have been happening, but I was hoping to have a picture of a pile of concrete to show you by now. The good news is I picked a new contractor after receiving five bids, and I know he's going to do an outstanding job. The plumber is coming by today to lay out the area, and I'm hoping we can get the concrete work started this week.

This is probably a bit on the dry side, and in fact I get a headache when writing about it. Read it if you care, otherwise I'll try to come up with something a bit more entertaining for the next post.

The concrete work entails cutting out around 1100 square feet of concrete in the brewing area and in the sewer line area, removing a foot of soil, placing a 35 foot trench drain, and pouring a foot of sloped, reinforced concrete, along with a 1 foot curb which will act as a containment area (a city requirement). The area where the sewer line is going will be filled in, and then I'll wait 7 to 10 days for the concrete to cure before the urethane flooring can go in. Once the urethane goes in, I can put my tanks where they need to go, and start setting up equipment. The plumber can then install the water and gas to the brewing area (and the four sinks), my welder can get to work on piping together the brewhouse, the electrician can hook up my equipment, and the burner technician can piece together the combustion system for my boil kettle.

While all of this is going on, drywall is going up to form a vestibule around one of my cargo loading doors (a health department requirement), the office will have wood flooring installed, a glycol chiller / structural platform will be built on the roof, every wall will be painted, and all concrete will be sealed. A few miscellaneous items like hooking up a few augers, getting city and health department inspections, and dealing with my own sanity will be involved as well.

Exciting stuff, and I pray to God it all gets done quickly. You and I have been waiting far too long!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Just Checking In

Sorry for the lack of posts lately-- I just got back in town, and have a pile of work to get caught up on. I spent 5 days in Denver at the Great American Beer Festival and checking out nearby breweries (Great Divide, Flying Dog, New Belgium), and had the chance to meet with new and old friends. Rachel enjoyed it as well, but I could tell she's not used to devoting several days to beer.

Then we went off to Manhattan from Saturday til yesterday (Wednesday) to meet up with my parents and my brother and his fiancee. We had great time there. I did visit a few beer bars in the area-- CB Six and Blind Tiger Ale House. My Dad and I went to Spuyten Duyvil to learn they did not open until 5, but did make some very nice purchases at their 'grocery store' (a closet sized store with loads of great, rare beers). Earlier in the day we met with Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, who gave us a private tour and answered all of our questions, most of which were about Local 1, a Belgian-style, bottle conditioned beer they are artfully producing there. Garrett is a great, smart guy, and I thank him for taking the time to show us around.

Next time I'll post some pictures of the tour of New Belgium (incredible place!) and include a bit more about the GABF, but for now it's back to work!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

More Guessing About Launch Dates

Alright already, I should probably not throw out any more opening dates. I don't know what it is with brewery startups-- we have a compulsion to announce dates that in our limited experience seem plausible. Maybe it's a case that if we announce it and believe it, it will actually come true? I'll try to explain what happened, and hopefully you'll understand why you aren't drinking a Saison Rue right now.

On May 22nd, when I initially leased 715 Dunn, I proclaimed The Bruery would start brewing in August and start selling in September. Early on I had an architect that was going to put together the plans, but then shortly after I decided I could draw up the plans on my own and save $5,000 - $10,000 in the process. Strike one. Architects know what they are doing, and I don't. I think I would have saved two months if the architect drew up the plans. What does two months of rent and lost opportunity cost? Probably more than an architect.

On June 27th, I thought I'd be ready to start construction. My plans were put together (or at least I thought they were), and I was ready to get a bid from a contractor I already picked out. Getting just one bid? Strike two.

After I got the bid (or more accurately an estimate because the contractor had no idea how to price out my less than detailed plans), I figured I could get my plans approved by the city over the counter and start construction. I learned the city won't accept the plans until they are approved by the Health Department. Better get my plans into the Health Department, no big deal. Health Department approval is only a formality, as they don't care about breweries-- right? Wrong! Health Department approval takes about 2 months due to my need to negotiate to lessen what they required of me. Strike three (thankfully, this isn't baseball). I learned that you don't negotiate with the health department, at least if you want to get your plans approved. They did make some concessions which will save a bit of money and time, but overall I would be in a better position had I went with the flow.

I finally get my plans approved by the city on September 20th (which takes two weeks, and is not done over the counter), and I'm finally ready to start construction. I eagerly call my contractor, leave a message. Call an hour later, leave another message. Repeat for two days. Finally get a hold of him, and he says how busy he is, and how he'll call me right back. That was two weeks ago, and still no word from him. I've learned enough by now that I probably wouldn't be getting a call back from him, so then I called several contractors for bids.

For the last two weeks, I've been dealing with general contractors and subcontractors in their bidding process. Today, I'm waiting on several bids. I should have all of them by the end of this week, or more accurately, the bids I'll be considering will be in by Friday.

So what needs to happen before The Bruery can open? Construction needs to start. If I pick a general contractor this week, there's a chance they could start next week, but more likely it'll be the following week. Construction will take a minimum of four weeks. The Health Department needs to inspect, and will probably have some changes they'd like to see. Add two weeks. The City needs to inspect, and perhaps there's another change that needs to happen. Add another week. During this time after construction, equipment is installed. Most of the equipment installation will be fairly straight forward, except for the kettle burner system. I can't do much with the direct fire burner system until the kettle is in its proper place, so I'm not sure how long that will take. Let's just say my best guess at this time is it'll be another 8-10 weeks before I can brew the first batch, which would bring me into the first week of December. If that comes true, I think a New Year's Day grand opening party is called for. 2008 is my year!

I've learned a lot going through this, and gained some grey hair and a few inches in the waistline as a result. This is a blog about my experience opening a brewery, so I should state what I would have done differently if I had to go through this experience again. If I could go back in time to May 22nd, I would have done the following:

- Hired an electrician to confirm I had three phase power before I signed the lease.
- Hired a plumber to confirm the sewer depth before I signed the lease.
- Hired an architect to draw up the plans
- Received multiple bids from contractors
- Submitted my plans to the Health Department ASAP even if the plans were not as complete as they should be
- Make the changes the Health Department required without debate
- Overestimate how long things actually take
- Remember that each day I am not open costs $134 in rent ($5.58 an hour!), and much more in lost opportunity. Hiring out is often the less expensive option when you don't have the experience or time to complete that task
- Give a moment to celebrate each achievement, and then move on to the next item on the list
- Don't blame myself or others when it isn't productive

This list could go on, and I'll probably add to it when I learn of other things I should have done and should be doing. I hope this is useful to those of you who share the same dream of opening and running a brewery. It's therapeutic for me to write this and get a better sense for myself of why it is October 3rd and I haven't started construction yet. As for other advice I need to give myself, do as much as you can every day, and remember that everything has a lead time, no matter how small the task seems to be. When the opening of a business is dependent on many things outside of your control, and those with control don't have an incentive to be expedient, don't estimate on how long they will take, and more importantly don't take guesses on when the business will be open. Don't be hard on yourself when your guesses don't come true-- you're doing the best you can.

Thanks for reading this blog and for supporting my dream of running a brewery.