Don't Try This at Home - parts 1, 2 and 3

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Brewpastor

Beer, not rocket chemistry
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It was suggested I put these together so...

Part 1:

Dude suggested I share a bit of my story related to my journey as a professional brewer and the experiences therein. So I will try to do some of that here, although it might be better if I break it up a bit - part 1, part 2...

Like many of you somewhere I get the idea that turning my hobby into my profession seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I had a decade of homebrewing under my belt, loads of ribbons - what could go wrong? At that point there were only 2 breweries in New Mexico and none in Albuquerque. The time and opportunity seemed right. That was 1991.

At first I thought I would utilize a clause in the zoning law and open a small keg and 22 oz bottle micro out of my home. I began getting the licensing paperwork in order and registered the name Rio Grande Brewing. Licensing involved the city zoning, city council, the fire department, city utilities, the department of health, ATF, New Mexico Alcohol & Gaming, Federal Label approval, and probably others I don't remember. It sucked. But I started making my way through the maze, while at the same time started to locate the equipment I would need.

About this time I was contacted by a brewing friend who was thinking of doing the same kind of thing and wondered if I was interested in forming a partnership, which we did. He brought financial strength to the partnership and so we decided to shift our focus to opening a brewpub and began looking for a location.

During this effort I was contacted by a business group who owned a series of restaurants around town. They had the idea of converting one of their spots into a brewpub and proposed we go into partnership with them. They would own and operate the restaurant and we would own and operate the brewery. We pulled in another partner on our end, who was a friend that also had an interest in commercial brewing. The three of us worked together with the restaurant partners for a number of months until it became clear from both sides the idea really didn't hold water and we decided to go our seperate ways. They eventually opened Assts Grill and Brewing/the Southwest Brewing Company and became partners in the Pub Brewing Equipment Company. We on the other hand went off to find a space and write a new business plan.

We chased after a number of other locations, wrote and rewrote business plans, finally submitting a slick, full blown plan and bid on a downtown space. A month later it was rejected and we recognized how little we knew about starting a business, running a brewery and how we know even less about running a restaurant

So we licked our wounds and regrouped. We decided that our best shot would be a pure micro focused on bottled and kegged product with no retail/restaurant function. Again we started to look for equipment and space when I was contacted by a large investment group (owners of Famous Amos cookies) wanting a proposal for a LARGE regional micro. So we got to work and produced a new business plan. In the end the deal did not go through because the investment tax incentives they had anticipated never materialized. Damn goverment bean counters!

By now we were really tired of the whole run around. Further, one of our trio was having to move to Denver so his wife could complete a medical internship. So the two of us remaining said screw it and signed a lease on a commercial warehouse space. I was selling footware at REI, preaching on the weekends and was hungry for something new.

We decided to begin with a single beer in the general style of Anchor Steam/bastard lager. We actually applied for the name Bastard Lager, but were deneighed. Of course a couple years later Stone received approval for Arrogant Bastard, but such is life. We went with Outlaw Lager and let it be.

I will stop there for now and if there is interest, continue with the next part to talk about putting the brewery together.



Part2:

Cash was in short supply so we had to work on half a shoe string. The warehouse we leased had last been used by a winery (Gruet) and was really just a big warehouse space with high ceilings and a floor drain. It needed build-out so we brought a third partner on board who had some building experience. We built a huge, two compartment coldroom, one side for primary fermentation, the other for cold conditioning. The roof was built to support grain storage and such.

Our first fermenters were Grundy tanks, which are 7 bbl british serving tanks, not jacketed or conical. We bought 20 of them, 12 for fermentation, 8 for conditioning and constructed a manifort to connect them in series of four to accomidate our 28 bbl batches. The kettle was a horizontal dairy tank I located in a field on a local dairy farm and bought for $300. It was originally designed as a cooling tank, but we figure that if we reversed the flow, ran steam instead of coolent and pretended we didn't know any better it would work, and it did. We bought a huge boiler/steam generator and had to build a fireproof room around it. We found another horizontal tank for our hot liquor vessel and utilized the boiler to heat it as well. We put this on leg so it stood twelve feet off the ground and designed our system to utilize gravity. The mash/lauter tun was a simple stainless cylindar that we bought from a local winery. It came out of the pick-up on the way home and bounced along I-25 outside of Santa Fe, but the only damage was a small dent. We had a funky false bottom fabricated that utilized a couple copper plates, screening and pipe, put in a manway for grain removal, but it too worked really well inspite of our best efforts.

Our batch sizes were 28 bbl because that was the volume of the kettle. The equipment came from all over the area and we really had a frankinbrewhouse. The chiller was a beast of a unit that was also dairy salvage, but as with everything else, it got the job done, even if it wasn't pretty. We had inline oxygen and a plate and frame filter, a nice pump mounted on a skateboard. We always said, what did it matter, it isn't a show place. For a filler we found an OLD 24 head rotating filler. It ended up being a great buy, but when we got it we had no idea how it worked. We actually thought the lifters for the bottles were operated with water, not air. What a mess that was! We had to hunt all over for parts and spend days figuring that machine out. I built, invented actually, a 12 head, counter pressure keg washer and filller, which I keep saying I will some day market. For the first 6 months or so we did not buy a mill and use pre-crushed grain and believe it or not a motorized Corona mill for specialty grains!

As you can gather it was an unusual brewery. We did not have any consultants or manuals, so it was all seat of the pants. We had figured out the recipe and done loads of small test batches. It took months for all the licensing and inspections to get cleared and so we did a lot of homebrewing and drinking. We also lined up a distributor who just happened to be in the same complex. They took care of all promotion and sales.

We got things configured and gave it all lots of water tests. We also cleaned things with caustic and such, through which I learned the important lesson that one should not wear Teva sandles while working in large puddles of caustic soda. (Like I said, we drank a lot in that era.)

I think it took something like 6 months from the time we signed our lease until we had all the approvals we needed to get brewing. It had been a nearly three years since I had left my last church job and started this crazy path and we were just getting ready to brew. To say we were excited hardly sums it up.

Part
 

AFAJ Brew Guy

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Yeah same here. Thats ok I can just wait longer!

Thanks for taking the time to spin your tale!
 

Ryanh1801

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I believe if you search its on here. It seems like I have read it before, very good read.
 

Revvy

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
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*clicks Subscribe and waits with baited breath for the next installment of a fellow clergyman's "life after church story."*

Then sees the previous post with the link to part 3...
 

ohiobrewtus

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Great story and very well told, Brewpastor. I'd love to hear more.
 

Doog_Si_Reeb

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Wow! How the heck did I miss this thread in my time here on HBT??? I love Desert Pils! That is my favorite out of all the beers that are now brewed by the Moriarty guys. I also like Outlaw Lager and have liked it for years. I even have an Outlaw Lager tshirt, but it's with the new label... I heard rumors that there is going to be a taproom in Uptown with the RGBC beers, Sierra Blanca beers, and some Santa Fe Brewing beers... I am definitely going to hang out there!

Any chance of getting a Desert Pils clone recipe?? :D

Awesome write-up, and really cool to hear how the local brewery came to be! The story reminded me that I still have a pint glass from Assets somewhere around the house...
 

polecreek

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Wow, that is a cool story, I need part 5. I didnt realize I was in the presense of greatness.
 

jacksonbrown

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Brewpastor,
I just came across this thread. Kudos! I've been talking lately with my wife about the possibility of doing the same in the distant future (10+ yrs). But I figure it doesn't hurt to start researching as early as possible.
I just had a couple question, I hope you don't mind answering (I posted this to the thread as well, but fear you might miss it; feel free to respond there).

1) It looks like it took you and your partner quite some time to come up with a business plan, going back and forth between a brewery for distribution and a prewpub. What ultimately led you to a distribution model? Was it location, market, being able to build up more slowly?

2) Had you always planned to grow your business in NM, or did it take some time to find the right place for your plan?

3) I might have missed this, but how many brews do you currently produce, and how long did it take you to start stepping up?

Thanks so much for your time!
 

KUbrew

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Wow, just came upon this thread, what a great story! Starting a brewery has been a dream of my wife and I for a while now. I would love to hear some more if you've got the time to write it.
 
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