Barley Mowat 

Archive for the ‘Beer and You’ Category

Business of Craft Beer in BC

with 2 comments

I attended the BC Business of Craft Beer event yesterday (May 29th) and came away hopeful but not necessarily impressed. What made me hopeful was that this event even happened at all. That 250 people would give up both $75 and a mid-week afternoon to cram themselves into a downtown eastside bar on the off-hope of gleaning some sort of wisdom to help their craft beer business dreams is encouraging. Amazing, even.

Imagine traveling back in time to show your 1994 self cell phone photos of this event. Imagine what 1994 You would say? Well, I guess you’d probably say something like “Forsooth! What sort of foul devilry be in this magic box thoust hold?!” and then burn Future You as a witch. Or something like that. History isn’t my strong suit.

This despite the fact that I’ve watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, like, 50 times.

In any event, the knowledge of what happened yesterday would likely stun even someone in the beer business a mere 20 years ago. “Craft Beer is big enough to have a mini-conference in 2014?” That’s encouraging. The unimpressed part is the realization that we have a long way to go.

The event featured a keynote by Ninkasi’s Jamie Floyd and two panel sessions: one on marketing craft beer and one on opening a craft brewery (aside: this panel featured Parallel 49, Bomber and Red Truck, all three of which have cash streams from other existing businesses to draw upon. They were less opening a craft brewery so much as expanding an existing business into brewing. I would have liked to see at least one small independent on this panel like Powell Street or Dageraad, but both David and Ben were probably too busy actually brewing beer to attend). Emcee Joe Wiebe did a good job asking focused questions of each panel, but anyone seriously contemplating opening a brewery needed more detail. Much more. More than could be provided in the few hours we had.

The main benefit of the event was the networking, which was frantically conducted in fifteen minute “beer breaks” between talks. I finally felt justified for ordering business cards, as I burnt through a solid twenty.

When I ran out, I panicked and handed out my credit card by mistake. In any event, y’all should contract me. I’m a marketing genius. Also, can I have my VISA back?

What would I change for next year? Well, I’d have more of everything. Turn the event into an actual day long mini-conference. Have breakout sessions for brewers vs suppliers vs retailers vs media. A long event naturally gives way to longer breaks which means more networking. Have me give the keynote. Small changes like these will make the conference 10x better.

I don’t want to come across as criticizing BC Business for this year’s event. The changes above weren’t possible to do this year because the conference wasn’t big enough. This year’s nano-conference had to happen first in order to make next year’s mini-conference possible. In a few years we’ll fill the convention centre, but you don’t start off over on the waterfront.

Lastly, I’d like to congratulate the panelists on their delicate answer to the worst question of the day: “How big should my brewhouse be?” About half the crowd groaned at the idiocy of this query so, for the benefit of the other half, I’ll answer it in a much more direct fashion so everyone knows what the faux pas was.

Q: “How big should my brewhouse be?”
A: “You’re shitting me, right? ‘How big should my brewhouse be?’ How can you stand up in this room and ask that question? Sit the fuck down, and do us all a favour by not opening your brewery. You clearly have no idea what you’re doing. For the benefit of anyone else in this room who thinks brewing capacity is a number some guy on a stage can just dictate to you: you don’t pick a brewhouse size. You calculate it.

Figuring out how big your brewhouse needs to be is one of the last steps in spec’ing a brewery. First you need to answer questions like: “What market are you targeting? Who are your current and prospective competitors? Do you need to package? Where will you be distributed? Where are you sourcing your brewhouse and tanks? What are your material and utility costs? Bottle vs can? How much space are you leasing? What is your lease cost? How much tank space do you have? How many employees do you need to support all this? How much will you charge for your beer? How much beer do you project selling in year one? Two? Three? Five? How did you reach those numbers?”

Once you answer all those (and more), you’ll find that the answers tell you how big your brewhouse should be, not me. If instead you’re a home brewer and just loving the idea of playing around on the equipment the big boys use, and thus figure the first step to opening a brewery is buying a brewhouse… save yourself two years of your life and all of your loved ones’ money and keep your day job.”

Phew. That felt good. It really did. Go ahead, ask me another, I don’t mind.

Written by chuck

May 30th, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Beer and You,Breweries

Tagged with

Feature Beer: GIB Swing Span

with 6 comments

With the recent management changeover at Granville Island Brewing comes an even more recent change in marketing direction. Instead of keeping up tradition by producing large volumes of dreck in small bottles, and small volumes of great beer in large bottles, they’ve decided to mix things up by making okay beer in small bottles.

In fact, GIB’s first entry in the new “Under the Bridge” series, Swing Span Amber, isn’t just “okay.” It actually borders on “quite good.” A good beer from Molson in a 12oz bottle? Quelle surprise. For the newbies out there, that “Molson” back there isn’t a typo.

Not only is GIB owned by Creemore Springs who is, in turn, owned by Molson, but this beer was brewed in that giant building at First and Burrard with “MOLSON” written across the side of it. It was also brewed by Molson brewers, in massive 300 hectolitre tanks, between batches of Canadian. That’s pretty much makes it Molson beer.

Up until now that’s been a recipe for disaster, but not this time. This batch of Swing Span is a hoppy rich red ale that places a bulls-eye squarely on Parallel 49’s number one seller Gypsy Tears. P49’s beer is a superior offering, but Swing Span is not too far behind.

In fact, this beer is good enough that I will even forgo extensively raking Molson over the coals for the disingenuous title of the series. This beer was no more brewed “Under the Bridge” than Turning Point’s beer was brewed in “Stanley Park.” In fact, the style is also a lie. There’s nothing Amber Ale about this beer. It’s a full on Cascadian Red Ale… which is better, so I guess that one’s okay.

Why feature it, though, if it’s not even the best Cascadian Red Ale out there? Well, it shows that Molson, of all people, is capable of producing pretty darn good beer. After years of taking great recipes from GIB’s microbrewery on Granville Island and turning them into the insipid booze-water GIB became famous for, they finally did something right.

This could be a game changing beer, folks, especially if it sells well. Pay close attention to this one, because you know Molson is. Shit’s about to get real.

APPEARANCE Deep red/brown. High carb, long lasting thing head.
NOSE Rich malt, lots of hops. Some minerality.
TASTE Aggressively hopped up front with a chewy mid. Ends with a harsh minerality/metalicness
STATS 5.6% ABV / 45 IBU / Cascadian Red Ale
SHOULD I BUY IT? You know what? Yeah. You should. I’m as surprised by that recommendation as you are, frankly.

Brewery Granville Island
From Vancouver
Name Swing Span
Style Red Ale
SOA Now Bronze
SOA Potential n/a
Drink Now
Wait, GIB makes good beer now? Well, this one.
Availability Widespread
Cost $12.25+ per 6x12oz
Similar Beers Parallel 49 Gypsy Tears, Lighthouse Siren


Wait a second… did I just give an SOA to Molson? What’s going on here?
Is this backwards world? Will Four Winds release a riced-up, watered down light lager next?

Written by chuck

May 22nd, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with

Beer and Learning: Together at Last!

with one comment

I don’t often plug events on this blog, mostly because the events I think are good enough to plug tend to sell out instantaneously so I elect to not rub in the fact that I have tickets. Hey, speaking of which, I have tickets to Hoppapalooza! Suck it, losers! But I digress.

However, one event is upcoming that you can weirdly still purchase entry for. This is likely because it’s not focused on the general public. The Business of Craft Beer (May 29th, 2-6pm) is a four hour long boot camp on starting and marketing a brewery successfully.

Things kick off with a keynote from Ninkasi Brewing’s Jamie Floyd, then a open panel takes questions on Opening a Craft Brewery in BC featuring Don Farion (Bomber), Anthony Frustagli (Parallel 49) and Jim Dodds (Red Truck). Following that a new panel discusses what to do with the beer once you’ve made (Marketing & Selling Craft Beer), with Adam Mills (Four Winds), Ian McKay (Driftwood) and Tim Barnes (Central City).

Hosting the whole thing is that mountain of beer knowledge himself: Joe Wiebe. Also, you can expect me to interject random thoughts throughout the afternoon, at least until they use the gag and tranquilizers Joe no doubt told the organizers to have at the ready.

Why go, though? You already know how to brew beer and maybe even have threatened, conned and outright extorted your way to some seed capital (sorry, mom). You see, over the years I’ve talked to many dozens of brewers and brewery owners. To a person, they’re all lovely people but that doesn’t stop a solid third to half of them from having virtually no idea what they’re doing when it comes to running a brewery as a business. The balance aren’t a whole lot better, either.

Everyone wants to live the dream and start their own brewery. It sounds attractive: taking that hobby which enthrals you for hours at a time every few weeks (and destroys your kitchen) and turning it into your full time job (which isn’t in your kitchen). Having a chance to brew creatively, put your gorgeous beer in equally gorgeous bottles and then reaping the internal reward of seeing your beer right there on the shelf next to Four Winds (only your beer will be even better, ‘natch) is all the motivation you need.

Well, your VISA statement looking like this also
nudges you towards making free, unlimited beer.

That’s the dream, isn’t it? It’s a sexy temptress of an ideal that pulls you in, then gets all “I have a headache and you have books to balance” in the cold clear light of day. Actually crafting recipes and making beer are just two small steps in a long serpent of a convoluted business process. How much should you spend on packaging? Used brewhouse or new? When do you bottle? Do you even bottle? Can? How much do you have to pay farmers to pick up your spent grain? What licenses do you need to open a tasting room? And HOLY SHIT YOU HAVE TO PAY SOMEONE TO COME GET YOUR SPENT GRAIN?!?

Running a brewery is running a business. End of story. If you’re seriously considering getting into this business or even if you’re still in the day dreaming stage, a chance to ask people pointed and frank questions in an open setting is worth far, far more than the $75 cost of entrance, even if food and beer weren’t included (which, by the way, they are).

If you just looked at that “$75” and thought “that’s too expensive” then save us all some time and keep your day job. Starting a brewery will be the hardest, most expensive, most time consuming thing you’ve ever done with your life, and saving a paltry $75 at the start of this process by not attending this event is about the single worst way to save money you could conceive of.

Seriously, saving $1/hr by hiring this guy to be your delivery driver would be smarter.

Maybe I’m recommending this event because the organizers asked me to (they did) or because they gave me a free ticket (also true), and sure, those things absolutely meet my main criteria for blogging on a topic: making my life better. However, I try to think a bit longer term. My life would be massively better if there were even more breweries in BC, and there will be more breweries if the existing breweries aren’t going out of business left, right and centre because their owners put too much emphasis on “making great beer” and not enough on “paying rent.” You can do both, folks, but you gotta learn how.

This event won’t answer all the questions you need answered in order to run brewery as a business. Heck, it won’t even start. However, if you’re lucky and pay attention, it might teach you which questions you have to ask in the first place, and that’s gotta be worth $75.

Buy your tickets here.

Written by chuck

May 20th, 2014 at 2:48 pm