May 01

Do you really want to be a pro brewer?

I confess, I harbor no secret dream of becoming a professional brewer. In fact, I’ve never even concocted a homebrew. I have, however, been to a class on homebrewing, and I drink commercially available craft beers on a daily basis.

brewing beerMay 2013′s beer blogging session is about “The Business of Brewing.The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic.

As co-owner of a beer store, I see brewers and their representatives every week.

I also get to know a lot of local homebrewers, many who dream of making it big in the brewing industry, crafting recipes and entering contests. Others are content to continue as a hobby — supplying friends and family with their liquid pleasures.

Sometimes homebrewers bring me samples. Some seek opinions and input on their craft; others just to offload vegetal bombs. And a handful seek only compliments and new friends.

Identifying compliment seekers vs. those wanting real constructive criticism can be a challenge. A challenge I’m not particularly suited for. For example, last year a homebrewer, with aspirations of going pro, brought several bottles for us to try. On one the flavors and aromas were good, but it was so thin, it was like drinking craft beer flavored water. I talked with a few other homebrewers about this; they had advice on how to give the beer “body” — and I shared this information with him. Afterall, he’d expressed wanting to know our opinion on the beer. However, later discovered this was a bottle seeking complement, not constructive advice.

Another homebrewer brought a bottle of a spiced ale; though he felt was underspiced so added raw spices to the bottle before capping. My advice: Don’t do this! It ruined the beer. (Other than Chili Beer, I don’t see many professionally made beers with spices added post-bottling.)

Though I find these homebrew experiments interesting now and then, I’d rather stick to drinking what the professionals make. Why is this? In six years of running a bottle shop and having homebrewers bring me beer, I can count on one hand the beers that were good enough to go pro. (To be fair, I’ve drank some professionally brewed beers that weren’t so great.)

This rambling brings me to this point:

How to take Criticism, aka Beer Reviews

If you’re putting yourself out there, expect reviews. Just because a person reviews your beer (brewery, or bottle shop — speaking to myself) unfavorably doesn’t make you, or it, horrible. You will need a thick skin. Realize that some people can be mean assholes, while others have good intent and want to see you succeed — they may just not have a good way of communicating this.

If you’re a professional brewer, be careful when looking at online reviews, because, as Garrett Oliver says, “It’ll influence your art.” He says, “Express yourself and people who appreciate will follow. Those who don’t, well they’ll get into someone else’s form of art.”

Move on from mistakes; sometimes bad is bad

How problems are handled with bad bottles and/or batches that fall short can make a big difference in how and if retailers will work with you in the future, and whether the public will try your beer again.

Craft beer lovers enjoy seeking out and trying new brews. But if you’re a small brewer releasing mediocre or less-than-desirable beers, realize that after ONE bad beer and it’s likely that person may never revisit your brews. I’ve seen this happen. I’ve also seen some nano breweries come and go, unable to attain consistency in recipe or a wide enough audience to support their brand.

Recently we received a shipment of beer from a new nanobrewery. Loving the branding and having heard great things about the beers, we were eager to sample his beers. I picked a style that I adore from the selection. Alas, it wasn’t so great. So I pulled another bottle. Similar. Something was “off” — and I wasn’t alone in this thought, reading online reviews revealed this current batch had flaws. The brewer’s response? To pull it all from the market. He sent an email to those carrying the product for immediate removal from shelves, following up with phone calls.

His letter,

Ok, I’m calling an audible on this beer and asking for it back. Anything you have left on hand I will swap out for another beer or refund them.

Something went sideways with this batch and some people are hating it while others are loving it.

Instead of fucking around and just waiting for people to send me hate mail I’m recalling them. If you could please pull them from sale and set them aside and let me know how many you have.

Note this only affected the deliveries in the last month of (beer name), the first batch was perfectly fine, it was batch number 2 that dropped a big old duece on me.

If you have a customer that bought one and still has the bottle you can either send them to me and I’ll swap them out with a different bottle of another beer or get the empty and I’ll swap with you.

I know this might sound strange but one way to know if you have cases that are bad the blue printing on the label is darker blue than normal Cyan and there may be a huge amount of sediment on the bottom, If in doubt pull it and I’ll check it, it’s one of those things I can tell right away.

Thanks and I’m sorry for the cock up. I’ve already talked to some folks and I’m changing how it’s brewed. If you want the technical story of how it got screwed up read on otherwise just skip ahead and tell me how much you have.

Normally this beer is brewed by a sour mash with a RIMS system, this system got fucked up half way during the brew and it had to be stirred by hand to keep it at optimal temperature, this added aeration which allowed a large amount of brettanomyces, and some other not great creatures to take home. It was boiled to kill off everything but it seems something may have survived. I’ve had reports of bottles being just a bit barnyard (brett) to being fucking disgusting.

I’ve been on the receiving end of bottles from breweries like that and it’s not fucking cool. So I don’t want anyone with a bottle to be pissed at me like I was at them.

To quote Monty Python.

Those responsible for sacking the people who have just been sacked, have been sacked.

This is my favorite letter seen for recall to-date. Humor and humility — it has it all.

Have you got skills?

Starting your own brewery means more than just brewing good beer. There’s a whole lot of business sense needed, working within confines of State and Federal Regulations, and the like. It takes time to build an audience. You need all kinds of skills.

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