Shopping for a Brewery

I’ve always hated shopping. I’m the kind of guy who wears stuff until his wife or mother can’t stand it anymore. If I but delay long enough, one of them will eventually throw up their hands and go shopping for me. Problem solved.

I’ve just discovered a kind of shopping I do enjoy, though. Shopping for a brewery is fun! In an effort to earn our business, Quality Tank Solutions flew Brett and I to Milwaukee to give us a chance to see their equipment in action.

QTS salesguy Paul picked up in the morning and by 10 AM we were visiting our first brewery, Explorium. We did our due diligence checking out the equipment: we assessed the gauge of the steel, opened and closed valves, checked the way the piping between vessels and the heat exchanger flowed, looked for dead-arms, turned gear motors on and off, looked at the boiler room installation and, most importantly chatted with the brewers about their brewery and the equipment.

After months and months of doing, and thinking and worrying about business plan writing, fund-raising, budgeting, lease negotiating, structural engineering inquiries and lots more desk-bound  activities, here we were doing exactly what all that effort has all been about: thinking about actually brewing beer! We were like kids in a candy shop. And then they raised the ante by offering us some beer. At 11 in the morning. I tried saying no, it was too early, I had to keep a clear mind so I could think about whether their equipment and ask intelligent questions….

But when they told us that drinking is Wisconsin’s state sport my resolve started to waver.  Between following the time-honored approach of “when in Rome…” and channeling our investor, friend and advisory board member Jim Busch’s admonition that Brett and I have to make sure we have fun on this journey, I agreed to have my rubber arm twisted.

My laxity was soon rewarded. I will almost always order a lager when I am looking to get a first impression of a brewery and—in this case, what that brewery can do with the brewing equipment. A clean and flavorful pilsner and black lager later, it was clear that these guys knew what they were doing and that their equipment wasn’t getting in their way. I moved on to a coconut porter and a chocolate stout. In their way, these are as difficult to get right as a subtle lager, and they nailed the balance of these beers as well. As we discussed in our blog post about our Coffee Chronicle experiment, we knew that coffee variety can have a dramatic impact on a coffee beer’s flavor. What we hadn’t thought to explore was what the variety of the cocoa nibs can bring to the table in a chocolate stout or porter. Explorium works with a local chocolate maker to source different varieties for different beers—something I’m going to be sure to do in the future.

After setting the stage by enjoying our first beers at 11 AM, I’m sure you can imagine the course of the rest of the day: visit brewery, look at QTS brewing equipment, talk to brewers, drink beer, repeat. It was an amazing day of “shopping.” After Explorium, we went to Good City, Bavarian Bierhaus, MobCraft, Broken Bat, Third Space, and City Lights. Sadly, or perhaps luckily, it wasn’t in the cards to have a beer at every location. We did have enough, though, to continue to be thoroughly impressed. In some breweries we got so distracted by conversation we forgot to take pictures, but we have a few to give you a sense of the experience.

A few highlights:

Bavarian Bierhaus: When we pulled up here, we thought we had perhaps gone through a vortex in the time-space continuum and ended up in the Tirol. Check it out.

The beer was as good as the ambiance. I had a Rauchbier that I could have drunk all day long and Brett’s Helles was gone after two sips. You know you are dealing with seriously good lager when your beer just disappears on you.

MobCraft: One of the most rewarding things about the day in terms of assessing the equipment was the fact that we visited brewpubs like Explorium, traditional lager breweries like Bavarian Bierhaus, rapidly-growing production breweries like Good City and Third Space and, in the case of MobCraft, an amazingly inventive brewery that brews crowdsourced recipes.

Brett and I were in heaven to be touring a city that has never wavered in its love of traditional styles, but that also makes room for new approaches to IPAs, sours and crazy other ideas. It is exactly what we hope for Silver Branch. We were sad to have to leave on Friday morning, but before we could say goodbye, we had to continue our brand-new pre-noon drinking tradition by making a quick pit stop at the airport for a Good City beer since it was one of the few we hadn’t gotten to try one the day before.

After this shopping trip, I can’t wait until it is time to expand our operation so we can go shopping again. I guess we should probably focus on getting Silver Branch open first, though… Time to work on our cash flow projections. I sure wish I could go shopping instead.