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Posts Tagged ‘new belgium’

I brewed a lot of beer this week. Or at least saw a lot of it being brewed. About 900 barrels worth.

Pam the Dirty Blonde. First batch of the week.

Sunday, I worked at Beer at Home, and afterward I brewed Pam, the dirty blonde.

Monday, I woke up at 5 am and arrived at Strange brewing at 6. Tim, one of the co-founders, agreed to let me watch him and help out. His partner was out of town, so I ended up getting to help quite a bit. The system at Strange is a Blichmann B3, with some big 50 gallon kettles. They have a few different sized fermenting tanks, the biggest of which is 3 barrels.

The first batch we brewed was a pale ale for a pro-am competition. The am side of it was there to help out as well. We also brewed the first of three batches for Strange’s Pale Ale. While things were heating, cooling, boiling, or mashing, we got some other tasks done as well. We cleaned some tanks, filled kegs, and generally cleaned things up. The day started at 6am, and I got home at 7pm.

I didn’t have anything lined up for Tuesday, so I went back to Strange, and brought Kell with me. As we were just brewing, the day started a little later, at 7. We brewed 2 batches of the Pale Ale, cleaned some kegs, and worked on the glycol system. The day ended around 5.

Only picture I took at Strange. mmmm

Strange was a great experience. In my post about size, I was considering the small 1/2 bbl system. We worked our asses off with Tim, mashing in, cleaning tanks and tuns, getting hops in on time, transferring beer, cooling things off, etc. It’s amazing what Tim and Strange Brewing are doing over there, and it helped me understand even more why I want Mad Haven to be at least 5-7 barrels, if not bigger.

The experience was great, and I plan to help out Strange whenever I can. If you haven’t been over there yet, go check it out. Their tasting room is open 3:30ish to 8ish, Wednesday – Saturday. And they have growlers! Check them out – 1330 Zuni, Unit M – strangebrewingco.com.

Wednesday I woke up at an ungodly hour. I’ve seen 3:59 am many times, but very rarely at the start of my day.

Missile Silo. Wait... those are New Belgium's tanks.

I drove to Fort Collins to visit New Belgium Brewing. You may have heard of them.

By this point, my feet were killing me. I’ve been working a desk job for a few years now, so standing on concrete for a few days straight… ya, excuses. Anyway, I was excited for New Belgium, but my feet were not.

Good thing their system is completely automated. 99% or so. It was quite the experience.

I met Bo outside at 6am, and he gave me the best tour of New Belgium ever. Over the next 8 hours, I saw just about every valve in the place. And there are a lot of them. Bo said they have about 8 miles of stainless steel pipes there.

Super Sack of grains. About a ton.

What an impressive place. The system itself was pretty much not applicable at all to my plans. I don’t know if Mad Haven will ever be in the same order of magnitude as New Belgium, at least in terms of scale. I don’t know if I want it to be. But it was cool to see. They have a computer system that manages every action in the brewing process. From blowing in the grain to cooling down the wort, there’s a screen and a button, and a brewer to push it. They were brewing about 900 barrels of Hoptober on Wednesday. I got there as the first batch was just about done, and left as the 8th batch was being blown in. Ridiculously efficient. 8 hours, and we touched 8 batches.

Their equipment helps with this. They have a Merlin kettle. It has an upside cone shape at the bottom of the kettle. Wort is pushed in at the top, and it slides all around the cone. It is flash boiled there, coming to boil on contact. Imagine boiling a quart of water vs. just the water on the bottom of the pot. It’s like that. But hotter. It’s so hot and such a violent boil, they don’t even have to boil for an hour. The hops release their oil faster at those temperatures.

I can’t get into everything I saw there. There was just so much going on. I got some great ideas for when we brew more than one batch in a row though. Like using leftover mash liquid to sparge the next batch. And some insight into hop utilization across batches. Very cool stuff.

Bo was great. He’s got an impressive resume, including brewing school in England, brewing at Arcadia, and brewing at New Belgium for 7 years. He gave me some great advice for Mad Haven. He’ll be sitting at the bar when we open.

One of the coolest parts of my day there didn’t exactly involve brewing. He might get in trouble for this, and if so, sorry Bo. But, we toured the entire place, and one stop was the barrel aging room. I may or may not have sipped some La Folie out of a massive barrel. Let’s go with “may not have” to protect the innocent.

Other cool stuff happened. I met some great people, and saw some amazing things. Definitely a great experience.

Thursday I went to Boulder to help out at Mountain Sun. Mountain Sun makes some of the best beer I’ve had, and their pub model is fantastic. I definitely spend too much cash (no credit cards accepted) at their pubs.

Mountain Sun's brew house

Jason met me at 7 am, and we got to work. We brewed some Redemption Red, which everyone there was super excited about. They’re trying some new malts out, and it’s possible that the one I helped brew will get submitted to GABF.

This was exactly the experience I was looking for this week. Mountain Sun brews on a 6 barrel “Frankenstein” of a system. It’s amazing. It’s barely changed in the past 20 years, because it works. Everything there just works.

Jason put me to work. I got to pour in the grains and mix them into the water. If you’ve never done this before, imagine paddling a canoe through oatmeal. Hot oatmeal. I also got to clean out the mash tun, which is warm work. It was great, and I’m not being sarcastic. It really was an awesome opportunity. I helped Jason with the rest of the process too, from weighing out hops to cleaning the floors, from measuring gravity to some quality control. PS quality control is a necessary, important, and awesome activity.

Mountain Sun - all mashed in

Mountain Sun was definitely the most applicable day. Brewing with Tim at Strange was great, as he does everything from run the books to clean the floors. But Mountain Sun brews on a system that I envision brewing on. It was great to work side by side Jason and really feel what my days are going to entail. It was sort of like Goldilocks. Not too big. Not too small. Just right.

Overall, I learned a lot this week. From how to clamp a tri-clamp to how to stay safe, and many things in between. I made some friends and saw the extreme scales of brewing.

And my fire for Mad Haven is reignited. I can’t wait to get it going.

Adding hops at Mountain Sun

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And how does that make you feel?

And how does that make you feel?

Have a seat. Let’s talk.

It’s been a great few days. Someone said that excitement and passion over a goal makes that goal happen faster (I think my mom said that last night). Well, I’m excited, and I’m passionate, and things are happening.

This is going to be a big post. I’ll start with the small stuff and grow from there. Side note: Anyone going to Beer Wars in Denver on Thursday? Andrew (you’ll find out who that is at the end) and I are going, and hopefully Kell will make it up as well. Let me know, we’ll grab a brew.

National Homebrew Competition

Beer judge. Better job than tan-line inspector.

Beer judge. Better job than tan-line inspector.

The NHC is under way! (http://www.beertown.org/events/nhc/) We brewed our IPA specifically for this competition. Timed it out, cleaned the bottles, made sure the caps were clean, and… rushed it. Ended up bottling it at 1.032 or so, meaning we bottled it with a lot of sugar still in the wort. What that means is rather than all the CO2 – yeast’s byproduct when converting sugar -> alcohol – escaping through the air lock, it was forced into solution in the closed container that is a beer bottle. What’s that mean? Something like this.

Ya.. it explodes unless you open it ridiculously slowly, and pour it into a few glasses to let the foam settle. We decided it wasn’t worth the almost 2 hour round trip drive to submit a beer that would drench the judges.

This weekend I received an email from our division’s coordinator, asking where the beer was. I explained, and she said she could add a special note saying “Open Slowly”, and meet her in Denver to drop off the brew. So I’m going to meet her tomorrow or Thursday, and submit the beer! I doubt we’ll win, but at least we’ll be in it still! It’s called “First Round Draft”. Good times.

Homebrew Shop

I couldnt find a picture of the shop... So here is my favorite grain: Dark Munich Malt

I couldn't find a picture of the shop... So here is my favorite grain: Dark Munich Malt

I mentioned this earlier, but I’ll recap anyway. Saturday, Dave and I went to Beer At Home in Englewood to pick up supplies for the Blonde Ale. We brought the new volcanic IPA with us, as well as a bomber (22 oz.) bottle of our previous batch. They. Loved. It. I can’t really say more than that. They were stunned at how tasty the beers were. Asked us all sorts of questions. Asked for more. They’ve always been respectful of us as customers, especially customers who appear to have some idea what we’re doing. But their attitude definitely shifted quite a bit. It was a really really good feeling, and one of the best receptions of the beer I’ve had to this point.

Speaking of the Blonde Ale, it ended up weighing in at 1.072 with 3-3.5 gallons. It’s gonna be a big bodied blonde.

Daniels College of Business

This is a fun one. Sunday, while brewing, I emailed a professor at the University of Denver’s (DU aka my college’s rivals) Daniels College of Business. I told him how I have these great ideas and drive to start a business, but no formal MBA-style business training. I asked if they ever lent students to small businesses to help with certain tasks, for class credit or whatever. I expected to hear back in 2-3 weeks, if at all. Three hours. Three hours, and I had an email back. He told me that they in fact have an entire program for just this scenario, and forwarded me on to the contact for that program. The next morning, this guy emailed me the application and some details.

The rules are simple. Four MBA students form a team, with the business owner / business contact joining occasionally, and help a new or growing business with three aspects of the business. An example would be the business plan, marketing plan, and sustainability plan. So, pretty much, I can get help in part of the planning that I’m not 100% confident in. Sold!

Twitter, the ultimate networking tool?

Its the Fail Whale!

It's the Fail Whale! (use twitter, it'll make sense)

I’ve been tweeting a lot. I’ve made some great connections with other like-minded individuals, in many different parts of the craft beer world. I helped out with some code at BeerNews.org, made some contacts in various industries, have some advice coming from experts in everything from branding to real estate, and am generally just spreading the word about the brewery. I micro-blogged the entire brewing process on Sunday, which you can see on my twitter page (http://twitter.com/hookedonwinter) and twitpic photo stream (http://twitpic.com/photos/hookedonwinter). This probably sounds like geek gibberish to a lot of you. That’s fine. Ask or explore or ignore it, you’ll learn about it eventually.

Mike

New Belgiums first system is behind the lady with the pretty gloves.

New Belgium's first system is behind the lady with the pretty gloves.

When I posted last week about looking for an engineer, my buddy Phill sent a note to some friends. Mike responded, and wants to help out. Mike is currently an engineering student who enjoys beer and long walks on the beach. Well, beer at least. Anyway, he’s going to help us figure out if designing and fabricating our own equipment will be cheaper than buying it used from various sources. I’m excited to work with him on this project.

[EDIT] Mike is no longer a student. The test he’s studying for is for work, not for school. Ooops! Also, he prefers long walks up steep rocks, though sunset walks along the surf are also appealing.

Andrew

Through another slightly random connection – Facebook message from a friend, Dan, from my high school years, who’s friend’s brother, Andrew, started a brewery in Brooklyn and now lives in Denver – I had the pleasure of meeting with Andrew last night at Great Divide. Andrew has a lot of experience with what I’m trying to do. He started a brewery from the ground up, worked on everything from cleaning the tanks to closing the sale, generally in the same day. We have a lot of talking and meeting and whatnot to do, but I’m very hopeful that our goals and Andrew’s goals are aligned. He’s interested in doing it all again, from the ground up, and I’m interested in having someone with that knowledge and experience be around all the time. Potentially a great partnership in the works. We’ll take it slow and make sure everything is in order, but keep an eye out for more about this.

That’s about it so far this week. It’s only Tuesday, so we’ll see what else is in store. Thanks for reading! Leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions, or just want your name to appear in the comments.

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Today was a big day. Left for Fort Collins at 1:45, just got home (11:30pm). Granted, we watched the NCAA championship game. But still a big day.

Over the weekend I started to think it might be a good idea to go a little smaller than we’ve been talking about. A 30bbl system (that’s 910 gallons of beer, or 60 kegs, per batch) would be fantastic, but the equipment alone would cost around $500,000. Add real estate, payroll, supplies, etc., and we’re talking $800,000+ to start. And that would probably be cutting it close with operations costs. A nameless brewery entering the market with 60 kegs a batch… Well, I’m thinking it’s probably a good idea to start smaller. Build brand recognition. Get those recipes down. Create demand. Develop accounts. Limit risk. Brew in my garage. Etc.

New Belgium Brewery - Bigger than my garage

New Belgium Brewery - Bigger than my garage

With all of these thoughts fresh, Dave and I drove up to Fort Collins to meet with Brian Callahan, the Director of Fun at New Belgium Brewery. As the receptionist informed me he would be, Brian was fantastic. Brian joined the NBB team 7 months after they sold their first beer, back in 1992. He said a more operational title might be “Ambassador”, as he knows his way inside and out of the brewing industry, and how NBB fits.

We sat down over some beers (I had the Abbey Grand Cru, Dave the Bierre de Mars, and Brian a nice, refreshing Mothership Wit) and talked shop. Most of my questions related to how things worked for the first 5 years. All of this while the sun glistened off their 100bbl tanks. Those are the smaller ones.

Brian was great. He answered all our questions, and offered advice on many, many, many topics. To summarize the hour long conversation, we pretty much gathered a history of the brewery from an operations, production, sales, and marketing perspective. New Belgium struck gold with Fat Tire. Obviously they work their butts off to sell every beer they make, but Fat Tire brought them from the garage to the beautiful property on which they currently produce their delicious beer.

Jeff and Kim, the founders, started similarly to the way we’re planning on. Start small, make damn good beer, get people to pay for it. A few advantages: Kim continued to work to ensure some revenue in the early months; Jeff has an engineering background, allowing for creation of equipment internally; they owned a house, which was great for refinancing to get money with which to do stuff; and it was the early 90s, when the economy was a little better and things were a little cheaper.

Like many other people I’ve spoken with, Brian emphasized that you have to love what you do to be successful at it. Creating a new recipe can be fun, but bottling the same beer over and over and over and over and over again can be draining. Being able to step back, look at what you’re doing, and truly love it, is a requirement to make it all work, and to make it all worth it. Making good beer helps too.

Brian also showed us the system Jeff and Kim started using. It was a 5 hectoliter (132 gallons, or a little more than 4bbl) system which Jeff designed and someone in Denver fabricated. It was beautiful. I need to find an engineer who will draw up some plans for something similar. This engineer must also be willing to work for futures. Beer futures. Anyone?

It was a great conversation overall, and I was really excited to see how helpful and outgoing someone in the industry could be. So if you’re reading this Brian, thank you again for all your advice.

720 Media - still bigger than my garage

720 Media - still bigger than my garage

A little later, I had a call with Taa Dixon. Taa graduated from Colorado College, and currently owns and operates 720 Media, a fantastic small business in Colorado Springs that specializes in designing, building, marketing, and maintaining websites and email marketing newsletters. They do great work there. Check ‘em out.

720 Media is entering their 10th year in operation, so Taa is a little be farther ahead than those small business owners still struggling to make that 2-5 year “I think we’re going to make it” mark. She had some great ideas and advice for me, and was really excited to see more CC grads going the small business route.

We had a great chat for almost and hour, and I got some great ideas and next steps. Taa definitely advised networking, and lots of it. Who knows who else is out there with similar passions and either the desire to be a work horse, or heaps of cash waiting to be invested? She even offered to set me up with an audience of Colorado Springs business owners, so I could share my ideas, get some feedback, and brainstorm a bit. This is an offer I will definitely be accepting.

Overall, today was a very informative day. I’ll have more on next steps and and all that soon. I just wanted to get my thoughts down before starting my 4×10 week.

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Just a quick update on the actual business stuff.

Um, Yeah... Im Gonna need you to come in on Saturday...

Um, Yeah... I'm Gonna need you to come in on Saturday...

  • Started working on the business plan. It’s scary. I’m going to seek help.
  • Lucas said he’d give me his books, software, and knowledge to help with aforementioned help seeking.
  • Meeting with the Director of Fun at New Belgium Brewery on Monday to talk shop. Pretty excited about that.
  • Talking with Taa Dixon at 720Media about startups and all that. She’s a Colorado College alum as well. CC Love.
  • Waiting for an email back from a realtor to go check out a possible location for the brewery. It’s a bit big (30,000 sqft), but it’s PERFECT. Perfect location, used to house a VERY successful brewery, etc.

That’s all next week. If you have any leads for me on business ops, locations, funding, suppliers, or just want to try a homebrew, let me know.

[edit] Also, we just made a quick partial-mash kit for a friend’s birthday in 2 weeks. Beer on tap for “public” consumption! Woo!

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