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MicroBrewr 091: Let them do the job you hired them to do

Michael Altman was in the industry for years when he bought a brewpub. Now he’s been operating Iron Springs Pub & Brewery in Fairfax, California for 12 years. Before they opened he had to have back surgery and totally reinvent his role for the brewpub.

“You really need to live, breathe and be the beer.” [Tweet This]

 

“The first 6 months we owned that pub, every single day I called my wife and said we’re selling this place, I can’t stand this, this is ridiculous,” recounts Michael. “Thank God for my wife who was my rock.”

He went through 3 back surgeries. “It was hard for me to hang up my mash paddle,” says Michael. He still does some brewing, but mostly leaves the hard work to others.

Hiring employees and letting them do the work you hire them to do has been essential to Iron Springs’ growth. They are on pace to produce approximately 2,000 BBLs of beer this year, which is an increase of 20 percent since last year. They have 16 taps for 10 draft beers, one cask, and 4 handcrafted sodas.

Iron Springs Pub & Brewery now has 50 staff, 4 are in the brewery. To hire more staff Michael recommends:

  1. Figure out what needs to be done
  2. Figure out who you are going to hire for each task
  3. Hire people who can do the job
  4. Let them do the job you hired them to do

It sounds simple, but it’s important to follow through and let others take your load off.

Something else that has been very helpful for Iron Springs is the give back Tuesday. Every Tuesday they give 10% of profits to a local non-profit organization that focuses on education or the environment. Iron Springs has donated $160,000 in the last 6 years. “We love and we really believe in it, and that really translates to the community,” says Michael. “They really believe in it and they want to come out and support it. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Michael says certainly, “There’s no way in the world that I would started a brewery in today’s market.” There is too much competition, he says, compared to when he started. Although he does say, “A brewpub will work in neighborhood,” you have to have good branding.

You have to figure out why people are coming to your place, and really focus on your story. The 3 keys are:

  • Good ambiance
  • Good service
  • Good food and beer

Brewery specs:

Kettle size: 10 BBL.

Size and quantity of fermentation tanks: 9, 10-BBL fermenters.

Size and quantity of bright tanks: 10, 10-BBL serving tanks.

Annual brewing capacity/last year’s production: 1,820 BBL.

Square footage: 5,000 sq. ft. in the entire pub, 1,100 sq. ft. in the brewery.

Years in operation: 12 years (opened October 2004).

Listener question:

From Awhile Pandey: When can you tell whether you are known as a brewery pub with exciting beer that people like, or you have become known more as a restaurant with beer just as a side thing? Is there any research on what kind of food formats and themes go well with a microbrewery pub layout?

Can’t-go-without tool:

Rubber boots, Bosch.

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Session beer

Other resources:

You can reach Michael Altman and Iron Springs Pub & Brewery at:

Sponsors:

Beer Exam School, free study notes and flashcards for the Cicerone Certified Beer Server exam.

Support MicroBrewr

Help keep MicroBrewr on the air. CLICK HERE for ways you can help.

Subscribe on iTunes             Listen to Stitcher

MicroBrewr 088: A brewing pedigree from Kansas to Texas with BrainDead Brewing

MicroBrewr 088: A brewing pedigree from Kansas to Texas

Andrew Huerter comes from a family of brewers. His parents were founding members of the Kansas City Beer Meisters homebrew club and his dad won a blue ribbon for one of his beers. Now Drew is following in their footsteps. He worked at a handful of breweries and before helping put together BrainDead Brewing in Dallas, Texas.

“Find a way into an operating brewery.” [Tweet This]

 

Some of the audio was lost due to technical difficulties with the call. Here are notes from the audio podcast and the parts that got left out.

One of the biggest difficulties was the city permitting processes. The city was concerned about the explosive hazards of grain dust.

BrainDead Brewing was required to submit a certified engineer’s report verifying that the explosive hazard was below the threshold.

Just a few years ago in 2011, there were only 3 breweries in North Texas. Now there are 40, and just 2 independent brewpubs in Dallas-Fort Worth area, says Drew. Perhaps the city is experiencing growing pains from and industry that has grown a lot in a very short time.

RELATED: MicroBrewr 085: Starting a brewery is a full-time job

Drew emphasizes the important of details when budgeting for your startup brewery. His biggest mistake was missing a line item on the budget.

Although they had budgeted for the purchase of a glycol chiller, they forgot to include installation costs. That amounted to a $50,000 mistake.

On the other hand, the best idea was to start out with a focus on making ales. It’s a proven model, says Drew, but these days it’s done often. Drew says ales are easy drinking and really approachable, so BrainDead Brewing could sell a lot of them to establish themself in the market.

Listener question:

If you could ask one question to every brewer or brewery owner, what would you ask? Let me know.

Can’t-go-without tool:

1.5-hp single phase pump by CPE Systems Inc.

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Pilsner

Other resources:

You can reach Drew Huerter and BrainDead Brewing at:

Sponsors:

Beer

Support MicroBrewr

Help keep MicroBrewr on the air. CLICK HERE for ways you can help.

Subscribe on iTunes             Listen to Stitcher

MicroBrewr 086: The future of apple cider in America with Wandering Aengus Ciderworks

MicroBrewr 086: The future of apple cider in America

Nick Gunn and his wife were working for her family’s winery. They had the idea to start growing apples for cider. One of the cideries to whom they were selling apples decided to close down and they offered to sell the business to Nick and his wife who moved Wandering Aengus Ciderworks to Salem, Oregon.

“Cider is a really exciting proposition for a lot of investors.” [Tweet This]

 

Now they have two brands of cider.

Wandering Aengus is the traditional brand of cider. The Wandering Aengus brand has ciders that are more astringent, more bitter, and higher in alcohol content. “For the wine drinkers, it’s something that’s interesting,” says Nick.

Anthem Cider is a lighter style for people who aren’t used to ciders. These are less acidic and have lower alcohol content. This brand is marketed toward to craft beer consumers. “Beer drinkers,” says Nick, “are much more adventurous and willing to try just about anything that’s out there.”

They package Anthem ciders mostly in kegs for sale on draft. The goal is to get the word out for distribution in smaller packaging. “It’s a pretty basic model a lot of people have used,” says Nick.

“Anthem is a little more on the adventurous side,” Nick describes. “And that’s also a part of marketing to people who like craft beer.”

In addition to straight apple cider, Anthem also has pear, cherry and hopped ciders. They’re do some progressive forays like gin and whiskey barrel-aged ciders, as well as ciders fermented with bee pollen.

In contrast, “Wandering Aengus is super traditional,” Nick says, “It’s just those apples fermented without anything else added to them. And those apples are so rare we don’t really want to mess with them in the first place, they kind of speak for themselves.”

Finding good, traditional cider apples is difficult, but Nick is pushing the market.

“Most of the old heirloom apples have been ripped out in favor for Granny Smith and other dessert apples,” he says. “We’re trying to get people to plant some newer [apple trees]. We’re trying to bring back some of the older, better flavored varieties.”

Nick’s favorite apple ciders are blends of sharp apples, bittersweet apples, and aromatic apples.

“You kind of want to blend in a little bit of sharp, a little bit of bitter, a little bit of aromatics,” Nick advises. “That’s a part of the art of cider making, is it’s a blending process. Because there’s not a lot of apples that just make a great cider straight up.”

Some of the high brix, high acidity apple varieties that they use are:

  • Golden Russet
  • Wickson Crab
  • Cox’s Orange Pippin
  • Newtown Pippin
  • Calville Blanc d’Hiver

“These heirloom sharps… is a really [high] sweetness level and acidity is off the charts,” comments Nick.

But these sharp apples don’t have a lot of tannins. Bittersweet apples contribute tannins to the cider.

Some of the bittersweet apples they use for tannins are:

  • Muscat de Bernay
  • Muscadet de Dieppe
  • Yarlington Mill
  • Dabinett
  • Herefordshire Redstreak

“Those apples taste like crap!” exclaims Nick. “They really are horrible, because they have so much bitterness.”

“I’m being evangelical about planting cider apples. That’s really the future of really high quality cider in America.”

While Nick is evangelizing about high-quality, hand-crafted, traditional ciders, a different style of cider is gaining momentum across the country. Large industrial companies are making cider with additives and diluted with water.

While the product sells well on a large scale, it is expanding the overall market and demand for cider. As the larger brands reach into previously untapped markets, they create new spaces for all cider products.

“Their cider is a lot cheaper,” says Nick. “We could never compete on price because we’re using 100% juice. But what we can do is offer a different product. And maybe that’s a graduating step for the consumer.”

RELATED: MicroBrewr 048: Package your beer cheap and easy with mobile canning

“The growth in some of these larger brands has just been astronomical because a lot of the place they’re putting cider there never even existed a cider in the first place.”

“Every single chain store, every 711, every place now has cider. Cider is on the lips of every one. It’s on TV now—it was never on TV before, like, 2 years ago.”

“Even if [cider] gets to 5 percent of the market, we will be gigantic,” Nick predicts. “Over in England, cider is around 20 percent of alcohol consumption. France is about 17 percent. So we have a long ways to go in America. We were just at 0.3 percent about 3 years ago and we’ve gotten to one percent now. So the climb now is just inevitable.”

There hasn’t been a lot of quality at quantity. And now that that is exists, distributors are staring to notice, buyers are noticing, the whole market place takes note.”

As overall demand for cider increases, and a wider variety of cider products becomes more popular, the cider companies are able make larger quantities at lower prices.

Nick’s strategy is to have meaningful impact in the markets where craft beer is already growing rapidly.

They are reaching to key cities such as:

  • Denver
  • Philadelphia
  • New York
  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Portland

“You’re starting from ground zero, you can explode easily,” says Nick.

Yet, cider producers are finding that the industry needs to mature. Particularly, there is a need for more education in cider sales.

“Finding a distributor that understands cider is really difficult,” says Nick.

At the next CiderCON, the conference for the commercial cider industry to be held in February in Portland, Oregon, the United States Association of Cider Makers will unveil the first ever cider accreditation program. The multi-level program is designed to educate “distributors, servers and others who are interested in becoming trained experts on all things cider.”

As the cider market in America evolves, the industry adapts.

“It originally started out as sweet and fruity,” recalls Nick. “I like to call it ‘cheap and cheerful.’”

Now “cider varietals are being recognized, and the quality of cider they make.”

Nick foresees an increasing appreciation of drier ciders, and even higher quality cider apples. More cider will be made from heirloom sharps, cider will be fermented drier with higher alcohol content. There will be more barrel aged ciders, and ciders with more tannins. Ultimately terroir of cider will be recognized and appreciated.

Listener question:

From Daniel Frey: What accounting system do you use or do you recommend?

Can’t-go-without tool:

Cross-Flow filter, Pall Corporation.

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

North American Heirloom Cider

Other resources:

You can reach Nick Gunn and Wandering Aengus Ciderworks at:

You can reach Anthem Cider at:

Sponsors:

Audible

Download a free audiobook.

Audible. Download a free audiobook. http://microbrewr.com/audible

Support MicroBrewr

Help keep MicroBrewr on the air. CLICK HERE for ways you can help.

Subscribe on iTunes             Listen to Stitcher

MicroBrewr 084: A healthy alcoholic beverage: hard cider with 101 Cider House.

MicroBrewr 084: A healthy alcoholic beverage: hard cider

As soon as Mark McTavish could acknowledge alcohol, he gravitated toward hard cider. Later, he attended beverage management school and opened a craft beer bar in Toronto, Canada. Now in the U.S., Mark owns a cider distribution company and 101 Cider House in Los Angeles, California.

“As a cider maker, you’re not really making anything. You’re more of a custodian to the beverage.” [Tweet This]

 

Mark had a long career in the fitness business, selling exercise equipment and helping gyms get started. He is very health conscious and this comes through in his hard cider.

101 Cider House focuses on a “healthy” alcoholic beverage. All of 101 Cider products are: raw, living, and probiotic.

Some attributes of what Mark calls a healthy hard cider:

  • Wild fermented
  • A living beverage, don’t kill the juice in the process
  • Not filtered
  • No added sulfites

The hard cider market is absolutely exploding, with 500% growth in the last 3 years. Besides the general growth, Mark is tapping the health foods sector.

“From step one,” reflects Mark, “I always wanted to make a healthy alcohol.”

“Here in Los Angeles,” he says, “people are very interested in their health foods. When it comes to alcohol, a lot of people tend to check their standards at the door.”

“We have to show our ingredients in our cider,” Mark says of the labels on the bottles. “Our biggest marketing tool is to show people that we are using 100% raw fruit and doing the natural process like we do.”

They don’t add any unnecessary or unexpected ingredients to the cider, not even yeast.

“Cider is like wine,” he says. “You can press the fruit naturally, let juices sit their and do its own thing with its indigenous yeasts, and it will tell you what it’s going to do with itself.

“And if you wait long enough, it will make something great.”

Brewery specs:

Kettle size: n/a.

Size and quantity of fermentation tanks: 8, 2000-gal (64-BBL) poly tanks; 6, 275-gal (9-BBL) poly tanks; 50, 55-gal (1.75-BBL) oak barrels.

Size and quantity of bright tanks: 0. Not required as we bottle-condition and keg-condition all product.

Annual brewing capacity/last year’s production: 50,000-gal capacity.

Square footage: 7000 sq. ft.

Years in operation: 10 months years (opened December 2014).

Listener question:

From Rob Lightner: Has your brewery turned out the way you thought it would? And if not, how is it different?

Can’t-go-without tool:

Pump.

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Hopped cider

Other resources:

You can reach Mark McTavish and 101 Cider House at:

Sponsors:

InMotion Hosting

“Fast, reliable, affordable, web hosting.”

advert-inmotion-hosting_250x250

Support MicroBrewr

Help keep MicroBrewr on the air. CLICK HERE for ways you can help.

Subscribe on iTunes             Listen to Stitcher

MicroBrewr 083: Market branding for a cider company with Common Cider Company.

MicroBrewr 083: Market branding for a cider company

Fran Toves’ son challenged her to enter cider into the homebrew competition. After her 3 entries made it to the top 10, she figured it time to take the product to market and started Common Cider Company in Drytown, California.

“There is no need to start a cider company with a million dollars.” [Tweet This]

 

Cider is not brewed the way beer is made, but similar fermentation tanks and bright tanks are used for making cider as making beer. After the initial attention at the homebrew competition, Common Cider Company started with a 400-gallon (13-BBL) test batch that got picked up by a distributor. They grew to 30,000-gallon (1,000-BBL) batches within a couple years.

Whereas a cidery or a cider house presses the fruit themselves to make juice, a cider company buys the juice pre-squeezed. A cider usually has a base of apple juice, but it can start with other fruits. A perry is made from pear juice.

“Cider as a base,” says Fran, “is a great platform to be able to introduce new flavors.”

Fran’s background in product development for the organic food industry is helping her with Common Cider Company. She emphasizes the importance of branding.

Fran says a small company can easily spend $50,000 to $100,000 on high-quality branding design for all promotional materials. With such a significant investment, it is very important to consider your message and what your company is about. If you want to take more time to learn about your customers and find your voice in the market place, just get simple logo at first. Then budget up to $100,000 for a re-branding.

That’s the route Fran planned for Common Cider Company. “I wanted to spend some time with our customers an just spend some time in the marketplace,” she says. “before investing in the brand.”

Sample Cider Packaging

Common Cider Company packaging cans Common Cider Company packaging cans 4-pack Common Cider Company packaging bottle Common Cider Company packaging bottle

They’re keeping a logo element from the original design scheme and hiring a branding firm to re-design their message. The results have been spectacular and you can expect to see more on store shelves soon!

Fran also has tips for the today’s listener question about budgeting and profit projections:

  • Decide where you are and where you want to be.
  • Put a budget for every core area including, branding, legal fees, sales staff, materials, and all other details.
  • Decide what you can spend on each category of your budget.
  • Use checklists so you don’t miss details.

“Your suppliers will give you pretty good information as far as what your cost of juice is and your yeast and any other adjuncts that you want to add to your product,” Fran suggests. “And that goes from your raw material to your packaging.”

As for projecting profits, Fran always advises starting with small batches. She suggests 500-gallon batches or 1,000-gallon batches at the most. Any larger, and you’ll have too much money tied up in product and it will take too long to sell.

After you sell a few batches to earn some money and build demand, then you start doing larger batches.

“It’s important to start small,” Fran advises. “Just like any business, you’ve gotta kind of walk before you can run.”

Listener question:

From Texas Rüegg: Where  do you find real accurate numbers to estimate cost of operation? I keep building spreadsheets with hundreds of calculations, but at best they are just guesses. I want to be conservative with my numbers and be sure that even the worst case will actually make money. So where do you find real data?

Can’t-go-without tool:

Pump.

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Dry ciders

Other resources:

You can reach Fran Toves and Common Cider Company at:

Sponsors:

Audible

Download a free audiobook.

Audible. Download a free audiobook. http://microbrewr.com/audible

Support MicroBrewr

Help keep MicroBrewr on the air. CLICK HERE for ways you can help.

Subscribe on iTunes             Listen to Stitcher

MicroBrewr 082: Gluten free beer for a large market with Bard's Tale Beer Company.

MicroBrewr 082: Gluten free beer for a large market

Brian Kovalchuck has a background in finance and marketing and came to beer late in his career. After he helped with the turnaround of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Brian became CEO of the gluten free Bard’s Tale Beer Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“I wish I had been in the beer business a long time. It’s a great business to be in.” [Tweet This]

 

In the U.S. there are approximately 2 million people with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the intestine from eating gluten. There are approximately another 6 times that number of people who are gluten-intolerant or voluntarily exclude gluten from their diet.

“Gluten is a protein found in most common grains,” explains Brian, “wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats gets thrown into that because of cross-contamination.”

The founders or Bard’s Tale Beer Company experimented for 2 years before they settled on a recipe and a method. Their secret is malted sorghum. Sorghum is a grain that does not have gluten. It is commonly used to make gluten-free beers, but it is not commonly malted like other grains used in brewing.

Bard’s is the only brewery that uses malted sorghum to brew gluten free beer. Brian won’t say whether Bard’s malts their own sorghum or has it made for them, but he did say it’s their own.

Bard’s uses a contract brewer to make “Bard’s Gold,” currently their only product.

Brian’s advice for finding a contract brewer is use a brewer that:

  • Has a good reputation
  • Makes high-quality products
  • Has a lab that can ensure consistency
  • Is happy to work with you
  • Has the capacity to grow with you

Other contract breweries—or breweries that got their start as a contract brewery—on MicroBrewr Podcast:

Alamo Beer Company

HenHouse Brewing

21st Amendment Brewery

Backshore Brewing Co.

Two Birds Brewing

Craft Artisan Ales

Noble Brewer

If you’re using a contract brewer to make gluten-free beer, you’ll need to take special care to ensure there is no cross-contamination from the other beers brewed at the facility. Bard’s beer is always the first batch brewed after the brewery is cleaned. They test at several points along the process to ensure there is no gluten in the beer.

“The gluten free market around your brewery is too small to support a brewery,” says Brian. “There’s just not enough gluten-intolerant people to support a stand-alone gluten free brewery in one location.”

So Bard’s model depends on very wide distribution. And working with distributors can be tricky.

“The way the laws are written,” says Brian, “once a distributor gets a beer brand, it’s very difficult to get that beer brand back from the distributor. So if you make a mistake, it’s really hard to fix that problem.”

Brian’s tips for picking a distributor:

  • Talk to contacts you already know.
  • Differentiate yourself from the others.
  • Work with the distributor to drive the business.
  • Find a distributor that is eager to work with you.
  • Coordinate marketing across all 3 tiers.

Brewery specs:

Kettle size: 500-BBL batches.

Size and quantity of fermentation tanks:

Size and quantity of bright tanks:

Annual brewing capacity/last year’s production:

Square footage:

Years in operation: 9 years (opened 2006).

Listener question:

From Melissa Bess Reed: How do I make quality gluten-free beer that always has the same delicious flavor profile that I can count on?

Can’t-go-without tool:

The Brewmaster.

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Session beer

Other resources:

You can reach Brian Kovalchuck and Bard’s Tale Beer Company at:

Sponsors:

Beer

Support MicroBrewr

Help keep MicroBrewr on the air. CLICK HERE for ways you can help.

Subscribe on iTunes             Listen to Stitcher

MicroBrewr 080: Brewing the American Dream winner for 2015 with ChuckAlek Independent Brewers.

MicroBrewr 080: Brewing the American Dream winner for 2015

A friend asked Marta Jankowska and her husband whether they wanted to use his warehouse space and go pro with their brewing. The warehouse space fell through, but they were far along in the process, so they decided to go for it and opened ChuckAlek Independent Brewers in Ramona, California.

“Your time is so much more valuable actually planning on how to grow the business.” [Tweet This]

 

“Even though that original space fell through,” says Marta, “we were already so far along in planning that we just decided to go for it.”

They had run the financials, lined up some money from friends and family, and were ready to go. They just needed space.

They found the permitting requirements in the City of San Diego to be cumbersome and expensive, so they finally settled in Ramona, a little town in San Diego County wine country.

“More importantly,” Ramona explains, “we never wanted to be a warehouse brewery. We always wanted to be kind of a main street brewery. Something that was integrated in with community and surrounded by other storefronts.”

By chance, Marta was a tennis partner with one of the founders of Stone Brewing. He told her that over a hundred breweries were starting or being planned for opening in San Diego.

“How are you going to differentiate yourself?” he asked Marta. “The way that I see a brewery doing well in this town is having a really solid background story and a really solid concept. You need to come up with something that has a compelling story that you can tell to the consumer.”

To come up with a compelling story, Marta suggests you think about:

  • What you want the brewery to encompass
  • What message you want to communicate to the consumers

“A flashy label will get you that fist glimpse from a consumer,” she says. “But people are finicky these days, they’re not super brand loyal, they’re not going to remember something unless it really stands out in their brain, or you give them that nugget that they’re really able to hang onto.”

ChuckAlek has gotten some notoriety this year by being selected as the 2015 recipient of Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream “experienceship.” They beat out others for apprenticeship, partner brew with Sam Adams, and a trip to Germany with Pink Boots Society.

Other tips from Marta:

  • Set aside time to plan for the growth of the business during the next few years.
  • Enroll yourself in a business mentorship program.
  • Start with the barebones, just to get off the ground. Then buy more equipment when you have the disposable income.
  • Build a nest egg for repairs and other unexpected expenditures.

Marta’s suggested software systems for a startup nanobrewery:

Brewery specs:

Kettle size: 1 BBL.

Size and quantity of fermentation tanks: 6, 3-BBL plastics; 1, 2-BBL stainless; 1, 4-BBL stainless; 1, 5-BBL stainless.

Size and quantity of bright tanks: 1, 5-BBL.

Annual brewing capacity/last year’s production: 250 BBL. This year on track to be at about 400 BBL.

Square footage: 1,700 sq. ft.

Years in operation: 2.5 years (opened January 2013).

Listener question:

From Grant Aguinaldo: What software systems do you use to manage your brewery?

Can’t-go-without tool:

Brite Tanks.

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Lager

Other resources:

You can reach Marta Jankowska and ChuckAlek Independent Brewers at:

Sponsors:

Audible

Download a free audiobook.

Audible. Download a free audiobook. http://microbrewr.com/audible

Support MicroBrewr

Help keep MicroBrewr on the air. CLICK HERE for ways you can help.

Subscribe on iTunes             Listen to Stitcher

MicroBrewr 079: The importance of budgeting for working capital with Lakewood Brewing Co.

MicroBrewr 079: The importance of budgeting for working capital

Wim Bens was born in Belgium and moved to Texas when he was 7 years old. He applied to American Brewers Guild just to have the option. Now, 3 years after opening Lakewood Brewing Co. in Garland, Texas he can barely keep up with demand.

“If you start doubting what you’re doing, then you shouldn’t be doing it.” [Tweet This]

 

Wim’s original business plan called for 3 employees, adding about 1 employee per year, for every 1,000 barrels produced. They had planned to expand production to 7,000 barrels in year 7.

Two years later after opening, they had 13 employees and had started looking for a larger venue.

Today, just 3 years after opening, Lakewood Brewing Co. has a staff of 22. They produced 7,500 barrels last year, are on track to produce 10,000 barrels this year. They are projecting next year’s production at 15,000 – 20,000.

RELATED: MicroBrewr 077: The importance of writing your goals.

Wim says you must have:

  • Good culture
  • Good people
  • Investment
  • Ability to invest at the right time
  • Make smart investments in your business
  • Good beer
  • Consistently good beer

“And I think if all those things come together, especially in a market like Dallas-Fort Worth that had a local beer drought, then you have a good recipe for success,” advises Wim.

On convincing family, friends, and fools to invest in your brewery:

  • It’s very important to believe in yourself.
  • It’s very important to believe in what you’re doing.
  • Hire people who are smarter than you.

“If you start doubting what you’re doing,” says Wim, “then you shouldn’t be doing it.”

“A lot of people think when they open a small brewery, “I’m going to be the brewer.’ Ok, well who’s going to do payroll? And who’s going to do HR? And who’s going to be ordering supplies? And who’s going to be doing facility maintenance? And who’s going to be doing all your advertising? And who’s going to be doing distribution?

“There are so many things that have to happen in a brewery to be successful that you have to be able to delegate that and hire people who are experts in those fields.”

Wim reminds us to budget for working capital. His advice is to double your budget—and then add 20%.

“Working capital is not talked about enough,” says Wim. “You have to have enough money to pay your employees, to order your raw materials in large amounts so that you get a quantity discount so that you can eventually turn that into a more profitable margin. You have to have a lot of working capital until you start seeing the money come back.”

Brewery specs:

Kettle size: 30 BBL.

Size and quantity of fermentation tanks: 30-180, 1,440 BBL total fermentation vessel capacity.

Size and quantity of bright tanks: 180, 90, 80, 60, 40.

Annual brewing capacity/last year’s production: 2014: 7,500 BBL.

Square footage: 30,000 sq. ft.

Years in operation: 3 (opened August 2012).

Listener question:

From Peter Stillmank: How much beer do you need to produce each year to break even?

Can’t-go-without tool:

Rubber mallet.

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Sour beers

Other resources:

You can reach Wim Bens and Lakewood Brewing Co. at:

Sponsors:

Beer

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MicroBrewr 078: Around the world and back with the craft beer industry with The Blind Pig Brewery.

MicroBrewr 078: Around the world and back with the craft beer industry

Bill Morgan has brewed on 2-BBL systems all the way up to 250-BBL systems. Craft brewing has taken him around the world and back. Now he’s gone full-circle, brewing on 4-BBL system and loving the flexibility it provides at The Blind Pig Brewery in Champaign, Illinois.

“Is it really craft beer if it’s available in all 50 states?” [Tweet This]

 

After graduating with a degree in Biology, Bill used his left over student loan money to attend brewing school at Seibel Institute of Technology.

Within 3 years of graduating from Seibel, in 1997 he earned a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. It was the first gold medal at the GABF for the first intentionally sour beer (in the Belgian Specialty Ale category). The next year, he added fruit to the same beer and earned a silver medal, plus another gold medal for an Imperial Stout.

Eventually Bill was working brewing on a 250-BBL system and managing the quality assurance lab at a production brewery in Japan.

“If you have a large brewhouse like we had,” says Bill, “it’s tough to brew some experimental brews that you’re not even sure is going to come out right. Whereas in the brewpub, who can’t get rid of 10 barrels of some kind of strange beer.”

The Blind Pig Brewery shares similar names with a former brewery in California, a beer from other currently-operating brewery in California, and even a different business around the block from them. It causes confusion for customers and disagreements with other proprietors.

Related: MicroBrewr 044: What every brewery should know about trademarks, MicroBrewr, January 6, 2015.

How to apply for a trademark/service mark, Paul Rovella, MicroBrewr, January 8, 2015.

“You’ve really gotta do your research to find a name that won’t run you right into these kinds of problems,” Bill advises.

“It’s a nightmare and it can be a legal nightmare and you can spend a lot of money getting your brand up and going, only to discover a couple years into it that you have no other recourse but to scratch all that branding and pick something new and start over. So it can be very costly. Even if you don’t have direct legal costs up front—you don’t get sued or have to pay some gigantic fine—it can still be a significant loss just in all of the rebranding and coming up with a new name.”

Brewery specs:

Kettle size: 4 BBL.

Size and quantity of fermentation tanks: 8, 4-BBL unitanks.

Size and quantity of bright tanks: 6, 4-BBL serving/bright tanks.

Annual brewing capacity/last year’s production: Brewed approximately 500 BBL last year, pushing about 600 BBL this year.

Square footage: 100 sq. ft. in brewhouse; 100 sq. ft. in fermentation, serving tanks are tucked behind the bar; seating/bar/toilets/storage; 2,400 sq. ft. in beer garden has 120+ seats, two bars, no kitchen.

Years in operation: 6 years (opened May 2009).

Listener question:

From Austin: Did you do it for the love of beer, or did you have a more specific goal in mind?

Can’t-go-without tool:

Foursevens compact LED flashlight

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Saison

Other resources:

You can reach Bill Morgan and The Blind Pig Brewery at:

Sponsors:

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MicroBrewr 074: Contract brewing for homebrew craft beer club with Noble Brewer.

MicroBrewr 074: Contract brewing for homebrew craft beer club

Noble Brewer is an online craft beer club featuring homebrewers’ best beers. It’s not exactly legal to sell homebrew by mail, so Claude Burns at Noble Brewer connects the homebrewer with a commercial brewery. Then they ship great homebrew from their base in Oakland, California.

If you want your homebrew to be featured in one of Noble Brewer’s quarterly shipments, here’s how Noble Brewer picks the homebrewers:

  • Homebrewing competitions and BJCP results
  • Willingness of the brewer to share her story
  • Whether the recipe will scale
  • Style variety in relation to the past picks

Read: Homebrew craft beer club. And then I never left the house.

I think it’s pretty aweome, but the main reason we talked with Claude is to find out for to start a contract brewery.

“There are a lot of great brands and great beers out there that are made by people who don’t own their own brewery,” says Claude. “There is also a lot of great beer companies that do own their own brewery, but [production of their own beer] is very small. The vast majority of their beer is contract brewed.”

Other contract breweries—or breweries that got their start as a contract brewery—on MicroBrewr Podcast:

Alamo Beer Company

HenHouse Brewing

21st Amendment Brewery

Backshore Brewing Co.

Two Birds Brewing

Craft Artisan Ales

Of course, to sell alcohol, you need to have some kind of license. The process and licensing is different in every state. So Claude advises that you check with a lawyer. Usually a contract brewery is set up like a distributor.

In California, Claude says, most contract breweries would use a Type 17 license from California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. This allows you to have beer made for you by another brewery, then you can sell it to retailers.

“The ABC is very willing to work with you,” says Claude. “You go to them, and tell them what you want to do, they’ll be very willing to work with you to make sure you do things the right way.”

Be very detailed in telling your state licensing agency what you want to do. They’ll suggest the license that you need. Then ask a lot of questions to make sure you’ll be able to do the things you intend to with a given license.

Check this page for a list of state alcoholic beverage control boards.

Next you’ll nee to find a contract brewery to manufacture your product:

  • Ask breweries whether they have excess capacity for your beer.
  • Network with other brewers to find a brewery that makes contract beer.

Choosing the brewery to work with:

  • Look for a company that shares your same goals.
  • View the arrangement as a long term, mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Check references of the brewery, and trust recommendations of others.

Depending on your agreement, the different responsibilities will lie with one party of the other. Sometimes the brewery will do more, sometimes you’ll need to do it. So check with your brewery to see whether they’re expecting you to provide your own ingredients and packaging, whether you’ll need to get TTB approval on your labels, or other tasks.

“If you’re a contract brewer, and that’s going to be more of your long-term strategy,” advises Claude, “you’re going to do things like [contract directly with a hop supplier] so you’re going to have your own source of hops for your beers.”

“If you want to put a ton of really restrictive terms in an agreement, as a [small startup] contract brewer you may be less likely to enter that agreement. It’s really about developing that working relationship with each other and making sure that you have the same goals in mind and you’re working toward something long-term.”

“Everybody I have met has been more than happy to share their knowledge.” [Tweet This]

 

Listener question:

From Dan: How hard/easy was the licensing from the state? What local regulations did you have trouble with? Were the locals helpful in setting up the business?

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Saison

Other resources:

You can reach Claude Burns and Noble Brewer at:

Sponsors:

Beer

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MicroBrewr 073: Contract brewing: quality product with low barrier to entry with Craft Artisan Ales.

MicroBrewr 073: Contract brewing: quality product with low barrier to entry

David Olsen dives into things all the way. He decided that he wanted to homebrew, so he read about 15 books and took some short classes at UC Davis. Within 6 months he was winning awards at homebrewing competitions. He started Craft Artisan Ales, in Pacific Grove, California, with contract brewing because it was an easier barrier to entry.

“Even to get like a 7-BBL system going, you’re going to need at least a half-million dollars,” estimates David. “Then you have the labor, the insurance, the overhead, the space, the lease, all those other factors that go into it.

“So to be able to go to a facility that can take your recipes and create a quality end product [in exchange] for part of the margin, is definitely an appealing way to get into the craft beer industry.”

Other contract breweries—or breweries that got their start as a contract brewery—on MicroBrewr Podcast:

Alamo Beer Company

HenHouse Brewing

21st Amendment Brewery

Backshore Brewing Co.

Two Birds Brewing

David has some recommendations to nail down your beer styles and recipes:

  • Spend a lot of time working on one single beer, then develop other recipes from there.
  • Take some brewing classes, even weekend classes or 2-week classes.
  • Be super careful about sanitation and temperature control.

You’ll need to have accounts confirmed to buy your beer when it’s ready from the brewer. Here’s what David did:

  • He pushed the local angle in his products by using local names and themes.
  • Friends who owned restaurants agreed to carry his beer on tap.
  • The owner of the homebrew store helped make other connections.
  • He put samples in a cooler pack and walked into stores to talk to the manager.
  • He provided a sample, sales sheet, and business card everywhere he went.

Contract brewing is a much easier way to enter the craft beer market. The cost is a tiny fraction of what it costs to open your brewery. The time that you would have spent brewing can be spent marketing, delivering product, nurturing relationships, and all the other things required when you own your own brewery.

Brewery specs:

Kettle size: 25-BBL contract facility.

Size and quantity of fermentation tanks: 25-, 50-, and 100-BBL tanks available.

Size and quantity of bright tanks: Same.

Annual brewing capacity/last year’s production: Capacity is 15-20K BBL for the contract facility. Last year Craft Artisan Ales produced about 1,000 BBL.

Square footage: 80,000 sq. ft. at the contract facility.

Years in operation: 18 months (opened February 2014).

“I don’t have an exit plan because I want it to be a career. All I have are expansion plans.” [Tweet This]

 

Listener question:

From The Beer Sommelier: What is your exit plan?

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Sour beers

Other resources:

You can reach David Olsen and Craft Artisan Ales at:

Sponsors:

Beer

Support MicroBrewr

Help keep MicroBrewr on the air. CLICK HERE for ways you can help.

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MicroBrewr 070: Brewery law reform and scaling up in Indiana with Bloomington Brewing Co.

MicroBrewr 070: Brewery law reform and scaling up in Indiana

Jeff Mease worked in his parents’ grocery store when he was a kid. “I had grown up in a family business,” he recounts. “By the time I was legal, I didn’t have any fear of business.” Indeed, when Jeff was just 19 years old, he started a pizza business that is still Bloomington’s favorite pizza delivery service.

Twelve years later, Jeff started Bloomington Brewing Co., in Bloomington, Indiana. It was the 4th brewery in Indiana and the laws were not conducive to brewpubs.

If your state has archaic brewery laws, Jeff has some advice for brewery law reform:

  • Talk to state legislators for your area.
  • Study brewery legislation from other states.
  • Recruit the help of the Brewers Association or the brewers’ alliance in your state.
  • Educate your legislators about how brewery law reform will help the economy and the community.

Ever since they helped change brewery laws in Indiana, Bloomington Brewing Co. has been going strong. Five years ago, they expanded operations beyond the brewpub into a production facility. Last year, they started packaging into 22-ounce bottles.

Jeff spent a lot of time researching and studying the numbers for packaging their beer into bottles. He learned, “If we go into a 12-ounce package, we’re going to have to make 4 times as much beer just to be in the same place [financially] that we are now.”

“Smaller package means high volume, if you’re going to survive,” says Jeff. “Brewers never ever wish they’d had a smaller system.”

“A lot of people get so busy with the work that they don’t bother to really look at the numbers,” says Jeff. “It seems like, ‘How could you not make money putting this beer into a bottle?’ But you know what? You can, I promise,” cautions Jeff.

With 20 years of experience with the brewpub, plus more years with other businesses, Jeff has a lot of wisdom to draw. Luckily, he is generous with his knowledge.

“Nobody should be impatient to jump into this business right now. It’s already late to the party, I’d say. So if you’re going to come into this business now and be successful at it, you sure as shit gotta know what you’re doing,” Jeff advises. “So don’t rush into it.”

“A lot of times people who are considering getting into business are afraid to talk to people who are already in that business. Because there’s all sorts of fears that they’ll steal your idea, or they just won’t tell you anything, or they’ll look at you as competition, but I’ve found… that the people who are successful in an industry are more than happy to help counsel people. Go out and ask the questions.”

“You’re only going to be successful if you don’t make the stupid mistakes. And it’s easy to make the stupid mistakes no matter how smart you are.”

Other tips from Jeff:

  • Start as large as you can.
  • Be as state-of-the-art as you can.
  • Invest in training your brewers.
  • Choose the right yeast.

Brewery specs:

Kettle size: 15-BBL and 20-BBL.

Size and quantity of fermentation tanks: 2, 15-BBL and 4, 40-BBL fermenters.

Size and quantity of bright tanks: 1, 15-BBL and 2, 40-BBL bright tanks.

Annual brewing capacity/last year’s production: 1,850 BBL.

Square footage: 700 sq. ft. in a 120-seat brewpub, 3,000 sq. ft production facility for draft and 22-oz glass bottles.

Years in operation: 21 years (opened 1994).

“I had grown up in a family business. I didn’t have any fear of business.” [Tweet This]

 

Listener question:

From MyMateMike on Twitter: How long before the brewery became profitable and paid off the loan, other setup costs and debts?

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Sweeter beers

Other resources:

You can reach Jeff Mease and Bloomington Brewing Co. at:

Sponsors:

Beer

Support MicroBrewr

Help keep MicroBrewr on the air. CLICK HERE for ways you can help.

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MicroBrewr 069: Arrrgh! What to do when yer job gets boring with Pensacola Bay Brewery.

MicroBrewr 069: Arrrgh! What to do when yer job gets boring

Mark Robertson got bored of his job, so he opened a brewery. Pensacola Bay Brewery, in Pensacola Bay, Florida follows their local heritage with a fun pirate motif. But they’re not all scurvy. After 5 years, Pensacola Bay Brewery is going strong, expanding operations, and willing to share what they’ve learned.

Mark hesitates to disclose how much money they spent to start their brewery. “I will not divulge numbers,” he says, “for the simple reason that you can’t do it for what we did it at, today.”

Nonetheless, he estimates that it would cost $1.5 million to $2 million to start a brewery like theirs. This includes 6 months of working capital. “You can’t get anywhere without [working capital].”

He prefers to let another company distribute Pensacola Bay’s product. “They have a sales force, they have a refer warehouse, they’ve got distribution networks. Those things I couldn’t afford.”

“You’d have to add another half million onto the cost of the brewery,” says Mark, “in order to come up with refer trucks and drivers and a sales force.”

To gain visibility for new customers Mark says:

  • Go to beer festivals
  • Do tap takeovers
  • Give out a lot of freebees
  • Send the brew staff to the events, not sales people

“You gotta go out and work the market,” Mark advises. “You gotta go out and visit.”

Mark homebrewed even before he learned it was illegal in his state. To other homebrewers wanting to follow his path, Mark recommends investing in yourself:

  • Enroll in courses
  • Attend seminars
  • Read books
  • Ask commercial brewers to criticize your beer

Brewery specs:

Kettle size: 15 BBL.

Size and quantity of fermentation tanks: 5, 30-BBL fermenters, 2, 15-BBL fermenters.

Size and quantity of bright tanks: 2, 30-BBL bright tanks, 3, 15-BBL bright tanks.

Annual brewing capacity/last year’s production: Brewed 2,800 BBL last year.

Square footage: 3,500 sq. ft.

Years in operation: 5 years (opened October 2010).

“If I had a new brewery, I would avoid packaging as much as I can.” [Tweet This]

 

Listener question:

From Alan Gorney: How long did it take before your brewery became profitable?

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Sour beers

Other resources:

You can reach Mark Robertson and Pensacola Bay Brewery at:

Sponsors:

InMotion Hosting

“Fast, reliable, affordable, web hosting.”

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Support MicroBrewr

Help keep MicroBrewr on the air. CLICK HERE for ways you can help.

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MicroBrewr 068: An SBA loan can help open or grow your brewery with Hi-Wire Brewing.

MicroBrewr 068: An SBA loan can help open or grow your brewery

Two years ago, Adam Charnack and his partners got a $254,000 SBA-backed loan to start Hi-Wire Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina. Today, they’re expanding to a second brewery with another SBA loan.

“The SBA involvement in craft beer,” says Adam, “has been a part of the success of craft breweries being able to open and grow.”

“The way that banks are willing to look at breweries is totally different under and SBA lens. We’re all just young guys that wanted to start a brewery. So we’re not rolling in [money] or have some big financing. Without SBA involved it definitely would make getting financing a whole lot more difficult.”

Adam advises to focus on your business plan. “If you show up with a notebook paper, or a page-and-a-half typed, with a bunch of typos on it, that’s not going to cut it.”

The financials are the most important things that banks look for when you apply for funding:

  • Financial projections
    • How much it’s going to cost to make things
    • When you’re going to get paid
    • What the prices are
  • Sources and uses of funds
  • Projected and net operating income (12 months, and next few years)
  • Cash flow

“A lot of that is a shot in that dark,” admits Adam, “but at least you’re making intelligent assumptions.”

With so many breweries in and around Asheville, there is an abundance of qualified workers. Even still, employee retention is important.

“We’ve never had anybody leave our company that started with us in the last 2 years in our brewery operations,” says Adam.

His tips on how to keep quality workers:

  • Throw parties throughout the year.
  • Organize fun company outings.
  • Have a lot of fun.
  • Respect people.
  • Provide opportunity.

“If you treat people right and you respect people,” says Adam, “we’ve had no problem retaining talent here.”

Other tips:

  • Bring on a partner with an understanding of, or background in, finance.
  • Assets or an alternative means to payback a loan helps to secure funding.

Advice for someone who wants to do what he has done:

Brewery specs:

Kettle size: 30 BBL + 30 BBL (two breweries).

Size and quantity of fermentation tanks: 90-BBL and 30-BBL.

Size and quantity of bright tanks: 90-BBL and 30-BBL.

Annual brewing capacity/last year’s production: In September 2015, capacity will be approx.. 17,000 BBL/year. By year’s end, on pace of 10,000 BBL/year.

Square footage: 27,000 sq. ft. and 4,000 sq. ft.

Years in operation: 2 years (opened July 2013).

“I would definitely advise having a business partner.” [Tweet This]

 

Listener question:

From Daniel: What’s your biggest regret?

Book recommendation:

Check out the entire list of recommended books, click here.

Your Free Audio Book

An upcoming beer style:

Lager

Other resources:

You can reach Adam Charnack and Hi-Wire Brewing at:

Sponsors:

Beer

Support MicroBrewr

Help keep MicroBrewr on the air. CLICK HERE for ways you can help.

Subscribe on iTunes             Listen to Stitcher

Cans or bottles surprising results from two blind taste tests.

Cans or bottles? Surprising results from two blind taste tests

I was in The United States of L.A. at a friend’s home when I had a crazy idea. “Cans or bottles!” I exclaimed to Tim as I raised my head out of the refrigerator.

Tim stared back at me, not really sure how to respond.

“Cans or bottles,” I nodded. “We’re going to test it, right now.”

He smiled back. Another one of my crazy ideas.

“Let’s go,” I clapped my hands. “We have to go to the grocery store.”

 

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Does canned beer taste better?

When I ask the MicroBrewr Podcast guests whether they prefer cans or bottles, surprisingly, not many talk about the flavor of the beer inside. There are emotional answers, just that they prefer one to the other. Lots of respondents say that cans protect the beer better. Not many mention flavor.

One of the few to talk about flavor is Maximus Bumsoo from London Ale & Co., the exclusive distributor of London Pride in South Korea. “Definitely cans,” he says. “I don’t know why, but even with London Pride, the cans taste better. The can is more smoother taste-wise, I think.”

If it’s true that the can protects the beer better, then I should find that canned beer tastes better than bottled beer. I wanted to know for myself.

I was so curious that I recently did a couple of blind taste tests to see if there really is a difference between beer packaged in cans, versus beer packaged in bottles.

I did blind taste tests with 2 sets of friends.

The first time, we knew it was a “cans versus bottles” test. We had the same beer, side-by-side, one from a bottle, the other from a can. We were trying to evaluate the beer and trying to see whether we could determine which came from the can and which came from the bottle.

The second time, my friends didn’t know anything about the packaging. I told them that they had 2 different beers of the same style. I asked them to describe the differences between the two and tell me which they liked more.

The results are surprising.

Blind taste test, Part 1

For the first experiment, we used 3 different beers. Tim and I chose beer styles on the milder side. A really strong flavored beer would potentially mask any differences imparted by the packaging.

These are the 3 beers for the first taste test:

  • Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boont Amber Ale
  • Saint Archer Brewing Company, Pale Ale
  • Ballast Point Brewing Company, Pale Ale The Original
Taste test one: Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale, Saint Archer Pale Ale, Ballast Point Pale Ale.

Taste test one: Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale, Saint Archer Pale Ale, Ballast Point Pale Ale.

Tim’s passion and his expertise are in wine. His apartment has more wine glasses than beer glasses. So we compared each of the beers in wine glasses. One marked with a charm, the other not.

The objective was to taste each beer side-by-side. It was a blind tasting, so we didn’t know which was which. We were to describe the beer to discern whether there were any differences. Then we had to guess which came from the can and which came from the bottle.

Tim poured for Sebastian and I. Then I poured for Tim.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boont Amber Ale

First up was the Boont Amber Ale from Anderson Valley Brewing Company.

Now, let me say that I entered this whole exercise with a bias toward bottles. Call me old-fashioned—and my bias is diminishing, especially after hearing from so many can advocates on MicroBrewr Podcast—but I prefer bottles.

So for our first test, without knowing which was which, I picked the charm as being from the bottle. I liked that one better, so I assumed it was the bottled beer. In fact, it was the canned beer.

Sebastian also preferred the canned beer. Upon tasting the one with the charm, he immediately exclaimed, “I love this one. This is it.” He tasted again and said that all the flavors work together in the canned beer.

In the end, Tim liked the bottled beer better. However, he incorrectly picked this one as the canned beer. Coincidentally, I marked his with the charm the same as he did for Sebastian and I. He said the one without the charm had “far more carbonation and flavor.” So he thought it was the canned beer because when he opens a can of his favorite American macro lager, it always has a lot of carbonation and foam.

Even on the first beer in the test, we were all surprised how different the beers were in aroma and flavor, but sometimes even in appearance.

Tim said the flavors in the canned beer were muted, it had less flavor overall. “You can’t get a lot of malty good juiciness,” he said.

Like Tim and I, Sebastian said the bottled beer had a “sharp” flavor. He further described it as “GMO.” I don’t think he meant it literally, but just as a general criticism, perhaps a vague notion of something lacking. Although he did say that the bouquet came out more in this beer.

I felt the canned beer was lighter in color, had more flavor, and the malts were more pronounced. The bottled beer had a sharp flavor and I wondered whether it was a metallic flavor. Yet overall, the bottled beer had less flavor.

To recap: All three of us guessed incorrectly. Sebastian and I preferred the canned beer, while Tim preferred the bottled beer.

It was interesting that Tim felt the bottled beer had more flavor, but I felt it had less flavor. We all agreed that the “sharp” flavor in this beer was absent or less intense in the canned beer.

During the process, Tim and I each recognized that our own pre-existing preferences—mine for bottled beer and his for canned beer—were affecting our preference during the test and affecting our choice about which was from the can and which was from the bottle.

Saint Archer Brewing Company, Pale Ale

Second was the Pale Ale from Saint Archer Brewing Company.

Before we knew which was from the can and from the bottle, I preferred the beer with the charm, so I again picked this one as the bottled beer. This time, I was correct!

Sebastian said the one without the charm had a “weird metallic funk to it.” He should have agreed with his initial perception; he eventually picked this one as the bottled beer, but it was the canned beer.

Tim preferred the canned beer. He said it was more crisp and more flavorful.

Tim and I each perceived a definite difference between the two. But in different ways.

Tim felt that the canned beer was more flavorful. He said it was more crisp, it had bigger, bolder flavors, and gave a flowery sensation. In the bottled beer, he said, “You get that [same flavor], except not as flashy and fresh.”

Overall, I felt the bottled beer had more flavor. In the bottled beer, I sensed aromas of crayons that were not present in the canned beer. I also sensed distinctly more intense flavors of orange peels and hops in the bottled beer.

At first Sebastian could tell a difference, but then he couldn’t. Maybe his taste buds were getting tired from this Pale Ale that seems to me more like an India Pale Ale.

To recap: Tim and I each guessed correctly, but nearly opposite. I liked the bottled beer better, saying it was more flavorful. Tim liked the canned beer better saying it had more intense flavors.

Sebastian guessed incorrectly, but I think he would have got it right if he had stuck with his initial reaction. At first, he was sure the canned beer had a weird “metallic” flavor and aroma and he preferred the bottled beer. After a while, he couldn’t tell a difference. He tasted back-and-forth several times until he was thoroughly confused.

With this round, Sebastian decided that he really likes Amber Ales. He asked to have more of the first beer, the Boont Amber Ale. Alas, this is science—we must continue the study!

Ballast Point Brewing Company, Pale Ale The Original

Lastly, we tried Pale Ale The Original from Ballast Point Brewing Company.

Perhaps this sampling had the greater difference between the canned beer and the bottled beer.

I preferred the canned beer over the bottled beer. While I felt that the aroma from the canned beer had hints of oil-based paint and the flavor was like orange (the color, not the fruit), I felt the canned beer had a crisp, sharper taste. It just tasted cleaner, better. Whereas the bottled beer had less aroma, less flavor, and tasted kind of funky.

Sebastian preferred the bottled beer, which he felt had a nice citrus aroma. He said the canned beer smelled like pee and smelled like wet hay. He said the canned beer tasted more mellow, less pronounced than the other.

Tim, on the other hand, said there was “not a huge discernible difference in flavor [between the two].” Upon further investigation, he noted that the bottled beer had more popping floral aromas, while the aromas and flavors of the canned beer were muted. He ultimately preferred the bottled beer over the canned beer.

To recap: All 3 of us guessed incorrectly about which came from the can versus the bottle. I liked the canned beer better. If pee smell is undesirable in beer, then Sebastian preferred the bottled beer, as did Tim.

 

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Blind taste test, Part 2

After the first taste test, I realized it was too complicated, we should simplify it a bit. Huffington Post published in 2012 a very simple test with interesting results. Check it out here.

Tim suggested a good idea: Do the test again with new participants, but don’t tell them anything about cans versus bottles. Five days later, I caught my friends Jon and Kelly in Santa Cruz, California.

I told Jon and Kelly that I would pour them 3 different beer styles:

  • Lager
  • Amber Ale
  • India Pale Ale

For each style, Jon and Kelly believed that they had 2 different beers side-by-side. Their instructions were to describe each beer and tell me which they preferred.

Here’s what I poured, unbeknownst to Jon and Kelly:

  • Anchor Brewing, Anchor California Lager
  • Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boont Amber Ale
  • Ballast Point Brewing Company, Sculpin India Pale Ale
Taste test two: Anchor Brewing Anchor California Lager, Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA.

Taste test two: Anchor Brewing Anchor California Lager, Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA.

Jon and Kelly are each teachers. Kelly felt it would be prudent to have a rubric with which to judge the beers.

They are a new couple, having been dating for a couple months. Jon has been homebrewing for a couple of years. Perhaps Kelly’s rubric was secretly intended to mask her intimidation.

We came up with this rubric:

  • Color/appearance
  • Head/carbonation
  • Nose (aroma)
  • Taste/aftertaste
  • Body (mouth-feel)

I didn’t participate in the second tasting because I already knew what the selection was.

In truth, by the time we got to my turn we were kind of tipsy. The previous beers had warmed up a bit. Jon threw in a bunch of different beers from his fridge. Kelly had trouble keeping up with the notes. It was kind of comical. Not at all scientific.

Anyways…

Anchor Brewing, Anchor California Lager

The first blind taste test was Anchor California Lager from Anchor Brewing.

I didn’t tell Jon or Kelly what they had tasted until they were done with all 3 beers. Jon carefully studied the two before deciding that he definitely preferred the bottled beer.

Kelly also much preferred the bottled beer.

Like in the previous test with my other friends, Jon and Kelly noticed a definite difference from the canned beer to the bottled beer.

Jon described the canned beer as light, not heavy carbonation, smooth, watery. He said it had a light tint of malt flavor and more aftertaste than most lagers.

Then he tried the bottled beer from the glass. “Woah,” he said certainly, “this one is better.” He said that the bottled beer had much more body, more carbonation, and less nose. He said it was more typical of lagers in its lack of aftertaste.

Kelly described the canned beer as a backyard, afternoon barbecue beer. She said it was light in color. It had more head to begin with, but then it felt flat in her mouth.

“It’s okay,” she said, reflecting on what she felt was a really strong front-taste.

In the bottled beer, she felt that the aroma was much less strong. She noted that the carbonation remained much more intact. It started off with less foam, but still felt more carbonated. She said the aftertaste was stronger than the front-taste.

“I don’t think I would drink that one again,” Kelly pointed to the other glass with the canned beer.

To recap: Jon and Kelly both liked the bottled beer more than the canned beer.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boont Amber Ale

Second for Jon and Kelly was the first for Sebastian, Tim and I: Boont Amber Ale from Anderson Valley Brewing Company.

Jon preferred the canned beer. He said it smelled malty, like a pretty typical amber. He said the flavor was pretty characteristic of an Amber Ale, with a crisp malty flavor, a mild flavor, a little bit of a sweet taste, and a hint of allspice like an autumn ale. “It’s good,” he said with a shrug, “unmemorable. Very drinkable.”

When he tasted the bottled beer, he said it didn’t have a lot of nose. It tasted more carbonated. He felt it was “definitely on the lagery end of an amber.” He concluded, “It’s not as good. It’s not as sweet. But I’d order more of that one.”

Kelly also preferred the canned beer. She said it smelled sweet, kind of like molasses. “I like the color,” she said of it’s foggy appearance. “The color is very appealing to me.” After tasting it she said certainly, “This is very good. Whatever the sweetness is, it’s delicious.”

Again, there were differences between the two. Jon said the bottled beer had a little bit of a malty flavor, whereas the canned beer had a sweet flavor, but not the malty sweet.

Kelly again noticed that the head of the canned beer decreased rapidly compared to the bottled beer. She described the canned beer as having more of a licorice aftertaste that the bottled beer did not have. Kelly noted that the bottled beer was clearer in appearance and the foam persisted more.

“I can’t smell anything off of it,” said Kelly of the bottled beer. “Nothing.”

Kelly said the bottled beer had less flavor, but more carbonation. It had a weird aftertaste that the canned beer did not have.

To recap: Both Jon and Kelly preferred the canned beer.

Ballast Point Brewing Company, Sculpin India Pale Ale

Last of all, was the Sculpin India Pale Ale from Ballast Point Brewing Company.

Jon preferred the canned beer. It was clearer in appearance. “This one definitely has a piney-er nose,” Jon said. It had “a much more sophisticated body. It has a nice balance. You can taste that it’s an IPA, but it’s not defined by the hop character.”

The bottled beer was “spot on, for an IPA,” said Jon. He said it had a “subtle nose for an IPA. Some pine [aroma], but not really noticeable unless you take a strong whiff.”

Kelly preferred the canned beer quite a bit more than the bottled beer.

She grimaced when she tasted the bottled beer. “I don’t like that one.” She pushed the glass away. “I don’t even want to drink the rest of that.”

Jon and Kelly both noted that the bottled beer appeared cloudier than the canned beer.

Kelly also noticed that the canned beer had thinner foam than the bottled beer.

“Out of all the beers this evening,” she noted of this bottled beer, “it is maintaining it’s head the best.”

To recap: They both preferred the canned beer.

 

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Conclusion

Winners of blind taste test part 1

Anderson Valley Saint Archer Ballast Point WINNER
Nathan can bottle can CAN
Sebastian can bottle bottle BOTTLE
Tim bottle can bottle BOTTLE
WINNER CAN BOTTLE BOTTLE

Two out of 3 participants preferred bottles to cans, 2 out of 3 times.

Two out of 3 beers tasted better in the bottle than in the can, 2 out of 3 times.

Overall, bottles had 5 votes and cans had 4, just a 1-vote margin!

Winners of blind taste test part 2

Anchor Brewing Anderson Valley Ballast Point WINNER
Jon bottle can can CAN
Kelly bottle can can CAN
WINNER BOTTLE CAN CAN

Both participants preferred cans to bottles, 2 out of 3 times.

Two out of 3 beers tasted better in the can than in the bottle, 2 out of 3 times.

Overall, cans had 4 votes and bottles had 2—twice as many for cans!

Winners of blind taste test part 2 (with hypothetical tie-breaker)

Anchor Brewing Anderson Valley Ballast Point WINNER
Jon bottle can can CAN
Kelly bottle can can CAN
Nathan (hypothetical) can bottle bottle BOTTLE
WINNER BOTTLE CAN CAN

It would have been good to see whether a third person could have thrown off the dominance of the can. If I had voted opposite of Jon and Kelly, it would have made it more even, like the first taste test, but reversed. Overall, cans would have had 5 votes and bottles would have had 4.

Limitations of the study

None of us are BJCP-certified beer judges, we’re all just beer drinkers. We represent the average beer drinker, spanning a range from occasional beer drinker to passionate homebrewer.

UPDATE (1/10/2017): I have since become a Certified Beer Server. I published all of my study notes on BeerExamSchool.com. If you want to get a job in the craft beer industry, if you want to better evaluate beers, or if you just want to learn more about this amazing beverage, check it out!

In this study we did not consider these variables:

  • Shipping climate and conditions
  • Age of the beer
  • Variations in the packaging line
  • Drinking vessel

We have no way to know the shipping climate for any of the beers we sampled. Some could have been in a climate-controlled container all the way from the brewery to the retail outlet. Others might’ve travelled in an uncooled trailer through California’s scorching San Joaquin Valley.

I didn’t check a shipping date or packaging date between the canned beer and bottled beer. One might’ve been older than the other.

With the exception of my tour of Anchor Brewing, we’ve never seen the breweries. And if we had, we have no way of knowing whether the canning line had recently been cleaned, or if it had been a while for the bottling line.

Additionally, after Jon learned that he was drinking the same beers side-by-side in all 3 rounds, he pointed out that all of the bottled beers that I served were in short glasses, compared to tall glasses for all of the canned beers. This is certainly the reason that Jon and Kelly each noticed less aroma from the bottled beers.

And we never touched a draft beer in this study.

Bias affects perception

Here’s an interesting thing. After I tasted all of my beers and learned the results, I admitted that I am biased toward glass bottles.

To my knowledge, aluminum beverage cans are lined with a thin plastic film to prevent corrosion. I don’t trust plastic. Maybe it’s rational, maybe not, call me paranoid, I’ve read a lot about it. It is a bias, it’s my opinion. It affects my perception even when I don’t realize it.

The point is, whichever beer it was that I liked more in each taste test, I guessed that was the one from the glass bottle. Yet based on the beer alone, I preferred the canned beer 2 out of 3 times.

Sebastian was also biased toward bottles, he didn’t like cans at first. His preferences confirmed his bias—he liked the bottled beer 2 out of 3 times.

Tim claimed to be unbiased, but he previously thought that canned beer was always more carbonated. Yet he found out that to be not always true.

Before the taste test, I asked Jon what his favorite beers were for the given styles. He said one of his favorite Amber Ales is Boont Amber Ale from Anderson Valley. Yet during the blind taste test he said, “Neither are amazing. The [canned one] is more enjoyable for the style of amber that I prefer.” So it’s interesting that he was given one of his favorites, but without the label he said it was “unmemorable.”

These are the sorts of biases that affect a customer’s decision to buy a beer in one packaging over another.

Often these are the biases that also affect a brewery owner’s decision to put their product in a can versus a bottle.

Ultimately, this taste test confirmed that sometimes customers prefer the taste of bottled beer, sometimes they prefer canned beer. The packaging doesn’t affect the customer’s perception of the product. While the packaging does affect the customers decision to purchase the product, those biases are being broken. So use whatever you think works best for your business plan and your marketing plan.

And if you want further reading about the industry’s perception, check out The Session 98. and this recent post recapping the survey from guests on MicroBrewr Podcast.

 

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