Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Yeast of Burden

Steve B. and his dad are in the process of starting up Beau's All Natural Brewing Co. in Eastern Ontario. Here is another instalment in the ongoing saga of the start up, which like most new business ventures has not been without its challenges...

So our yeast died. On our very first order of yeast there was a mess-up at customs, and it sat in a remote border office in the heat; the tiny, piercing screams from their unicellular vocal cords falling on the deaf ears of some customs officer.
Meanwhile, back at the brewery our unitank – installed, tested, kosher propylene glycol coursing through its double-jacketed stainless steel veins – sat quiet, attentive. But it looked like it was waiting to receive a 30-hectolitre payload that wasn’t coming.
A quick call to the big yeast suppliers, White Labs and Wyeast, confirmed what we already suspected: that we were out of luck. You see, when you decide to brew a style of beer that no one else in your region brews (a Kölsch) your yeast is a "specialty," and that unfortunately means there is never an inventory around when you need it.
We were told it would take at least two weeks to propagate more of our yeast and then it would have to be shipped, risking the same fate as the first. Two weeks lag time was not an option for us with a July 1st launch date just around the corner, so something had to be done.
I was buoyed by one thought: could another brewery who brewed the same style lend us their yeast? Or I guess to put it more exactly, would someone lend us, another brewery, the competition, some of their yeast?
I had recently returned from the annual craft brewers conference in Seattle. At the keynote address, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewing had spoken about "brethren of the fellow brewer." He claimed that if other industries were as tightly knit and supportive as the brewing business, Steve Jobs could just call up Bill Gates and borrow some W’s for his keyboards if he ran out. Well, I didn’t need W’s, but I figured I’d see if anyone had 80 cups of yeast to lend a neighbour.
I started with Mt. Begbie in Revelstoke, BC, the only other Kölsch brewers in Canada to my knowledge – and it's a pretty good one, too. I spoke with a nice woman, who sympathized with my plight and promised to check with her husband and head brewer. Later that night she called back to tell me they would love to help, but were just placing an order themselves and didn’t have any yeast on hand. At least it wasn't a no.
Disappointed but undaunted, I called Alaskan Brewing, in... well, Alaska, but no dice. Seems they’ve patented their yeast strain (how much corporate espionage did you think existed in Alaska?) and wouldn’t dream of letting their yeast outside their four walls. Fair enough.
I called another brewery and was informed by the woman on the phone that her husband, the head brewer, had died the day before – but that he would have helped me for sure.
I thought I had it all sewn up with Schlafly out of St. Louis – they had their own lab, were just propagating a Kölsch strain, and said would get a kick out of helping out a Canadian start-up. Unfortunately, when Matt, our head brewer, tried to work out logistics, they couldn’t figure out a way to keep the yeast cold, uncontaminated and stress-free on a journey from St. Louis to Ontario. Apparently, yeast is the prima donna of the single-celled organism world.
In all, I think I called about 25 U.S. breweries, most of which said they’d love to help out, but either didn’t have the yeast on hand (not many produce this style on a consistent basis) or couldn’t spare what they did. But the amazing thing was how interested everyone was in helping out someone who was technically "the competition." Sam Calagione had pegged this business right, and it was an awesome thing to behold.
In the end it was Wyeast that came to our rescue. Matt was able to work with them to get a suitable amount of yeast shipped to us. With sweating palms we called Wyeast and Fed Ex every 3o minutes for the next two-and-a-half days until it landed.
Close call? Yes. Great learning experience? Yes again. And the reward came a few days later, when nearly two years after starting work on our brewery, we finally started brewing our first batch of beer... still on track (barely) for July 1.

Lost in Translation

Beau's got some good press this week when we unleashed our first press release on an unsuspecting market. Learned an important lesson too: when you track changes, and then send the PR electronically, sometimes your previous versions come back to haunt you. Good thing we didn't cuss in the comments that went back and forth.

So the best press is a French press. Here is a literal translation of an article that appeared in French-language publication Le Droit this week. Fun!

A microbrassery sees the day with Vankleek Hill
Jean-François Dugas, The Right

A new brewery tradition will be born in the Ontarian East on July 1 thanks to the passion of a family of Vankleek Hill, decided to put forward the products of the soil by melting a first natural microbrassery.

Tim Beauchesne and its two sons, Steve and Philip, launch out in the production of natural artisanal beers in the heart of the Ontarian East and await impatiently the revealing of their broue to the festival of Canada.

Especially that the microbrasseries are quasi non-existent in province, except in the great area of Toronto.

"We do not have anything similar in the area and yet, this type of company should not be so rare," affirms the joint owner of the company Beau's All Natural, Tim Beauchesne.

Its family works since 2004 to develop her product headlight, Lug Tread Lagered Ale. Of other receipts appear in the plans with a future, but all the efforts are concentrated on the first creation, which is characterized as well by its composition as by its nature, while honouring the farmers with the Ontarian East.

"It is a natural beer, explains the representative of the sales of the company, Philip Beauchesne. "We use local spring water and biological barley grains certified without adding additives. We can feel the grain in beer like its freshness. We employ only the best ingredients, in order to create a distinct beer."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Lug is On the Way

Here's the latest news on Beau's, as told by Steve to Steve's sister. Steve is out-of-order right now with migraines, but hopes to be up and boozing again soon.

The first batch is on. Yup, the Lug Tread is officially on its way. There were some issues with the yeast showing up dead, which somehow sounds sadder than it really is considering they are one-celled organisms. Steve tracked down some replacement yeast from a kind soul in St. Louis and the brewing went on. Steve has promised to tell this story in a forthcoming blog entry called "yeast of burden."

It is looking like the glassware is going to be delayed for the bar launch, which is a drag. Beau's ordered some nifty kolsh glasswaren from Germany, but apparently Germany has had an alpenhorn-ful of national holidays lately, so production has not stayed on schedule. They are being logoized etc. Beau's T-shirts are in... and they rock. I don't know how you can get one, but I highly recommend you do. They are super-comfy and stylish too.

Did you know a coaster costs almost ten cents to make? Think about that the next time you snap one of those suckers just for fun. Beau's has ordered a small run of these puppies from the good folks at Steve noted that, funnily enough, he met CC at a U.S. trade show last month. Go figure.

The second pilot batch (co-pilot? autopilot?) is just about ready. Was supposed to be good to go last weekend, but Matt put the kaibosh on that, saying it needed one more week. We defer to his authority. Plus it keeps the boozin' Beau's dirty little paws off of what is supposed to be sales material. There's a reason Pilot #1 went down in flames so quickly after being brewed.

I think that's it for now. Sales team is moving out and hitting the streets soon, so hopefully we'll have funny sales tales to tell in the next few weeks!