Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ghosts of Christmas Past

2 days ‘till Christmas and things at Beau’s are awesome! Crazy, that is; but that is awesome! I came in on the weekend to pitch in on production-type stuff like washing bottles, stacking ceramics on buggies and washing kegs to make sure we’d have enough beer for our deliveries and retail shop (which was a total zoo on the weekend).

Jen Brock, who has been working in our retail store (and booking dispensing units, filing, packaging, etc.) since June, came into work on Saturday to see me arms deep in the growler washing tub and said something like “I never thought I’d see the day…” She was that surprised to see me doing honest work instead of just hanging out with a beer in my hand [note to reader: I’m actually working while hanging out with a beer in my hand, it just doesn’t look like it].

It got me thinking of how much has changed at the brewery in such a short time…
Christmas 2006: We’d been open for 6 months. There were still just 5 of us at the brewery at the time and we didn’t sell anything other than kegs. We were still brewing out of Churchkey, too. We had heard about the Christmas sales spike, but we only sold to about 20 restaurants, so December was actually pretty quiet in terms of sales. The trips back and forth to Campbelford through snowy weather were tough and I think my brother Phil actually ditched the cargo van around this time during a delivery run through a blizzard.

Christmas 2007: By now we were brewing full-on in Vankleek Hill, there were 6 of us full time and Phil’s then fiancée (wife, now) helped out on the weekends. My sister Jen and her husband Kevin also helped out a lot, but we didn’t pay them yet (mind you, they drink their weight in beer). This was the first year we sold beer out of the retail shop – and it was insanity! We only had a little beer gun at the time, so fill rates were ridiculous – 3 dedicated folks could fill about 40 an hour and we ran out of new bottles, so we also had to clean them all before filling. Our little wash tubs could handle 8 bottles at a time – for about 2 hours when we would run out of hot water and would have to stop washing.

I didn’t see much of my family that year. We’d start filling at 5am,
get a little bit ahead before the store opened at 10am, and then we’d see our stock dwindle all day as we kept frantically trying to keep up with the pace of sales. At 6pm, when the shop closed, I’d go home for dinner with Nicola and the kids and stay till the kids were in bed at 8pm. Then, back to the brewery to start cleaning bottles for the next day. This would finish up at about 3am, and I’d go home, take a shower and get a solid 1 to 1.5 hours sleep before starting the day at 5am again. All of us were completely beat by the time we closed up shop on Christmas Eve.

Christmas 2008: This year there were 13 of us and it was the first year selling through the LCBO. We got some really good advice on planning for Christmas from Ryan (an LCBO employee) and started working on things well in advance. We now had our two-head filling machine, so one person could crank out 90 ceramics or 50 jugs in one hour (assuming someone laid them on the buggy in advance and someone else was packaging them). But holy canoly, sales spiked and things were wild.

Keeping up with orders – both filling and delivering were a huge challenge and once again it seemed like every night was a 4am one…then out for deliveries at 8am. We still only had one cargo van at that point, so most deliveries went out in minivans. This year was a bit more manageable and none of us could believe it, because we sold so much more beer than the year before, but we got through it so much better.

Christmas 2009: Its almost starting to feel like we know what we’re doing now! We’ve been running two shifts a day for the last 6 weeks, starting at 5am and finishing at 11pm – this last weekend we moved to round the clock filling. We’ve got enough staff to keep bottles on the move on filling and packaging and 2 full time drivers and a bigger truck + a cargo van. We’ve got 23 employees now and this weekend is the first time I’ve had to come in to help out in production. It’s a good feeling to walk in to brewery in the morning and see the orders packed and ready to go, people moving with purpose and generally the feeling like you’ve just walked into a beehive.

I can’t say that I miss the cracked fingers from spending 20 hours soaking in sanitizer, and I can’t say I miss working on only 2 hours sleep a night, but in some ways I’m nostalgic for that feeling that we were moving a mountain every single day. What has replaced that is an odd, rather comforting feeling that I can no longer save the day by my own effort. For us to get our orders out, our whole team has to put out the extra effort, which means I can sleep more and still make sure that the beer gets to where it needs to be. Not tonight, mind you (I’m in at 2am tonight, just like last night), but in general.

Merry Christmas. Thanks to everyone who stopped by the retail store to pick up some jugs or picked up a bottle at the LCBO. Your purchase of our beer keeps the lights on here, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate you choosing to spend your Christmas with us.



Alan said...

Wow. That is all I can say, Steve. TO think that it was so recent that I hauled kegs out of a Kingston pub basement with you!

Jay said...

My wife and I would like to wish you all the merriest of holidays this year! We just had a wonderful party filled with lots of cheer and even more Bog Water! Now to return the six empty jugs and get even more :-) All of your work is most definitely appreciated on this side of Ottawa!

(Oops, just noticed it's sold out... that was fast!)

Steve Beauchesne said...

It isn't sold out...must be a web glich!

Jay said...

Good to know - there's a few interested parties at my work who'd like to get a jug or two for themselves now that they've had a taste... Thanks again and happy 2010!!

Troy Burtch said...

Great post Steve, and great to hear you're getting more sleep!