Tuesday, June 12, 2012

800 Pound Gorilla...Check!

Call it what you will, an "800 pound gorilla", "red tape", "royal pain in the ass", "elephant in the room"...whatever you call it, we have had it.  Ever since we started the hunt for a location we had heard the possibility that we would have to have a grease trap installed at whatever location that was.  We thought that this "requirement" was due to a misunderstanding of the liquid waste that we would produce and that we could talk to either a person or representatives for various city agencies and they would realize that we had no need for one.

Then we found our location and thought that we had everything covered because it appeared a grease trap was already in place.  Sweet!  Now we don't have to worry about it and we could go forward!  Well, not so fast, we learned.  Turns out that there was no grease trap...just a few floor sinks.  Then we began formulating ideas, hashing out plans and generally chasing our collective tails.  Should we apply for a financial variance and try to get by with smaller grease traps under our brewing area and bar, should we seek out other sources of funds to just bite the bullet and pay for it, should we pack it up and find a new location (meaning there was virtually no way for us to open this year) or should we do something else?

Well, whatever frustration and discouragement we felt over the last several weeks while dealing with this uncertainty has finally come into focus.  We have a definitive plan and the support of our landlord who, throughout this entire process, has been absolutely wonderful to work with.  From the initial lease negotiations to this most recent issue he has been up front, honest and very willing to work with us.  Being a small business still trying to get off of the ground, that has been extremely helpful.

Soon we will begin the installation of a large in-ground grease trap and subsequent piping which should allow us to obtain signoff by the WRA (Water Reclamation Association), which (we believe) is the final signoff we need in order to get our building permits so that we can start building instead of demolishing!  While I am in no way suggesting that we have seen the last of the red tape and frustration, this has been such a huge deal (and potential deal-breaker!) that it is an incredible weight off of our shoulders.

I am really starting to feel like we are picking up steam right now.  It is helped out a lot by the fact that our brewhouse equipment (boil kettle, mash tun, hot liquor tank, etc) are currently in transit and should be at home in the brewery this Friday.  Additionally, we hit the final submit button on our TTB application which officially notifies the federal government that we are planning on opening a brewery and we need them to certify us and give us a license to brew!  On top of all that, this Saturday Dave is coordinating the volunteer army to help the Iowa Craft Brew Fest run (VIP tickets are currently sold out, but regular tickets are still available...get em now!)!  What an incredible week!


Sunday, May 27, 2012


Those of you that have found our Facebook and Twitter pages (kudos to you, by the way!) know that we got a pretty large delivery the other day.  Though we have talked about it for awhile, we figured that the Craft Brewers Conference was a good time to unveil those outlets.  So, those of you who have found us, thanks for the follows and likes and for those of you who haven't found those outlets yet, we are going to be periodically updating things via those outlets...so give us a follow or a like (just no pokes...yet!).  So, back to the point of this post...yes, it was a large delivery, but was still rather comical that it took an entire semi to deliver it to us given the actual size.

Here comes the goods!

Dave doing his best to guide the driver

Though it looks like they are intentionally ignoring the driver, they truly did discuss the truck positioning!

Hopefully we were the last stop for this driver (and not the only one!) as the trailer was pretty empty, albeit for a couple of pallets with shiny stainless steel attached.

Brandon showed up a little late...but in style!

Frankly, it was all a little surreal.  Yes, we had a signed lease, a place to call home as well as a lot of paperwork indicating that we were a brewery.  True, we had written some pretty big checks many months ago when we ordered our equipment, but we couldn't really point to anything that proved that we were starting a brewery.  We could just be a few random people leasing a commercial property with an LLC.  That all changed recently with our shiny new fermenters.  First, however, we had to get the friggin' things off of the truck and into the building!

We did think ahead a little bit and adjust a furniture mover to accommodate our new arrivals 

Delivery driver pulling the first one off of the truck

Ryan doing his best to help out...appears the driver is doing more work than Ryan!

We all had pretty big grins on our faces as we inspected everything to make sure it met our requirements

Of all of the pieces included with these fermenters (we purchased fittings, racking tubes, valves and other equipment along with the fermenters themselves), we were only missing one single nut on the manway hatch.  Pretty successful, I'd say!

All 3 fermenters positioned outside the front door...now, how to get them in the building?

So, the first step was to remove the wooden guards that had been constructed around the fermenters.  The wood wasn't especially high quality, but they didn't skimp on the fasteners!!  As we removed the wood, I'm somewhat amazed that none of us got injured when things like this were everywhere!

After removing from the original pallets, we put them on our improved furniture dolly and rolled them in the front door.  Had we gotten anything bigger, there was no way in the world that they would have fit in the door.  So, when we are able to increase capacity and get a 7 or 10 barrel fermenter, we'll have to figure out a different way to get the silly things into the building!

First fermenter has entered the building!

We repeated the process with the remaining two fermenters and finally had all three fermenters safely inside the building.

Now, since we are still doing some demolition and still have some construction to do within the building, we wanted to make sure that we protected our investment from all of the dust.  Granted, we still will need to clean them thoroughly to remove any oils and materials left over from manufacturing, but we want to minimize any contamination that can get in there before we clean them!  So, after finally being unveiled to us, we had to wrap them back up with furniture pads and a really large roll of saran wrap from CostCo!

Brandon wrapping up fermenter number two.  You can see #3 pre-wrapped with saran wrap to close up all open ports.

So, it took a little while, but we now have three brand new fermenters just waiting for some freshly prepared wort.  Hopefully we will be able to fill them up somewhat soon and put them through their paces!  So, as mentioned earlier, though we all know we are starting a brewery and we have been working towards this point for quite some time it is really hard to describe how cathartic a feeling it is to have some of this equipment finally delivered to its new home.  Step by step, we continue to move towards our final goal...delivering hand crafted specialty beer to the Des Moines area.  Or, to throw out the tagline mentioned on our business cards, we wish to provide "exceptional beer for exceptional folks".  Look out Des Moines, we are on our way!

Cheers and have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Iowa Craft Beer Festival 2012 is coming!

I don't know about you guys, but I love beer. And I love bridges. What could be more f'ing awesome than drinking beer ON A BRIDGE? Not a stupid viaduct. A real bridge that crosses water and everything!

Are you going to be in or near the state of Iowa on June 16th? The second annual Iowa Craft Beer Festival is coming up and you need to be there. Seriously. A metric truckload of delicious, handcrafted, Iowa beer, a bunch of amazingly talented Iowa craft brewers to serve it to you, a signature bridge in Des Moines, and most importantly - you - are going to all hook up with live music in the background and make sweet, sweet love to each other that day from 1-5 (2-5 if you aren't a VIP - you should really be a VIP, and it'll only cost you an extra 5 spot to sample beer for an extra hour). Tickets are available now, and if you don't get your money out of this, well, let's just say you'll get your money's worth out of this. Come out and enjoy the camaraderie that we, as craft beer lovers, enjoy. Mingle with the breweries that bring you delicious beer. And, most importantly, drink beer. On a bridge. You get to drink beer, ON A BRIDGE. Seriously. A real live freaking bridge! There might even be whales*.

*there probably won't be whales.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What a week!

So, one of the things that all four of us have been looking forward to for quite some time now is the 2012 Craft Brewers Conference, held this year in San Diego.  Brandon and Ryan went to the 2011 edition in San Francisco last year and were a little overwhelmed with everything.  They attempted to describe how incredible the experience was to Dave and I, but were really struggling to come up with the words to adequately describe it.

I now know why!

This was an absolutely amazing experience.  We were literally rubbing elbows with and talking to brewing industry greats like Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head, Jim Koch of Sam Adams and Charlie Papazian, world renowned homebrewer and president of the Brewers Association.  We had a random lunch conversation with Chris White, founder of White Labs yeast and author of Yeast: The Practical Guide to Yeast Fermentation. There were really too many of those experiences to name, but those give you just an idea of whose company we were in this past week.  It was truly surreal for a few reasons.  1. We were actually in their company and at their events.  2. they actually talked with us!  3. They seemed actually enjoy talking to us!

Then came the primary reason we were there, the conference itself and the expo.  There were seminars on all sorts of things, but it was kicked off by Sam Calagione talking about nano breweries.  It was really encouraging and exciting to be in the room with all of those people who were either in various stages of planning or had been open for awhile.  One brewery in particular had a ton of great information, Hess Brewing Company.  The brewery opened a couple of years ago on a 1.6 barrel system (51 gallons at a time), which is half the size of our operation!  He started a blog about their process as he couldn't really find a ton of information out there on the interwebs about starting small breweries.  This blog has helped many of the small breweries out there get started...we kind of called them the grandfather of the nano brewery!

Next came seminars on taprooms, yeast propogation, brewing with fruit, tips and tricks, and on and on.  So much information to absorb, but so much wonderful information.  Then came the beer.  Oh my word was there beer.  Everywhere you went there was wonderful, wonderful beer.  Throughout the day there were hospitality tents everywhere with food and drink.  Mixed in with the booths trying to sell us everything from full brew houses to bottle openers were booths with random wonderful beer.  Much of it we don't have being distributed in Iowa, but I sure wish it was.

After the last seminar of the day there were shuttles taking us to various places each night.  One night we went to Mission Brewery in downtown San Diego.  Absolutely gorgeous building.  Used to be an old bakery, but they had converted it to a brewery and tasting room.  Another night we went to Karl Strauss Brewery (no idea where it was, my sense of direction was so screwed up all week!) where there was more food and 16 separate breweries with beer....also a mechanical bull!  Once we returned, we were presented with even more opportunities to sample incredible beer.  In one of the courtyards of the hotel, they had constructed two cold boxes with 50+ taps in each one.  You could either filter through the two page list of available brews or just play brewery roulette and pick a number!

I could go on and on and on about this week and everything we learned and did and saw...but I can't put it all into one post.  I do plan on adding another post shortly that will include some of the images we captured throughout the week, but I want to leave you with an image of Ryan's protector.  This print was hung over the foot of his bed and watched over him each night.  Frankly, it's rather creepy!  I think the eyes do follow you around the room...however, he made it through!

Now, if we can just get an airplane to pick us up from the airport and actually get us home, that would be great!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Demolition Day 1

What a day!  As I mentioned the other day, we have signed a lease on a building where we will eventually open the doors of 515 Brewing Company to the public.  The building has been many things in its life...a restaurant or two, a bar or two and possibly a couple of things we haven't heard of yet.  Needless to say, we have to do some work to it in order to match our vision for the brewery and tasting room.

With the receipt of our insurance paperwork this last week and a floor plan more or less finalized, we are finally able to get our hands dirty and start work on cleanup/construction prep.  We have not acquired our official building permit yet so we aren't doing anything major, but one thing was known from the moment we all first laid eyes on the space...the carpet had to go!

It had to go for many reasons, really.  First of all, it had so much stuff spilled on it in the last however long it had been down that it didn't exactly smell of roses!  Then take into account the fact that we will very likely have liquid spill onto the floor on occasion and carpeting seems like a pretty silly floor covering!  We thought that once we loosened a couple of edges that the stuff would just pull up without too much trouble.  Um...no...how wrong we were.  I arrived first, thinking it wouldn't be that much trouble.  An hour later, this is all that I accomplished:

I had to stop pulling every couple of minutes to let my hands rest!

So, Ryan arrived after I had been working for about an hour and with a couple more tools and after about another hour we got this far:

That stuff just absolutely did not want to come up!  Next we tried to pull smaller sections up (about 12" wide).  That worked a whole lot better and the work on the carpet went much quicker...but was still pretty difficult.

One other thing we absolutely had to do was to remove a wall full of mirrors off of one of the walls.  One of the previous tenants in this place had even covered up two windows with mirrors.  Why, you ask?  We have no idea whatsoever!  It makes very little sense, but overall it doesn't matter because we have to pull them off anyway!  Below is what the wall looked like with all of the mirrors on it (forgive the horrible photo...just for an idea of the mirror wall!):

Our initial attempt at the first mirror (about 4' x 4') did not go well and we quickly broke a piece off.  It had been secured to the wall by half a dozen or more of these solidified putty-like disks.  Since neither one of us wanted to get cut and have to get medical attention on our first day of work we decided to unleash a little bit of frustration.  If the mirror didn't want to come down in one piece, we would make it come down in as many pieces as possible!  A few seconds later and a flying ice scraper and crowbar later and the mirror was down, Ryan and I were laughing somewhat maniacally and we could finally see what was behind the mirror wall!

After a suggestion by Ryan's wife during dinner, we did finally find a way to pull the mirrors down without breaking them (at least most of them) and finished off pulling down the rest of the mirrors.  If I remember right, we salvaged 3 or 4 of the 4' x 4' mirrors.  Not sure what we'll do with them, but once we get the wood  out of the windows it will be great to get some natural light into the brewery.

Photos of progress from day one:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Home Sweet Home

So, it has been awhile since my last post and work has continued to progress.  The website is continuing its evolution, recipes continue to be refined and we have looked at several more potential properties.  The property search, as I have mentioned before, is a very critical step in our plan as we can't file for our brewer's license without a location.

Our Realtor has been great to work with thus far.  He has put up with all of the requirements we threw at him and has been willing to work with us after normal business hours since all four of us continue to work at our original jobs.  We have been through some tough decisions and some tough moments in our search for a location, however, that search has finally come to an end!  We all got our keys to the new brewery (we can call it that now!!) on Friday.  I won't post just yet where exactly it is, but rest assured, that announcement will come soon enough.

This means that we can cross another huge "to-do" off of our checklist and now we can really start to build up steam towards actually opening our doors (now that we have them!).  You should be seeing some more activity in the next month or so.  We should be launching our website, opening up our Twitter and Facebook accounts, and, finally, releasing the location where we will be brewing and serving our beer.

I think I can speak for all of us that we were all a little giddy on Friday when we finally were able to put our hands on those keys.  It is a great feeling to make that huge step.  Now we need to finalize the ultimate layout of the brewery so we can submit our paperwork to the TTB (The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) so that we can get them working on issuing our brewery license.  That notice, along with similar notices from the State of Iowa and the City will allow us to finally use our commercial 3 barrel system to brew beer for sale.  Up until then, we can only continue to brew on homebrew setups in order to finalize our recipes.  Which, Brandon and I happen to be doing right now!  My Kolsh is now in the fermenter and Brandon's Shandy is coming out of the mash tun as we speak.

So, while it has been hard work up to this point in our plan, I anticipate things are going to get even more difficult over the next couple of months.  What is up next is to submit our licensing applications, clean up and build out the brewery/taproom, launch our official marketing plan and conquer the hundreds of smaller tasks remaining on our list.  It's going to be a crazy, crazy spring and summer, but it sure is nice to finally have a home for our venture!

Cheers and happy Easter everyone!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Experimental Adventures

So, Brandon and I had a long, but productive brew day yesterday and got to experiment a little bit.  Before I get to that, however, a quick update on the status of our business.  Still no location, ugh.  This part has been, by far, the most difficult part of the process to date.  We have a very narrow set of requirements and there are only a certain number of spaces out there (available or not!); making it a needle-in-a-haystack sort of search.  There are obviously a lot of federal, state, county and city regulations to juggle which makes the search just that much more difficult.  We continue to scour all of the commercial listings on our own as well as with the help of our agent.

Now, on to the brew day.  We were brewing a beer that was the idea of my girlfriend, essentially we were trying to recreate the flavor of a salted caramel in a beer.  For those who haven't done much (or any) brewing, there are some grains available that create some of that caramel flavor.  We have all used these in varying amounts in other brews, but this is the first where I really wanted to highlight the caramel flavor instead of using the caramel to support other flavors.

Time for a little Brewing 101!  A quick run-down of the initial steps we go through to make beer.  Beer is basically fermented sugar water with alcohol and carbon dioxide being the by-products of the yeast eating the sugar in said sugar water (yep, we're drinking yeast poop!).  The first step is to get the sugar out of the grain so the yeast will have something to eat.  We do this by soaking the grain in water at a specific temperature, allowing enzymes to convert starches to sugars.  Normally we just throw water in at a specific temperature, let it sit for an hour or hour and a half, then get the water out.  For this, though, I wanted to try something new.

I had been wondering about a mash method called decoction mashing for awhile and, while this is really more of an antiquated mash technique for use with grains that have not been modified with modern malting techniques (as well as other reasons), I thought that the process might help me extract more caramel flavor from the grain.  Essentially, for this method, the beginning is the same except we let it rest at a lower temperature than the "single infusion" method I described above.  After a period of time, a specific amount of grain is pulled out of the main mash and brought to a boil for a little while.  This is then added back to the main mash in order to bring the temp up to the temp we normally aim for with the single infusion.  From there, the rest of the brew day is the same.  This should, in theory, add more of a caramel flavor to the beer, and our first taste of the unfermented, cool wort seemed to bear that out.  I'm really excited about this beer.  If nothing else, it was (and is) a great experiment!  If you are interested in learning more about decoction mashing and seeing a video about it, try this link to Northern Brewer, Brewing TV.  Brandon also took a couple of photos during:

Stirring the Decoction

Decoction Close Up

While brewing we also bottled 3 batches of beer that had been carbonating: Mexican Spring (an Agave Lime Wheat), Sour Power (our version of a Berlinner Weisse) and Rooster Red (Irish Red brewed for the Des Moines Roosters Aussie Rules Football team).  I'm sampling Mexican Spring right now and I really like it.  Brandon's friend and wife tried it the other day as well and could really envision themselves drinking it while floating down the river in a canoe or kayak.  We also tasted 3 others that should be ready relatively soon: A Belgian Quad currently aged about 6 months, Big Nuts (Imperial version of Numb Nut Ale) and Sweet Grits Ale.  All 3 have a lot of potential, but are still a little young and the flavors need to blend a little more.

Mexican Spring

Anyway, I think I have rambled on long enough.  If you made it this far, thanks again!  I need to find a way to make some of these shorter...apparently I'm a little long-winded!  Either way, have a great night and we'll have more news later!


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Reflections and Revelations

I've been doing quite a bit of reading recently.  Reading about the brewing process as a whole, differing mash schedules, yeast pitch rates, hop utilization, overall efficiency, recipe formulation, brewery operations, and on and on and on.  It occurred to me that one of the most rewarding (so far) parts of this process of opening a commercial nano-brewery is the learning.  There are so many parts of this process that relate back to me sitting in a classroom, bored out of my mind, because I had no idea how any of the information I was being taught would ever relate to the real world...but now I know exactly how they can relate!  I recently posted a photo of a stir plate in action that I had just completed building on Facebook and had several comments about it.  The one that stuck the most, however, was from my sister who said, "You guys should speak to a hs science class. Seriously. What could possibly get U.S. kids excited about science more quickly than the idea that they could use their new skillz to make BEER?! I just solved the science brain drain problem right there, people."  While I don't think there is a high school in the world that would let us come in to talk about our process, I do think there is a serious grain of truth there.  I have heard several stories of current professional brewers who happened to be in the right place at the right time and had the right professor steer them in the direction of brewing.

I always enjoyed science class and was generally pretty adept at many of the concepts, but still had no idea how in the world it was going to translate to my everyday life after high school and college.  My aspirations at the time really had nothing to do with applied science.  I had also always enjoyed building things and, sometimes more so, tearing things apart.  Now I am entering into a world that I should have known about years ago because it meshes virtually all of the skills and subjects that I have enjoyed!

I'm not sure I can speak for the other guys in this little self-reflective discovery, but what I do know is that I am unbelievably excited about moving forward.  All of these random interests are now concentrated into one specific endeavor.  Much to my girlfriend's chagrin, I am excited enough about this on a daily basis to come home after a full day of work only to cook dinner and go right to work on some project for the brewery.  Whether it is reading about craft beer trends, sourcing suppliers for our ingredients or building small electronics projects I have a hard time sitting around and not working!  Last night I forgot to eat dinner for the first time (I had a snack, but that really doesn't count!) because I was researching appropriate rpm rates for yeast starters on a stir plate!  Really?  I eschewed pork loin for research on stir plate usage?  I think I might have a sickness of some sort.  While I don't think my experience is identical to those of the other guys, I think all of us are really, truly enjoying this process.  Even though it has, at times, been extremely frustrating, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience to this point, and many would say that we haven't even gotten to the fun part yet!

Stir Plate Assembly (yes, it's even on the kitchen counter!)

Completed Stir Plate in action

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Progress and Saisons

Well, it has been a little while since my last post so I figured I'd post an update and some photos from recent brew days.  We have really been working hard on finding a location and have discovered that it is a truly difficult task!  There are so many city, state and federal regulations to weed through (some of them contradictory) that it makes it quite a daunting task to figure out what is required.  We have visited several places, put a bid in on one location, are planning a bid on another location and all while keeping our eyes on the city for other potential locations.  Throughout this process we have known that much of our equipment has been ordered and has no place to go!  So, we are also making contingency plans in order to store our equipment until we have secured a lease.

T-shirts have been printed, business cards have been received, Polo's are ready for embroidery, website design is in full swing and, of course, beer has been brewed!  We continue to feel very confident about our preparation and just need to nail down a location to get all of the licensing requirements underway.  While this location search has been difficult, the confidence I have in my partners and those who have been kind enough to help us along this journey continues to grow every day.  Our meetings are relaxed and fun, but we still get stuff done (occasionally Ryan's or Brandon's wife has to prod us to get back on topic, but that's another story)!  We are all ready to start brewing beer and formally introduce our beer to the Des Moines area...just need to find a spot to settle down!

Speaking of brewing, we have been pretty busy on that front as well.  We continue to experiment with different hop varieties, malt bills, yeast, spices, fruit, etc to develop a wide variety of high quality beer.

One example is a Sour Cherry Lavender Saison.  For those unfamiliar with the style, a Saison is also called a Farmhouse Ale.  It was traditionally brewed as an alternative drink for farm laborers during the harvest.  It is moderately hoppy, lots of floral aroma and traditionally is on the low end of the alcohol spectrum (laborers don't get much done when they're wasted!).  This version is an attempt to stay (sort of) within the spectrum of a traditional Saison regarding the hops, floral aroma and alcohol; all while adding a little extra bit of something (i.e. Lavender and sour cherries!).  Below are some pictures from transfer day (moving from secondary fermentation over cherries into the keg for carbonation):

Cherries turn a really strange color after sitting in fermenting beer for a week and a half!

Another shot of the cherries and beer being transferred to the keg.

Me trying to get the last bit of beer out of the fermenter.  There were 4 pounds of cherries in that bucket so it was a little difficult getting to the beer!  (As a side note, Brandon would have been in this photo as he was helping me, but he was doing something inappropriate for the web and had to be cut out of this!)

More to come later, as usual.

Here's to a quick appearance of spring!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Brewery's First Christmas

Shortly before the holidays Brandon noticed an advertisement for a beer and food pairing at a local restaurant, Sbrocco.  All the food was to be paired with a select beer from Boulevard Brewing Company's Smokestack series.  This series has 4 year round releases as well as limited releases and seasonal offerings.  We thought it would be a good time for us to sit down together, with our significant others, and just have a little fun.  We also thought it would be a good idea to reward the women in our lives for sticking with us and dealing with our craziness during this whole thing!

I just have to share the menu because it was outstanding!


Pecan wood smoked scallop bisque with celery leaves & caviar toast.
Paired with Harvest Dance

Brushed with Foie Gras & topped with Grana Padano cheese, bacon scented tomatoes & arugula.
Paired with Long Strange Tripel

Braised Colorado lamb with roasted root vegetables, homemade rosemary pasta & lamb jus.
Paired with Sixth Glass

Hazelnut-cocoa nib sponge cake with a salty caramel sauce & stout creme anglaise.
Paired with Dark Truth Stout

It was a wonderful dinner and the beer and food pairings were outstanding.  It was a really great way to celebrate all that we had accomplished to that point as well as prepare us for all that we had to tackle going forward.  We all left completely stuffed and utterly satisfied from both the beer and the food.

From what we were told during the dinner, Sbrocco is going to try to do events like this on a semi-regular basis and they actually have another one coming up soon, as in February 21.  

I will post some more information later on regarding our progress, but I just wanted to take a moment and thank those of you who have read and continue to read this blog.  We are extremely encouraged by all of the positive responses we have received regarding our little venture.  It seems like everyone we talk to believes this is a good idea and if they don't live near, are willing to travel to come visit us and sample our beers.  I can't even begin to explain how great it is to receive this feedback and it just continues to push us forward.  So, though it is a little late, I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and we look forward to many more nights like this one!