Four Years… Goes By Quick!
I apologize to all of you in blogland. First off, I apologize for not contributing to the blog. I’ve avoided writing here for a very long time, and while I’d like to commit to more blog posts, I feel that doing so won’t actually help in me posting more frequently. Secondly, I apologize for not being more timely with this post! I was supposed to write about our four years of being in business during our anniversary month, but with the ten anniversary events our 31 days of May archive promotion, new fermenters, Tasting Room and related construction, and all of the other changes going on at The Bruery, I couldn’t find the time!
My life four years ago versus now is completely different. On June 13th, 2008, Tyler was The Bruery’s only employee. The two of us did everything. Brewing, bottling, labeling, cleaning, bookkeeping, sales, compliance, the list goes on. Actually, we did have some great volunteers who helped bottle. Some of their wives still haven’t forgiven them for the 12+ hour days of bottling (and as a result, coming home smelling like a brewery). One of the early volunteers, Ben Weiss, became a legitimate part time employee on June 23rd. In all of 2008, we brewed the equivalent of what we now brew in less than a week. While each task was fairly minimal given our size at the time, it was a ton of work because it was the first time I was doing any of these tasks, other than cleaning toilets!
We sold our beer in Southern California exclusively with about six accounts, and on June 9th, we sent our first shipment to Stone Brewing Co. It consisted of 12 kegs of Black Orchard, 55 cases of Batch No. 1, 55 cases of Saison Rue, 55 cases of Orchard White, 12 kegs of Orchard White, 5 cases of glassware, and 18 tap handles (which we made ourselves).
|Pallets of Batch No. 1 – Levud’s in the brewery.|
This first order was the biggest order we’d ship to them until November of 2008. I had no idea what to expect as far as sales volume in the first year, and I was very afraid about brewing too much and having a bunch of beer I couldn’t sell. Plus, I was running out of cash and literally couldn’t afford to purchase kegs or more bottles until we sold what we already packaged. It was part of the plan to put beer into bourbon and wine barrels to kick off our barrel aging program, and this made up a significant amount of production in the first year. I believe we filled around 50 barrels between June and December of 2008. We had four fermenters, and at this point we likely only had Trade Winds Tripel in the fermenter. Three fermenters were empty, something today that would drive me nuts! This batch of Trade Winds only used thai basil from my backyard. This basil bush went from amazingly full with flowers and leaves to being a bundle of sticks after this first 30 BBL batch. We bottled that batch on June 23rd, and weren’t able to sell it until mid-August. Nowadays we start selling Trade Winds in April. When October came around and we started selling Autumn Maple, we still had quite a bit of Trade Winds in inventory that we had to sell by the case from the tasting room at a steep discount. By the end of the year, my wife Rachel came on board to manage the books and Jonas came on board to help in the tasting room. The first year for The Bruery was very difficult. My Dad (my business partner and The Bruery president) and I met every few weeks, and I’d bring the current financial reports and we’d compare them to projections. Those were disappointing times to say the least. There is nothing worse than trying to raise more money than when you’re in the process of losing it. We lost a ton of cash, it was a lot of work, but somehow I have mostly fond moments of that time. The beer must have kept me happy!
Comparing our first year to our fourth year is tough– we might as well be talking about two different breweries. We now have 45 employees, and will likely hit over 50 employees within the next few months. We are distributed in 20 states (plus DC), a few countries, and we’re able to sell everything we produce. What a great situation to be in, right?! On an ongoing basis, 40% of our production goes into oak barrels, where on average it will age for 14 months. Our barrel aged beers include everything from rich stouts to sour ales and other experimentations.
|The new Tasting Room in progress.|
We are also building a new cellar with 130% more stainless fermentation capacity than we currently have, a new tasting room, a pilot brewhouse, more warehousing space, and a dedicated QC lab! Thankfully, The Bruery isn’t losing money anymore. However, we are spending everything we have to build this new part of our brewery, and invest in our barrel aged beers where we won’t see a return for some time. My tasks have gone from doing everything at the brewery to just doing what I want to work on, or at least that’s the goal. It’s a spectacular thing, but to be honest, I’m still stressed! It’s just part of my personality that probably won’t go away, no matter how good things are going.
I look forward to the next four years, and wonder how I’ll perceive myself and The Bruery of 2012 in 2016. Will I consider The Bruery of 2012 to be as small as I now consider The Bruery of 2008? Or will I have overestimated our demand, and find myself selling cases in the tasting room at a steep discount? I’m also curious where the craft brewing industry will be in 2016– will we reach 10%+ marketshare, or will there be less breweries than today? All I know is it’ll be an interesting ride.
Thank you to all of our supporters, including our fans, loyal accounts, distributors, suppliers, writers, current and past employees, for making The Bruery’s success possible! This isn’t just The Bruery’s anniversary, it’s all of our anniversary. I look forward to the continued opportunity to celebrate life and great beer with you.