Funny thing about writing a blog — whenever really cool or important stuff happens, I’m too busy to write about it: so guess what… we’ve been brewing in Vankleek Hill now for more than a month! We’ve kegged off two different batches and we’re really, really happy with the results. I kinda miss brewing at Churchkey, ‘cause (owner) John Graham is such a dude and it’s a cool place to be at, but like moving out and ordering your first very own pizza, having your own digs is AWESOME.There are a hundred things I could write about in starting up in our VKH facility, and hopefully I’ll get to them, but here’s a real gem of a story that I think has some business lessons too. ...SJB
Like everything else we’ve done since we started, we left ourselves absolutely no buffer room for error when it came to production. We started brewing the very second that the brewhouse, the heat exchanger and one unitank fermenter were operational. We also stopped production at Churchkey, so if the first batch went wrong we’d be royally screwed. Why? Well, it costs a lot to brew in one place while paying rent at another, but more importantly if we tried to have production going in two places, there wasn’t going to be someone able to give all the love the beer needed at both locations.
So anyway, the actual brew day went fantastic. Great yields, smooth operation, textbook good stuff. Our consultant Charles Maclean said he’d never seen such a good commissioning. One huge sigh of relief later and we started focusing again. The brew went well sure, but if we couldn’t get our chiller working (it wasn’t) by the time the beer stopped fermenting, or the brite tanks ready to go (they weren’t) by the time we needed to filter, we were in trouble.
It turned out the beer took a long time to ferment, which was lucky as it also took a long time to get the chiller going. But there we were, ready to filter our first batch on schedule. We put in an order with Bob Latimer for filter parts, who we use whenever we can. [Note to other brewers, Bob’s # is (416) 576-5674, I recommend him fully].
Filtering was not so smooth. The dosing pump needed new seals and O rings, so Matt (our brewmaster) and Charles needed to develop a workaround. The beer needed to get filtered that day come hell or high wort, ‘cause we had orders to fill and absolutely no beer left in the walk-in cooler. They got through it in the end, but we would definitely need to get some new parts in before we filtered again.
We couldn’t use Bob for the parts we needed, so Matt found the most local supplier he could in Pickering. He put the order in on Thursday, the supplier promised to send it out on Friday, delivered Monday, so that we could filter Tuesday in time for our Wed/Thurs. usual deliver runs. Our Friday phone call to check up bumped us to Monday. Our Monday call wasn’t any better … still waiting.
Matt had a stroke of brilliance though and asked what parts they were waiting on. Turns out it was one O ring that was not super-crucial, so we asked them to ship it out immediately. Somehow this particular supplier interpreted immediately as tomorrow, so now we were looking at delivery end of day Wednesday.
We decided to work through the night Wednesday so we could ship first thing Thursday, but when Marshall the delivery guy usually makes his delivery stop at our place, he wasn’t there. Turns out that there was a mistake in the shipping info and they weren’t “entirely sure” where our package was.
I was on the road back from a joyous meeting (tongue inserted firmly in cheek) with my accountants and lawyer, when Matt called to give me the news. I asked Matt to explain just how critical this part was, and see if we could we come to the Ottawa package depot and pick it up ourselves. Well, not one person was around a major city who could physically go look for our package to find out if it was in Ottawa or not. So I drove through the night to Pickering to pick up the parts at 9 am the next day.
As it turned out, the shipper found the package at 8:30 am the next day and arranged for a quicker delivery than normal. The filter was reassembled and worked like magic. Jamie and Phil were able to get the critical “we’re almost out of beer” calls delivered Thursday, and by Friday all deliveries were made.Talking about it all later with Matt, we came to the conclusion that we are destined to have insanely bad luck with anything being shipped to us, and anytime we find someone like Bob Latimer, who deals with that wild end of things, we have to keep them around. ut once again, we got it done in the end and the results were once again, fantastic.