Tuesday, February 10, 2015

February in Montana......2015

Well, it's February in an odd year and that can mean only ONE thing:  if you said "There must be a fight in Helena over a bill affecting breweries in Montana!", you would be mostly correct.

I say mostly because there are actually at least TWO bills relating to breweries (well, three if you count nullifying the prima facie evidence of a contract between a brewer and distributor).

1. House Bill 336 looks to redefine what a "SMALL BREWER" is in Montana by increasing the barrels-produced cap from 10,000 to 60,000 without having to shut down selling pints in their tasting rooms. There have been a couple of high-profile breweries that have pulled their beers from state-wide distribution so they could remain under the 10,000-barrels-produced cap and still sell their beer in their tasting rooms. Currently, if a brewery makes more than 10,000 barrels a year, they are not allowed to sell beer for on-premise consumption. By the way, 60,000 barrels equals 1,859,999 gallons or 3,309,606 six packs!  I have heard this bill called the "Have-your-cake-&-drink-a-beer-too bill"!

2. House Bill 326 wants to allow brewers the opportunity to purchase and hold  a retail beer license or an all-beverage license that they may use at their existing facility and allows existing alcohol license holders the opportunity to open a brewery. Either entity can own up to three of these licenses that is, if the area you are in even has any licenses available for purchase. This could go a long way to furthering understanding between the brewers of this state and the tavern owners of this state. No better way to understand someone than to walk a mile in their beer or spirit-soaked shoes! One party would live understanding how to pay for the incredibly inflated costs of the All Beverage license while the other party would learn how ridiculously expensive breweries are to set-up and run.

These two bills both sound interesting on their faces. Groups from both camps have argued they will not impact our three-tiered system of alcohol manufacture, distribution, and sale. They both claim to be pro-business for Montana. They both look toward evolving our state's alcohol regulations. While I can see solid reasons for both of these bills to succeed, I can also see real-world reasons why they might not. But the success or failure of these two bills might not be what needs to be the real focus here.

Working alone most of every day, I am left with my brain as a constant companion and relentless chatterbox. It does tend to wonder about abstract, sometimes, bizarre, things, forcing me to listen.
To wit:
Regarding the above mentioned bills I am left to repeatedly ponder the same thought, as I stir the mash: who benefits?
If House Bill 336 succeeds, how many Montana breweries, Montana businesses would benefit? how many are bumping or about to bump against the 10,000 barrel limit? Two, five, more than six? Not to dismiss any Montana brewing operation's potential success, but this seems like a hell of a lot of effort for a small handful of businesses that wish to consume more and more of the Montana beer pie (mmmmmm, beer pie!). I know, I know: "If this bill helps just ONE Montana business.........!". It seems the rich breweries would get richer.
Alright, what about House Bill 326? Same question: who benefits?
Well, the good ole' Glacier Brewing Company could be of of the potential beneficiaries of this bill passing. Could be if a license is for sale in our seasonally-sleepy burg for us to digest (I don't think there is one available.) and do we have several tens of thousands of dollars to pay for said license (pretty sure we don't.). All-Beverage licenses sell on the open market anywhere from $50,000 to $950,000 and up! Our situation would not be unique among Montana breweries. I would safely say that the majority of Montana breweries would be in a similar boat. So then the question remains floating on the air: who benefits by this bill passing? Most likely just a select few with the opportunity and the deep pockets to exploit it. Pretty similar to the first bunch.
Of course this mental exercise is not isolated to just Montana brewery politics. This scene is played out all across the country and the world at multiple levels. Nothing very Earth-shaking about the big and rich of a system changing the rules to become bigger and richer.

At any case, anyone who has been watching the Montana alcohol scene for a number of years can't help but wonder if these bill were "allowed" to get as far as they have so as to effectively muddy any legislative waters this session for Montana brewers. Quite a lot of effort and resources from several business people, organization, lobbyists, and citizen-groups has gone into getting these two pieces of legislation to where they are now. Since the Montana Legislature meets only once every two years Montana businesses and citizens have a chance only once every two years to change the laws and rules that affect them on a daily basis. If Group A would like more control over Group B (read: make more money!), it seems it might be easier for Group A to tie up any efforts by Group B to change the laws by "helping" to steer Group B into pursuing a course of action that really won't change much in Group A's world but appears to do "something" for Group B. At least for two years. Maybe that is the answer to my questions: who benefits?

Well, my brain is yelling at me to stop typing and weigh out the hops for today's brew; another batch of Golden Grizzly Ale. Thanks for coming along on my brewhouse-induced mind trip. I hope I'm given you a few items to ponder about the next time you sit down and relax with a Montana-produced beer, hopefully one made by the Glacier Brewing Company.

Myself, I'd just love to see the tasting room hours change.

Until next time, I remain,
Your Humble Brewer

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Government Shutdown....

As I write this, our illustrious federal government officials are playing "he-said, she-said" with our country. These elected individuals feel fit to use the national services you and I paid for, voted for, and will continue to pay for as a bargaining chip for their agendas.

Never mind your personal, political leanings.
Never mind how "you were brought up".
Most of all, never mind who is right and who is completely wrong in this fight.

You need to focus in on the one issue that has evaded your scope.
The one item that hits both home and community. The one thing that can drop a really mean hammer on your fun.

It is this: "How has this government shutdown affected my hometown brewery and brewer!?!"

I want you to take a deep breath.
Steady your pint of Glacier Select with your right hand.
Steady your right hand with your left hand as I answer this question.......

The answer is........It hasn't.
Your hometown brewery is still open!
You can still come in and enjoy the warm, friendly atmosphere as you have a pint or two!
I am still making your favorite beers!
In fact, I'm making some new favorite beers!

However, we are working on projects that will be changing the Glacier Brewing Company forever! (play ominous music!)
Things that have been a very long time in the making.
Things that are just good for this little mom-and-pop business!

No, really. We have been crunching away at projects that will be moving the Glacier Brewing Company into more markets, a deeper consumer penetration (?!?), and just a heck-of-a-lot more Glacier Brewing fans. Sorry, but it's going to get kinda' crowded. So scoot over, will 'ya?

Please keep in mind our commitment to the quality and creativity of our beers will not change and just won't!

In short: You do not have to remove your personalized mug from the tasting room!

So, what are these mysterious and ominous ("new favorite word!") projects?
"How will my beloved, hometown brewery be changing?" you may ask.
"What kind of crazy, superpower does the brewer possess not to be affected by the government shutdown?" you could shriek to the heavens!

Well, in two simple words.........Not telling!

It's not that I love being a jerk (I know, some of you out there DO have stories!), I just really want to see your faces when you see what we've been working on! I love surprises!

In the meantime, keep an eye on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. Oh heck, while you're at it, check our Pinterest board as well and please keep buying and enjoying our beers and sodas.
I truly hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy making them.

Color me happy but I truly have one of the greatest jobs in the world!

Until next time,
Your humble brewer.

p.s. Have you seen our new backsplash and drip tray in the tasting room?!? I'm so proud!!!

Monday, September 30, 2013


First and foremost, I got in way over my head.

I bit off a lot more than I thought I would.

I will be the first to admit that.

I got it, okay? I'll own that.

Okay, so way back when (emphasis on "Way"!), prior to uninstalling the brewing system from The Tap House in Huntington Beach, California (loosing precious brain cells along the way). Way before taking that fateful trip across western Wyoming on that painfully beautiful May afternoon when the whole idea of this was plunked into my brain. Back when I was learning the nuts and bolts of commercial brewing and product management at the H.C. Berger Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Back when my hair was much thicker and my eyebrows weren't.

Way back then, I thought how cool it would be to open and run my own brewery (it's still pretty cool!).
To do things "my way".
To make only "my beers".
How adventurous!
How daring!
I knew a heck of a lot about brewing and running a brew house way back then. I knew a lot about making good beers way back then. I mean, how hard could it possibly be.......(ugh!)

Okay, fast forward eighteen years to the Glacier Brewing Company at 6, Tenth Avenue East, Polson, Montana, 59860 ("Tenth and Main!"). We have been in operation for awhile now (incorporated July 26, 2001). We have kept our doors open to the public for retail sales twelve months a year since 2002 all the while operating a combination wholesale/retail/manufacturing business! No simple task, I'm here to tell you! Anywho, along the way, there have been a multitude of lessons dished out to us.

If you're curious, here are but a few:

This little "dog-and-pony-show" is producing ten products (beers and sodas) in six-packs, 1/6 barrel kegs, and 1/2 barrel kegs all year round (one barrel equals 31 gallons so 1/6 barrel is around five gallons and 1/2 barrel is, well, 15.5 gallons). Always striving to keep the inventories of all ten (er, actually, all twenty seven products because we must keep seven product inventories full in bottles, 1/6 barrel and 1/2 barrel kegs AND an additional three products in 1/6 and 1/2 barrel kegs!)products available at any one time just in case our distributors or retail customers should want something.

One of the rules of thumb in this bizarre industry is to have AT LEAST five kegs of each beer available for each account at any one time: one on tap at that account, one in their cold storage, one stored at the distributor, and two stored at the brewery. Not too big of a deal unless you plan on having more than a couple of accounts. Or maybe ten or how about 50 or more?!? Get a couple of distributors, several bars and restaurants interested in your products, your own tasting room and pretty soon you are looking at needing several, SEVERAL hundreds of kegs! Okay, just a cost of doing business, you say. Sure, easy for you to say as you sit on your comfy, overstuffed couch, enjoying a Glacier Select in the late evening sunshine! Keep in mind that each of these empty, used kegs (1/2 or 1/6 barrel)costs around $90.00 without shipping!
Now multiply that by 100 or 350 or 675!

Okay, so now you have your cooperage (what we call the "keg herd"). It's kind of a painful move financially but very necessary.

Okay, moving on.

We now need to get the actual brewing system. We settled on a ten barrel system (310 gallons finished batch). We choose this size because we didn't want to start smaller (economies of scale and time can cripple you) and we couldn't find any system bigger (that we could afford.) so ten barrel is was and is. Our particular brew system was found in The Tap House in Huntington Beach, California. Don't bother planning a pilgrimage there though, it was shut down for nine months when I got there to uninstall the brew system and associated fermenters and brite tanks twelve years ago.
(One particularly nasty side note: when I had the brew house equipment fully uninstalled and removed from the building, it was time to focus on the fermentation vessels (FV) and the brite beer vessels (BBV). The FVs are used to allow the yeast to transform the sugar-rich liquid into beer via fermentation and the BBVs are used to carbonate and store the finished beer. This brewpub/nightclub was located in southern California and had been shut down for at least nine months, WITHOUT power and I got there in September. All the refrigeration to these tanks had been turned off. The FVs and BBVs were all still full! Of course, I could not move them full. At this point in my week-long, self-induced mental trauma of the "uninstall" (shudder!), I was not able to think terribly clearly about how I could empty these tanks in a "non-intrusive" manner. Well, after noticing a couple of floor drains and also noticing how hungry and tired I was, I opted to open all the valves, not look back, lock the door and go to dinner. So I did. When I returned an hour later, the stench of rotted beer was heavy in the humid, southern California air and almost physical but the tanks were empty!)

If you get lucky, and I mean REALLY lucky, you could find a used, 10 barrel brew system (with associated tanks) for under $100,000 back in 2000/2001. We were really, REALLY lucky.
Don't forget you need to ship it from where ever you found it to where ever you want to install it (ca-ching!).
Also, don't forget you need to pay someone to install at least a part of it unless you happen to be a Master Commercial Plumber, Master Commercial Electrician, and a Master Commercial Steam Pipe Fitter (ca-ca-ching!).

For those of you paying close attention, all of this is under the assumption that you have secured an actual building in which to place your new toys.

This building, by the way, must meet several, critical criteria including:
  • adequate space to house the brewhouse, cellar, cold room, beer storage, raw material storage, office/administration space, and any public space you should choose to have.
  • adequate utilities like hookups to a municipal sewer system and water system with the ability to have a large amount of water pumping into and flowing out of the building, single and triple-phase power to support a manufacturing/retail/wholesale business.
  • physical arrangements to facilitate receiving and shipping pallets of materials weighing several thousand pounds, never mind the weight of the forklift itself, if you are so fortunate to actually afford one.
  • actual foundation and footings of the building to accommodate the varying weights of the empty and full tanks (well up to and beyond 3300 pounds for ten barrels). Seriously, look into this factor before you sign the papers unless you want your "ex-brewery" to be on the front page!
  • you must, must, MUST have a sloped floor poured in the brewhouse and cellar, both with trench drains unless you have some really weird fetish with squeegees!
  • make sure you have adequate ceiling heights for your tanks. Be sure to include space to work on top of the tanks (it happens)!
  • oh yeah! Make sure the zoning allows you to commence in manufacturing or light manufacturing. This is kinda an important point. Your new neighbors WILL shut you down within months if you violate this!
  • Keep this all well away from churches and schools (at least in Montana)!
Alrighty,  so we have our brew system and tanks, we have our kegs, we have our all-important building, we have a general understanding of logistics.

What else........?

Well, now we need to start buying the raw materials:
Find a grain supplier. Buy grain-$2000 per pallet (plus shipping), should do about four brews,
Find a hops supplier. Buy hops-averaging around $450 per 44 pound box (you will need at least five to ten different types of hops),
Find a yeast supplier. Buy yeast-around $400 per shipment at least six times a year,
Find a CO2 supplier. Buy CO2-lease the bulk tanks but have them filled for around $300 every couple of months or so,
Find a, er, well, miscellaneous suppliers. Buy sugar, flavoring, miscellaneous- $500-$3000 every three months.

One of the biggest costs will be the labor. Paying the poor malt-monkey to drag the hoses and grain sacks across your beautifully-sloped, drained, epoxy-coated, brewhouse floor and actually make the beautifully, creative, wonderful ale or lager you will sell. This expenditure (the labor not the floor) will probably give you the most sleepless nights. If this is your operation you'll probably think (don't ever say it out loud!) "I won't pay myself until the business is making money". You are a fool, but you're in good company. You and your family, however, will end up on food stamps and, even then, eating Ramen noodles thinking they are very tasty!
These are but a few of the things we need. The things we need to actually make the beers and sodas!

By the way, the more beer you make and sell, the more beer you will have to make and the more you will have to buy. Further pushing that "break even" point even further down the road.
Cruel truth but true.

Okay, getting your beers and sodas "out there"; Marketing.
Acquiring and holding draft taps in bars and restaurants is one of the trickiest things in this biz. It is a true cut-throat, winner-takes-all campaign. You can discount your kegs to an account only to find the "macro beers" (ABInBev, MillerCoorsMolson) have discounted even further (they can dip deeper than you can) and your half-full keg is suddenly sitting in a back room, never mind where the actual tap handle went (-$40.00). If you don't make them yourself on a lathe in your garage in the middle of winter, you will need to buy them. The style we have will run you around $40.00 per handle. Speaking of which, get used to the fact that once a tap handle leaves the brewery, YOU WILL NEVER, EVER SEE IT AGAIN!EVER!

Alright, you can hold "Pint Nights" at bars and restaurants in an attempt to further you brand. Sometimes this can be a very fun and useful event. Pint Nights are when you give pint glasses away with you logo on them to patrons who order you beer at a bar or restaurant. You will usually be there (volunteer, of course, no pay) to meet the customers and talk up your brand. Unfortunately, often the account will not be paying for the glasses and the beer from the keg is discounted to that same account. Chalk it up to "marketing".

Alright, so the draft market is hard, really hard. Really, really hard for a small brewery. How about six-packs? Oh man YEAH! Just think about all the accounts out there that DO have space for a case or two of your beers! No more worrying about tap space! Brewery Nirvana!

Slow down there Buckaroo......
Now you need to find a commercial bottling machine and a labeling machine. If you are lucky enough to find these two used, write the check for around $40,000 to $50,000, but be ready to do some repair/maintenance work on these machines. You also need to find a supplier for empty bottles. And one for labels. Oh yeah, unless you are skilled with Illustrator and Photoshop, you will be hiring a graphic designer to design your labels for you. Now that you have your labels, you must submit them to the government. More specifically to the Alcohol Label Formulation Division of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Division of the Department of the Treasury, aka the ALFD of the TTB. These of the kind folks who will determine if your label design meets all of the Federal requirements of a beer label. No charge for this, just a whole lot of anxiety. If they approve it, YIPPIE! You move on to a label printer. If they reject it, redesign and resubmit.

Most label companies will have minimums (you will get SO used to thinking in minimums!). This is the smallest amount of items they will sell you.If you can find one that deals with under 15,000 then, YEEHAW! But, be ready to pay for that small amount. You will pay a premium to purchase the minimum. Economies of scale rule. The more of anything you order, the less you pay for it  Also, don' t forget to design and print six pack carriers (aka "baskets"). Yup, even more doh-ray-me!

Okay, you have your labels designed and approved and printed and the packaging machines are in place. Now get your beers out there and saturate the market! C'mon! Let's Go! SELL!!!
No saturation yet.....
Oh yeah! You need to hire a full-time salesperson and/or delivery person. Expect to pay them a salary, mileage, and, perhaps, a commission (don't even get me started on payroll tax, paid vacation, etc.) This individual will be beating the bushes, trees, small shrubs, perennials, and every other living thing out there to get accounts! Not an easy endeavour by any stretch.

So, to briefly recap. If you would like to open a brewery of your own, your very own, make sure you have a building that can accommodate a brewing operation. Make sure you have the brewing equipment. Make sure you have a lead on affordable packaging machines. Make sure you have adequately deep pockets to fund designs for your packaging. Oh, also, make certain you have the talent to sell your beer, promote your beer, and package your beer. And make sure you have the talent and creativity to actually make the beer in the first place.

The bottom line is this: you are starting a manufacturing business with retail and wholesale outlets. You are competing against local companies who are much more entrenched than you, with much deeper pockets, and a larger customer base than you. You are also competing against some of the largest corporations in the entire frickin' world (aka, good luck)!

Digging up the courage and resources to start and operate a microbrewery in Montana (or any state for that matter!) is nothing short of amazing. This is an extremely difficult enterprise to undertake: the hours are very long, the pay is low or non-existent, the reward is pretty much in your head. But, having gone down this trail myself, I gotta tell ya, every now and again I catch myself looking around my brewhouse and I think about all that has happened to get my business to the point it is. I think about those brave individuals who took a chance on me and my dream. I think about how truly amazing it is that I was able to manifest a daydream during a trip across Wyoming into an actual brick-and-mortar brewing company in the wilds of northwest Montana! This definitely gives me reason to be awestruck!

Opening a brewery is well within your abilities.
You just need to "have courage to loose sight of the shore"!

Until next time,
Your Humble Brewer

p.s. if you need help, I am available to hire as a consultant!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Brewing On The Shoulders Of Giants

Photo Credit: Smithsonian.com (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/multimedia/photos/?c=y&articleID=30705879&page=2)
I brew a lot.

Of course, in the spring and summer months, I brew a hell of a lot.
Most days, actually.
To be completely honest, I don't do this much brewing out of a insatiable craving to create wort for the yeast. The heat can become crushing. Mixing cracked barley, wheat, and 170°F hot liquor (aka. "hot water") in the mash tun for 40 minutes and then hovering over the boiling brew kettle (°208F) like a mother robin for 90 to 120 minutes, then crawling into the freshly-emptied mash tun to clean it can be heat-stroke inducing work. Especially during these warm months. The ambient temperature in our brewhouse during a typical workday can easily exceed 85-90°F. Nevermind the relative humidity created by these steaming, giant, stainless steel vessels! Somewhere around 75-83%. Yup. Good times.

Anyhoo, the reason to brew so much is directly related to our market demands. This is what I call "The Pull". As in "How hard is The Pull from our distributors this week?". If we need to entice our distributors to sell more of our beers and sodas (which doesn't happen much at all, thank goodness!), I call that "The Push". As in "How can we increase The Push to the market?". Aren't semantics fun?

As I've said, I have been brewing a lot. During these sessions I find my mind wandering to interesting corners. Recently, I caught myself trying to walk in the shoes of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. I was not trying to channel the statesmanlike qualities of these gentlemen, rather I was hoping to embody the brewing prowess that was possessed by these "Forefathers Of Brewing".
Yup, our country's forefathers were all passionate brewers. They understood that the production of, and consumption of, beer was such an integral and important part of the culture of our fledgling country. Almost every township, city, villa, and hamlet had their own brewery or two or three. Our country's first president, George Washington, had his own beer recipe. Well, he probably had quite a few considering he was considered to be an expert in the craft!

This is the text from one of his surviving recipes:
"To Make Small Beer
Take a large Siffer [Sifter] full of Bran Hops to your Taste. Boil these 3 hours then strain out 30 Gall[ons] into a cooler put in 3 Gall[ons] Molasses while the Beer is Scalding hot or rather draw the Melasses (sic) into the cooler & St[r]ain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm then put in a quart of Yea[s]t if the Weather is very Cold cover it over with a Blank[et] & let it Work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask—leave the bung open till it is almost don[e] Working—Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed."

As I imagine Washington, Sam Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin laboring over a boiling brewkettle, my mind would wander to another corner. This time, to THE symbol of our great nation:
The Stars And Stripes.
Ole' Glory.
Our Flag!

The song (originally a poem) "The Star-Spangled Banner" is, of course, our national anthem paying tribute to that beautiful flag.
Interesting thing about that flag though.
The flag that was seen by Francis Scott Key
The "Flag-Was-Still-There" Francis Scott Key.
THAT very flag owes it's existence to.........wait for it...........

Photo Credit Smithsonian.com (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/multimedia/photos/?c=y&articleID=30705879)
This flag was made to be huge. Fort McHenry's commander, Maj. George Armistead, Commodore Joshua Barney, Brig. Gen. John S. Stricker wanted a flag "so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance." It was 30 feet tall by 42 feet high. Each star was two feet wide from point to point! It used 400 yards of best quality wool bunting and cost (in materials at the time) around $405.00! The lady tasked with making this flag is none other than one Mary Young Pickersgill of Baltimore.

Photo Credit http://monumentcity.net/2011/01/26/the-flag-house-baltimore-md/
Pickersgill was aided by her 13 year old daughter Caroline, three nieces, a free African American Slave as well as an African American slave (I know, "Ironic"). They stitched together the pieces they could in their small workroom and upstairs bedroom, but they needed more space. Across the street was the Claggett's Brewery. The stitched-together segments were laid out on the huge malting floor-space of the brewery. It was there, in this brewery, that the flag which inspired our National Anthem was finally assembled!

We are lucky enough to be alive in this great land during such a wonderful expansion of the craft brewing world. Every small brewery you visit is a direct representation of that original spirit of freedom and enterprise. The next time you are enjoying a pint at your local tasting room and that sweaty, rubber-boot-wearing, tired-looking person wanders out from the brewhouse, stop, put down your pint, and thank them for continuing the passions of our country's founders!

I wish everyone a peaceful and happy Fourth Of July!

Until next time I remain,
Your Humble Brewer

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Blink of an eye

310 gallons....

Every batch of beer. Every batch of soda. That's the goal.

I am always striving to produce 310 gallons of beer. For those of you who have not been through our brewhouse, we have a ten-barrel brewing system with five fermenters and five "brite" tanks. One barrel is equal to 31 gallons so ten barrels equals....yup, 310 gallons. Our fermenters and brite tanks can both hold at least ten barrels. The brite tanks are so named because by the time the beer enters these tanks, it has been fermented and filtered so it is clear and BRITE!

310 gallons is a strange goal to go to work with everyday but it is the one that drives me. I don't always reach it. Sometimes I exceed it. There are several factors that directly affect this outcome.
These include; the quality of the malted grain, the temperature of the brewing water, the speed of the sparge (showering water over the grain to leech out the malt sugar), and the attitude of the brewer. Perhaps the last is the most volatile and can have the biggest impact. Whenever I brew, I strive to repeat my actions from the previous successful brew. I use the same water temperature, I set the grain mill to the same crushing gap, I place my feet in the same place on the brewing platform as I stir the mash. I strive for redundancy.
Being mostly human, I am susceptible to the same idiosyncrasies that haunt us all: inattention, rushing through projects, tiredness, arrogance. Recently, I was reminded how quickly things can go flying off track. How fast a brew can go from producing a fantastic yield to producing something else entirely.

During a recent brew, I was called away. I received a call from my twelve-year-old daughter, whose after school plans had radically and unexpectedly  changed and she required to be picked up, now Dad NOW, in a teen-age minute! This call came in the middle of the extremely important knock-out! During the knock-out, the recently boiled and hopped malt sugar (wort) is pumped out of the brew kettle, through the heat exchanger (to drop the temperature from 208°F to 70°F), and into the fermenting vessel (FV). It is in the FV that the yeast is added to initiate the conversion of the malt sugar to alcohol. When I returned to the restart the knock-out, I caught myself pressing the wrong button on the brew control panel. I was about to shut off the cooling to the heat exchanger. This would send the temperature of the FV skyrocketing and kill the yeast! Our fermenters are designed to cool using jackets filled with propylene glycol that has been chilled to 28°F. If the FV is filled with hot wort, the glycol-jackets can cool the tanks but they would take about two days to do it. The "quick fix" would be to disconnect the glycol piping from the tank, drain the glycol, and pump cold water through the jackets for the next eight hours! Ask any profession cook how important it is to quickly cool down a stew or soup so bacteria doesn't get a foothold. We have to ensure the wort is cooled as quickly as possible.
This misstep could cost the brewery several dozen hours of lost labor time, lost raw materials used, and, worst of all, a lost 310 gallons of potential beer! Being a small business, these types of losses hit very hard. Unfortunately, unlike JP Morgan, we cannot absorb losses like this easily.
Back in the days when I was a professional carpenter, doing residential and commercial remodel and construction, the lead carpenter would tell me that "the really good carpenters don't make mistakes and the really great ones know how to fix their mistakes!". Pretty much the same in the brewing world. If you screw up in the brewhouse, you had better by God be able to fix it!
So these thoughts were racing through my skull at light speed as I watched my fingers press the button (in slow motion) that turns off the cooling to the heat exchanger. Of course, I quickly restarted the cooling and breathed a well-deserved sigh of relief. The rest of the wort was pumped successfully in the FV and the yeast fermented the tank, alive and thriving to work another day!

Until next time,
Your humble brewer.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

And Then There Were.....MORE!

Being in this business for so long, my ear has tuned itself to the various heaves and contractions of our local brewing industry as well as the national scene. What I'm seeing and hearing lately can be summed up in two words:PRODUCTION EXPANSION! Not just the individual breweries, but the industry as a whole. I have been approached for advice and consultation by more start-up brewery projects from all across the country in the last seven months than I have in the last three years! I recently heard one of my brewery compatriots exclaim "It seems like everyone and their brother is starting a brewery!" He is only partially correct. Don't forget their sister, their aunt, their great uncle, their kindergarden teacher, and their third cousin twice removed! 
What is accounting for this seemingly national grassroots resurgence in craft brewing? While it is very true that the craft beer market share has done nothing but grow and grow in recent years while others have shrunk! Years where every other segment of the alcohol-sales world has declined (wine, liquor, and macro-brewed beers), craft beer has increased its volume! No mean feat, to be sure! But has the growth been enough to account for the marked increase in production facilities? Truly, only time will tell. 
However, this is not the first time we have seen this type of a "land rush" in the brewing world. Most recently, I can recall very clearly how, in the early-to-mid-1990's, every bar, every restaurant, every vacant warehouse space seemed to sprout a brewhouse! I knew that expansion wouldn't last long when I went into a frozen yogurt shop in Fort Collins, Colorado and they had a brewhouse behind the freezers full of pistachio/cappuccino delight! Alright, that never really happened. But, had the "craft bubble" continued for a couple of more years, I would not have been surprised to see a pint of "DMV Pale Ale" for sale at the Motor Vehicle Department! 
It seems that this industry might just have a cyclical nature to it ("WHAT?!? SHUDDUP!"). At its core, craft beer and craft brewing are a niche item. Read that as a luxury item. However the big advantage we have over other indulgences is that we offer a very affordable, luxury item. When the national economy is walking through knee-deep muck and loosing its boots in the process, our wonderful craft beer world offers our customers an affordable, enjoyable product created with very high-quality ingredients, produced by highly-schooled individuals. We give the public a chance to enjoy a premium, gourmet experience for a very affordable price. But I am truly digressing!
The pervasiveness of the brewhouse. I am not at all against this. I love the fact that more and more breweries are starting. These businesses are EXTREMELY difficult to get going and KEEP going! Anytime you encounter a commercial brewing operation, please understand that it is a testament to somebody's dream and insane drive!
Are all of these new breweries going to be sustainable in the coming years? No, most likely not. The market for beers brewed domestically (see previous post!) is very contentious and, sometimes, downright cutthroat! As more and more breweries try to get their products on the shelf and behind the bar, the more the macro-breweries (ABInBev, Miller/CoorsSAB, Kokanee, etc.) will fight against any contraction of their share of this golden pie!
So, what is my point? Hmmm......good question....
My point is this: when you come across a small brewery or brewpub, get in there and sample their wares! Some will make you wince, some will make you happy.  As I have previously stated, small breweries are very hard to run. Whoever is doing that is running on pure dream and caffeine! Try their beers. Give them a chance. Shun the macro-beers. Embrace unique beer styles and open your mind and palate! 
If you truly believe the entrepreneur and small-business owner are the catalysts for our economy, you have just met them in your local brewer and brewery owner!

Until next time,
Your Humble Brewer

Monday, March 26, 2012

it has been quite awhile since I've chimed in with my two cents.
I have been otherwise occupied this whole time. Chasing cats. Putting out fires. Chasing cats on fire.
Plain and simply, I have been too busy managing our little brewery and tasting room. I wish I had a better excuse like; "I've been touring the country, visiting small breweries and tasting their beers or I was searching for a hidden cache of ancient brewer's yeast in Iceland."
Nope, sorry. Bottom line is I've been managing our bottom line!

A lot has been happening in this industry since my last post. Most notably, the huge, big, macro, American-owned breweries are still huge, big, and macro but are no longer American-owned. I'm talking about Anheuser-Busch , Coors Brewing , and Miller Brewing. Collectively, these three breweries held around 80% of the domestic beer market.
Well, since then all three of these behemoths have been acquired by other companies.
Non-American-owned companies.

Coors Brewing was purchased by Molson Brewing of Canada.
Miller Brewing was purchased by South African Breweries (SAB).
And the mighty giant, Anheuser-Busch was purchased by InBev (a merger of Brazilian AmBev and Belgium Interbrew).

So, to update your scorecard:
  • The maker of Budweiser and Bud Light (and more), with all their red, white, and blue marketing is owned by a Brazilian/Belgium corporation.
  • The maker of Miller Genuine Draft (and more) is now owned by a South African corporation.
  • The maker of Coors Original (and more) is now owned by a Canadian corporation.

As if that wasn't enough. Shortly after the dust settled, MillerSAB and CoorsMolson struck a deal to form MillerCoors. Don't be fooled though. Non-American-owned SAB and Molson are still behind these two.

Now I don't want this monologue to come off as antiforeignism. The point I am laboring towards is the pervasive and intentional perceptions put forth by the above named corporations to cast their brewed products as all-American in an attempt to related, and sell, to average Americans. "Brewed by true Americans for true Americans!" These mega-breweries are making an untold amount of money on very cheaply-produced beer coupled with world-class marketing. To be frank, I wish I had 0.01% of their marketing budget!

Anyhew, when you are out and about at your favorite watering hole or restaurant and the all-important question of "What beer would you like?" comes up. Please understand and realize this fact: the menu will state "Our Domestic Beers are Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Miller, etc". These are NO LONGER DOMESTIC beers! They are Foreign owned with foreign alliances! REMEMBER, the craft breweries (like the one in YOUR town) are American owned and operated.




We spend our dollars in our communities. Please make sure the dollars you spend stay in that community!

All of us at the Glacier Brewing Company are counting on you!


your humble brewer

p.s. it's good to be back!

p.p.s. keep an eye peeled for our NEW WEBSITE launching as soon as I get done with it!