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Ask the Experts: Patrick Rue

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duncan:
James asks:
Your love of Belgian Candi Sugar is well documented. How do you make your candi sugar, how much do you use, and what do you use it for?

I’ve brewed about 200 batches of homebrew, but never any sour ales. How do you suggest jumping into the world of brewing lambics, wild ales, and oud bruins?

- James

Patrick answers:
For your first question about candy sugar, we typically use cane sugar and water to make candi sugar. This is brought to a boil, and when it starts darkening to an amber color, heat is reduced. The sugar mixture is boiled slowly until the desired color / flavor is reached, and sometimes water needs to be added to avoid burning. It's pretty simple, but it is tricky to get the rummy dark flavors rather than just a burnt sugar flavor. Also, make sure you wear gloves and proper eye wear when dealing with this stuff, it's basically sugar napalm. The Dark Candi brand sugars are awesome, and are a lot safer! http://www.darkcandi.com/

For getting started with sour beers, I'd suggest getting another few buckets or carboys as your equipment will be tied up for a long time! I'd suggest reading Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow to get some recipe development ideas, and getting started with an off the shelf yeast / bacteria blend like Wyeast Roselare, which is awesome. Temperature control is important-- try to keep in the 55-70 F range if possible. My final recommend is to be very patient! These beers will tell you when they're ready-- you can't dictate how long they'll take if you want it to be good.

Cheers,
Patrick Rue
The Bruery

duncan:
Sean asks:
Hello, I'm an aspiring brewer, and I had a few questions about the whole process.

1) I'm trying to flush out a lot of ideas and recipes, and looking into starting a brewpub in maybe a year or so with plans for an eventual larger brewery. What exactly should I aim for in terms of production size for a brewpub, and the minimum for an actual brewery?

2) I've been looking around a lot of sites and I'm currently knee deep in several books on brewing, but there's really not a lot of information as to what equipment I would need starting out for a larger scale brewing operation. Whenever I see the equipment lines I have no idea what a majority of it is or its function. What are the basics, and what kind of initial investments do I need to look at? I've heard estimates from $50,000 - $2,000,000, so I'd like to know from someone who's done it.

3) Once I've gotten my beer recipes tweaked just right, should I submit them in a lot of festivals and contests before trying to go forward with any business plans? Although I know it's smart to 
have a gauge on what I would need to improve or focus on, I'm not quite sure to the extent that I need to go in order to do that.

4) When choosing a staff, where does one normally look to find a brewmaster/head brewer for a start up? As things should (rightfully) be a bit uncertain and shaky at the beginning, how do you draw talent in that kind of an environment?

5) What are, in your opinion, the biggest hurdles you need to overcome in order to get your brewery off the ground?

Thanks very much for your time,
Sean

Patrick answers:
I'll go in order of the questions asked:

#1: For a brewpub, the range seems to be 200 BBL - 1500 BBL (some even higher), with about 600 BBL annual production being around the average for a thriving brewpub selling everything over the bar. If you're distributing some of your beer outside of the brewpub, I'd suggest having excess capacity. Perhaps it would be wise to see what volume local beer bars and other local brewpubs are going through in order to project what your brewpub could do volume-wise. It'll also depend on what you need to sell in order to be profitable-- if you have a huge space and high rent, you need to sell a lot more beer than if you had a smaller place with lower rent. If you aimed for 600 BBL annual production, that's an average of 1.64 BBL per day, or 407 pints before loss. If your average pint price is $5, that's $1240 in revenue per BBL before accounting for loss. I use 10% as an average loss number, but this can be higher if you're filling a lot of growlers, which tend to foam over quite a bit. Also keep in mind your average growler price is going to be lower per oz. than the pint price. In short, the level of production should be based on what you need to sell to get the return on investment you need, and this is balanced against what sales are possible for your business. The level of sales should be estimated by the size of the establishment (how many seats you have), your location (next to a baseball stadium or in the middle of nowhere), and how well you attract customers to your brewery.

For a production brewery, the same considerations are necessary, except your margins are going to be much less ($250-500 per BBL in most cases), the rent will be a lot cheaper, and your beer can reach many more people. Volume is much more important, but again your production should be based on what you and your investors need as a return on their investment. I'd recommend reading the Brewers Association's Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery: http://www.amazon.com/Brewers-Associations-Guide-Starting-Brewery/dp/0937381896

#2: There is a similar question from Dan above-- take a look at this.

#3: Homebrew competitions are a great way of having your beer blindly tasted and getting honest feedback. Keep in mind that judges are reviewing against style, so just because a beer hits the style perfectly does not mean it'll generate great sales in the marketplace.

#4: I'd recommend finding good people early on-- it's tough doing it all yourself, and it opens your business to a lot more risk than if you spread out the talent. It does require raising more money to cover salaries, but it should result in profitability coming sooner. People are attracted to startups as they have the ability to take on as much responsibility as they can handle. In established companies, people have to work their way up, but in a startup, there's a lot of opportunities to gain experience quickly. You will attract a younger crowd, as you probably won't be able to afford someone with a lot of experience in the field.

#5: The biggest struggle was trying to stop the bleeding of cash. I started my brewery with the assumption that everything I made would be sold within 60 days, and I'd get the cash within 90 days. Sales start out well when the pipeline is getting filled, but you'll likely peak early on and have to wait for your accounts to sell their last bottles before you see re-orders. The Bruery started with a fairly high overhead from day 1, so losing a few tens of thousands each month for the first year was something I should have anticipated but was too optimistic to deal with. As we continue to grow, the cost of operating also increases, so as small businesses it's very common to chase profitability while the business is growing.

Best of luck!

Cheers,
Patrick Rue
The Bruery

duncan:
James asks:
In today's brewing landscape can a new brewery thrive simply brewing the staples or does a brewer need to identify a niche? It seems that Double IPA's were the past big trend and now sours are becoming the "it" beers. Any ideas on where the next wave will go?

- James

Patrick answers:
Interesting question that I don't think I have an answer to! I think there's many different business models that currently work well in the craft brewing industry as our beer is very much in demand. The breweries creating staples are growing quickly and I think there's less opportunity there as volume is very important and there are quite a few of well established players. Smaller breweries focusing on specialty beers are also very much in demand, but as the shelves fill up with specialty beers (now being made by small craft brewers and larger craft brewers), there may be limited opportunities there as well. 

Sour beers certainly have a lot of growth potential, but given the resources needed to make authentic sour beers and the price point needed for a good return, this is a style that I think will grow slowly. Interesting session beers I think have a lot of potential, with Berliner Weisse and "mini IPA's" being some of the better low alcohol options.

Overall, there's still a lot of opportunity for staple-focused breweries in local markets, and niche-focused breweries in a regional, national, or international market. I don't think there's a lot of potential in being the next Sierra Nevada or New Belgium-- although what do I know!

Cheers,
Patrick Rue
The Bruery

duncan:
Bob asks:
What problems might arise using brett? I've heard a lot about contamination of plastic? Do I really need to have a separate set of hoses and other equipment? I would like to make a farmhouse beer but not if it funks up my equipment. I clean with PBW and starsan would that kill it?

Thank You,
Bob

Patrick answers:
Brettanomyces is well known for its resilience, being able to survive in porous containers like wood barrels (where it has a natural food source), and also in plastic, where it can harbor in scratches. It would be best to have a separate set of equipment if you're using plastic materials. If you are using stainless steel or glass equipment, a good cleaning regimen will eliminate the brett. Scrubbing with PBW and Starsan for a sanitizing rinse should do the trick, but having separate plastic equipment for your funky beers is inexpensive and will help you sleep better at night.

Cheers,
Patrick Rue
The Bruery

duncan:
Robert Asks:
I’ve been using an Igloo 3 Gal Water Cooler as a Mash Tun for a while now. Only long enough to see that it works & that I need a bigger Cooler if I want to go to all grain.

I started looking for a 10 Gal Cooler & located an Igloo 10 Gal which I’ve seen in Pictures of peoples’ Systems. Yellow with Red Lid & Trim. 

While poking about looking for a good price I noticed the Rubbermaid had a warning that it was not suitable for Hot Liquids. I went to the Igloo Mfgr Site & e-mailed Customer Support to ask about using the Cooler with 160 Deg Liquids.

2 days later, after I had ordered the 10 Gal Igloo, I got a Reply saying that the Cooler was not suitable for high temperature liquids, that the foam would expand & split the Outer Shell or the Inner Lining & that such use would void my 1 year warranty.

I’m not concerned about the Warranty but I’d rather not have the shell or lining split & spoil the Beer or the look of the Brand New Cooler.

What say you?. I’m sure I’ve seen this cooler in use in many System Pictures. Any reason to be concerned?

Thanks for any help.
Robert

Patrick answers:
Any plastic cooler will have a similar risk due to the heat causing expansion of the insulation, which could crack the outer plastic shell. The manufacturer won't make a recommendation for a use that is incompatible with the intended use of the cooler. The interior of the cooler is made from polypropylene, which has a temperature limit of 212 F, and the insulation is polyurethane, which has a similar temperature limit (perhaps a little higher). You'll likely get years of use out of the vessel if you're using it as a mash tun (temperature of 140 - 160 F), so I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Cheers,
Patrick Rue
The Bruery

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