Putting my plans on hold

Bookmark, not a closed book.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but the story within is my excuse.

I’ll get into the details in a second, but here’s the meat of it: Mad Haven is on hold for the time being. I don’t have a set timeline to pick it back up, but I do plan to open it one day. That day is just not today.

Here’s the story:

I’ve been dragging my feet for a while now. It took me a long time to realize that I was holding the project back, and then a long time to figure out why. Basically, I have entrepreneurial ADD. Or, in different words, I have commitment issues. The thought of going after all the funding Mad Haven needs is exciting; the thought of spending all that money and being locked in to one idea for the foreseeable future is terrifying.

Right now, I’ve got a full time job, I run Denver off the Wagon, do freelance web development, and lead a somewhat-too-active social life. I don’t believe I currently hold the focus I would need to run the brewery, only a brewery, and nothing but a brewery. Shit, I don’t feel confient I could keep a dog healthy right now. Or a plant.

So that’s the gist of it. I’ll come back to this. I’ve put a bookmark in this book. Dog-eared the page. I want to very, very badly open a brewery. I just don’t think I’m ready yet.

“But PJ!” you might exclaim. “Whatever will you do instead?”

Well, dear reader, I’m glad you asked.

I’m going to focus my energy into Denver off the Wagon. The site has incredible momentum right now, and an absolutely amazing crew behind it. If you live in Denver and haven’t hung out with the contributors for the Wagon, do yourself a favor and find them, and then drink with them. They impress me every single day with their words, stories, experiences, and ideas. The site would be nothing without them.

To this point, we really didn’t have any goals or benchmarks for the site, but I’d say it’s doing well against any metric one might throw at it. The site started in February, and it has already won 5280’s Best Blog and the Westword’s Best Booze Blog. Our cadre of booze-laden writers has grown from 12 to over 30. We’ve got events. We’ve got t-shirts.

Shit, we’ve got a lawyer.

And this is 10 months of drinking and writing and drinking.

Next year, I’m going to push the site, the contributors, and the idea a lot further. It’s going to be big, and it’s going to be awesome.

Beyond that, I’m going to keep homebrewing – thought it’s honestly been a while since I’ve brewed – and keep making crazy recipes that taste awesome and make you go “hmmm.”

I’m going to do all that I can to help my friend Nick Nunns and his brewery TRVE be a massive success. I hope that I can learn from him and his venture, and that that will fulfill my need to start a brewery for the time being.

I’m also going to continue working full time, and continue doing freelance, and continue coming up with too many new ideas. And one or two of them will hopefully stick, and I’ll make billions of dollars, and buy you all a beer.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Please please please continue asking me questions, and I’ll provide answers where I’m able. I’ll post back here when I decide I’ve got the laser focus I need, rather than the shotgun focus I have. If you ever want to grab a beer and talk about brewing, raptors (they scare the shit out of me), or any other topics, or you need a website, an editor, or just want to see my beard, feel free to email me at pj [dot] hoberman [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thanks for reading, and cheers.

No no, I’ve got this

Some great stories start with “I’ve totally got this”. Stories of epic disasters and drunken failures.

On that note, I’ve got some news from the Personnel department. Kell and I had a big chat last week, and decided that opening a business together was a bad idea. Mostly, if Mad Haven ever were to get off the ground with both of us at the helm, our friendship would not survive. We figured it was a good idea to have that sort of chat before any actual money was involved in the brewery. So, I’m taking the reins solo, and Kell will be my first customer. And an advisor. And maybe an investor. And still my friend and roommate.

He, and a bunch of other people, will still be involved. I like to ask smarter people than I for help all the time. Targeted crowd-sourcing, if you will. So Kell, Jason Lundberg (financial wizard extraordinaire), Jess Hunter (marketing [better word than guru goes here]), Bess Dougherty (gets that whole “distribution tier” thing really well) and a boat load of other people will be helping, but it’s my ship now.

In other news, no new news on any front. To cross metaphors, I’ve got some irons in the fire that I’m waiting on before I make my next move on sailing the ship. More on that toward the end of next week, hopefully.

Anyway, I’ve got this.

Alternating Proprietorship

Heavy liftingA few weeks ago, my friend Nick Nunns returned from the Craft Brewers Conference (which I’m going to next year, dammit!), and proceeded to rock my world. In a good way.

Nick told me about the idea of an Alternating Proprietorship, or an AltProp. It’s not a new idea. I’ve probably mentioned it in some post on here, or in the comments somewhere. I’ve almost always just brushed it aside. I think this was mostly due to not seeing the difference between contract brewing and an altprop. My biggest difficulty with the idea of a contract option was that I wouldn’t be brewing. I didn’t want to just give a recipe and instructors to another brewery and say “Here, make me beer.” And that idea just sort of stuck.

So when Nick got back and we talked about AltProps, that idea got rocked out of its place. Basically, and Alternating Proprietorship is an agreement with an existing brewery in which we go in and rent out excess capacity on their system. While we’re brewing, we technically own the equipment. It’s our own license and our own beer. It’s much more complicated than that, and the agreement can be a lot of different things, but that’s the basic idea.

Anda, one of the owners of Funkwerks in Fort Collins, and the author of LegalLibations.com and LegalBrewing.com, wrote an article about this idea in January: http://www.legallibations.com/2010/05/alternating-what.html. Check it out, it helps to clarify this whole thing.

The TTB defines an alternating proprietorship:

An “alternating proprietorship” is a term used to describe an arrangement in which two or more people take turns using the physical premises of a brewery.

Generally, the proprietor of an existing brewery, the “host brewery,” agrees to rent space and equipment to a new “tenant brewer.”  Alternating brewery proprietorships allow existing breweries to use excess capacity and give new entrants to the beer business an opportunity to begin on a small scale, without investing in premises and equipment.


This idea could get us started much, much sooner, for much, much less money. If we work out an arrangement with a new brewery in town, where we buy a few tanks, rent out the time and space, and start making beer, we can be on tap this year. Depending on the arrangement, we could hopefully work something out where we buy 2 fermenting tanks, use the space for 6-12 months (or however short / long it takes), and then “leave” the tanks there, as payback. Or maybe we open at the same size, and take the tanks with us. Or maybe a brewery just doesn’t have the need for some of their tanks, and it’s a pure rental agreement.

I started talking to a few of the newer breweries in town about this. It’s a win-win situation for a brewery with excess capacity. Our presence lowers their liability, since we’re paying them for their time. And for us, it lets us start today, rather than tomorrow.

Part of the TTB’s rules on this scenario is that the business plan must include not only the altprop, but the exit into a full brewery. This is a temporary situation, where we can make sure the market likes our beer, make sure we know what the hell we’re doing, get a few accounts up and running, and have something solid (well, liquid) to show investors.

This is the current plan. We’re exploring our options and writing down the numbers. I’d love to know what you think of it!

Mad History

Caligula. Craziest bastard pictured in the post.

We’re a little bit insane. Who isn’t, right?

Maybe we’re a little bit madder than most. Moving right along.

As we work on branding and defining ourselves, our company, and our beer, we think about lots of stuff and go through many different exercises. Write down 25 words that define you. Look at 6-pack carriers. “Market research”.

Last night we met with Josh again, and he had a great idea: write down a list of people from history who were crazy. What made them crazy? Why do we remember them? Were they just nuts, or clinically nuts? (Note: “nuts” is not a clinical term.)

While were exploring the history books, I thought I’d ask you, dear follower. Who are some of the craziest bastards from history? What made them so crazy? Why do you remember them?

Yeast Starters

I did my first yeast starter last week.

Yes, I’ve been brewing for 5 years. No, I’ve never done a yeast starter.

I asked some friends, and ended up with a sweet resource on Billy’s site (this is the dude who runs the Homebrew Academy, which you should check out).

I went to the homebrew shop, bought my ingredients, and made a yeast starter. I was all nervous at first.. How do I do this? What’s the next step. And then I realized it’s just like brewing, but faster. Like, 30 minutes all said and done.

So this past weekend I made another one. And I bought a 2L erlenmeyer flask. And let me tell you, the batch I brewed yesterday was fermenting pretty vigorously this morning. Way more so than my batches usually are after only a few hours.

Moral of the story, I’m learning more about yeast, and it’s fun. That is all.


Denver Off The Wagon

Last night I launched a new project, Denver Off The Wagon.

I’ve realized that Denver has an amazing culture, specifically around alcohol, but there was no single place to focus on it, read about it, and be a part of it. I hope that this project can be that place.

From the first post:

We like booze.

Let’s just get that out there. This isn’t about getting drunk or blacking out. It’s about the means, not the end.

We like good booze.

No one writing for this site has ever technically been on the wagon. But, if we were to find ourselves atop a rolling platform pulled by horses or oxen, I imagine we’d all fall off. In splendid, dramatic fashion.

Read More

Go check it out. Let me know what you think,


Branding Field Trip

Over the past two weeks we’ve had a lot of meetings. Great meetings. At different places. Beer places!

We’ve now met three times with Josh Mishell about branding, and have found a potential illustrator too. With their help, we’ll be able to put our vision into something creative, artistic, pleasing to the eye, and bad-ass-awesomsaucery-ness.

Last night, we took a field trip to Argonaut Liquors. We spent an hour or so walking the beer aisle, talking about anything and everything beer and branding. We looked at the macros and talked about what they’re doing, why it works, and why it isn’t for us. We talked about every single 6-pack holder, can, bottle cap, and additional marketing materials. Most importantly, we talked about what we liked, what we didn’t like, and what we wanted to do with our brand.

We came to the conclusion that we like simple, clean, yet a little bit weird. We like to stand out, quietly. We like to be loud, without yelling.

Pretty much, we want to get our personalities and the personality of our beer into a design.

I thought I’d share a few things we liked more than everything else. We’re not always very good at saying why it is we like certain elements, but we hope Josh can help us distill our thoughts into a creative brief. Here are some things we liked, and why:


It’s simple. The brewery name is huge. The font is cool. It’s just a black background.

Boulevard Tank 7

We couldn’t quite put a finer on it, but Boulevard’s 4-pack carriers are awesome. Maybe a little too much pastel in color.

Left Hand Mixer

Most mixers are cluttered, with information about every beer inside. This is just the logo. The massive and simple logo.

Left Hand Fade To Black

Meanwhile they go with something that is pretty crazy, noisy, but at the same time they maintain simplicity. And that logo just sits there, all simple and nice looking.

Fort Collins Brewing

We really like FCB’s logo. The scratched look is very cool. The font on both the logo and the other copy is different and great looking as well.

Great Divide

As with almost every other thing about Great Divide, their branding stands out as some of the best in the industry. Simplicity, big fonts, basic colors. I’m also a really big fan of the knock-out characters they have for each product.

New Belgium

The new branding is similar, yet pretty distinct and different from the older branding. The step away from the classic and well-known blue and red is a bit of a surprise, but I do like the utter simplicity of the illustrations on the new stuff. However, that simplicity is at the cost of the story that each illustration on the older branding represents.

There’s obviously more awesome branding out there, and as we come across it, we’ll judge it as well. Next up, we need to look at tap handles and see what we like and dislike. One of my favorite of all time is Magic Hat’s wrought iron handles. Check this one out!

One thing that was really interesting, and I want to do more of, was watching people buy beer. Their choices, their thought process – at least what was visible – their reactions to three guys talking about every little aspect of every beer… It was fascinating.

What do you think of our choices? Anything you’ve seen that you think fits our likes so far?

Brewers Association Membership

Last night we joined the Brewer’s Association as a 0-500 bbl brewery. There are a ton of benefits that come with this membership. A lot of the benefits will be great once we get started, but there are a few that are really going to help as we write the business plan. These benefits all fall under the “Member Education” category:

New Members-Only Area of BrewersAssociation.org

Features exclusive content available to BA members only, including extensive statistical data, presentation archives, technical information (covering hops, keg repatriation, and other topics), message boards and committee meeting minutes.

The New Brewer

Free multiple subscriptions to The New Brewer magazine for staff members.

Brewers Association Forum

Free multiple subscriptions to the Brewers Association Forum, a daily, moderated email digest connecting you to more than 4,400 participating members.

Industry Statistics

Annual Beer Industry Production Survey reports the growth of craft beer industry; featured in the May/June issue of The New Brewer.

Professional E-Conference Series: Power Hour

Power Hour is an online, interactive teleconference series on regulatory, marketing and other information six times per year.

Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America®

Registration discounts of $220-$245 per person for the full conference rate at the Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America.

Brewers Publications

Discounts on pre-publication releases, along with free additional copies of the current Brewers’ Resource Directory for brewery-level members.

On top of all this, we also now have access to the wonderful staff at BA for the various specific and unique questions we’ll have along the way. I’ve had beers with a bunch of people who work there, and they’re awesome. It’ll be great to work with them in a professional capacity as well.

We’re really excited to start diving in to these resources. The business plan writing and other key planning stages are under way, thanks to the help of two recent DU MBA students and one current one. This membership should help with that planning. I’ll be sure to share as we go.

If you’re a brewer and read this blog, what are your thoughts on BA, the membership, and the services they provide?


A lot has been in motion the past few weeks. A lot of it is sort of hush-hush right now, but here’s a brief overview to get you through the holiday season.

Business Plan

We’re working with two recent MBA grads. They are awesome. One is all up in the marketing side of things, and the other knows finances like I know.. Well, I think he knows finances better than I know anything. With their help, we hope to start presenting to investors in the next month or two. Pretty exciting stuff.

Unnamed Bar

A bar which I shall not name has recently approached us, inquiring if we’d like to open in what is essentially their back room. It’s a ridiculously good location, with great people, and a lot of possibilities. This is just in the talks, and might not ever move past that, but it’s really fun to think about. Right now, the plan is to ignore it as a possibility in the planning process, and if it comes through, so much the better. Don’t try to guess what bar it is. I won’t tell you. Sorry.


We’re going to meet with Josh Mishell in the first week or two of the new year to discuss branding for Mad Haven. Josh used to do branding for Flying Dog. He loves beer, knows his stuff, and we love hanging out with him. Great combination. I’m excited to see what we can come up with, channeling the crazy in my head through the awesome in Josh’s to make sweet sweet branding.


Mad Haven is being enjoyed by people more and more. Between office mates, bartenders, and that random guy on the corner (two truths and a lie, can you pick out the lie?), the Rye Dry Stout and Heartburn (the chili beer) are making their way across the lips of Denver. Check it out, we’re even on Untappd!


Right, brewing. That important little project. The past few batches haven’t gone so well, but I’m working on fixing all the things that went wrong. I think 4 years in a row of near-perfect results has caught up with me. Two batches in a row were infected – I’m pretty sure the latter was just infected by the former, and not a repeated process issue – and I had a stuck mash during a batch of Pam last week. It’s only a failure if you don’t learn from it, right? I plan to brew a lot more of the Rye Dry, and a few batches of the Scotch Ale, as we cannot keep enough in supply.


I might be starting a Denver-based publication soon. No details yet, but it’s something I think Denver needs, and will enjoy. You know, because I’m not busy enough yet.

The Real World

Beyond all this fun news, I have an actual full time job. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m a Front End Developer for MapMyFitness.com. It’s going great. I love the people I work with, the work itself is challenging and pretty forward-thinking, and it’s a very fast-moving environment.


That’s all for now. Please, keep reading, keep trying the beer, and keep giving your support, thoughts, opinions, and empty bottles. Have a great [insert your holiday of choice here] and an awesome New Year’s, and we’ll regroup in January.

And if you need a song to listen to, check out Your Humble Narrator by Two Cow Garage. It has nothing to do with this post at all, but it does have an awesome line: “The sun has a way of making us pay for our revelry-filled nights.”

NOTE: Please see the update at the bottom of the post.

According to some potentially sweeping legislation, the difference between synthetic caffeine and coffee beans doesn’t matter. So what, you might ask.

Alcoholic energy drinks are a somewhat recent phenomenon. Over the past 5 years or so, numerous companies have entered the malt beverage market with caffeine-infused drinks. One you might have heard of is Sparks. Essentially, take Red Bull and Smirnoff Ice and can it.

While there haven’t really been any studies to confirm that these beverages are dangerous, public outcry after the deaths of some college students who had been drinking similar beverages has caused a federal legislative movement. A few states have already enacted their own bans on these drinks, and the FDA is expected to rule shortly as well.

The issue comes in the form of loose, vague, and overarching wording. In banning caffeinated alcoholic beverages, naturally occurring caffeine, from coffee, tea, and chocolate, would also be banned. So not only is Four Loko going to be banned, but Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti would also be taken off the shelves. I personally won’t mourn the loss of Joose, but Youngs Double Chocolate Stout will be missed.

The ban on these drinks needs to be more specific. If I want to add some tea to my boil, or some espresso in secondary, I’m not doing so to give the consumer an energy boost; I’m doing it to add flavor and complexity. These natural ingredients need not be banned.

As of right now, I’m not sure what you or I can do to help. Be aware of the issues, and keep an eye on the Brewer’s Association. They’re a great clearing house and focal point for political and legal information related to brewing. Following is the press release from BA about this ban:


Boulder, CO • November 16, 2010—The Brewers Association announces today that it will formally petition the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to conduct rulemaking on alcoholic energy drinks.

The petition seeks to disallow synthetic and pure caffeine additions to alcohol beverages, but allow incidental caffeine from ingredients that have a long tradition in brewing, such as coffee, chocolate and tea. The petition seeks to clarify that coffee, chocolate, herbs, spices, seeds and fruit are ingredients that should remain available to brewers to make beers for responsible enjoyment by beer drinkers.

Certain alcoholic energy drinks have received significant negative attention from state attorneys general, public health groups and concerned citizens. Many states are taking action this fall before the federal government has responded, leaving a patchwork of different regulatory wording, all with the same intention. The goal of this federal petition is to provide a clear and consistent national standard to assist state-based rulemaking under the 21st Amendment. This standard would remove the products of concern from shelves without creating unintended damage to the hundreds of craft brewers who, for many years, have been using traditional ingredients like coffee, tea and chocolate to responsibly craft interesting and flavorful beers.

Brewers Association President Charlie Papazian stated, “Responsible brewers have successfully used coffee, chocolate and tea to add interesting flavor and complexity to their beers for decades. In fact, the Aztecs brewed a corn, honey and chili-based beer that contained cocoa. Many craft brewers build on these traditions today using coffee, tea and chocolate. On the other hand, the addition of artificial caffeine not from a natural ingredient source has no heritage or tradition in brewing. We support a ban on the direct addition of caffeine.” The Brewers Association invites TTB to open up public comment and rulemaking on whether these products are appropriate for responsible consumption.

More information:



The FDA sent warning letters to 4 companies they were seriously concerned about. In their explanation, they specifically said coffee-flavored beverages are safe, at least for now:

These warning letters were not directed at alcoholic beverages that only contain caffeine as a natural constituent of one or more of their ingredients, such as a coffee flavoring. (Read more)

More from the FDA: