Monthly Archives: August 2014

Brew Day: Sean Claude Van Damme (Belgian Scotch Ale)

This beer came together quickly due to a confluence of factors. A few months back I decided I wanted to perfect a recipe for an English bitter. At the time I was brewing mostly one gallon batches. My first bitter recipe became infected. I ordered a couple pounds of Halcyon malt, which allegedly has a “sharper” flavor than Maris Otter, the British base malt I typically use in English styles that I brew. I was curious to see how the flavor might be different. Suffice to say, I never got around to brewing the bitter.

I have two gallon BIAB tripel I plan to brew, but my BIAB bag finally bit the dust. After lots of use it developed several holes. I figured I could brew a one gallon batch and remove the grain from the mash with a strainer. Essentially it would be brew-in-a-bag without the bag. At that point it made sense to use the Halycon malt in my one gallon batch.

With the still warm ambient temperatures, and my British base malt my first thought was a Belgian Stout along the lines of Allagash Black. Belgian Stouts, while not an official Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) style, are similar to other stouts except they use Belgian yeasts. I started to research a recipe when I also discovered that there are a few Belgian brewers that brew Scotch Ales. I’ve brewed several stouts, but I had always wanted to brew a Scotch ale.

The style developed in Scotland as brewers made the best of the ingredients that were available. Hops are not indigenous to Scotland and needed to be imported from England or Europe. As a result hops were used very sparingly and boiled for a long time to extract as much bitterness as possible. These long boils lead to kettle caramelization where the sugars in the wort begin to caramelize during the boil. They also used a small amount of roasted barley to help balance the malt sweetness.

Most commercial Scotch ales you will find in the US are a Wee Heavy (Scotch Strong Ale). In Scotland they also produce lower alcohol varieties: Light 60/-, Heavy 70/-, and Export 80/-. I didn’t have enough malt for a Wee Heavy, so I brewed the beer to Export 80/- strength. I generally stayed within the style parameters with the exception of a small amount of Dark Candi Sugar and of course the yeast. For this beer I used a 90 minute boil and added 0.2 oz of Fuggles hops at the beginning of the boil as is typical for a Scotch ale.

I was going for a full-bodied beer so I tried to mash at a higher temperature. My starting gravity was higher than I had expected. I hope the additional fermentable sugars isn’t at the expense of the body. Scotch ales other than the Wee Heavy are supposed to be medium-light to medium bodied, so I think I will be ok if the final beer only comes out with a medium body. I ended up just shy of one gallon which makes me feel like I finally have my BeerSmith settings where they need to be.

A part of me wishes I had do ne a two gallon batch and a split fermentation. I could have fermented one gallon with the Belgian yeast, and fermented the other gallon with freshly harvested Brewer Patriot from Bill’s Brown Ale and made a more authentic Scotch Ale. I still want to do one in the future. I suspect when I do it will be a Wee Heavy.

Just a touch of roasted barley to help balance the malt sweetness.

Just a touch of roasted barley to help balance the malt sweetness.

With a one gallon batch you can ferment in a one gallon growler. I used a blow-off tube to compensate for the lack of head space.

With a one gallon batch you can ferment in a one gallon growler. I used a blow-off tube to compensate for the lack of head space.

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Pumpkin beer, if you must

As a society it seems we are in a bit of a pumpkin craze. Pumpkins used to be for carving and the occasional pumpkin pie. Now in the fall pumpkin is everywhere. Pumpkin muffins, pumpkin spiced coffee, pumpkin lattes, and of course pumpkin beer.

In the craft beer world the proliferation of pumpkin beer is over the top. I know one Beverly beer and wine shop is purposely reducing their selection of pumpkin beer so as to not waste valuable shelf space on a bunch of pumpkin beers that all taste the same. There are only a couple pumpkin beers that stand out above the pack for me. Shipyard’s Smashed Pumpkin is so vastly superior to the ubiquitous Pumpkinhead I have no desire to ever have the latter again. The same applies to another of my favorites, Harpoon’s Imperial Pumpkin as it relates to the UFO Pumpkin. Pumpkin aficionados swear by Pumking, according to my notes and recollections I was lukewarm at best.

Last year I only had one Pumpkinhead. I also went to Bogie’s for their pumpkin beer tasting. The beers were very good, but by the time it was over I just assume turn into a pumpkin than drink pumpkin anything again any time soon. As a child I was a fussy eater and wouldn’t touch any pumpkin food items. As an adult I have thankfully expanded my pallet, but I am at best a pumpkin agnostic. The only reason I brewed pumpkin beer in the past is because my girlfriend is a pumpkin lover who could eat a pumpkin muffin 12 months out of the year. She insisted we brew a pumpkin beer.

If you have cooked with fresh pumpkin you are probably aware cooking with fresh pumpkin sucks. Brewing with fresh pumpkin might even be worse. The difference in taste between fresh and the canned pumpkin most commercial brewers use is significant enough that it is worth the effort. If you must use canned pumpkin be sure that it is free of preservatives. The last thing you want is a preservative in the pumpkin to kill our yeastie friends off during fermentation.

Here is the easiest way for a beginner and/or an extract brewer to get the fresh pumpkin taste:

  • buy a baking pumpkin and not a big, hollow carving pumpkin
  • carve up the pumpkin in half or in small wedges
  • remove all the innards and seeds
  • roast the pumpkin at 350F in a pool of water in a baking dish
  • be sure to roast until the pumpkin appears to be caramelized, approximately 30 minutes
  • steep the pumpkin with your specialty grains to extract the flavor and color
  • brew the rest of the batch as you would any other batch

There are several Pumpkin Ale kits available. Northern Brewer’s Smashing Pumpkin has excellent reviews. Most of these kits do not come with pumpkin, just pumpkin spices. In that case you can use the above steps to add real pumpkin flavor. If you are coming up with your own recipe you want to start with a lightly hopped base style, with little or no late hop additions, and a clean fermenting yeast strain. It is critical that you use your spices judiciously. I actually prefer ground spices because they are easier to portion out. Last year I threw in a cinnamon stick at the end of the boil, my starting gravity was a lot lower than I had planned, and the finished beer wasn’t malty enough to balance the cinnamon.

This is the easiest way to brew a pumpkin beer. For this year, I am actually doing a slightly different process. My ingredients are already ordered. I am waiting for the pumpkin harvest. I’ll be sure to share all the details in a future brew day post.

Carving pumpkins work better to serve out of than as an ingredient.

Carving pumpkins work better to serve out of than as an ingredient.

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Tasting Notes: Pinch Hit Belgian Pale Ale

I am not one to leave loyal readers of the blog hanging. I am sure you are all absolutely dying to know how the beers I have chronicled brewing in the blog actually taste. As we go I will be doing “Tasting Notes” posts where I share my thoughts on how the beers actually come out.

The Pinch Hit Belgian Pale Ale pours a light amber color. There is a small white head that fades quickly. Clarity is decent, I probably could have decanted from the bottle a little more carefully. In a bottle conditioned beer there will be sediment at the bottom of the bottle. It won’t kill you, it’s actually high in B Vitamins, but it will make the poured beer cloudy if you don’t pour carefully.

The aroma has hints of pear with an underlying malt sweetness. As I would expect from an extract beer, the beer is medium-bodied. Given the 4.56% alcohol by volume (ABV), the beer is quaffable and finishes just dry enough that you want another sip. I think I had just enough of a late hop addition to add flavor and complexity.

The Belgian Ardennes yeast flavor is front and center. There is a spiciness, and I detect a subtle banana flavor, but none of it takes away from the drinkability. For a style that is an “everyday” beer in the Flemish provinces of Belgium it’s exactly as it should be. It’s not exactly the most complex beer in the world, but it was exactly what I hoped it would be. It’s a very good, very sessionable beer that I could drink all day. I shared a bottle this weekend at a get together and that seemed to be the consensus.

If anything, if I were to brew this again I might increase the ABV a touch to get it closer to 5.0%. The beer finished dark enough I could add a little more extract or base malt if I converted the recipe to all-grain. I am very happy with how it came out, and look forward to enjoying this beer over the next few months. Since it’s a five gallon batch, I have plenty to enjoy and share.



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Tips for homebrewing economically

Homebrewing can be as involving of a hobby as you want it to be. A simple starter kit with ingredients for your first batch requires a modest initial investment of around $100-$200. If you want to brew more than once batch at a time you will initially be looking to buy additional fermenters. There are other gadgets and accessories that while not entire necessary that make the process easier and your beer better. If you then decide to take the leap to all-grain brewing or kegging the investment is even more significant. Here are some tips to save money as a homebrewer:

  • Buy in bulk: Depending on how often you brew and how much disposable income you have, it’s always a good idea to buy your ingredients in bulk. If I order online I will order 3-4 batches worth of ingredients at a time to save money on shipping and handling. If I am driving to a homebrew shop I am saving time and gas by buying ingredients for multiple batches. Now I have my grain mill I can also order my grains I’m bulk instead of a few pounds at a time.
  • Craigslist is your friend: There isn’t always a lot of homebrewing equipment for sale on Craigslist, especially in the North Shore, but every once in awhile you can find something. I’ve seen people who received homebrew kits as gifts, never used them, and are willing to sell them for as low as half off the retail price. The real goldmine is when an avid homebrewer has a lot of equipment and has to sell it all at once for some reason. Sometimes if a homebrewer is moving across the country or downsizing his/her residence he/she will sell all their gear for a super cheap because they don’t have the time to piece it out. I’ve seen ads with kegs, kettles, burners, carboys, mash tuns, stacks of fermenters, you name it for only $300-$400. You can find a motivated seller and purchase a whole setup for a fraction on the cost of buying new gear. Craigslist is also the best place to find a beer fridge.
  • Look for deals: The big websites run deals all the time, as do most local shops. I took advantage of a 20% off sale to purchase my mill and wort chiller. I took advantage of another special to purchase 4 used pin-lock kegs for only $125. I shopped around and found a great deal on a CO2 regulator. The Twitter account @homebrewfinds is a tremendous resource in finding deals on all things homebrew related. The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) also offers exclusive deals to AHA members.
  • Make long-term purchases: I purchased two Party Pig mini-kegs on eBay last year. This year I purchased an insulating jacket to keep my beer cool during cookouts and parties. Now I use the pigs mostly as fermenters and am in the process of investing in real kegs. In hindsight was it the best investment? I’ve gotten good use out go them, and when the pressure pouches actually activate the system works great, but to answer the question probably not. I may invest in a slightly larger kettle so I can brew 3 gallon brew in a bag batches on my stove-top. That will free up the pigs and render my 5 gallon kettle obsolete. I am trying to make sure that if I do upgrade my kettle I am not going to be replacing that again in a year. The bottom line is try to avoid spending money on equipment you think you may be replacing any time soon.
  • All-grain brewing can be less expensive in the long run: Grain is a lot less expensive than extract. While purchasing the equipment for all-grain does come with up-front costs, you will save money in the long run on ingredients. If you’re an occasional brewer it may make more financial sense to stay with extract as it would take even longer for the ingredient savings to offset the cost of the equipment.
  • Plan your batches: In the past I have talked about planning my batches so I can reuse the yeast. What I will do is when I order ingredients I will start with my lightest beer, pitch the yeast, harvest it, and reuse it in subsequent batches. This also saves time and money in creating yeast starters. If you plan on brewing several recipes with the same type of hop, you can usually purchase your hops by the pound for a lower rate than by the ounce.
  • Also remember that the more beer you brew the less money you will be spending on commercial beer! That is a great way to rationalize to yourself or your spouse spending money on homebewing.



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Creating your own recipes

There are plenty of brewers who are more than content to brew kits. Some kits come with hopped extract and a sachet of dry yeast attached under the lid. There are also kits that come with a recipe and pre-measured and packaged ingredients. A colleague of mine brewed up Cooper’s Mexican Cerveza, said if he put a lime in it it was just like a Corona, and was perfectly happy with how it came out. Homebrewing can be as involving as you want it to be. If you are a kit brewer you can make great beer at home and have fun doing it. I’ll brew a kit if I stumble across something that looks interesting. However, if you are a kit brewer who is ready to dabble and make something your own, here’s a good place to start.

For a novice it can be daunting to walk into a homebrew shop and see the myriad of different malts, hops, and yeasts. Our earliest recipes were the two of us wandering around the homebrew shop by dead reckoning trying to figure out what to buy. Sometimes I still do that. On a recent visit I left with ingredients thrown together for a Belgian Pale Ale and Belgian Style Dubbel. Eventually I started doing more homework when planning what I was going to brew.

Beyond throwing ingredients together and hoping for the best, a good starting point is to simply ask yourself what do you want your beer to taste like? If you’re going to brew an American Pale Ale do you want it to be a balanced, almost English Pale Ale like a Shoals Pale Ale or Wachusett Country Pale Ale, or do you want to make a hoppy West Coast Pale Ale like a Sierra Nevada or Dale’s Pale Ale? What I started doing was to research clone recipes for commercial beers to benchmark and to give me a starting-off point. If you Google “‘Beer X’ clone recipe” you should have no trouble finding results unless “Beer X” is new or obscure.

Now one of the first places I look when starting a new recipe from scratch are the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) style guidelines. The BJCP description provides broad parameters of what the beer should taste, smell, and feel like, what ingredients to use and commercial examples. Unless you plan on entering a competition, don’t feel shackled to the guidelines.

Once you have a broad idea of what ingredients you want to use and what you want the beer to taste like, there are several apps and websites you can use to calculate the alcohol by volume (ABV), estimated starting gravity and final gravity, bitterness, and even color. You can then adjust your malts and hops in your recipe to get it exactly the way you want it. If the app you’re using does not have journaling or note-taking capability make sure to keep a manual journal. If it does, it’s not a bad idea to print out the recipe with the notes and keeping them in a binder. Keep track of anything that may or may not be relevant on brew day, when racking, on bottling day, and of corse tasting notes. If your beer doesn’t quite come out exactly how you had envisioned you have a better idea of what adjustments to make. If the beer is perfect you want to have as much information as possible to duplicate the results.

Whether you are making your own recipes or brewing kits, you want to brew with different malts, hops, and yeasts all the time. That is the best way to know first-hand how different ingredients will effect the finished beer. Once you have an understanding of different types of ingredients it is easier to make recipes with confidence.

As Charlie Papazian said, “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew!” As long as your cleaning and sanitation are where they need to be what you make will be beer and taste like beer. If your first batch or first attempt at a particular style isn’t what you had hoped, it’s still a learning experience and a starting off point. Chances are if you have ever had Rolling Rock or Milwaukee’s Best, whatever you make can’t be worse!IMG_0438.JPG


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Brew Day: Bill’s Brown Ale (American Brown Ale)

Two years ago when I purchased my first homebrewing kit it came with a basic recipe for the first batch. I was given a choice between light, amber, and dark malt extract. I wasn’t entirely sure what the difference was, but since I liked darker beers I got the dark extract. In addition to the rest of the kit the initial recipe was the extract, a pound of medium British crystal malt, one ounce of Cascade hops, some gypsum for water adjustment, and a sachet of Munton’s yeast. The kit also came with Charlie Papazian’s Complete Joy of Homebrewing.

The instructions in the kit matched the instructions in the book for brewing a first extract batch. In the book Papazian said adding molasses to beer would make it taste like Old Peculier and suggested using 1/4 cup of molasses for priming at bottling. I love Old Peculier and wanted to make my first beer a little different so we primed with molasses and our first beer came out excellent!

After gaining some brewing experience we wanted to improve on that first batch. We changed very little to the original recipe. I steeped some honey malt along with the crystal, and added Willamette finishing hops to add flavor and aroma. I was fairly happy with how the beer came out. I entered it into a competition where it scored a 30 out of 50, in the “very good” range. What prevented it from scoring higher was that it lacked a roasty or nutty character that a great brown ale should have.

I had planned on brewing another American Brown Ale, but it took a backseat to experimenting with other styles. When I decided to brew a brown ale for the fall I started from scratch. I recently listened to John Palmer on the BeerSmith podcast talk about brewing simple recipes and less being more. I know from experience that throwing too many ingredients into a recipe that they will be unrecognizable. I wanted to use no more than four malts, while still getting the right color and flavor. I punted the crystal and honey malt from my last recipe and just used Carabrown malt. I also added a touch of roasted barley and black patent malt for color and the roasted flavor that had been lacking. As a nod to the last version I kept the same hops and hop schedule: Cascade at 60 minutes as Willamette at 10 minutes left in the boil.

The yeast provided an interesting dilemma. The Vermont Ale yeast I have been using works great in hoppy, light-bodied beers. I was concerned how it would work in a malt-forward beer like a brown ale. Last fall I used WLP008, the “Brewer Patriot” strain in my last run of American Ales. It is a relatively clean fermenting yeast, but doesn’t attenuate quite as much as more prominent American strains like Chico (S05, 1056, WLP001) making the finished beer a touch maltier. It also has a subtle tang or coppery flavor. I think it works perfectly in more balanced East Coast interpretations of American styles than beers from the West Coast that are all about the hops.

I had never used Brewer Patriot in anything darker than an America Amber ale. According to White Labs’ website this particular yeast does not work well in a brown ale. White Labs brews their own beers to showcase their yeasts and has a tasting room at the lab. As it turns out one of their beers is a Southern English Brown brewer with Brewer Patriot! If the yeast manufacturer is comfortable using this yeast in a brown ale, I figured I have nothing to worry about.

The beer was a partial mash. As my flagship fall beer I wanted to brew a standard 5 gallon batch. For the mash I milled my grain twice. After the first milling I adjusted the rollers to get a more fine crush. I hit all my temperatures during the mash. The only error I may have made was not cooling the wort enough. I still think I did enough to get a good cold break. I pitched a vial of fresh yeast. Ideally I would’ve done a yeast starter, but even with a gravity of 1.050 pitching a fresh vial should be fine and not stress the yeast too much for repitching.

The last owner of the old St. Louis Browns was Hall of Fame executive Bill Veeck. Veeck was the consummate showman who invented modern sports marketing. His most infamous publicity stunt while owning the Browns was signing a little person named Eddie Gaedel and sending him to bat as a pinch hitter. Predictably he worked a four pitch walk. What most people aren’t aware of is that stunt was part of a larger promotion sponsored by the Falstaff Brewery. This brown ale is a tribute to the former Browns, Indians, and White Sox owner.



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Bottling: because you have to put your beer in something

Almost all beginning homebrewers start out bottling their beer. It is the least expensive way to contain and carbonate your beer. My first kit came with a bottling wand that had a spring loaded tip to regulate and slow the flow of the beer into bottles, bottle caps, and a capper to crimp the caps over the top of the bottle. At bottling a small amount of additional sugar called priming sugar is added to the wort. This additional sugar is fermented inside the bottle. Since the bottle is capped, the CO2 produced is trapped inside the bottle and absorbed into the beer. This is called bottle conditioning. Most traditional Belgian brewers and several American craft brewers (notably Brooklyn Brewery) use this traditional method.

Homebrewers who keg insist kegging is superior in almost every way to bottling. For people like me who have yet to invest in kegs, CO2 tanks, lines, valves, regulators, o-rings, and a kegerator/keezer, bottling is a tedious fact of life. Cleaning, sanitizing, and filling up to 50 bottles is my least favorite part of the brewing process. I have had batches sit in the secondary fermentor for weeks on end that I didn’t have time to bottle or was too lazy to bottle. At different times I’ve had siphons clog, auto siphons break, run out of caps, run out of priming sugar, among other calamities. In that time I’ve figured out what I think is the quickest and easiest way to bottle.

I have never been able bring myself to buy new empty bottles. Not when I have perfectly good empty bottles at home from commercial beers I had bought and drank. The Fastrack might be the best investment I have ever made. Immediately after decanting my beer into a glass I’ll rinse it thoroughly making sure there’s no sediment or gunk on the inside. Then I’ll just pop it on the Fastrack to drip dry. Not having to individually scrub every bottle with a bottling brush is a godsend. If after drying there is still sediment in the bottle or it there is any visual soiling in the bottle I will scrub it and rinse with a bottle washer.

Once the Fastrack is filled up I’ll put any bottles that are still labeled into a plastic tote. A 66 gallon tote is large enough for two cases worth  (approx 48) of bottles. The next step is to toss in a couple scoops of OxyClean, fill the tote with warm water, and make sure the bottles are as submerged as possible so the entire label is in the water. Usually this mixture is enough for the labels to come off with little effort. Having a sponge and a razor blade to scrape or wipe away any excess residue is great to have as well. If I am not sure when I will have time to remove the labels I’ll make sure to put the lid on the tote so the water does not evaporate excessively.

Some brands are easier to peel off than others. Magic Hat and Wachusett are by far the easiest labels to remove; half the time they just come off on their own sitting in the water. Sam Adams, Harpoon, and Dogfish Head work well and will come off easily enough but you may need to use the razor to scrape the labels off. I think Ipswich Ale ans Ithica use cement as an adhesive. For some reason God-forsaken Shipyard uses screw top bottles with pry-off caps. To state but not assume the obvious do not use screw-top bottles. Founders, Lagunitas, and Sierra Nevada labels come off easily, but they use stubby bottles. They don’t fit as well in the Fastrack as longneck bottles, and having all of your bottles the same height makes stacking and storing easier.

The second best investment I have made as a homebrewer was a spigot on my bottling bucket. It’s faster than siphoning the beer out of the bucket, it’s less less prone to clogging, and you don’t need a helper to hold a tube or auto-siphon. It is imperative you remove, clean, and sanitize the spigot after every batch. I used to think just running soapy water and sanitized water was good enough and I had three batches ruined when the beer became infected. To sanitize the bucket I’ll fill it with a Starsan solution, and run it through the spigot into the kitchen sink with a stopper in. Once the solution is in the sink I’ll use it sanitize the Fastrack, all of the bottles, put the bottles in the Fastrack, and I’ll fill a saucepan with the solution to sanitize my bottle caps.

Next I’ll bring my priming sugar to a boil in some water. While that’s heating up I’ll take a hydrometer reading and sample the beer I’m about to bottle. I’ll dump the priming sugar solution into my bottling bucket, rack the beer on top to make sure the sugar is mixed in as evenly as possible. After filling and capping I’ll put the bottles in 12 pack boxes, label the outside with the beer and the bottling date. From there the beer should be ready to drink in two to three weeks.

Some additional bottling tips:

  • A bottle washer is an immense help in cleaning dirty bottles (and carboys).
  • Adjust the amount of priming sugar you add at bottling depending on the style. An ESB should be much more lightly carbonated than a hefeweizen. Northern Brewer and Tasty Brew have online calculators you can use to figure out exactly how much priming sugar to use.
  • Most brewers use dextrose (corn sugar) when brewing because it won’t contribute any flavor to the beer and won’t make the beer overly dry like table sugar. Table sugar is fine for bottling since you’re using such a small amount. However table sugar is more fermentable than dextrose so use a calculator to make sure you use the proper amount.
  • Make sure you fill the bottles to about an inch below the mouth. If over-filled there will be too much CO2 inside the bottle. That can cause the beer to gush when you pop it open, or even cause the bottle to explode. If under-filled the beer might not carbonate enough.
  • Be sure to label your bottle caps. If you don’t you will inevitably forget what’s inside.

After lots of trial and error that’s the most efficient way I’ve come up with. At least until my kegging equipment arrives this week!






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Going from homebrewer to pro brewer

“When are you going to start selling?” “I know a guy who runs one of the biggest beer distributors in New England.” “Hey, if you are serious about your brew, hit me up. I have some amazing space that would make for a great first brewery…”

These are all questions I’ve gotten from my amazing and well-meaning friends. It’s one thing to enjoy baking and sell cupcakes as a side business, it’s quite another to love beer and open a brewery or even become a “gypsy brewer“. When people ask about going pro it’s easy to shrug it off or come up with a non-answer. When a journalist asks that question needing a quote, not so much. Sarah Thomas asked me that question on the record, a question I had been asked tens of times, in her profile for The Beverly Citizen, and I struggled to come up with a clear and concise answer.

HomebrewTalk user Cape Brewing made the leap with two partners who opened their own brewery in Massachusetts. He goes into great detail in describing what they went through and all the red tape involved in this thread. I don’t think there is a twenty-something that while hanging out with his buddies that talked about opening a bar. These are usually the people who end up on Bar Rescue drunk at their own bar wondering why they’re losing money. Likewise I am sure the thought of opening a brewery has at least occurred to every serious homebrewer.

As a creative person who loves beer I have thought about opening a brewery and/or brew-pub. My girlfriend worked at an award-winning brew-pub. She also has a cooking blog that receives hundreds of hits a day and would love to be involved in a brewpub again. At the same time our discussions have never progressed beyond a fanciful “someday when…”

I come from a long line of entrepreneurs on both sides of my family. I know the risks involved in opening a business and have none of the experience of starting or running one. I have never even had a job where I have had to manage another person. The only time I ever had to come up with a business plan or budgets was for a project in college. I wouldn’t know where to begin in regards to raising capital. It would take research and soul searching to find out if that would be something I would want to do or would be viable. To go pro I would almost have to enroll others to help finance and run the business.

Beyond the legal and business hurdles is the most important aspect: THE BEER! As the profile in the Citizen states I have spent most of my time brewing experimenting with and learning different styles. Contrast that with The Maine Beer Company. They started out as homebrewers and continually tweaked their pale ale recipe until they perfected Peeper, their flagship. To open a brewery or brewpub I would have to perfect a few flagship beers that we could serve year-round, and that people would come back for.

Professional brewing involves a lot more heavy, manual labor and cleaning than homebrewing. Scaling up a recipe to brew on professional equipment is it’s own challenge. A professional brewer has to be skilled enough to brew each batch consistently. The taste has to be consistent because that’s what the customer expects. I’ve been out and had two people I was with order the same beer where one was noticeably better than the other. That can’t happen at a well run brewery.

It’s one thing to experiment and make beer I like to drink; it is another thing to make beers that can stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace. The number of breweries has doubled since 2006. It’s not enough to open a brewery because you like beer, launch with a flagship IPA, and merely have a better product than Bud Light. Most of these new breweries make good beer, but is it good enough or memorable enough for a beer drinker to buy it a second time? The reason I don’t brew a lot of IPAs is because there are so many commercial examples out there and I struggle with how to make one that feels like it’s my own.

I strongly feel that a brewery needs a story or an identity. The early craft brewers were fighting to bring good beer back to America after consolidation had left us with only Bud, Miller, and Coors. Offering choice and reintroducing lost styles was enough of a hook. The challenge was to get the Bud drinker to try something else. Now the challenge is to get the craft beer drinker to try your beer. There isn’t a lot of bad craft beer out there. With so much competition it is difficult to truly differentiate from the rest of the marketplace. It’s not enough to make a good beer. It has to be a great beer or there has to be a story and concept connected to your brewery. Notch Brewing did both by making excellent session beers and creating a niche that everybody else is now jumping into. Gneiss up in Maine uses wheat in all their beers. Jack’s Abby is the first all lager craft brewery. A local brewery can use “pride in place” to get the locals to rally around a beer. Narraganset reinforced this by partnering with other notable Rhode Island brands like Del’s and Autocrat. Yuengling is everywhere in the mid-Atlantic, even if they’ve found the Bay State a tougher nut to crack. If you can’t stand our or carve out an identity your brewery can end up like Watch City in Waltham that abruptly closed and auctioned off all their equipment.

We came up with Bleacher Brewing Co as a name for our home brewery and baseball themed beer names because we love baseball. Unless we opened next to a ballpark, a baseball themed brewery or brewpub does not make a lot of sense. Fenway Park and LaLacheur Park both already have a BeerWorks nearby, maybe we could build a brewery at Frasier Field. It wouldn’t even make sense open in the remote Finger Lakes region of New York near the National Baseball Hall of Fame as even tiny Cooperstown, New York already has a world-class brewery.

I have a couple ideas I have been kicking around. At this point it’s just that, ideas. As long as I can remember I have always had Walter Mitty fantasies about a lot of things. Will it ever go beyond the conceptual stage? I can’t answer that. I would have to nail down the beer side, the business side, and the financing side. From here all three seem equally daunting. It would have to be something I really want to do, and I would need to have the right people in place to help to make it happen.



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