Monday, January 26, 2009

All I (All I) Wanna Do is Drink, ahem, Maple Syrup For Breakfast

I have to thank Sarah Haase and family for reminding me of one of my favourite Replacement’s songs. She recently sent me this email:


Love, love your beer.... but once the bottle is done, best use for it after that is a maple syrup bottle!! We buy large quantities of maple syrup at a time, the tins of which are impossible to pour from. So instead we decant the maple syrup into empty Beau's bottle's which then can re-seal, put back in the fridge and you have the perfect pour! Also a great talking point when you have someone for breakfast and you put a beer bottle on the table with their pancakes. Thanks for a great product, both the beer and the bottles.

The Haase Family”

And she was kind enough to show me our bottle in action:

Tips for reusing our bottles (remember, you can’t see through it, so make sure its clean):
Most important is to make sure you very thoroughly rinse out the bottle as soon as you empty it (yum).
You are best to put in products that aren’t likely to spoil (vinegar, syrup, oil, etc).
Make sure you re-clean it between uses.

Thanks again Sarah and family, looks like a tasty breakfast.
…now I gotta go eat some Bar-b-que chips.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

John Graham is a pretty cool guy

Matt was pretty sick early on this week, and he couldn’t come in and filter on Monday or Tuesday. On Monday we didn’t really sweat it, but on Tuesday we started wondering if he’d be off all week. Our new brewer, Alex, had been training for about 3 months on our filter, but had not handled a filtration solo yet and we really didn’t want to give him a baptism by fire-beer on it.

So I called up John Graham. He’s the owner, brewer, salesrep and sometimes delivery guy for ChurchKey brewing out in Campbelford (he also owns and runs the Stinking Rose pub out that way). After 30 seconds of small talk, I got right to it: “John, Matt is sick and I’m not sure how long he might be out of commission…any chance you feel like coming up for a visit?”

Like the title of the post, John is a pretty cool guy. After explaining that he was about to leave for Toronto, had to brew the next day and had crazy amounts of stuff lined up for the rest of the week, he said “if you’re stuck and you need beer, I can make it to your place for about midnight tomorrow, but I’ll have to filter and be back in Campbellford by morning”.

Turns out we didn’t need to take John up on his generosity…Alex rocked on his first ever solo brew and Matt was good enough to make it in on Wednesday. But it’s good to know there are brewers like John out there, ready to help out if you’re in a pinch and need to borrow a few thousand cups of filtered beer. Thanks, John.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B Bird, Bird, Bird!

One of the things I don't think we've ever blogged about as a brewery is delivering beer. So how about today? Every week we get orders for beer in kegs and bottles, and every week, people get those orders delivered and unloaded with a smile. But how the heck do we make the magic happen every week? It's been quite the evolution.

As far back I can can remember, we had the white cargo van and the white mini-van. The cargo van I think we actually bought new, and the mini we got used at a good price from a family friend. Jamie and Phil, the original sales team, did all deliveries every week themselves in these two vehicles for what must have been the first nine months or so, trading them back and forth depending on who had bigger orders, needed to go further, etc. That worked okay for a while, and when we had the most snow in like, 1 bazillion years in 2007, Jamie permanently inherited the minivan for the simple and yet insane reason that you could no longer get the cargo van down his narrow downtown Ottawa street.

So Phil clumbered all over Eastern Ontario in the cargo van for some time. Flash-forward to spring of 2008, and sales had grown to the point where we needed someone to be doing them in a dedicated fashion. So the cargo van became a dedicated delivery vehicle, out Wednesdays for Jen's deliveries and Thursdays for Jamie's.

Ahhhhhh, perfect solution. And then we grew again, got into the LCBO, expanded our territory to Kingston, and also faced some logistical challenges like getting kegs to the Jazz Festival (well kids, should we make 12 trips in one day???) So we added a panel truck into the mix, one we borrowed when needed from the water company that supplies our water. And that's still the combo we have right now to deliver beer, plus one $3,000 van we christened BEFY (Bee-fy) when we saw we won the jackpot on funny license plates at the licensing bureau that day.

So here's how it works:

Panel truck: available Tuesdays and Thursdays only, when water co. not using it. Can hold 6,000 lbs or so
Cargo van: available week round, but can only carry about 19 kegs
BEFY: Available when Jen has nothing to do, which used to be frequently and now, like, never

So we take all these and stick together a delivery route every week. It gets pretty crazy trying to decide what to use for what deliveries, and nothing ever goes quite the way you plan it. The panel truck's gas gauge is touchy, meaning the truck has been stranded on the side of the 417 more than once. In cold weather, she don't start. She lost a tire not too long ago. But generally it gets the job done!

And the cargo van.... well, that's what the blog was supposed to be about. About how it ran out of heat last week during one of the coldest days of the year, and then the next day it overheated in the market, and how Jamie and Kevin brought it to Jamie's mechanic, and Kev spent the rest of the day pacing the waiting room like an expectant father. And how when Steve called to find out what was wrong with the van, how he actually said "What's the word???" And Kevin was able to say that a bird was the word. And now you know about the bird, and everyone knows that the bird was the word---a bird with a beak so long it pierced the rad. But come on in to the brewery and we'll tell you that story ourselves. Cheers! Jen

Local ornithology experts suggest that the bird, lost on a migratory path from across the ocean, may have looked something like this. So if you see one, dodge it fast or you'll be up to your ears in repair bills, even with the Jamie special mechanic rate. Eeek!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Forecasting through Christmas

This was our first year selling through the LCBO. (That stands for Liquor Control Board of Ontario for those not from our province – they are one of only two legal retailers for booze in the province and the only one that Beau’s sells through). Around October we started thinking, production-wise, how we would fare through the season. Let me explain…

In our first year we only sold to licensees (that’s brewery-talk for restaurants and pubs), and we were kind of disappointed that sales actually decreased over Christmas by about 8%. It made sense though, as most of our licensees were closed for a few days and people for the most part would be home with their families. In year two, we also sold to customers through our retail store. We were amazed as the retail store sales went up as much 400% for the month, but another dip in licencees meant total sales were only up 6% from December. This year we had bottles in about 40 LCBO stores and we guessed our pretty ceramic bottle would make a good Christmastime gift; but how do you forecast sales your first year in?

What we did was talk directly to a few LCBO stores to get a sense of how other products sales went over the time period. They were pretty forthcoming and we were able to piece together our best guess of how sales would go over the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas.

Then, it was inventory time…

Would we have enough bottles, tags, tamperproof stickers, boxes, swing top caps, and, oh yeah, BEER to get that many bottles out the door? We ordered what we thought we needed and started stepping up beer production.

Then it was scheduling time…

For that level of sales, we needed to run our two-head filler 11 hours a day, 6 days a week for the first three weeks and 15 hours a day for the last week. We needed to send out 3 full trucks and 3 full cargo vans each week, and the week of Christmas and New Year would require special consideration because the holidays fell in mid-week. We needed someone dedicated to retail throughout the week (normally, we all take turns serving the few people who show up on a weekday morning) and invoicing and scheduling would be more grueling than normal, too.

...and how did we do?

Pretty flipping good, if you ask me! Our forecast was almost exact to sales, in fact most weeks were almost carbon copies of the forecast. Our scheduling worked pretty good – a couple snowstorms caused problems and our filler got so overheated it broke…twice! But we fixed it each time and because we hadn’t fallen behind, we were able to make up the extra hours by working through the night a few nights. We did actually run out of a few things inventory-wise and had to improvise on a few of the less essential stuff – but the major things (beer and bottles and caps) were well stocked throughout.

It was grueling near the end, and I think I hit a 40 hour work day at least twice through the season, most of us at the brewery saw at least one 4 am, and I fell asleep before midnight on New Year’s Eve, but we got through it without a single missed delivery, stock out or dry tap.
For those of you trying to work out your projections for your own brewery, in a general sense our retail sales were up 300% and our licensees down 5-10%. December will be the absolute best month of the year for sales overall for us for 2008.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2009--Year of the Blog

So, my last post was June 3. Then things got really, really busy. Now its 2009. Thank goodness Jen has been keeping up the blogging so the thing hasn’t gotten too stale. Well, it is new year’s resolution time, so mine is going to be to blog once a week for the year.

First, lets catch you up to speed…Matt was out of commission for close to two months after his accident. Our part time brewer, Mark really stepped up for us and pulled double shifts, worked weekends and more while keeping his part time job. When Matt came back, Mark quit. He had lots of very good personal reasons that didn’t involve him being completely burnt out, but I can’t help but think if we hadn’t worked him so hard he might still be around. In the meantime, we’ve hired a bunch of new people…we now have a second full time brewer named Alex, A delivery guy named Todd, A packager named Joanne.

Sales continue to grow, which makes us very happy. The LCBO remained our biggest challenge through the summer, as the demand was truly insatiable. It was weird having to call up stores and tell them that we could only deliver 5 cases instead of the 20 they asked for, but we simply could not keep up with how much they wanted (lucky for me, this was mostly done by my sister, Jen). We did eventually catch up though and have been able to expand the number of stores we sell to from 20 to 45. Over the same time we also gained about another 60 restaurants.

Getting through this Christmas was a big challenge, but I’m happy to say everybody got what they ordered and got it on time. It meant running our little two head manual filling machine 24 hours a day and many nights of no sleep, but the sense of accomplishment is pretty huge. I’m very proud of everybody here, it was a lot of work, but we got through it. On top of insanity sales we also managed to have a staff Christmas party, open our tasting room and hold a benefit concert, Put a float in our town’s Christmas parade (mostly thanks to Todd, see pics below of our "12 Days of Christmas theme), and attend many events to help spread the word.

Over the last few months, we’ve been trying to get the financing put together to get in more tanks and a bottling line so we can keep up with what looks like another busy summer coming up. Financing always takes 3 times longer than we expect, but hopefully we’ll get things in place quickly.