Thursday, July 29, 2010

Here's to Being Second

"If you're not first, you're last" might be good enough for Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, but I say screw that!

I am sitting in Golden, Colorado's second largest brewery sipping a Mad Molly Brown Ale.  There is a large difference between 1st and 2nd here in Golden.  I understand being second....and last.  I can attest, while having not exactly thrived, it isn't a bad place to be.  I am the second son, and last child.  I am often second best to whomever else, sometimes dead last.  I have a great personality, and am a loyal companion....and my character is about as built as it can get.....The brewery does what it does in the shadow of that larger brewery across town.

The brewery itself is located in the back yard of the brewmaster who lives in the historic district of Golden.  As I sit here, I can look out the window, into the neighbor's yard.  I can't help feeling a little sorry for the neighbors, unless, they like beer and have an "agreement".  Even I wouldn't want to live over there.  Everything about the Golden City Brewery is second rate, second hand, and second .....well something....everything, except that is, their friendlieness and commitment to their craft.  In the last few moments I have watched a number of people come in for growlers, kegs, and pints for the beer garden.  I am alone inside listening to classic rock, and the sound of the breeze clinking the collection of World Beer Cup and GABF medals together as they hang unceremoniously on a hook next to the bar.  Some are gold, (that is, not second).  A few locals sit outside in the beer garden.  This brewery has been around for years and years.  It was here when I worked in Golden in the mid nineties.  It is in the same location.

This is the brewery that I would build if (when?) I were to build a brewery.  Nothing about it says "look at me!"  It is the kind of brewery that should be tucked away every little cool neighborhood.  The kind of place you go because you know to avoid the tourist and hipster crowds.  The pints are $3 during happy hour (open-3pm), otherwise $4.  They currently have 6 beers on tap, and the three that I have had are decent representatives of their styles.

I can't speak to their profitability, but, knowing that I am producing beers at $0.30-$0.60 cents a bottle (or $6 per gallon)....perhaps it is a workable business model.  In the hour I have been sitting here, they have sold 1 keg ($115), 4 growler refills ($12.50), approximately 12 pints ($3), two pitchers ($11), one sampler flight of beers ($7), and two orders of pizza ($5 to $10 depending on what it was).  Approximately, $230 per hour.  If their expenses are in the ball park of mine *(they have labor, equipment, and rent to contend with, but brew in larger batches for volume discounts), their costs are $45-90 for the keg, $6-12 for the growlers, and $6-8 for the pints, and $2 for the flight of samples.  $112 or less.  One hour, off-peak.  $100 profit.

I am not saying that brewing is an easy money proposition, but it doesn't seem like this is impossible.  The hardest part is start up costs and actually doing the work before you make enough to hire some employees.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's Not So Bad?

Homemade beer changes over time.  I have discussed this numerous times, but I have never learned the lesson well enough.  Beers need at least two weeks to carbonate fully, and then a few more weeks to age.  What is happening is that the yeast is cleaning up the beer, consuming what little oxygen is left and other byproducts left over from their first go around.  In general, the bigger the beer (the more gravity, alcohol, and/or body), the longer it needs to hit its peak.  The sad unfortunate fact is that most of my beer is consumed by me before it hits its peak.  Of course, the inverse is true as well.  The lighter the beer, the quicker it hits its peak, and the quicker it declines.  I have had only one beer atrophy disaster.  Last year's blonde ale went way bad.  Actually the yeast autolyzes, or dies and the cell is consumed by its own enzymes.  This produces a considerable stink and taste (like rubber and sulfur....or some people I have traveled half way across the country with).

This leads me back to our watermelon wheat beer.  I tasted it today, and it is more watermelon flavored and less vegetablely (not a word, but fitting) smelling and tasting.  More like watermelon and less like its rind.  This is a good thing, but it still doesn't do much for I continue to poo-poo this beer.  My brother reports that some guys on his hockey team love it.  They LOVE IT!  They have offered to trade commercially produced beer for it.  I believe that this is one hell of a compliment.  It is beyond the "I would buy this" and is more like "How can I buy this?" Or "I want to buy this!"  This is a beer that at someone would go out of their way for.  I just had a similar proposition from a friend that tasted our Scottish Ale.

I am uncertain as to the legality of bartering home made beer.  Home brewing legislation varies from state to state, but all states as well as the federal government restrict its sale.  Technically, you can only brew a fixed amount of beer per year.  I seem to remember it was 100 gallons per person of drinking age, to a maximum of 200 gallons (6.45 bbl).  In my case, legally, I can make almost 17 twelve gallon batches at my premises for my personal use.  I am not going to bump up against that regulation any time soon.  I would have to consume approximately 38 beers a week to need that much.  I don't even have that many friends.  The bartering is less clear.  In my opinion, to exchange home brew for other goods and services would be equivalent to it having a monetary value, and could constitute a sale (which then would need to be taxed and illegal without licensure).  Some states restrict the transport of home brew (WA), restrict the serving of homebrew (making competitions or home brew clubs illegal) (OR), and god forbid, some states outlaw it altogether (AL, MS, OK and until recently UT).  Luckily, Colorado isn't one of them.  Trading something for its equivalent could be considered not a sale, however, if you trade a Corvette for an equivalently priced Porsche you would still have to pay the taxes on the cash value to the Colorado State DMV.  So, I am willing to bet that trading untaxed beer for taxed beer is still considered a no-no.  However, if you were to come over with a six pack of your own and mistakenly leave with a different six honest mistake.

I am not super excited to trade for beer anyway.  I can already make whatever I want.

But, maybe, just maybe we are onto something.  So, maybe we can formulate recipes and brew serious beer of different styles.  Maybe some of our beers are actually worth drinking....and maybe my taste in beer is not out of whack with the beer drinking world.  I need to have some of my friends that roll with the light beers taste this stuff to see what they think of this fruited beer.  Either way, if I am wrong, I can blame it on the beer.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A friend of mine told me, "Sometimes when you make something, you are more critical of it."

He liked my Watermelon Wheat creation (or what I call Whatermelon).  He can have it, for all my concern.  The fact is, I try to evaluate our beer in as unbiased a fashion as I can.  I don't know if it is entirely possible.

My watermelon beer is not undrinkable, and would be nicer with a slice of watermelon garnish, but it isn't as sweet as I would have hoped.  It has improved over the last week as well.  The taste is a little less of rind, and the head has presented itself to a minor degree.

What can I say?  It was an experiment.  One that did not increase my enjoyment of the beer, and I can't say this beer is in any way ready for public consumption or is marketable in any way.  And there are worse beers being sold.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It isn't that it is bad.  It is okay.  Watermelon beer with the sugar fermented out tastes like eating the rind.  It definitely has the flavor of watermelon, but the beer itself is okay or worse.  I would rather have had another batch of our all grain blonde, however, and even that beer is just okay.

I have a knack for the dark malty ales, and my taste for them are on the upswing.....I can't yet feel fall in the air, but my mind is already there.

My brother has asked to brew a brown next.....a style that I have brewed many great examples, but none that satisfied me.  It is my white whale.  My first non-kit extract beer in 1993 was a brown ale that was excellent.  I lost the recipe, and although I remember the basics, I have searched the seven seas, and never have seen that fish again.

Still, I outfit my boat and head to the open water.....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

six month summary

In the first half of 2010, we brewed 6 batches, 612 (12 ounce beers) at an average cost of $0.53 a bottle.  It has been a period of varied results.  We have increased our average efficiency from the low sixties into the mid 80's from January to July, and we will be able to reduce consumption of grains as a result.  We also have had equipment problems that have held our bottle yield down and our per bottle costs up.  Our last beer, watermelon wheat yielded 116 bottles at 85% efficiency ($0.35 per bottle for a 5.7% ABV for a lowly hopped beer).  The beer was supposed to be a 5.0% beer, but we had a better efficiency, and if we watered it down to that, would have been producing at almost $0.25 per beer).  Our all malt blonde ale was 82% efficiency, but we only yielded 68 bottles because of problems with the boil kettle.  We lost at least two gallons (almost a full case).  So, while this all averages out, we would be below 50 cents a bottle.

All of that being said, we didn't brew as much as I would have liked, but once a month is respectable.  The next six months should have us fixing our process problems.  If we get six more brews in this year, I would expect costs to drop and bottle yields to go up.  If I can average 80+% efficiency and bottle runs averaging 110 for 12 gallon batches, I would be happy.  It would make our average cost about $0.45 depending on what we brew (we don't brew a lot of big or hoppy beers).