Thursday, August 24, 2006
Long Live the Kölsch Bock... Or The Little Bathtub Beer That Could
Ok. So we’re well on our way through batch 2 of Lug Tread. Sales are still going very well, and it looks like our initial gamble to release the high-octane version of Lug Tread was the right decision. It seems that most people get the fact that we’re new and that one batch is going to taste different from the next for the first few rounds through (insert huge sigh of relief, wipe sweat from brow).
Part of what made this work for us, I think, has to do with our “Not So Corporate Philosophy” which is emblazoned on our coasters and website. “We brew interesting, tasty beers using the highest quality all natural ingredients…” Our first batch was certainly interesting, very tasty and used the highest quality ingredients – there you go; no lie. Did it match the style we said it would? No. But it had a story to tell, and for the open-minded, it carried a taste that was both familiar and completely different at the same time.
So many weeks ago, before even the first batch was out, we were invited to bring our beer to the beerbistro at the Golden Tap awards, an Ontario award event hosted by BarTowel.com, a really cool website that I’ve been reading for many years. I accepted the offer immediately as a spectacular way to get our beer to Toronto for the first time.
So, this was the big time, baby. This was the Beer Bistro, Stephen Beaumont's place. [For those who don’t know, he is Canada’s foremost authority on beer, and therefore Canada’s scariest.] A quick scan around the room had my heart racing as many of the brewers and entrepreneurs of Ontario’s finest chatted casually while tasting some of the incredible beers at the event and munching on fantastic beer-based cuisine.
Instead of bringing a keg from batch 2 – still not exactly where we want the final product to rest, but a much smoother beer, definitely moving in the right direction - I had an idea a bout a week earlier, which I ran by Matt (our brewer): “What if we brought the bathtub beer?” This was a nickname we had given the last remaining keg of our Kölsch Bock, the unaltered part from the first 700 litres we kegged before finding out about our ice-up in the aging tank.
You see, en route to deliver the keg to Pub Italia, we found out they were not able to put us on tap right away and asked if we could deliver it the following week. What to do with the keg??? We had a walk-in cooler that was not operational yet, and, desperate to save the beer, we put it in Jamie’s bathtub, filled the tub with ice, and hoped it would survive.
Knowing that the Golden Tap crowd would a) recognize good beer and b) be interested in something different and new I thought to myself, what a great way to use up the rest of this keg. A week before the event Matt and I tapped the keg to give it a test. I was convinced that the beer was fabulous, but Matt was worried. Would these aficionados forgive the beer for not being what it had originally intended to be and judge it simply on what it was? Or would they write it off as a pitiful attempt at a very specific beer style? Matt reminded me that the brewery’s fortunes aside, his reputation as a brewer was at stake, something I had not considered up to that point.
We both had several night's sleep to think it over, and with each passing day, I grew more and more convinced the bathtub beer was the one to use. This beer was not only tasty and interesting, it had a story to tell. And when I thought about what would appeal to me as a beer consumer – the Kölsch Bock was totally cool. But, to appease Matt I arranged for one more pre-tasting with John Graham (owner/head brewer/cool dude at Church Key Brewing). One of his brewers (Matt), our Matt and Jamie all tried a glass. None of us could spot any infection, problem, or flaw in the beer, as long as you didn’t call it a Kölsch.
So I went down to Toronto with little hand bills that were to get handed to each person who ordered a sample of LugTread, explaining the genesis of the beer. It didn’t apologize for the change in taste, but it also didn’t try to hide the fact we were new at this and we were quite surprised by the turnout of the beer.
Was I nervous? You bet. If the beer was poorly received I alone would have to live with my decision. The company’s financial health; Matt’s reputation; and the livelihood of my family, my parents, my brother and my best friends would be at risk. Three different times, I left the beerbistro out of sheer nerves. But each time I came back, forcing myself to live or die by the crowd’s opinion.
At about 8 o’clock I ran into Michael Hancock, owner and head brewer of Dennison’s, and Matt’s mentor of sorts. He congratulated me on the beer, which he thought was excellent. “I would have done the same thing,” he said of my decision to release it. I suddenly was able to pull my heart out of my shoes (where it had been parked most of the day), and walk around and chat with people. If Michael Hancock liked my beer, that’s all I needed.
Around 10:30 I got my first ever "Cinderella moment." Cass Enright, the man behind The Bar Towel, came to announce the winner of the award for “Best Beer at the Fest” as voted by attendees of the night. “Beau’s All Natural’s Kölsch Bock” he announced, and I stood in stunned silence for what felt like 30 seconds. After accepting the award I got to spend the next half hour calling up the family. I got Micheal Hancock to call Matt to tell him the good news.
From being frozen to sitting in a bathtub to winning a really cool award, that little keg sure has made me proud.