Archive for March, 2011

Anheuser-Busch buys Goose Island

Monday, March 28th, 2011

AB has picked up a controlling share of Goose Island for $38.8M. This expands on AB’s move to buy into the craft brewing market with their 34% stake in Redhook and 40% share of Widmer. AB along with their parent company, In-Bev, have made no bones about their acquisition strategy in the beer and spirits market, so this isn’t a great surprise. Goose Island is happy to take on the capital infusion and already had a distribution partnership with AB. That said, I’m sure GI fans are doing a bit of hand wringing about the purchase. Jim Hall, the head brewmaster will be stepping down and it’s been reported that Brett Porter from Deschutes will take over, but I’ve not seen more than just a tweet regarding Brett.

The obvious questions regarding continued quality of the Goose Island line are the hot topic and time will tell if the $1.3M expansion AB is pouring into the brewing facility will allow GI to scale up successfully. The bottom line seems to be that demand for GI’s beers outstripped their capacity and AB’s investment will allow them to up production. The fact that AB is investing in the local facility and keeping all production in Chicago bodes well. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Announcement on Goose Island’s website.

Garage Brewing

Monday, March 28th, 2011

My normal brew day sees me setting up on my back patio, sun shining, homebrew in hand. Yesterday it was raining, but looking at my dwindling beer supply I forged ahead and set up in the garage. The real reason I’ve not done this before is that the garage is a mess and brewing there means a fair bit of clean-out. After about 45 minutes of much needed spring cleaning, I was setup and ready to roll. The brew day went faster than normal, setup and breakdown were much quicker since the storage area for my brew stuff is 5 feet from where I’m brewing. However, the real surprise came this morning when I went to check on the fermenters. The garage smelled awesome! How many people can say that about their garage? They normally smell like used motor oil and paint. Mine smells like a brewhouse! Now I’m not saying I’ll give up my patio. The weather is threatening to brighten considerably in the coming weeks, but perhaps every third brew will be in the garage, just to keep it smelling more like Anchor Brewing and a little less like Jiffy Lube.

Nano Breweries

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Let’s say you’re a brewer with a real passion for what you do. Let’s say you make a good, consistent set of beers that your family, friends and friends of friends all really enjoy. Finally, let’s say you’ve been approached a few times by people who want to buy a keg or growler of your beer at a party or gathering where you’re serving your brew and you explain that you really can’t do that because the Feds might bust down your door and take away your dog or something. However it gets you thinking that if you could just own a brewery, you’d be able to sell all your beer, everyone would love you and you could live in your brewery and be happy forever! You just know you would! So you present this idea to Mrs. Brewer and she gives you that “oh honey” look and you sulk away muttering how you know you could do it and how the Man is keeping you down, etc. But you start thinking, “wait… I don’t need a brewery… I have a brewery in my garage!” Is it crazy? Is it legal? Could you pull it off?

The term “Nano Brewery” is more colloquial than a legal definition, but the principle is the same as owning and operating an actual micro brewery, just on a smaller scale. A micro brewery is defined as a brewery that produces 15,000 barrels of beer (645,000 gallons) per year. If you want to play with the scientific terminology, “nano” would then be defined as 15 barrels (650 gallons) per year. But again, that’s not a legal definition, so we’re left to figure that a nano brewery is simply an operation that produces less than its micro brewery cousins. A second way to look at it is that the US Government requires a brewer to have a license if he or she sells the beer, or produces more than 200 gallons per year (100 gallons if you’re the only adult in your household). To become a nano brewery, you simply file the same paperwork as you would if you were starting an actual brewery; the Feds make no distinction between you or your local brewery down the road. The Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has even added a small nano brewery guideline to it’s FAQ section. If you google “nano brewery”, you see that there’s more than just a few people who have started one, or are really thinking about it.

So why do it? As I was reading along trying to find examples of nano breweries and how they operate, it seemed pretty clear that most of the brewers wanted to test the waters of what it was like to be a pro brewer, sell some of the product to help cover their costs, but also to start working up some buzz and even a little capital that might send them into the full-time world of running an actuall brewery. You can set up a nano brewery with a few thousand dollars where setting up a micro brewery can cost millions. Nano brewing is a part time gig with little or no need for advertising budgets or costly overhead. It’s really just the brewer, the gear and the ingredients. The only trick is unloading all the brew after it’s done. How might you do that?

You could simply put out your shingle and hope people find out about you by word of mouth and come beating a path to your door, but that seems fraught with peril and lost revenue to me. You could start a small subscription type service, much like smaller wineries do, thus “pre-selling” your beer and knowing exactly how much you need to produce, but to get that done you need a base of beer enthusiasts who already know that they like your stuff. Perhaps you have that, perhaps you don’t. The holy grail would be to get an “in” at a few local restaurants willing to put your goods on their taps. This way you could create buzz and interest without much effort. You might even give the restaurant the first few kegs for free in hopes your brew takes off. As with any business venture, the threat of failure is pretty high. But there’s something very enticing about nano brewing with it’s low cost of entry and still more hobby-than-job trappings that may make it worth looking into for some of us. As a brewing trend, with larger breweries like Rogue and others holding “nano brew fests” and competitions, this seems like the beginning of a new world of brewing and I’m all for it!