If you want to own a brewery, you have to have a brewery!

A couple of weeks ago, Sonya and I took a quick trip over to Vegas to visit an old friend, Rock Davis. While we were there, I made a command decision to visit a brewpub, since we don't get to do that a lot here in the big city of Lemoore. We chose the "Triple 7" up in old town, right across from Fremont Street. As we made our way from the smoky casino in to the restaurant, the haze parted and there right in front of me were those glorious copper-clad pillars of malt-conversion nirvana that are the hallmark of any brewpub worth it's hops. I immediately started salivating, and grabbed the seat at our table that allowed for the best view of the system. For the next hour-or-so, Sonya and Rock chatted like high school girls and I stared at the brewhouse, fermenters, and brite-tanks like they were my old long-lost friends. Sonya was getting annoyed because she thought I was staring at any one of the lovely ladies in the place - wish it were that simple. I was lusting after that brewery, which appeared to be about a 20 BBL system with 5 fermenters and multiple brite-tanks, all filled with malty-hoppy delight. I was plotting how I might distract the staff while I made out the back with each component, until I realized there was no back door and that I had no 18-wheeler to haul the tanks away with. SIGH...one can dream.

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Sonya and Rock catching up....................................A wall of fermenters taunting me

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Grist hopper (top), Mash Tun, and Brew Kettle in the background

Not surprisingly, a system like the one I saw in Vegas is just a wee bit out of my level of affordability. Just for kicks, I got a few quotes on some larger (for me) systems from various manufacturers, all which confirmed that I will be starting as a Nano and working my way up. Quotes for the minimal-size systems (7-10 BBL) range from $200K - $350K, and that's for pretty much a basic system, with no frills. Looking at the smaller systems (3 BBL), I got quotes that range in $40K - $50K price point. GULP!!! None of these include the bottling/kegging lines or cleaning equipment, nor do they include shipping. It's no wonder that more folks don't get into this business. It's downright oppressive!

I just want to make beer and have others in this area get to appreciate the good stuff. I did receive a quote from the nice folks at SABCO, who are the manufacturers of a slick little system called the "Brew-Magic". It is a fully automated and computerized small brewing system with all the bells and whistles - in essence, a full scale large production system in miniature. It is affordable (at least compared to the big systems) and would certainly work for my needs EXCEPT that you can only brew 10 gallons of beer at a time.

After Roscoe and I put our heads together, we decided that he is a pretty industrious guy and that I have a little bit of money. We think we have the technology and skill to buy all the components and construct the brewery ourselves. For the same amount of money as the Brew-Magic, we can build a larger-capacity (1 BBL - 31 Gallons) - one that has triple the capacity of the Brew-Magic, and with the help of the nice folks at High Gravity Brewing, make this thing work at a reasonable cost. So I have made the decision to purchase a 55 gal electric-element brewery with three 42 gallon fermenters to start. The entire system, which included the pump, three 55 gallon brewhouse vessels, electronic temperature controller, wort chiller, fermenters and all the necessary lines and probes will cost me less than $10,000, and will give us the capacity needed to start our little enterprise. Of course, that still doesn't include the kegs or the keg washing station, but at least I can swallow this cost without too much pain. If for some weird reason, this all goes down the tubes, I will have the best home-brewing system ever and will apply for the monthly "Pimp My System" on the AHA site. Next, how I plan on "breaking-even (at least initially).

Decisions, Decisions... what is my Business Model?

There are two major decisions I have been struggling with as it relates to this grand enterprise. The first is the type of business strategy I want to commit to, which is what this diatribe is about. The second major decision is on the type and size of the brewery that will be used to produce our ales. I will cover that in my next blog.

Obviously, the business model we choose is the proverbial "horse" as it relates to the "cart". All other actions leading to the eventual grand opening of Shire Station Brewing Company directly relate to this strategy. Until recently, I had been standing at a major fork in the road; one that led to either a full-blown brew-pub, which is a brewery in combination with a restaurant, or to a nano-brewery (small-scale full production brewery with a small tasting room). For many years, I had it stuck in my head that the brewpub was the only method that would produce success, but with the advent (and success) of the nano-brewery concept, my "traditional" way of thinking has been realigned. Understand that I am not smart enough to venture into this uncharted world alone nor am I creative enough to have come up with this model without observing others forge the path. It is people like Dan Woodske of Beaver Brewing Company in Beaver Falls, PA, Mike Hess of San Diego's Hess Brewery, and Sam & Rob Dufau of Two Kids Brewing (also in San Diego) who all have a passion for brewing and are creative enough to find a way to make their passion their business. Cheers to them and to all who are like them in their pioneering efforts.

I have been brewing my own beer since 1996, and dreaming of going pro since about that time. I soak up any articles, blogs, and books on anything related to beer and the brewing industry that I can. Several times I have thrown together a business plan for a brewpub, only to be thwarted by the high start-up costs and the reality of having to dedicate the entirety of my professional life to the enterprise while, at the same time throwing away my (and my families) financial security. Every time I have ever thought of starting small, I think about the "conventional" brewing community mindset that says that a small-scale brewery can't possibly be profitable - that it is a guaranteed recipe for failure. Talk about a buzz kill! Here is what I have discovered from those who have tried this before me...

1. A Nano, if viewed as a stepping stone to an eventual larger business, makes sense from a start-up cost perspective. It will determine if you have the "chops" to make a go at it before you put other folks hard-earned money at risk.
2. If you have a "day job" and can suck it up for a few years, breaking even is an acceptable strategy for the short term. Add to that the willingness to put in some very long hours, combine it with a die-hard entrepreneurial spirit, and you might yet achieve the vision.
3. Working out the kinks when there is little at risk (but your own input) is worth its weight in gold. Best case - I find out that my intended market is thirsting for the best craft beer known to man and I end up not being able to keep up with demand. Worst case, I end up with a totally kick-ass home brewing system, the likes of which I probably would have invested in anyway.

I get that my brewing company will never make money with a 1 BBL brewing system. At this point, I just want to get in the market and discover if my beer, which I think is fabulous, will satisfy the "thirst" of my target market. I don't think anyone ever goes into business thinking they will fail, but it's nice to know if you have a shot before investing half-a-mil into a venture.

Nano it is. Bring on the system...

Our Logo

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I had our logo professionally designed by a company called Logo Design Pros (www.logodesignpros.com). I have used this company before for the design of our "Fitness Solutions" and "Tally-Ho Carriage" company logos and I have been very pleased with their response times, as well as their willingness to go through multiple iterations to satisfy me. They offer several levels of online service and several different packages - I used the most basic (called basic logo package) in each case, which happened to provide three logo design concepts by two different designers and cost $95. I checked this morning and the package price is still the same.

Although I am fairly proficient in the use of Intaglio (a graphic arts program) and Photoshop, I always felt that turning this business aspect over to the professionals was in the best interest of our businesses. I didn't feel that the $95 spent was too much to get a professional look. Not only do you end up with a snappy logo, but they get it to you in a multitude of formats. Bottom line...Sonya and I are very satisfied with the results - it was money well spent.

Our logo means something to us. It took about 10 iterations to get it to this point. I made the mistake of not getting Sonya in on it from the start (it was going to be a surprise). After about five edits on the original design, I proudly presented it to her and she did not have quite the enthusiastic response that I expected. It pissed me off, but I have to admit that, as always, our collaborative effort usually ends up in a better product. I went back to the drawing board. We added the Shire horse emblem from her first carriage company (Stillwater Shires) in Nevada to symbolize the beginning of Sonya's entrepreneurial plunge, the Texas star on top of the logo to make it western (which will be our eventual tasting room theme), and the barley surrounding the horseshoe to highlight the fact that we actually use barley in our beer (poke at the large American light-lager manufacturers intended). Then there is the horseshoe. We have shown the logo to many folks, and some have commented that the horseshoe is traditionally turned the other way so that the luck is held in. We have two comments about that...
1. We don't want to depend on luck. We feel that we can make a go of this using our business experience and passions as a foundation. Those who depend on luck are doomed to mediocrity.
2. Let's face it, a little bit of luck DOES help...so, when you pour a beer into a glass (which is a beer bottle's natural state), the horseshoe will be facing up. There...LUCK!

Brew Day

Why is it that I bound out of bed in the morning when the yeast starter is on the stir plate and the grain has been measured and at room temperature? I have the same feeling at 50 years old on a brew day as I did when I was 13 and headed for a day at the little league field. It's what I love to do. We are conducting a dual brew in the "brewery" today. I will be brewing the Wonder Star Pale Ale and Roscoe (my faithful sidekick) will be brewing up a new recipe that is a moose-Drool clone.

A Beginning...

Wow...another labor of love defined. I have spent way too much time designing this website, which for those who have never done it, is wrought with tedium, repetition, and attention to detail. I could have been in the garage brewing more beer, but I wanted to establish the foundation for the vision my wife and I have of transforming both our passions (me-beer; her-horses) into a joint venture that should someday soon result in a nano-brewery in the Lemoore metropolitan area. I am going to use this website as motivation to keep the nose to the grindstone and keep progressing down timeline. I don't want ten more years to go by where we talk about doing this "someday". Someday is today. Stay tuned as I document the process in this journal.