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Old 01-31-2007, 05:39 PM   #1
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Default Don't Try This at Home - part 4

I am not sure, and have not bothered to go back and reread what I have writen up to now so I will just jump in and let the pieces fit together as they might.

Once all the headaches of getting started up had been taken care off the real headaches of running a brewery began and we quickly discovered how ignorant we were about running a commercial brewery. The quality control issues seemed way too immense to get around for one thing. We would bottle 300 cases at a pop, which meant we had to sanitize 300 bottles, 300 caps, the filler and everything else that came in contact with the beer. We couldn’t afford a consultant and there was no HBT, so we did the best we could. By and large it worked out, but we had our problems with infections and gushers and fun things like that. The first time you pour 28 barrels of beer out is something you don’t forget, but recalling 300 cases is way worse!

In the beginning we labeled by hand, one bottle at a time. We had rolls of sticker labels and we would put on a movie, open a beer or bottle and start working. We also built and filled all the cases and sixers the same way. We did have a loyal group of friends who would come and help for little more then the beer they drank.

For the first 2 years we produced 1 product, our Outlaw Lager. Man I really got to dislike that beer. But after a while we brought other products on line. Our second full time beer was a Pilsner we called Desert Pils. It was a simple, golden pilsner and has always been a good seller. We later introduced a bock and a chile beer. The chile beer is the won we won our GABF metals with and it was a strong seller as well.

Life as a brewer is a lot of work, but it is varied around the general tasks of production, packaging and maintenance. It can also involve a huge amount of drinking. It was pretty common to go to work and crack open a beer as you would get about whatever it was you had to do. We also would get bored with beer and so we had premixed cocktails on tap as well. We did loads of promo work, tastings at bars and retailers, and beer flight dinners at restaurants. People would come by so we could evaluate their beer or stop in to check us out and this would mean stopping to have a social drink. Our distributor would meet with us regularly as well and always bring along some samples of new wines, or spirits. It sounds a bit crazy in the retelling, but that was our life at RGBC. The three of us became very tight and took on everything as a team. Problems and successes were ours to share.

Our original fermentation set-up was built with Grundy tanks, which are 7 bbl British cellar tanks. We had a rig where-by we could link 4 of them together for a single batch. We had a two compartment cold room, one side for fermentation and the other for conditioning. This system worked fine but was labor intensive to say the least. Four tanks to set-up and clean every time, no conical bottoms to help things along. Temperature was set as a common standard with little control of variation. That is why we made a steam beer, a pils, a bock and a chile beer. The yeasts could all work in the same range. Eventually we got our first uni-tanks and sold the Grundies to some poor slob. They made all the difference. Individual temperature control using glycol, conical bottoms for trub and yeast management and CIP spray balls. I thought I was in heaven.

We eventually bought a labeler as well. The first one was not inline, but at least it was automated. We also made a deal with the devil, sold our souls and bought a pasteurizer. The reality was nobody between us and the customer cared about how our beer was handled. It would sit in a hot warehouse, ride in hot trucks, sit on sunny shelves. We could not afford the other options and so we configured a means to do in bottle pasteurization. Of course this meant the beer was degraded, but at least it was stable. As I look back I can clearly see the slow slip from the purest ideals of our home brewing roots to the compromised realities of our commercial venture. But at the time they were all basic decisions about surviving. When we went into business there were only three other breweries in New Mexico and we were at least four times as big as any of them. But within 2 years of our beginning the Micro revolution hit our region with the force of a Hurricane and suddenly our market was flooded with every kind of Colorado brew imaginable and good old Jim Koch was cranking all over the air waves about his great, great granddaddy’s age old recipe. That we survived all that still amazes me we did not die in that wave.

But we had some solid loyal followers and we started to get some good press and awards. The GABF was the icing on all that for me and really helped us get into some new markets. But RGBC never took off like those lucky few did here and there. Oh well, it still was fun to see strangers drinking your beer out and about. The day I knew I was really a brewer was the day I saw an empty Outlaw bottle on the side of the road.

Well, more on all this sometime down the road…
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Old 01-31-2007, 06:36 PM   #2
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Great stuff!

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Old 01-31-2007, 06:47 PM   #3
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Thanks again. Even though my product has nothing to do with beer (unless you collect cans), it's always good to here about other entrepreneurs' experiences.

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Old 01-31-2007, 06:48 PM   #4
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Looks like good reading.

I'll read it when I don't have stuff on the stove.
Cheers.

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Old 01-31-2007, 07:04 PM   #5
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Great reading, thanks BP!

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Old 01-31-2007, 07:15 PM   #6
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I look forward to hearing more.....

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Old 01-31-2007, 07:17 PM   #7
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I still think you need to write a book

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Old 01-31-2007, 07:50 PM   #8
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Thanks for part 4. I love reading about these adventures in brewing.

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Old 01-31-2007, 07:58 PM   #9
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Yes, thanks for providing this insight into the commercial beer biz. It is an eye opener.

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Old 01-31-2007, 08:12 PM   #10
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Good read, I grew up in NM and was back last year on business, had one of the chile beers.

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