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The Brewmasters: Brett Ratcliff - Roseville Brewing Company

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Well fellow HBTers, I have had the pleasure of interviewing Brett Ratcliff from Roseville Brewing Company in Roseville, CA. Brett is THE brewer at "RBC" as well as the Vice President of Brewing Operations. I lived right around the corner from RBC for a year and I can say from personal experience that they make some very tasty brews their Orange Chocolate is crazy good; I have walked the three blocks down there more than once to get a pint or two of it for "dessert". Brett started out home brewing quickly decided he wanted to take brewing beer beyond a hobby and make it into a career, through a co-worker he found an opportunity to do just that. The rest, as they say, is history! You can read his interview responses below and for more information on Roseville Brewing Company check out their website here: http://www.rosevillebrewingcompany.com

Brett Ratcliff , Kelly Rue, Scott Hemings and Phil Gottschalk of Roseville Brewing Company

Jack: Where did it all start, what early brewing experience "set the hook", and where did it go from there?

Brett: It all started when I had what was my first international beer back in 1989, Steinlager, from New Zealand. I absolutely loved this first taste of hops compared to the "Bucket Beer Night" beers back in New Orleans. From there I went to LSU and fell in love with a local beer spot called "The Chimes." There I discovered a local brewery, Abita, and the real international beer scene: Chimay, Duvel, Kronenburg, Guinness Extra Stout, etc. Having the beers around the world plaque challenge helped tremendously. From there I moved to Germany in '92 for my major and discovered Hefeweizens, Bock Beers, Ofleku from Prague, Faxe from Danemark and Pilsner Urquell. What is more important is the discovery of Belgian beers. This all was a snowball effect. At an early age I plotted how I would open a bar while managing my two degrees. Fast forward to the middle 90's and I moved to California and expanded my range of tastes towards the hoppy...welcome Sierra Nevada and Eye of the Hawk. Weekends became an endless fascination for finding something I haven't tried. By the early 2000's I started dabbling in the Belgian's. This led to the sours. Finally, Arrogant Bastard turned me to the dark side, seeking the boldest, baddest IPA out there.

The year 2006 marked the beginning of my home brewing experience. Yes, it began on the stove top. From the very beginning the beer tasted great and by the time I moved to all grain, it turned spectacular. What started as about 30 gallons a year quickly transformed into well over a 100 as I began to host parties at my house. This hobby quickly grew out of control and fortunately, my wife allowed me to move on to bigger and better.
One day a female co-worker of mine informed me that her husband wanted to start a brewery and would like to watch the brewing process one weekend. Well, he came over with his notepad and wide eyes and watched as I made my latest batch of imperial stout. As we engaged in the process and threw back quite a many fresh beers from my kegerator I explained to him that I had some money and would like to get in on this business. The rest is history.
Jack: Did you have any issues converting from Home Brewer to Commercial Brewer? If so what were they?
Brett: The ultimate truth lies in that you can convert the recipes all you want, but every system is different and will create a unique brew. That is, brew the exact same recipe on two different systems and you will get two different brews. ...A product will be different on a larger scale system not necessarily due to the larger scale, but due to the system. Our product turned out different than from the garage, but in the big scheme of things, it was something that was way more consistent and way more tolerable to the numerous variables with home brewing.

Jack: If you could start all over and with the information you have now, what changes would you have made getting started commercially?
Brett: This is a very good question. Let's face it. The market is a complicated one now. There is only so much shelf space on a grocery shelf and consumers have only a limited attention span for taste. As a consumer you are always looking for the "latest and the greatest". In the beginning of the boom it was a new brewer's market and you could grow exponentially as long as you had the right distribution plan. Today, it is very different. You will have to make that one unique beer that pulls you through. The other option is going back to what failed in the early 2000's-- beer-pubs. They are what consumers seek now.
So, how would I do things differently now:
First, create enough capital to run a business for three years along with buying the most state-of-the-art equipment. In this market, there are way too many breweries under-capitalized. In this competitive market, you need to start a brewery with at least $250,000 to $500,000. Proper infrastructure is absolutely important. Not just for the stability of the beer but for the mental sanity of the brewery. Proper equipment equals less physical stress on the brewery.
In the Sacramento market there are too many breweries who are hoping to make a decent living. The truth is, with the current market, a local brewery can hope to clear $100,000 in a year. If there are partners, then you must split that. If you want your company to make more, open a brew pub.
To be honest, the profit from kegs is very minimal unless you are selling in massive bulk such as one of the big three. Bottle sales are much better but you must fight for shelf space in the local markets. The best place to earn a profit is from your taproom.

Jack: How would you advise people get started in commercial brewing?
Brett: My first suggestion is a logical one, check out the local market within 100 miles. In Sacramento there are 20 breweries in 20 miles. This works if most of the breweries are going towards the local brewpub style. It doesn't work if most are hoping to become the next Knee Deep, Lagunitas, or Stone; unless you really have something different and unique. If this is the case in your local market, the only way to win is to become a brewpub and that takes tons of capital. Perhaps near $500,000.
My next suggestion is to think very hard about your outcome. If you are already earning $100,000 per year, are you willing to earn half that depending on the local market?
Here's another perspective. I recently visited a new brewery in Reno and overheard a conversation between two late 28 years olds. They were discussing the many business options they could pursue. One of them discussed how cool it would be to open brewery. This got me thinking. Why do we all want to open a brewery? Yes, we would love to share our creations across the world. And of course we would like to make a decent living. But I thought deeper. I think many of us would love to have our garage on the big scale. We'd like to have a place wherein we could find comfort and share our creations and talk to those who appreciate our work. This is a fine dream. It's a fantastic dream. The problem is that in many cases it is cheaper to simply make the ultimate garage mancave and invite friends over. I wouldn't say this 15 years ago, but today it is a different story and I am speaking strictly from a Sacramento viewpoint.

Jack: What is RBC's goal/vision/manifesto/motto?
Brett: Our goal is to make craft beer that all could enjoy and love. Yes, we would love to create beer that only appeals to my fellow beer geeks, but in the beginning, we feel this wouldn't be the best model. First, we want to help those who love light beer transform into pale ale lovers. From there we can guide them to loving all styles of beer.
Jack: On that note what was, or is, you all-time favorite brew to make? Or the one that made you "famous" amongst your friends? Or, perhaps your favorite brew to "tinker with"?
Brett: My all-time favorite beer to make...well, drink is an Imperial Cherry Stout. It is a combination of The Abyss and Old Rasputin with whole cherries added after a month of fermentation. Then I let it sit for another 6 months and voila...amazing!
Jack: For your Imperial Cherry Stout, are those cherries pitted? Are you loyal to a particular type of cherry? Do you wash them first? (Sorry for nerding out on this one!)
Brett: Ha...the cherries are pitted. If you want to know the truth: Just use pie filling. First make your imperial stout and let it go through it primary fermentation. Afterwards, throw in the pie filling and drop in some trappist yeast. Let it age at least 6 months and you've got something unique.
Jack: Following that line of thought, if you HAD to choose one of the four ingredients of pure beer that you most appreciate or personally find most important to a good brew?
Brett: That's a tricky question. It all depends on style.
Belgian beer = hops
West Coast = Hops
East Coast = Barley
All Beer = Local Water
Jack: What is your number one favorite non-RBC craft brew?
Brett: Deschuttes - Abyss, Russian River - Pliney The Elder, Allagash - Le Cureiux
Jack: Any tips to us homebrewers out there for making a better brew?
Brett: Forget bottling and head to kegging as soon as possible. I believe that home brew taste comes from using priming sugar. Also very important is to use more yeast than you think you need. You want them to chow down on all that sugar as soon as possible before any bacteria can take hold. This also helps with hitting the attenuation you're aiming for.
Jack: Are you, or were you ever, a member/user of HomeBrewTalk.com?
Brett: I don't believe so. Perhaps at one time, but I can't remember what I have or have not signed for over the years.
***
I hope you all enjoyed this short article, and I would love to hear your thoughts on what else you would like to hear about from future interviews. I appreciate your feedback, and happy brewing! Oh, and if you make the stout let me know/tag me in the feed (Jack_R) so I can let Brett know too.
 
"Forget bottling and head to kegging as soon as possible. I believe that home brew taste comes from using priming sugar. Also very important is to use more yeast than you think you need. You want them to chow down on all that sugar as soon as possible before any bacteria can take hold. This also helps with hitting the attenuation you're aiming for. "
This is solid advice. My beer got significantly better with pitching the proper amount of yeast, fermentation temp control and kegging my beer. I do bottle from keg to bottle, but thats only to give some to friends who are amazed its "sediment free"..just like the store! lol
 
The interview has some great information. Thanks for the time to do this. But, sorry to be critical, the opening paragraph really needs an editor's touch. There are run on sentences and poor use of punctuation, which for me, really distracts from the good interview which will follow.
 
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