It all seems so simple on paper. You brew the beer, stick it in some packaging, then sell it to the thirsty hoards. How hard could it be? It isn’t rocket science, right?
As soon as you start producing beer (and even before), you will get a flood of requests to provide beer for festivals.
These days, big beers are all the rage. There are double and imperial versions of many beer styles and many big beers are also aged in oak barrels, including bourbon barrels. The craft beer drinking public loves these brews, if the rankings on Beer Advocate and Rate Beer are any indication and there are times when nothing other than a big, bold beer will do.
But this big beer bonanza has spawned a bit of a backlash. Many beer drinkers, including myself, are saying, “Hey, I like a good bourbon barrel aged imperial stout as much as the next guy, but sometimes I want to drink a few beers (rather than sip one or two), and not feel like I’ve been hit by a truck the next day.” And this has led to a mini-resurgence in session beers — low gravity beers that you can enjoy a few, if not several, rounds of and not become too intoxicated. (And, in the July-August issue of BYO, Gordon Strong gives some advice on brewing session beers and some example recipes.)
It’s tempting to speculate about what the future holds for session beers. It’s tempting, so I’ll do it. I think the session beer resurgence (I don’t think you could quite call it a boom yet) will follow the basic outline of the big beer boom we are currently experiencing. A few breweries will lead the way with some very nice offerings, and pretty soon, most breweries will jump on the bandwagon. Some of the entries in the session beer field will be very respectable, others not so much. (Let’s face it, there are some spectacular double IPAs out there and there are some beers that simply have a lot of hops in them. As an aside, I think that if you drew a regression line through the scores of beers on Beer Advocate plotted against ABV, you’d see a large boost for big beers. If you normalized the scores to factor out the “big booze equals big score” factor, you’d get a much better picture of how different beers compare.)
In the future, I think we’ll see a lot of the marginal double IPAs, bourbon aged stouts and the like fall by the wayside. The great versions will, of course, remain. And, I think that we’ll see the same thing with session beers — a bit of culling will happen once the herd gets too big....
As many of us have read in Jamil’s blog, starting a brewery from scratch isn’t for the faint of heart. In the past 2 months I have begun to understand this fact more and more. I have become quite entrenched in the process of ordering a brewing system, estimating costs, developing CIP processes, determining volumes of waste water etc. All of which are intertwined in one way or another.
Last month we were very close to ordering the brewing system from a well respected manufacturer here in California. That is, until we found out that there was a “zoning issue” and that selling pints out of the current location was out of the question. The previous owner of the brewery had indeed been selling pints out of the tap room without the permission of the county and was going to be shut down. He ended up going out of business prior to any enforcement. We had no idea about this restriction and direct to consumer sales were assumed in the initial business model which now had to be reevaluated. Considerations were then taken to focus on keg distribution and/or look for a separate location for a taproom with the proper zoning in a more traffic heavy location in town.
After much discussion, the partners decided to move forward with the purchase of the brewing system..... until some information on the limitations of the septic system that the property was on came to light just a few days before pulling the trigger. After meeting with a consultant familiar with the septic system and a few county officials, it was determined that the amount of water used during the various cleaning processes and brewing of 5 bbl batches would likely exceed what the system was designed for and could result in failure. I cringed at the thought of what a septic failure entails, but we were told it would shut the brewery down for a long time if that ever occurred. That’s wasn’t an option. After looking at a couple alternative solutions it was determined that we would likely have to look for another location and that means more start up costs. But hey, if it was easy then everyone would be doing it right?
Despite these hurdles and delays all is certainly not lost. We have already started looking at other potential locations in the Sierra Foothills. I have also been able to ink an agreement with the partners and I am now officially the Brewmaster at the newly named Prospectors Brewing Company (Location to be determined of course!). I have already found a house in the area owned by a family friend that I plan on moving into if this all works out. So things are moving along and I have learned A LOT already during this process that I would not have known otherwise this early in the game.
My hope is that we find a great location that is within the company’s financial means and we can finally move on to the next phase. While that’s going on, I plan on making some pilot batches at home of the four core beers we plan to start out with, which should be fun.
Well, people are drinking our beer. I guess that is a tiny measure of success in the brewery business.