Lack of Keg-Sight


We’ve been spending a lot of time lately scrubbing some used kegs we bought.

The kegs came to us very dirty, so dirty that the nice automated keg washer can’t get them clean even with repeated cycles of hot caustic and acid. We’ve tried everything from soaking to pressure washing, but the only thing that seems to work is good old fashioned elbow grease. It wouldn’t be so bad if there were only a few to do, but we need to clean more than 500 of them.

After the first couple days of scrubbing, I had to admit that I had made a big mistake purchasing these kegs, but not for the reason most people would think. The kegs are solidly built. They have new valves and the price was very reasonable, even when accounting for the large amount of labor spent on cleaning. So why am I kicking myself? Because I did not identify the source of the labor correctly.

I thought I could hire someone at minimum wage to scrub kegs. We tried that, but the results were not acceptable. Our kegs need to be flawless inside before we can put beer in them. That means inspecting each keg with a critical eye. Even a faint hint of any remaining residue stuck to the keg is unacceptable. Scratches bad welds, and similar imperfections are also forbidden. It takes someone that is deeply invested in our beer to hunt out these flaws — and even then it requires the ability to detect these tiny flaws. That limits the labor pool to two of us: Chris Kennedy (our head brewer) and myself. We are the only ones who we trust to verify that a keg has been cleaned properly.

Therefore, the problem is that this keg scrubbing is taking Chris and I away from other tasks important to growing the business. When Chris and I are scrubbing and inspecting kegs for days on end, we lose out on the opportunity to work on other tasks. We’re still getting beer brewed and packaged. We’re still getting beer out to the retailers and distributors, but this whole keg thing is slowing us down.

That was my big mistake. I assumed that almost anyone could clean kegs. When I ran the numbers on buying new versus used, I did include a lot of time for cleaning. Continue reading ‘Lack of Keg-Sight’ »

Harder Than It Looks


It all seems so simple on paper. You brew the beer, stick it in some packaging, then sell it to the thirsty hordes. How hard could it be? It isn’t rocket science, right?

Well, each individual aspect of running a production brewery isn’t very hard. For example, ordering supplies for brewing, not so bad. You need to make some predictions, you need to research quality and price, you need to have your timing down so that the materials are there when needed, but not so early things go stale or take up too much room in the brewery. And the brew day itself isn’t too tough. It is really just a matter of getting the right amount of grain crushed, transferred to the mash tun, starch converted and sugar extracted, boiling, chilling, pitching yeast. Continue reading ‘Harder Than It Looks’ »

Beer Festivus


As soon as you start producing beer (and even before), you will get a flood of requests to provide beer for festivals.

My thinking, when I was just a festival attendee, was that it must be worthwhile to get your beer in front of a crowd of people. After all, these are beer geeks, right? Well, some of them are, but at the average event it seems many of them are just there to get hammered. Continue reading ‘Beer Festivus’ »

Drink, We’ll Make More


Well, people are drinking our beer. I guess that is a tiny measure of success in the brewery business.

Of course, it is easy to have people drink your beer when you’re giving it away, like we did at the Brewing Network anniversary party and pro night at the National Homebrewer’s Conference in San Diego last week. We poured more than a barrel of each beer (Evil Twin and Tafelbully) in just a few hours. To be honest, I felt that both beers were not quite ready to be served, but the pressure of having promised people that we would have beer for their events made me give in. It was nothing to be embarrassed about, but I would have preferred to hold the beers for just a few more days. Continue reading ‘Drink, We’ll Make More’ »

The Adventure Continues


We nearly didn’t get to brew out a second batch of beer.

We needed to brew our Evil Twin right away to have it ready for pro night at the homebrewer’s conference in San Diego. We knew if we didn’t brew it right away, there was no way it would be ready in time. We had all of our ingredients on hand, except for a pitch of yeast. Continue reading ‘The Adventure Continues’ »

Somewhere Between Fairytales and Hell


OK, so the long awaited day arrived and we brewed our first batch of Heretic beer.

I’d like to say that it was easy, that there were no mistakes made, no equipment issues, and that all the woodland creatures gathered around the mash tun and sang songs while sewing me a gown for the ball. In reality it was somewhere between that and a twenty-two hour descent into hell. Continue reading ‘Somewhere Between Fairytales and Hell’ »

Ready to Brew


In a way, I can’t believe we will be brewing our first batch in just a couple days.

For the past several months it seemed like there was always one more thing that we had to do before we could be licensed or to get the brewery ready for production. It was a little frustrating at times, but then there were also moments when it seemed like the dream took a large step closer to reality. Continue reading ‘Ready to Brew’ »

Anybody Can Brew Beer


There are a lot of little and not so little things to do before your brewery is ready to produce beer.

Everything from installing the boiler to sweeping the floors needs to get done. For example, I spent last week framing out the walls for the mill room and gluing parts together for the glycol system piping. This week I will be installing the flex auger from the mill room to the grist case over the mash tun. The list of stuff to do is seemingly endless. Continue reading ‘Anybody Can Brew Beer’ »

Our Own Little Hop Crisis


We haven’t brewed a drop of beer yet, but we’ve already run out of the hops we need to brew the beers we are planning to brew.

Even being conservative in our numbers, we need more hops than we can get for this year and the next. Let me be more specific. Of course you can get hops, you just can’t get several of the most highly prized aroma/flavor varieties. I think you will always be able to get hops for generic, flavorless bittering. That is what the mega brewers focus on, so that will always exist. Continue reading ‘Our Own Little Hop Crisis’ »

Honesty and Motivation


Even before I began the process of opening Heretic Brewing Company, homebrewers would ask me what it took to open a brewery.

I usually started off my reply by saying, “Lots of money and lots of hard work.” It is still true that it takes a lot of hard work, but nowadays, some folks are opening nano-breweries for less than what most people would consider a lot of money. (It still takes about as much money as you can find. Of course, if you can get your hands on more money, the scope of the plan just grows to accommodate the funding.) Continue reading ‘Honesty and Motivation’ »