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My brewpub: What kind of beer?

As I think about my brewpub more and more I have a few issue that come up in my mind. The current thing I can’t get out of my mind is what kind of beer to serve. While this is probably step number 52,561,021 and I am really on step 1.5 I am a beer guy, can I can’t help it. I also tend to get ahead of myself when I am excited about something.

My question breaks down into to parts; what kind of beer to offer and do we have set beers along with seaonals? The kinds of beer to offer doesn’t seem very tough, I enjoy all beers and I really like making different styles. I don’t want to “sellout” and make styles that are selling well, I want to make quality beers of my choosing. Of course the “typical” beers are going to be there; stouts, IPAs, Pale Ales, Porters, Ambers, etc. Yes there will be the occasional Imperial Russian Stout or something oaked or something else that is something different than what you see in a bottle.

The big question in my mind is to offer a year-round selection of beer with a few rotating specials or do we always keep a rotating selection. I’m going to go out on a limb (and I have nothing other than my own observations to support this) and say that 95% of brewpubs have a few set beers and then fill up the rest of their taps with seasonal beers or special beers. I have only ever been to one brewpub that has a new and different beer on tap each week; Bube’s Brewery. I talk about Bube’s last week, and the constantly rotating selection of beer always had me coming back.

There are a few problems with doing this though. You never really have a set cost, as your ingredients are always changing. When coming up with a budget for your brewing expenses it would be nice to have as little guess work involved as possible. I would imagine customers would also like to come back and have a certain beer when they come in. It can help build your brand and also increase repeat customers.

On the other side having a rotating selection of beers has benefits as well. While you don’t have the cost control you do with the other method, you do always have something new on tap. Releasing a new beer each week could really keep people coming back and build your brand in a different way. Speaking from a brewing stand-point you don’t get bored brewing the same thing each week. But for the people who seek consistency and have a favorite beer that they come in for, this doesn’t really work for.

Part of the decision also depends on how many taps we will actually have available to use. My plan is to start with four taps and grow into eight or so. I always want to have a “House Ale” that will been on tap no matter what. With the House Ale adding a anchor beer the other three taps will rotate. Once we are able to expand the taps I would then start have four or so year-round beers and having the other four be whatever we feel like making. I think this satisfies both groups of people who are there for the beer. We can keep things the same and different at the same time. Anyone have any different thoughts on this or any suggestions?

What kind of brewpub?

While I have been going over tons of details with starting a brewpub there has been one area where I am finding it difficult to get a clear idea now. The general idea of a brewpub is pretty easy, but narrowing down the focus is where I can’t decide on what I want to do. I’ve been to dozens of brewpubs and good beer bars and they all have something different to offer. There are brewpubs that focus on first rate food and come with first rate pricing but there are also those who want to be the neighborhood hangout.

Being from the Philadelphia area, I was exposed to great examples of both of these. I have previously mentioned Iron Hill Brewery. They are now a chain, and a super successful one that that, but they focus more on the upscale side of things. The food is expensive, the beer is expensive, and the decorum match it. They even have napkins with their logo on it, and they are those really nice napkins that you only need one of when you have ribs. The really focus on first class service and their waiters know their stuff. I have only eaten there a handful of times but the food is excellent. I have been to the bar part more than a handful of times and they also have a great variety of beers to drink.

Another brewpub that I am familiar with is Rock Bottom Brewery in King of Prussia, PA. It is also another chain, but totally different from Iron Hill Brewery. It has more of a “everyday” restaurant feel. By that I mean that the dining experience is more on the level with an Applebee’s or a Chilli’s and the prices are also competitive. They have also proven to be successful as there are multiple locations across the country. They have a nice selection of food and, from my experience, a nice, but more limited selection of beer as well.

The final brewpub that I want to talk about is Bube’s Brewery (pronounced Boobies, yup) in Mt. Joy, PA. It is by far the smallest restaurant out of the three, but it makes up for it by being a brewery, a restaurant, a dinner show theater, and a hotel all in one. Sounds neat doesn’t it? They also have a nice, but more limited selection of food, and they also offer a great selection of four homebrewed drafts along with another eight or so craft drafts. Unlike the other two brewpubs and most brewpubs that that matter, they do not ever have the same thing on draft. Every time you go in they have a different beer. But that is a discussion for a later time. The mood in Bube’s is extremely relaxed. The bartenders are knowledgeable and the waiters are usually helpful as well. There are no TV’s in the bar and you have the opportunity to enjoy your company.

So I guess the question still comes down to, what do I want people to experience when they visit my brewpub? I want there to be a great selection of food and beer, but also not at prices that would keep some people away. I want it to be more of a neighborhood hangout where the locals can come on a Tuesday just as easily as they would come on a Friday night. The staff should we warm and knowledgeable about beer and be able to answer most any question. I want the decor to be warm as well. I think every restaurant wants to be a place where people can spend a lot of time, and therefore money. But I really want this to be a place that you can sit down, have a beer and read a book with no one bothering you in the process.

I don’t know how clear of direction that is, but it is starting to piece together. I obviously need to do a lot more work on getting the finer details worked out, but the my focus is getting narrowed down and that can only mean progress. Let me know what types of places you enjoy or what a brewpub mean to you so that I can get a cleaner idea of what I am going after.

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Brewpub disadvantages

IMG_0996 (400x267) (200x200)Last week I talked about some of the benefits of owning a brewpub. To make this dream of mine a reality I also need to address the drawbacks of a brewpub as well. Granted I am no expert in any of this, I am purely posting my thoughts and what I am able to see, so if you have more suggestions please let me know. There are a number of disadvantages to owning and operating a brewpub vs. a brewery. Some may seem small and insignificant but they all add up to something that matters.

The first disadvantage that I am able to find is that you have a much more limited audience. A brewpub can realistically pull people from a radius of about 20-30 miles at a maximum. While I have personally traveled much greater distances to get to a good brewpub, that is not what the average consumer will do. A brewery can distribute in a large area and be in many places at once whereas a brewpub can only be in one spot. The advertising, marketing, and branding have to be completely different in order to bring in a crowd. I also believe that a brewpub must advertise to help stay alive, while most craft breweries do little if any advertising.

Another disadvantage is that a brewpub cannot focus only on beer. While the beer provides a nice profit margin and an additional source of income, food is more important. Nobody goes to a restaurant that doesn’t have good food. The restaurant market is much larger than the brewpub market, therefore food has to be exceedingly important. Customers can go to a number of restaurants to get food (and a commercial beer) if that is what they are looking for. So everything from beer to food needs to be quality as consumers have a number of choices.

The third disadvantage is that you are not just running a brewery. There are a lot of other factors to think about and be worried about while running a brewpub. A whole extra list of expenses comes into the mix as well. No longer do you have to worry about brewery equipment, you also have kitchen, bar, and restaurant items that need to be addressed. A brewery has no need for a flat-top cooker or bar stools or booths, but a brewpub certainly does. The decorum also needs to be more dressed up than what a brewery has. A brewery, while magical to most of us, is an industrial facility that makes a product. A brewpub is a commercial product that makes a product(s) and delivers an experience. You also have additional staff that need to be qualified for the job and trained on beer knowledge, service, and a number of other things.

The final disadvantage does along with the theme of a brewery being industrial and a brewpub being commercial. Breweries can lease space in places that don’t get a lot of foot traffic because they are not looking for traffic, they are looking to produce and distribute beer. A brewpub has to lease in a place with high foot traffic, ample parking, and be in a desirable location. Needless to say, rent is much higher in a brewpub than what a brewery would ever be.

Let me know if I missed anything when analyzing the disadvantages of owning a brewpub in comparison with a brewery. Thanks for reading and I will be back soon with more ideas for my brewpub.

Brewpub benefits

Ever since make my initial post on my brewery or brewpub last week I been bouncing ideas around in my head like crazy. I have a bunch of them written down, even the ones that I know are unrealistic or totally unobtainable. I’ve gotten into the habit of writing everything in my head down lately. It might stem from a product design class that I had in college where we were encouraged to embrace the crazy. During that class we read a bunch of books about the product design process and how ideas develop over time. Like the first computer mouse was made from a butter tray and a deodorant ball. Sounds crazy, but it did wonders to improve the functionality of a computer and today how many of us could operate without a mouse?

So with that said, I have a notebook that is getting ideas jotted down in it whenever an idea pops into my head. The more I think about a brewery or brewpub the more I lean towards a brewpub. While I have no experience in the restaurant business, I have worked in a kitchen off and on for eight or so years. Does that really mean anything, probably not but I have an understanding of what it takes to run a kitchen efficiently and cost effectively. Going the brewpub route gives me a few more options. First there is an added benefit of having an additional source of income in the food sector. While profit margins are usually around the 3-5% range on food, it is additional income that a brewery only would not have.

The second benefit is that a bottling line and some of the other “finishing” products that are needed in a brewery are not needed for a brewpub. Basically you need your brewing, fermenting, and serving equipment and it is ready to go. The cost of  brewpub sized brewery equipment is also slightly less since the volume of beer made is so much less. Another benefit is that you have a built in tasting panel on premises. Each customer can provide valuable information that might not be possible with a production brewery since most all of the product’s tasting is done off site. You also do not have to worry about distribution. The final benefit that I see is that you have a much better chance of developing loyal customer who keep coming back. Having access to the brewer and seeing where the beer is made can be huge selling points. There is also more opportunity to market directly to repeat customers and build brand loyalty.

I guess this would be following the Dogfish Head model since they essentially started as a brewpub and used it to finance the main brewery. Growing up in the Philadelphia area and going to college roughly around the same area also allowed me to see what successful brewpubs can look like and get an idea of how to differentiate my perspective brewpub. There are multiple brewpubs and even brewpub chains in the area. Iron Hill Brewery appears to be the most successful as they have multiple locations (eight to be exact) and have built a strong membership of mug club members and repeat guests. There is room in that particular market for more brewpubs and ones that fit a different mold than IHB.

Granted, I am still in Texas so the Philadelphia market is kind of off limits for right now. Lubbock, Texas, where I am sadly, currently at, has a huge potential for a quality brewpub as the only one in town focuses on food and not beer. Too bad I hate it here and cannot wait to leave this summer. Where was I, O that’s right, the brewpub idea. I think I want to pursue developing a brewpub more than a production brewery right now. The next question is location, equipment, how big, and a billion and one other things that need to be sorted out. Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any other benefits to going the brewpub route or reasons why a production brewery would be better. I’ll post about the disadvantages sometime later this week or next.

My brewery/brewpub

If you have been reading this blog for any period of time you should know that want to start a brewery or brewpub with my good buddy Pete. It has been something that has consumed my mind for longer than any single idea/dream ever has. The only thing that has been in my head on a more constant basis is my wife (awwwe). And according to Stuff White People Like “most white people want to open a microbrewery at some point.  One that uses organic hops.” I don’t know about the organic hops part, but the first part of that statement is true for me.

I have been reading The Brewers Association’s Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery since I got it back in early January. While a book does not give you everything you need, it surely has helped me in thinking about what I need to do to make this dream a reality. I also read Brewing Up a Business and Beer School which have also been very useful. I think I could handle the beer part and even create a “culture” for my business, but connecting all of the dots seems like a task.

The other thing that you need to look at is the numbers. According to the Brewers Association figures, for every brewpub that closes 1.3 opens. Not exactly encouraging figures, but I’m guess a lot of that is do to the harshness of the restaurant business as a restaurant with a brewery on premises closes at one tenth the rate of a restaurant without one. Promising! Microbreweries have a much better outlook. For each one that closes 3.7 have opened on average for the past 3 years. I kind of want to go the route of Dogfish Head and start with a brewpub and get all of the kinks worked out and have a reliable product and steady cash flow to support opening a full scale brewery.

I am also encouraged by guys like Monday Night Brewery who were a group of friends who loved beer and decided to start a brewery with a unique style. Their blog is fairly hilarious as well and they also drop lots of great information on starting a brewery and the like. One of my favorite breweries back home is Victory, which I can actually purchase in Lubbock (score). They have grown by leaps and bounds and they started as two college roommates who loved beer. Much like Pete and myself I might add.

My brewery or brewpub is still very much a pipe dream at this point, but I think I am going to start posting about my thoughts and ideas on it here and get some feedback. Even if I don’t get feedback it will give me a place to put down all of my ideas and allow me to develop my dream a bit more. Also writing it down helps it become more real in a sense.