Category Archives: Brewery Startup

One year, one month, and one day

One year, one month and one day.  That is how long it took from the day I told Dan I was going to open a brewery and asked him if he wanted to join me in this crazy adventure to the day that we brewed our first batch of Moody Ales beer at the brewery.  We brewed all weekend to fill fermentor #1 with our IPA–I think we put more hops into the kettle this weekend than I’ve put into all the beer I brewed at home in the last two years.

It’s really easy to forget how far we’ve come.  For instance, our space was an empty box only two months and nine days ago.  June 30th was when construction started in earnest and the floor in the rear of our unit was removed by West Coast Cutting and Coring.

At this point, our brewery is functional and mostly finished.  We have some issues with equipment that we need to figure out, but they are not stopping us from the most important task at hand – brewing you fine folks some delicious craft beer.

Now the challenge is going to be filling all four of our tanks while finishing off the rest of our construction on the tasting room.  It’s coming along–once our drywall work is complete we’ll paint, get our bathroom fixtures and bar plumbing completed, lighting and electrical finished, and of course, get our beer taps installed–it wouldn’t be much of a tasting room without those.

My friend Brian asked me the other day what the most unexpected part of this entire process has been since I left work six months ago.  It stumped me a bit, probably because I was exhausted, but I’ve been thinking about it.  There have been a lot of things that I expected to happen that have. A few of the things I did expect:

  • Not spending nearly enough time with my wife and kids (My wife is amazingly supportive and my kids are super excited).
  • Super long days – 15 hours is pretty average.
  • Getting up early – I’m not really into mornings, I’m drinking way more coffee than I expected 😉
  • Being pulled in 15 directions at all times.
  • Having some stressful moments with Dan. It’s to be expected when you are working this hard–there is a lot going on and we are exhausted.  We typically follow these moments up with a beer and a laugh and try to remember why we got into this in the first place.
  • Being hands on during the construction–Dan and I really wanted to get our hands dirty.
  • Everyone being so friendly and helpful.
  • How physically hard the brewing process would be.  We made tradeoffs to keep our initial capital costs down knowing it would take more hard work.

Things I didn’t expect:

  • Spending so much time in industrial parks.  We pick up a lot of things in industrial parks.  I really like the ones in Burnaby.
  • Equipment issues. Seems like a no brainer, but I just expected things to work.  We had a problem with our kettle which is no longer slowing us down, and will be dealt with soon–more details in a future blog post perhaps.
  • The support of all my friends, family, and co-workers.  I expected support, but not to the extent that we’ve received.  Thank you.
  • Shipping costs.  Buy stock in Fedex and UPS.
  • Having awesome trades that love what they do and take pride in making sure it’s done right.   I’m not sure if we’ve just been lucky, but after hearing horror stories from so many people, I just wasn’t expecting it.  They have done some very high quality work and are great people to have around.
  • Having a golf tournament opportunity presented to me at least once a week.  Who knew there are so many golf tournaments?  Maybe we will have one someday…
  • BC Safety Authority process for getting our gas kettle up and running–that delayed brewing by two weeks and was truly something we had not planned for.  If you are starting a brewery with a gas kettle in BC, come talk to us and we’ll help you save a few weeks!
  • How much wire and piping we have in the brewery.  It’s a bit mind boggling considering we have a pretty simple setup. I’m pretty sure we can measure the wire in kilometres at this point.
  • Destroying a pair of pants and two pairs of shorts completely–construction is hard on clothes.
  • Really liking my super comfortable work boots–just ask Dan and James how much I talk about how comfortable they are.
  • How physically hard the brewing process would be.  Yes we made tradeoffs to reduce our capital costs, and I don’t regret that at all, even though it’s harder than I thought it would be.
  • Losing 10 pounds while eating worse than I have in years?  Did not expect that.
  • How much room 1500 growlers take up.

Things are (mostly) going to plan, and even when things deviate from the plan, we are dealing with it and adapting.  The trick now will be to get up and running without breaking through our razor thin budget.  I’m confident that we can do this, and although I’m saying no to a lot things when I want to be saying yes, I’m confident that this will keep us financially strong through the first critical year of operation.

So, to answer Brian’s question, the most unexpected thing for me: surprisingly, it is how well I sleep at night.  I’m not stressed.  Tired?  Yes.  Stressful moments?  Um – yes.  Hard conversations?  Oh yeah. But I’m sleeping really well, maybe even better than one year, one month and three days ago. And I hope that continues, even if I don’t expect it to!

Adam

State of the Brewery

For those that have been following our progress, up to now you have only seen bits and pieces of the brewery on our social media posts. I thought it would be a good idea to show you the space as it stands currently–well, pretty currently, as we’re making progress every day. Since taking these pictures a day or two ago, we’ve installed the kettle stacks (chimneys for steam) and put new legs on our mash tun among other things.

On with the tour!

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This is our building which we share with our landlords (Turbulent Diffusion Technology). We’re in the unit on the left. Bit of a mess right now–I assure you we will beautify this space before we open.

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The entrance. Ours is a light industrial neighbourhood and these buildings weren’t designed with retail in mind. To get to the lounge area, you will pass through a small foyer with stairs that lead up to our offices.

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Once you get past the foyer, you’ll see this–our tasting lounge! The big white box is our cold room and we will wrap our L-shaped bar around the front of it. We will have bar and table seating in this space.

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Here’s a view from the entrance a little to the right of the last picture. From here you can see most of our brewing area. The tasting area is on a raised floor about one foot above the brewing floor–there will be a rail to separate the two areas but you’ll still be able to watch the production area from the lounge. Please do not feed the brewers.

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Another view of the tasting lounge from the production area. Inviting, isn’t it?

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Our mash tun (with a bunch of crap on it)! As I mentioned above, it has since received new legs courtesy of our neighbours at Harbour Stainless. The mash tun is the vessel in which we will soak our grains in order to extract a sweet liquid called wort.

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Around the back of the cold room is our work area. It’s also an office, because office chair.

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Near the front of the production area is our temporary conference room. The big tin-foil box is our hot liquor tank (HLT). It is not filled with hard liquor unfortunately–in this case, “liquor” means water. Water is heated in this tank to a precise temperature before being transferred to the mash tun.

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To the left of the mash tun is the kettle. After we extract the wort from the grain in the mash tun, the wort is transferred to the kettle where hops are added and the wort is boiled by gas-heated air. Maintaining a rolling boil on 1200 L of wort requires lotsa heat. This, along with our tanks, was made here in British Columbia by Ripley Stainless.

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The masterpiece by Ben (our plumber). If you stop by, Dan would be happy to explain what everything here does. Personally, I can’t stop thinking about Super Mario Bros. Will have to paint these green.

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Towards the back of the brewing area are our fermentation tanks and the bright tank. After the boil, the wort is transferred to one of the four big tanks for fermentation. Yeast is added to these tanks as well, where it consumes the sugars we extracted from the grain, producing alcohol and lots of flavour-enhancing compounds. If you like science, Dan will draw you pictures of molecules to explain this. When fermentation is complete, the beer is transferred to the smaller tank (the bright tank), where it is cold-crashed (rapidly cooled) in order to clarify the beer. Carbonation is also added in the bright tank.

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In the far back corner of the brewery is our glycol tank and pumps. Fermentation requires very precise temperature maintenance and in order to achieve this, we will pump a cold propylene glycol solution (basically food-safe antifreeze) into jackets that surround the fermentation tanks. In the previous picture you can see some of Dan’s handiwork in the black glycol piping above the tanks.

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Finally, the back. Lots of city parking in our alley!

As you can see, there’s still lots to do: build the bar and tasting room, build the bathroom, polish up the exterior, get our kettle approved and online, among many other tasks. We’ve been hard at work and things are moving (we think) pretty rapidly–only about two months ago this building was an empty box full of glue and fiberglass.

Thanks for looking and reading–looking forward to seeing you at the brewery!

James

 

 

name list

Easily one of the most stressful parts of starting our brewery was choosing our name.  I’m not going to explain how you should name your brewery or business–it’s going to be a different process for everyone.  I’m also not professing to be an expert at this; after all, I’ve only been part of naming one brewery. I’m pretty sure this is not something unique to breweries, but it may be more difficult to choose a unique name than if you were starting, say, a sock company.  The sheer number of breweries that are open or opening makes finding something unique and interesting difficult, especially for a couple of guys who have always been a bit more technical than creative.

Early on, Dan and I brainstormed a lot of names and we registered the domain for all of them.  It seemed like every day we chose a new name we really liked and I registered the domain.  My Godaddy account saw a lot of action. We eventually decided to be strategic about choosing a name and focused on certain themes:

  • Local landmarks (Port Moody Brewing, Newport Brewing, Vancity Brewing, Tri-City Brewing, Barnet Brewing, Terminal City Brewing, Common Thread Brewing).
  • IT, programming, and computers (8-Bit Brewing, 1024, 404, Constant, Exception).
  • Words that had something to do with starting over, taking a big risk, or that aligned with our values (Curiosity, Penchant, New Co, New Line, Constant, Cloud).
  • Something that would pay homage to where we had both worked for the last few years (Collaboration Brewing, New Portal, Red Portal, Blue Portal, Sustainment, Thrive).

And we had a few leftovers: New House, Local, Red Barrel, Haze, Round Tuit (some real winners).

With each name we considered, we made sure to do some basic research to see if there were other companies with the same or similar names, or any trademarks that seemed to conflict (see the links at the end of this post for relevant resources).  If you search for most of the names above in a trademark database and Google, you’ll find something close enough.  Each time we searched and other breweries or trademarks showed up, we would scratch that name off the list. One name kept seeming right, and wasn’t showing up in our searches.  We liked it, others liked it, it came to us easily.  Rocky Point Brewing Company.  Done.  That was easy!

But at that stage we still hadn’t fully convinced ourselves that we should quit our jobs.  We had not reserved our name with the province or incorporated a company. We had commitment issues. A few months later, we had prepared a good business plan, the bank was nearly on board, and investors were lined up. We sent a note to our lawyer asking him to incorporate our company, but it turns out someone else had incorporated a company with a very similar name and our name request was denied by the BC name registry. Cue the end of the world.

After a quick education in the difference between trademarks, trade names, and corporate names we went through the five classic stages of grief.  We assumed it was a mistake (denial). We wondered: “who would do this to us!?” (anger).  We called our lawyer and tried to find ways around it (bargaining).  We felt like giving up and ignored it for a while (depression).  Finally, we decided it may be a good thing, and we started looking for a new name (acceptance).

We spent the next few weeks working on finding a new name.  We enlisted the help of our amazing branding agency and the help of our friends, family and colleagues.  We used dictionaries and thesauruses looking for definitions, synonyms, and antonyms.  We made lists of words. Lots of lists. So many words.  Every time we found something, we checked the trademark databases in Canada and the US and every time it was inevitably taken.  I’d wake up in the middle of the night with the perfect name… taken.  When you have thousands of breweries in the US and Canada, and thousands more in planning, finding unique names that mean something to you, reflect your brand, and help tell your story becomes difficult and frustrating. At this time we were lucky enough to spend time with one of our advisors who has a background in beer and alcohol branding as well as Don and Tak at Free Agency Creative.  Don and Tak worked with us to get clear on what type of company, brewery and brand we were trying to be.  With them, we figured out what we did and didn’t want:

  • We didn’t want to use classic BC wilderness and coastal imagery, or have a name that evoked that type of imagery.
  • We wanted something that reflected us.  We are a couple of normal guys.  Names like ‘Penchant’ were out.
  • We wanted a name that gave a nod to where we were located, without being all about where we were located.  It had to mean something to people who don’t live where we live.

Dan and I are detailed planners and when needing to make a decision in an area where we don’t have experience or expertise, like this one, we generally look for evidence to make decisions.  So we started surveying.  This helped us a lot.  We were still holding on to Rocky Point Brewing as an option – it wouldn’t be easy, but we figured it could be done.  What we learned through the surveys was that when people heard Rocky Point Brewing, they saw west coast beach scenes, BC forests, and lighthouses.  So many people saw lighthouses.  If there is a brewery in your market called ‘Lighthouse Brewing’ that makes great beer, you better make sure the name of your brewery doesn’t make most people think of lighthouses!

After a lot more brainstorming, surveying, consulting with our advisors and many sleepless nights, we decided on a name, and we love it.  This name means something to us and the people who are part of our community and at the same time it has built in branding opportunities and will evoke an emotional response from people who don’t know about Port Moody at all.  More than that, we are happy that we didn’t go with our original name–it didn’t reflect who we are and what we are trying to do.  It wasn’t easy, but nothing good ever comes easy.

Adam

Name Search Resources

Bitter Sweet

I wrote the following on our first Monday of unemployment!

Friday was our last day at Habanero. It wasn’t until about 11 PM–in the middle of an amazing going away party–that it hit home that I wasn’t going to be coming back on Monday. As exciting as starting a new business and opening our brewery is going to be, it’s going to be equally hard not seeing all of the people at Habanero on a daily basis. I consider many of them to be some of my closest friends and family and I miss them immensely already.

I’ve been told that I must be very confident and/or crazy to leave a leadership role at the one of the best companies to work for in Canada–but it’s because of this job that I have the confidence to do this. I’ve learned so much from everyone at Habanero and have had the amazing opportunity to serve as part of the leadership over the last three years. The time was right though. I’ve wanted to start my own business for a long time and it was only recently that my family and I came to peace with the facts that there would be no “right” time to do this and that all we were risking was just stuff–if things went south, we’d still have each other (sappy, but true). With this new found peace, I knew it was time to leave this amazing job and do something crazy.

Now the new task begins. Now we get to learn how to apply our experience and background in IT and consulting to building, opening, and running a brewery.

So, this morning, after shaking off the grogginess and remembering that I didn’t have to go to the office today, I headed out for the first day of our fundraising blitz. We are working on getting our financing all in place before the end of March so that we can commit to the lease we’ve negotiated.

So, how was day one? It was a great day in what I’m sure will prove to be a roller coaster of good and bad days. We received verbal approval on our bank loan today. The timing couldn’t be better given the number of investor conversations we have this week, and as good as our plan is, it helps to have the bank on board. Things are moving in the right direction!

This week we will be putting deposits on our fermentors and kettle. We will also be sending in our liquor license application to the LCLB, brewing test batches, meeting with a number of potential investors, and trying to spend as little money as possible. We are unemployed after all.

Adam