Status Update

It’s been a while since I last posted an update ... far too long. It’s not that we have stagnated; rather, we have just been busy. We have continued to brew on a regular basis and have added environmental control to the brewery. Fencing has gone up, horse enclosures perfected, solar power installed, and a new HVAC system in the ranch house. Our Guest cottage is now officially in business with AirBNB and Sonya/Brandie have been working diligently on our event venue.

Check out our listing at https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16014075 and spread the word.

We have also submitted our application to the TTB (Feds), which will allow us to legally sell and distribute our beer. Aside from the State Liquor License, this is one of the major hurdles on the licensing path. I tell folks who are interested that it is like filling out a request for a security clearance (x4) combined with applying for a mortgage. The TTB has made the process a bit easier by providing a fairly user-friendly online application, but it is still painful. It will be good to have that in the rear-view mirror!

Brewery and Tasting Room Design

When I took an architecture class in eighth grade, I never thought the training would amount to much. Back then, we used actual drafting boards, tape, pencils, t-square & triangle, and a pink eraser called a “pink pearl”. The whole classroom smelled like rubber cement and eraser dust, but it was pretty cool. These days, all design work is done on the computer using CAD (computer aided design) software - which sure makes things a lot easier, and a lot less messy. I didn’t spend a whole lot of money buying a fancy CAD program as I wasn’t really planning on using my drawings to actually submit - more as just a starting point for the real draftsman to refine. The software I used for my initial drawings is called Intaglio (for Mac) and is just a general drawing program - nothing too extravagant. The draft drawings I made are going to go through many iterations before we finally settle on a final design - but hey, it’s a point from which to deviate. The brewery and tasting room has to house the brewery (duh), a fermentation room (temperature controlled), and a cold room (for lagering and serving), and a tasting room. We need as much storage as we can possibly cram in, as well as an office for all the behind-the-scenes admin work that needs to occur. Additionally, and this is where a pro comes in, we need to be compliant with all the regulatory requirements for operating a business in Kings County, CA, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.


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Initial Floorpan Design

This is the initial design we came up with. It’s a small as we could make it and still meet all our requirements (or so we thought). We want to keep it simple and cost-effective to build, since Roscoe and I will likely be doing the majority of the work ourselves.

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Initial Cut at Front and Rear Elevations

We have hired a professional draftsman (and former county inspector) to guide us through the design and permitting process. I’m sure things will change as he educates us on the requirements for compliance with the county in order to get our building permit and our conditional use permit. We’ll update this blog when we decide on the final design.

The Brewery is Complete!

We have completed the actual brewery build. It has been an eight-month process from the time the controller kit was ordered to the final bit of assembly on the heat-exchanger but we are now ready for testing.
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The testing process will happen in my garage, where we will power up the control box (shown above) and work it through it's paces.
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We will then conduct test brews with water only to check the overall integrity of the system and to check if all the components are working correctly. All we need now is a power source. That will hopefully be wired in this week. Can't wait to crank this baby up!

Our First Component

A brewery is born! You have to start somewhere. We are starting with the nerve center of our future 55 gal (net 1 BBL) set-up - the electronic controller. Shire Station has purchased the large (>30 gallon) electronic controller kit from The Electric Brewery. This controller will allow us to better control all the variables in the brewing process and will transform us from rag-tag home brewers to a professional outfit. I estimate that it will take us some time to build this panel, but doing so will better allow for repairs in the future. Plus Roscoe loves dinking with electronics.

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The guts of our control panel

The good folks at the Electric Brewery have supplied all the parts and the instructions to make this beautiful (and functional) control panel and we are grateful to them. Once completed, we will be able to program, set and hold accurate mash schedules of time and temperatures and perform step infusions as required. Also, the controller activates the two system pumps for movement of wort and water. No more back-breaking lifting of hot kettles and coolers! Can't wait to get this and start the build...

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What our controller will look like when complete

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...