Beer, Beer Everywhere, but Not a Drop to Drink
I must say the toughest part about starting a brewery is coordinating all the little parts. Sure, the paperwork is enormous. I think I killed a couple of trees trying to perfect my TTB application. It isn’t that they make it tough (the folks at the TTB are quite helpful), but when you look at all those forms for the first time, there is a huge learning curve. There are businesses that will help you with the paperwork. One consultant offered to do the whole licensing thing for the paltry sum of $8,000. At the time I thought it was more of a princely sum, but every time I printed and reprinted and worked and reworked that giant stack of papers, the amount I was willing to pay for someone else to do it would rise a bit more. Of course, getting licensed is a big deal for us, because we can’t brew commercially until we are licensed. That requires approval from the federal, state, county, and city governments. And that takes a considerable amount of waiting.
However, there is still plenty to do and I’ve kept myself crazy busy making sure all the “other stuff” gets done, but it isn’t nearly as fun as brewing. We need logos, stickers, t-shirts and other marketing goodies. We need tap handles, glassware, coasters, keg collars, and more. We must have a website and I am told that we need to communicate with our “base” through “social media” such as Facebook and Twitter. (I must admit, this last part is kind of fun because we get to chat with people who are excited to try our beer.) Every day I spend most of my time making phone calls and writing emails trying to secure products and services for our brewery. In some cases it is more of a guessing game than a business decision. For example, certain hop varieties are getting scarce. If we don’t contract for them now, we probably won’t be able to brew with them this year. Given that we don’t know exactly what hops or how much of each we will need, signing on to buy thousands of dollars of hops is a bit like a game of chicken. Even the big stuff we need is in a hurry up and wait mode. It takes a fair amount of time to turn stainless steel into fermentors and we aren’t the only brewery that is waiting on delivery.
One saving grace in all of this frantic non-brewing is that I am still a homebrewer, and as a homebrewer I can still brew up to 200 gallons per year for my household consumption. When there is a lull in the action of typing and phoning, I spend a day here and there experimenting with new beer creations. Lately, I find myself trying some weird combinations of yeast, malt and hops that in the past I thought would never work. I think the adventure of starting a brewery has made me a bit bolder in my approach, and I’m determined to figure out some way of making these odd combinations work somehow. Someone asked me why we don’t brew recipes from the book Brewing Classic Styles. Those are great recipes that I am proud of, but using them never really crossed my mind. We need something new, something special to kick off the start of Heretic Brewing Company.
Experimenting on new recipes reminds me how much I love the creative process of brewing. It can be magical. A day spent in the garage listening to music and crafting what I think might someday become one of our core products is both exciting and relaxing. I know once we get our license and start brewing commercially that the relaxing part is probably never to be seen again, but I’m hopeful that the exciting part, the part with the creativity, magic, and great friendly craft beer lovers will last forever.