Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's in a name?

When Ryan first proposed the idea of opening a nano-brewery we all had a slighly different picture of what it would take to get it off the ground, but most of our ideas followed a relatively similar path.  Obtain funding, develop recipes, get a location, file appropriate paperwork, brew beer and sell it.  Some of us went a little more detailed into different parts of the above equation, but, for the most part we all were ont the same page about the work required on various parts in order to be successful. 

We started having weekly meetings so we could stay on track and check off all the boxes that needed to be checked off.  We discussed our name, our image and our brand often, but mostly in a high level discussion, not really drilling down to the specifics of the question, "What do we call ourselves?"  Then one week we decided it's time to really start answering these questions more specifically.  So, we had a brainstorming session with pieces of paper taped on Ryan's dining room wall where we each wrote down our ideas for actual names of our brewery (after making sure the markers didn't bleed onto the wall underneath, of course!).  Now we had 30+ different ideas, some still pretty general, some specific.  We mulled over these individually, but no one was ever really sold on any of them.  The more we tried to label ourselves, the more difficult we found it to really settle on one small set of characters to define our entire business venture.  We wanted to convey that we were local in mindset, but not have it sound weird if we hit it bigtime and were able to distribute nationally.  We wanted to make sure people knew we were brewing beer, not making park benches.  We wanted it to be memorable, but not memorable in the way you remember when your co-worker had a few too many at the office holiday party.  On and on our requirements went until we didn't think there was a single combination of numbers and letters available to us with the English language that would accomplish everything we wanted it to.

During this process there were several concepts and several ideas from the original brainstorming session that continued to be brought up.  It seemed like every meeting we were discussing the same four or five names and each time we had different arguments for each of them.  Who knew naming a company could be so friggin difficult??!!?!  Then we stopped talking about it for awhile.  We had narrowed it down to a few different options, much more manageable than 30, and we all just sat on them for a couple of weeks.  We moved on to different challenges that needed to be addressed more urgently than a name did.  After resolving those issues we came back to the name and a funny thing happened.  In the time that we took to address other issues and stew privately on the potential name of the brewery we had all come to the same conclusion.  We were making it too complicated.  We couldn't come to a consensus because we were trying to convey too many different messages with a single phrase.  In the end, what mattered is that even though we put it on the back burner and dealt with other issues, one option was clearly more easily recalled than any other.  We had finally chosen our name.

Now, how do we display that name?  Crap.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, we are extremely lucky to have two very talented graphic designers at our disposal.  We gave them the name and politely asked them to come up with some logo concepts for us to review.  I never probed too much into their development process, but I gather that they both worked on some ideas separately.  Then, when they had narrowed down their individual concepts to a dozen or so each, they combined their ideas and began collaborating more extensively to develop an overall design to present us.  They were extremely professional in their initial presentation to us.  They did not want color preferences to sway us in a particular direction so we first reviewed 7 different primary designs, with a few different font variations of the basic design, all in black and white.  Following an almost identical pattern to our struggles coming up with a name, it took us almost a month to decide on a main design.  We then asked them to use the main design, but with some different font options.  They came back a little later with 8 different fonts for us to choose from (this had been narrowed down from a total of around 48 different options before it even got to us!).  We worked a little quicker this time around and were able to come up with 2 that we liked a lot within a week.  So, one more meeting and they were kind enough to add a dash of color to our otherwise black and white logo options with the two different font options.  In a rare moment of clarity, we were able to actually decide on the final version that night after only reviewing the color/font options for a couple of hours!  That is lightning fast compared to the other logo/name decisions we have made!

If you have stuck with me this far (thank you!), I won't tease you any longer.  This post really does intend to officially release our name and logo to the public (well, public being those of you reading this blog!).  So, without any further explanation, I hereby proudly present:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Next steps, and another birthday!

Well, I wrote recently about the birthday of our company.  That was really the first big step for us as in order for us to make any real movement towards selling our first beer, we had to legally form our company.  Since then, we have opened our bank account (resulting in the first official mailing to our company...checks!), visited/reviewed potential locations, contacted our Trademark attorney and started the process of getting our name trademarked.  It's like Dominoes, once we get one thing taken care of, that leads us to our next step.  While there is a lot to do, it is helpful that much of the big stuff has to be tackled in a very specific order.

While the four of us have been busy with the above, Ryan and Brandon's wives have been working hard to produce a logo that we can use in marketing materials as well as the front of the tap room.  Those two have put up with lots of differing opinions and suggestions from all of us, but have truly come up with a wonderful design.  They are now hard at work designing business cards, letterhead and promotional materials.  If I haven't said it before, we are extremely lucky to have these two talented women helping us with this journey.  They have made our choices extremely difficult by providing many wonderful logo options for us to review and decide between and we are all eager to unveil our name and our logo to the public!

We have narrowed down our fermenter options and our brew house options and are very nearly ready to write a really big check to place our order for these critical components.  Ryan has been heading this search, but all of us have weighed in on the options he has presented to us.  This is obviously a very important decision for us, not only because of the money involved, but because these are the pieces of equipment that we need to trust to produce the quality of beer we want to deliver.  We can adjust our malt supplier(s), our hop supplier(s), etc. but once we purchase our brew house and fermenters, we have to raise a lot of capital to replace them!

In addition to the logistical part of getting this company off the ground, we were actually able to share our beer with a group people we didn't know for the first time.  We brought 3 styles (Numb Nut Ale, Berliner and an American Wheat yet to be named) to a pot luck at the Valley Junction Foundation a few weeks ago.  The tastes of these individuals ranged from someone who drank nothing but Coors Light, but came back up time and time again asking for Numb Nut by name to another who enjoyed all styles of beer and asked for a different flavor each time and truly seemed to be enjoying himself and the variety!  It was really great to see the reactions that strangers had to our beer partially because it was an extremely positive reaction, but also because it really was the first time we got to experience the realization of the basic reason we wanted to start this business in the first place.  While our actual mission statement has yet to be formally drafted, we all wanted to provide a higher quality, better tasting beer to the people of the Des Moines area.   Seeing the smiles and feeling the excitement that our beer helped create was a really fun experience and I can't wait to do it again.

If all that wasn't enough to be excited about, Dave and his wife welcomed a new baby girl to their family!  Dave's cell phone had been a constant companion at our meetings for awhile, never knowing if he would need to take off.  In the end, it was a very happy early, early morning for Dave and his family.  Congratulations you guys, now get some sleep if you can! :)

Until next time, Cheers!

Monday, November 14, 2011

A beer is born

Well, maybe not a beer...but a brewery was certainly born on 11/14/2011, weighing approximately 830 pounds and 12 ounces (ok, that might have gone a little too far!).  Our company was officially created with the signing of certificates and legalese filled documents by all four owners around 5:45 this evening.  While it may have seemed that we had fallen off the face of the earth the last several months, we truly have been working hard.  Though much of it was difficult to blog about and describe in a way that would produce anything other than a powerful sedative effect on the reader, we have been diligently refining our business plan, evaluating our marketing strategy, meeting with potential realtors and finally giving our lawyer the go-ahead to produce the documents in a 6-8 month effort to establish a local Des Moines-based craft brewery.  All of that hard work and effort (not all of the brewing business is about brewing and sampling craft beer!) has resulted in a 2 inch thick binder filled with about a quarter of an inch of paper officially declaring us a "business". 

It may seem like I am leaving something a name, perhaps?  I am doing that intentionally as we need to verify that we can actually market under actual name of the LLC without infringing upon anyone else.  So while our company does have a name, owners, etc. we don't want to get anyone referring to us by a particular name just in case we can't market under it.  Rest assured, we will have all of that figured out in time and I will definitely publish it and let everyone know by screaming it loudly from the rooftops (free advertising, right??)...just not yet! 

While we have been finalizing all of the nitty-gritty details, we have been brewing beer too!  I have made more Numb Nut Ale (still love that beer) and have a Milk Stout quietly fermenting away; Ryan has been diligently working on producing a killer IPA that is absolutely wonderful with plans for a Ginger Pale Ale and another beer with coconut as a focus; Dave has produced a highly hopped American Wheat that is unique but extremely good; Brandon has been on a kick recently making a Belgian Quad, an American Wheat, an IPA and a couple others that I can't even remenber right now! 

All in all, we are extremely excited to have made it to this point and to have taken this first large and significant step in the process to provide outstanding, flavorful beers to the people of Des Moines and (hopefully) beyond!  We are getting to a pretty busy point in the formation of this brewery as many steps we simply could not take until the company was officially formed.  Now that we are "official" we can move on to purchasing the brewhouse equipment, securing suppliers, locating and finalizing a location, applying for our licenses and many more exciting steps!  Becoming official has, and I feel I can speak for all of us without hesitation here, really provided a boost of energy and excitement (not that any of that had really drained, but you can only reformat and rework a business plan so much before everything starts looking the same!) and I can't wait for the next steps!

Now, I think it is time to take a moment and reflect on the progress we have made before getting up again tomorrow and getting right back to it.  I think it is only appropriate to have a nice craft beer!  Cheers and good night!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Time for Celebration

It seems summer is just flying by with all of the work we are doing for the brewery and all of the events that come with summer.  We continue to work hard on our business plan and are really getting into some of the nitty-gritty parts of it like cash flows, revenue projections and marketing plans.  We have also begun some building projects to verify that our ideas on temperature control for our fermentation vessels are viable.  I may need to do a post about Ryan's most recent project which has been dubbed The Brew Coffin!  While all of these projects have been (and continue to be) very tedious tasks, we know that the more work and effort we put into those things now, the easier it will be to keep ourselves on track once we open the doors for business. 

However, I am here to update you on something else.  Sweet Celebration, the grapefruit and rose water infused wheat beer that seemed like it was going to turn into a complete catastrophe during brew day has turned into a very solid and drinkable beer!  To quote myself from "Zen and the Art of Brewing":

"What will make every bit of it worthwhile is if, in a month or two, I crack open a nice cold beer that tastes outstanding and know that if I can make a great beer while floundering around like an idiot the entire time, imagine what I can do on a good day!!"

Turns out that while floundering around like an idiot, I managed to produce a pretty darn good beer!While I plan on upping the amount of rose water only slightly (I used less than 3/8 of a teaspoon of it in this batch) and am considering actually fermenting over grapefruit, those changes should only slightly alter the taste profile.  It's a cloudy beer because the grain bill is almost 50% wheat; but it is light, crisp and very refreshing with it's citrus flavor and the little something extra that the rose water adds.  It is exactly what I was looking for when I decided to develop a summer beer that is different from all the others.  I can't wait to brew it again...but this time without all of the floundering!

Sunday, July 10, 2011


So, I've been a little slow on the posts recently as there has been quite a bit going on.  4th of July, family, friends, brewery operations, etc. all seem to get in the way a little bit of writing everything down.  However, an event occurred yesterday that I have to write about.  For those of you not in the Des Moines area, there is an annual event known as Brewfest.  This was the 5th incarnation of the event, held at Principal Park, and really proved to me how much more accepting people are of craft beer.  When Ryan brought the idea to us about starting the brewery he mentioned the reasoning behind his decision to start it now instead of 5 years ago or 5 years from now.  One of the deciding factors is that more people are choosing craft beer instead of reaching for a Bud Light.  The availability of good beer has increased as has the demand which only means good things for a small local brewery. The attendance at Brewfest is a testament to the growing demand for really good beer. 

My girfriend and I arrived around 2:45 and the doors opened at 3.  The line when we got there was already about 200 yards long, with another line about 50 yards long of people showing ID's and getting their bracelets.  By the time we got our bracelets we were able to walk right in, grab our goodie bag and our tasting glass.  We guessed that most people would start on the lower level so we went straight upstairs.  I tried a stout, a porter, a wheat and a dopplebock in pretty quick succession.  My tastebuds were already overwhelmed and we hadn't even been there 10 minutes!  I had to tell myself to relax and enjoy it because the beer would still be there!  I didn't have to taste all 400 beers in the first hour!

I made it over to Peace Tree Brewing Companies tap and was able to talk to Megan again.  I haven't spoken with her since we visited their brewery a couple of months ago, so it was nice to take a little time and talk with her.  Also, check out their sweet tap!!

This photo really doesn't do it justice as the front of it is designed like an old car.  It is seriously sweet!  Blonde Fatale was just as wonderful a beer as when I last had it at the brewery.  Ryan has actually placed this beer in his top 10 beer list!

We made our way down the rest of the breweries on the top floor, then ventured to the lower level.  Many of the more mainstream breweries were located down here including MillerCoors, New Belgium, etc.  There were still some very good smaller breweries represented on the lower level which made me happy.  I'm glad that the organizers included some smaller breweries in amongst the Big Boys.  I was also very happy to see that not all of the patrons were huddled around the Big Boys.  Everyone seemed to really be sharing the wealth and experimenting with beers they aren't terribly familiar with.

More than anything else, events like this allow beer drinkers to expand their horizons and see what wonderful beer is out there.  They are also exposed to beer that *gasp* might be better than their old standby of Bud Light or Coors Light!  Huge thanks go out to everyone that helped to organize and run this event.  It was a wonderful day and even though it was pretty warm, there was a great breeze blowing through both levels that only messed with a few of the tents that were set up around the breweries.  All in all it was a wonderful afternoon and I left satisfied and even more excited about our venture.  All those people moving from brewery to brewery trying new and interesting beers can only be a good thing when we are striving to deliver some of the best local beer a person can get.  The more educated people get about good beer and how wonderful it can be compared to the old standards, the more our chances improve of being able to actually pull this whole thing off!

Again, thanks to everyone who put this wonderful event on and I truly hope that we are able to participate next year as one of the newest breweries at the 6th Annual Brewfest!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Brewing Calamity Photos

So, Brandon's wife was taking photographs of my ridiculous brew day and I figured I might as well share them.  First first boilover.

It doesn't look too bad there as it really only shows some liquid on the ground...but the sides of the kettle are just ridiculously sticky with residue from the boilover.  Since we brew in the garage, what hits the ground isn't that big of a's just the cleanup that sucks.

Yep, that's me in my work clothes, zesting a grapefruit in the garage.

This is what the controlled boil should look like!  We got there eventually.

When one person is having a bad day it is always nice to have friends around to help...or to laugh! :)  Brandon is on the right and Brandon's friend is on the left.

While brewing, it is always nice to have a drink.  In this case, Brandon's wife is drinking Brandon's "Not Red Ale".  Essentially it was supposed to be a Red Ale, but really turned into a Porter!  It may not be what we expected, but it really does taste good...I promise.

Even on a rough brew day, at least the beer is happy!  As I mentioned in the previous blog, we put a copper coil into the beer that we run cold water through in order to bring the temp down.  This is the coil.

There's my burnt exit hose.  Oy!

Believe it or not, brewing is fun!  Doesn't Brandon's wife look like she's having fun?  Brandon is turning into the Mad Blogger working on his first post.

End result of a burnt hose is me on one knee, wearing an oven mitt holding a short little hose...

Brandon's wife and the dog are trying to be supportive of Brandon's blogging efforts!

Still chilling the beer on bended knee...yeah, I just said it!

The Mad Blogger's work is lonely.  Even the dog is leaving him!

Someone finally got me a chair. :)

The beer is finally chilled and ready to transfer to the fermentation bucket so the yeast can go to work.

Yeast needs oxygen to get started.  I'm aerating the brew with a tool attached to an electric drill.  Beer and power tools...always an interesting mix.

What's left after a long day?  Cleaning up.  Never fun, but always important.
I hope you enjoyed the photos and I'll be sure to share the end results of this beer.  There are a few more steps and another ingredient to add, but we should have a good beer in a month or so and I am definitely looking forward to it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Zen and the Art of Brewing

Some days, it just doesn't make sense to get out of bed.  Those are the days that when I happen to have a brew scheduled, I really look forward to those few hours.  Brewing, for me at least, has become a very relaxing and meditative activity.  The very nature of the process builds in periods of time where there isn't much to do other than sit and watch sugar water boil.  On days where everything is nuts and you are being pulled in 12 different directions at the same time, it is nice to just sit and brew.  It's made even better since I can't brew at my home (apartment dwelling was not made for brewing) so I don't even have chores or other distractions pulling me away from the process of making beer.

Yesterday was one of those days.  My day job really wasn't too bad, but things didn't start to go belly up until after I left work.  I was planning on making a beer that I designed for my girlfriend's birthday and graduation.  I had already come up with a name, Sweet Celebration, and gathered the ingredients.  On my way to pick up some sushi for her I realized that I had forgotten to get a grapefruit (a rather important ingredient since it is supposed to be a grapefruit beer!).  So, sushi in hand, I make another stop at the grocery store to pick up my fruit.  I rush in the store, head to the fruit section and carefully select the very best grapefruit I can find (after all, this is the one piece of fruit that will flavor this had better be a good one!).

By now I'm pretty late already, but I still had to run back to my place to pick up a propane tank and get it exchanged for a new one.  There is nothing worse than having your propane peter out in the middle of the boil, so having a spare is essential.  I run home to pick up the forgotten tank, realizing now that I don't have time to change out of my work clothes.  On my way out the door, I realize that I was just about to go brew without even a copy of the recipe I created!  Now, I've been working on developing this recipe for about 3 weeks so I have a pretty good idea about what I'm putting in and when...but when a day starts going like mine was, brewing without the recipe is just asking to produce a rotten beer.  So, printed recipe, propane tank and empty growler in hand I rush out the door and into the car.

There are several places where I could get propane on the way to Brandon's and I stopped at the one I believed would be able to get me in an out the quickest.  Of course, there is only one employee behind the counter when I go to pay for the exchange and a quickly growing line of people behind me.  She politely tells me that as soon as she is done helping the people behind me, she will be out to unlock the storage container and get me my full tank.  Not wanting to wait out in the rain, I go and sit in my car which I had parked right in front of the container (I don't know a better word to describe those things...cage?  receptacle?  pen??).  I see an employee coming out of the store to help me so I start to get out of my car.  Just then, a newly licensed 16 year old in a shiny new Chevy parks next to me.  And by "next to me" I mean she parks within about a foot of the side of my car.  Now, those of you who know me know that I am not short nor am I, how do you say...flexible.  Looking back on it now, I would really like to see the surveillance footage of me trying to extract myself from my car.  I should have just asked her to open her windows so I could climb through them...might have been easier!

Propane in the trunk (cause there was no way I was going to get it into the back seat without putting it through the windows!) I get back in the car (much easier this time since I knew how I got myself out) and head to Brandon's ready for some relaxation.  Halfway there I start cursing myself because I realized that I forgot my mother's zester back at my place.  I know Brandon's wife has one, but hers is small and a grapefruit is a rather large fruit to zest...and I have a kick ass one back at home (chalk that up to "things I never thought I would hear myself say" before starting to brew..."I have a kick ass zester".  Really??).

So, ready to finally get this brew underway I pull into Brandon's place.  While describing the recipe and laying out the plan for him he looks at me and says exactly 5 words that make it crystal clear that my journey is not anywhere near over...."You sure that's a grapefruit?"  Crap.  I ‘thought’ it was a grapefruit since I went to the grapefruit section of the fresh food area of Hy-Vee.  It was carefully inspected for firmness and a good, clean rind.  I was charged for a grapefruit and I obtained said “grapefruit” from the grapefruit section…silly me to think I had actually walked out of the store with the fruit I planned.  Oh well, fortunately there is another grocery store close to Brandon’s so I could go get an actual grapefruit. While the hot water was working on extracting the sugar from the raw grain, I took my little trip to get a grapefruit.  Upon my return I had it verified that this time I succeeded.

Next on the schedule came the boil.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the process of making beer, after soaking the grains in hot water and draining to get all of the sugar out of the grain and into the water, this liquid (called wort) is boiled for a predetermined amount of time based on the desired characteristics of the final product.  When the boil first begins a chemical process takes place where many of the proteins in the beer coagulate and fall out of the beer.  This is desired, but has a noticeable effect on the beer.  It foams like crazy!  Unless you have a very large kettle, you have to monitor this stage very carefully or the pot boils over in a sticky mess.  I have taken great pride in never allowing a boil-over.  Until yesterday.  I had managed it fine initially, then realized I hadn’t extracted as much sugar as I had hoped.  To balance this, I added some dry malt extract (essentially a product where wort has been evaporated and the solids that remain are purchased and added to beer.  Some people make beer exclusively from this extract).  Unfortunately, the addition of this extract caused more foaming and my spotless record is spotless no more!

The next step in the process (after adding hops, grapefruit zest and quartered whole grapefruit) is to cool the beer.  This coagulates more proteins and helps produce beer that is clear.  To do this, we have a copper coil that Brandon made that we run cold water through.  In order to make sure that this coil doesn’t contaminate the beer, we put it into the kettle with about 15 minutes left in the boil.  Spending this time in the boiling wort sanitizes the coil and kills off any bacteria that might be on there.  I’ll post some photos later, but since copper is somewhat expensive and plastic tubing is quite cheap, we have a long plastic hose attached to the outlet side of our coil.  So, as we’re waiting for the boil to finish a friend of Brandon’s who joined us for the brew day said, “That tube doesn’t look right.”  Upon inspection I discovered that when I put the coil into the kettle, I allowed the plastic tube to sit directly on the propane burner stand.  My long piece of tubing was now two separate pieces with nicely charred and melted ends.  Seriously??

Back to the point of this entire post.  While normally brewing is a very relaxing and meditative experience that helps me escape from the rigors of everyday life, yesterday’s brew was more of a demonstration of Murphy’s Law.  I think I did a better job of helping Brandon, his wife and friend relax than I did myself due to my bumbling nature yesterday.  What will make every bit of it worthwhile is if, in a month or two, I crack open a nice cold beer that tastes outstanding and know that if I can make a great beer while floundering around like an idiot the entire time, imagine what I can do on a good day!!

For now, however, I think I’m just going to go back to bed.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Beer, beer and mo beer! written by #2

First time hearing from me and #2 of the 4 brewers, to make a blog entry. It is actually my first ever blog entry so bare with me.

A good friend of mine, a co-worker at Wells Fargo, invited me to check out brewing from pure grain to make beer. It only took one brew day to know I was going to be a home brewer. People love tasty beer and like to try varieties. That is what we are all about, making deliciously fresh, high quality beer and sharing it with others.

Tonight is the second night in a row where we've had a few people over and tasted between 6-8 different types of beer and talk about them. Yes, we are beer geeks and we love it! Even the most novice beer drinker can talk about what they like and don't like and we listen.

At this point in our start up we are refining our signature flavors and still experimenting with other varieties. Yesterday Ryan brought some of the IPA he's been working on and I was shocked. Ryan is a great brewer, but to get a signature IPA I thought it would take many more test batches experimenting with different grains and hops and balancing the ratio. I would definitely classify it up there as one of the best IPA's I've had and the IPA's are what brought me to enjoy craft beer. The recipe as is, is solid, but we'll continue to make some minor adjustments to see if we can make it even better.

Here's the list of beers we have ready to taste or soon to be ready. If you are interested in trying some send me an email
I can put together a little sample pack for you. All we ask in return is you give us some honest feedback.

American Ale (little hoppy/bitter but not quite an IPA)
Sour Berliners (light wheat beer some regular style and some with touch of blue berry)
Numb Nut Brown Ale (kinda like a New Castle with a little more spice)
Doppelbock (fermenting)
Smooth Porter (not thick, dark and refreshing)
Imperial Stout (aging to maximize flavor)
Sweet Celebration (brewed tonight by Bailey in honor of his girl friend's graduation - first experiment with using grapefruit)

Cheers! Brandon

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Business Plan!!

A couple of months ago Brandon, Dave and Ryan went to the Smart Start series at the Small Business Development Center.  I wasn't able to go on that date, but will be attending the series next month.  It seemed like a great resource as, over the course of two days, entrepreneuers are given information about business plans, tax information, marketing information and more.  It would have been well worth the $40 just for that session, however attending this series allows us to have free counseling whenever we need it from here on out!  It's an absolutely wonderful idea that has no doubt helped many small businesses in Iowa get off the ground and stay off the ground!  One of the unique aspects about this series is that it puts you in touch with the actual firms and professionals you will need to partner with (attorneys, accountants, etc.).  So, not only do you get great information, you get to pick the brains of people who have been through this with other businesses many times over!

Our counselor is Greg Saboe, President of Strategies Plus, Inc (follow him on Twitter at @gsaboe).  Strategies Plus is a company that specializes in management and marketing issues for small businesses.  His bio lists a wealth of work experience, including being an adjunct instructor at DMACC.  We are very happy to have his assistance with our little venture!

Anyway, we finally got our business plan to the point that we were comfortable showing it to someone.  We all worked on different sections and Ryan pieced them all together a few days before our meeting.  Going into it, I was worried that it would look like a hastily written 8th grade essay...covered in red ink from beginning to end.  Thankfully there was no red ink in sight!  There was, however, a little yellow highlighter and black ink...but I can deal with that!  He gave us some great ideas for bettering our plan as well as some ideas to help us nail down a solid name for our yet-to-be-named business!

Looking at the suggestions Greg had for us will definitely help us maintain momentum as we move through the planning process.  It has been very easy to get bogged down in working on a document that very few people will ever see!  However, its importance can't be understated.  This is laying the groundwork for our business and if the foundation isn't can we expect the end result to be?  Not only will this help us maintain our momentum, it will likely force us to think about various problems from a different angle which could ultimately lead to a solution!  Since each portion of the plan is integral to the rest, working on one section can seem completely separate from an issue in another, but while working through it we can see how they link together and how they both depend on each other and support each other.

Anyway, our living document has been born and even though it isn't fully developed and has a lot of rough edges, it is great to really have something that we could give to someone and prove we haven't simply been just getting together, dreaming and having a beer!  There is a plan!  Now it is time to nurture it and coax it into a healthy being that will support all of the work that we have yet to begin!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Brew Day!!

Brandon and I took a little bit of time this afternoon to brew and do some work with past brews.  As I'm writing this, I'm having a taste of a Strong Belgian Golden Ale that Brandon and I brewed a couple of months ago.  It's not the best Belgian I have ever had, but it was our first attempt, and overall I'm pretty satisfied with it.  Good, strong malt profile along with some fruity esters associated with the Belgian yeast we used to ferment.  Yes, I am drinking it out of a Sam Adams glass (thanks to Craft Brew Week at El Bait Shop!).

Anyway, back to brew day.  Our goal today was to brew a Doppelbock for Brandon and I was working on a special request brew for my girlfriend.  My instructions were to brew a fruity, summer ale for her.  I know that she doesn't like really hoppy beers, so I am keeping the bitterness low.  However, I am going for a grapefruit taste and a lavender smell (I know, it's a little goofy, but I'm going to give it a shot!).  Unfortunately, the brew store didn't have one of the hop varieties in stock that I wanted to use, and none of the substitutes really were what I wanted I decided to wait until I can find some Saaz hops somewhere!  So, our busy brew day got a little bit less busy.  We still had to brew Brandon's Doppelbock, bottle my Numb Nut Brown Ale and bottle Brandon's Berliner...with a twist!

Brandon's Berliner is a very sour beer, but we are working on some other interesting iterations of this beer.  This time, Brandon bottled half of the batch like normal...the remaining half he simmered some blueberries and let it sit in the secondary fermenter a little bit longer to try and add some fruity flavors to the mix.  So, we bottled about 3 gallons of that and, what I found interesting, is that even though he used only blueberries...the beer turned out a surprising light pink color!  I'm really eager to try some of that!

As we were doing our bottling of the Blueberry Berliner, we were also moving right along with brewing the Dopplebock (as yet to be named!).

Hot Break!!!

First hop addition...German Tettnang, if I remember correctly.

Mmmm...hops!!  Love how they turn the beer green!

When I brewed my second edition of Numb Nut Brown Ale, we apparently had an extremely vigorous boil going on, because instead of ending up with 5 gallons of finished beer, we only ended up with about 4.25 gallons.  Regardless, we went ahead and bottled that today as well.  So, even though we weren't able to get the Sweet Celebration Ale (named because it will be in honor of my girlfriend's birthday as well as her hard-earned graduation from college!!) brewed, we were able to get a lot accomplished on an extremely hot and sticky day!  I came back home with a growler of the Belgian, 42 bottles of Numb Nut Brown Ale as well as a few bottles of Brandon's American Pale Ale.  Now, if only I knew some people who liked craft beer to give some bottles away for some "taste evaluation"!!  Any takers! :)

I think I'll finish my glass of Belgian Blonde and see if I can't figure out a way to get my girlfriend's beer brewed and perfected in time for graduation!  Have a great night everyone!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Peace Tree Brewery Visit

I figure that I should catch you up on some of the things that we have been doing before we started the blog.  We thought it would be a good idea to visit some local breweries and see how things are done.  One in particular we knew we needed to visit was Peace Tree Brewing Company.  Based in Knoxville, Iowa this brewery has not been around more than 2 years, but they are already distributing to an extremely large number of stores, bars and restaurants around Iowa.  Brandon and Ryan had met Megan and Joe from Peace Tree while at a craft brewers conference in San Francisco a couple of months earlier and they had invited us to come out, ask any questions we needed to ask, tour the brewery and enjoy the beer!  It's pretty hard to say no to something like that!

Brandon, Brandon's wife, my girlfriend and myself took the short trip to Knoxville a few weeks ago.  Both Ryan and Dave had family events that were going on and were not able to make the trip.  We first arrived in the early evening and the entertainment had already begun.  A local duo (whom I can't remember for the life of me...memory is going at my old age apparently!) was playing and were very good!  The tap room had a great feel to it and really inspired Brandon and myself regarding how we wanted ours to look.  It was just the right size for a decent crowd to gather and listen to a small band playing on the recently constructed stage.  It felt a lot like a really comfy coffee house, to be perfectly honest!  A comfy coffee house that served great beer!

Megan gave us an initial tour of the facility and really helped us understand the importance of laying out how the brewhouse will look and function.  According to Megan, they had originally had a completely different design in mind for the building when someone asked, "Where are you going to put the silo?"  That immediately changed how they could set things up so they ended up drawing out the layout on a bar napkin...and it works really well!  Since it was just Brandon, our significant others and myself we were able to talk really specifically about their operation and it was incredibly informative.  Thanks Megan!!

After the tour we, of course, had to sample some of the beer!  Brandon had tried some before, but this was my first experience.  Blonde Fatale is definitely my favorite of the beer I tried that night.  It is a great Belgian style Blonde ale and I have definitely ordered it at Des Moines establishments since!  However, the Black River Gumbo Stout is a very close second place!

Later on we got another tour from Joe, the brewer.  His tour was originally intended for patrons who had come to listen to Nathan Moore (http://hippyfia​ as well as for his webcast.  Apparently he and those in his crew had been streaming their lives over the web, live, throughout this tour.  Once that tour ended, Brandon and I snagged some time with Joe to talk some more about brewing on a larger scale.  Joe had a wealth of knowledge and appeared to be really eager to share knowledge about the craft.  Thanks Joe!  When we figured we had taken enough of Joe's time we went back out to listen to the rest of the show, and even got to participate a little with sock puppets, kazoos and makeshift drums!  It was pretty entertaining...particularly trying to watch Brandon work a kazoo! :)

Thanks again to everyone at Peace Tree for your hospitality, knowledge and wonderful beer!  We'll be back, I promise!

Monday, May 30, 2011

First Posting

So, here goes nothing!  I suppose this first post should have a little background about what is going on.  A few months ago Ryan came to me and a couple of other guys with an idea, "Let's start a nano-brewery!"  Ryan had been toying with this idea for quite some time, however Iowa had a rather restrictive law regarding alcohol content in beer that was not conducive to the craft beer drinkers of the world.  Essentially any beer brewed that is over 5% ABV is considered liquor and has to be sold to the state for distribution.  Imperial Stouts, IPA's and Belgians would pretty much all qualify and have to be either watered down or sold to the state.  That would be a huge barrier to an operation the size that he wanted.  However, on March 10, 2010 Governor Chet Culver signed into law a new, higher limit of 12% ABV before brew pubs had to sell their beverages to the state for distribution.  All of a sudden Barleywines, Imperial Stouts, Double IPA's and the like were able to be brewed and distributed from brew pubs all across Iowa without the heaps of red tape.

This one event is what could possibly allow Ryan's idea to be viable!  So, he reached out to Brandon, Dave and myself to see if we wanted to be a part of this little endeavor.  All four of us have been brewing in our garages and on our porches for awhile.  While Ryan, Brandon and Dave all have a strong appreciation for IPA's, I am more of a lover of the darker styles.  I don't care how hot it is outside, give me a good Irish Stout and I am a happy man!  Since we all like different styles for the most part, we all brew different styles as well.  So, we all bring a lot of different ideas to the table.

All those ideas, we feel, are perfect for the style of brewery we want to open.  We want to have only a few standard beers that are available at any time.  The rest, since we are brewing on a small scale, we can play around with and develop a wide assortment of styles.

Currently we are still trying to find the perfect name for the brewery.  We have had several meetings with charts and poster board taped to walls.  Each one of us has thrown a myriad of options into the mix, but nothing has really hit any of us as being a definite winner.  We want to indicate we are a local brewery servicing a local community, but don't want to be handcuffed if we are lucky enough to expand to distribute regionally.  We want a name that is catchy and that is easy to market, but we are definitely struggling with this part of the process.  It is such an important piece of the puzzle, we want to make sure we get it right.

We are all still working on recipes.  I recently re-worked my Numb Nut Brown Ale to be a little bit better.  It was a hit during a New Year's Eve party and all 5 gallons in the keg were finished off that night!  I am trying to wait for it to finish conditioning in the secondary fermenter before transferring to a keg next weekend.  Brandon has an American Ale that is almost ready for bottling and a Berlinner that is still fermenting.  Ryan and Dave are working on a couple of IPA recipes that we hope will be winners!

I think this has gone on long enough for a first edition, and if you have stuck with me this far, thanks!!  I'll keep updating and posting new thoughts and developments during our process.  This is an exciting adventure we have embarked on and we hope that it will be fulfilling for all of us!  Read along and enjoy the ride!