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.
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.
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.