Ha! So I just noticed that folks have been checking in to my beers on Untappd over the last few months, which is amusing since the beers have been totally unavailable for well over a year. I’m not going to complain, though, unless folks start getting served bad ‘Irish Car Bombs’ at their bar in California and decide to take it out on my little homebrewed vanilla-whiskey stout. Until then: sláinte, beer-lovers!
Hey, friends! First I have to apologize for not updating this blog over the last 18 months. My last update still holds true as far as the next steps I’ll be taking in my quest to get this brewery up and running. I had to put the plans on hold for a long period while I re-evaluated a lot of things non-beer related. But now I feel like I’m ready to get back on track and start taking the steps toward my goal, and I’m going to need a little help.
This month, I finally registered for the first two classes in the Business of Craft Beverages certificate program at PSU. I do have some experience running both a small business and with running small organizations, but I don’t have any experience in the brewing industry. The research I did a year ago to put my business plan together showed me that while there’s a lot of industry information available online, there’s a lot more to running a commercial brewery that I wasn’t learning about.
For these first two classes, I was able to dip into my savings a bit to cover the cost of registration. The remaining classes will have to be paid for out of my earnings from my USPS job. I’m going to be taking on more overtime the next couple months to help out, but it would be great if I didn’t need to. A lot of my friends have already offered emotional support for what I want to do with the brewery, so I’ve set up a GoFundMe campaign to allow interested supporters to throw a few bucks my way and help me to cover the remaining registration costs.
I really want Megalith Brewing to grow from the support of the community, to let it be a reflection of my supporters and friends, and to let the community have some ownership over the business. When the time comes, I plan to do a larger crowdfunding campaign through Hatch:Oregon to raise the capital for the physical costs of starting and running the business, but actually selling equity shares in the business. But before that can happen, I need to feel more confident with my understanding of the craft brewing industry, and that’s where I hope that the certificate program fits in.
I don’t expect the campaign to cover the entire cost of the certificate program, but it would be great if it could lighten the burden of registering for the next two or three classes (one is optional, but I’d still like to take it, completionist that I am). I’ll end the campaign once I’ve registered for the final class, and will be posting updates on how the program’s going as I’m working through it. I’m also going to plan a supporters-invite tasting party to answer any questions about my plans and goals. So, if you want to help out, go show your support at the GoFundMe page!
I’ve been spending a good amount of time over the last few weeks thinking about Megalith Brewing again, about my plans, past and future, and just how exactly I want to proceed from here.
Part of that has meant looking back on all the steps I took to get where I am now. In 2014 I spent several months putting together a business plan – researching the brewing industry; pricing out equipment and ingredients, and looking at local business real estate prices; talking to a number of local small brewers, cideries, and consultants. I felt like I had a really solid handle on how to make a craft nanobrewery work, from a business point of view: develop a unique line of beers, keep them available year round in small batches, sell everything at the retail level and don’t worry about distributing or bottling, keep the entire business at a small enough scale that it can support itself easily with only a modest customer base, and then grow from there.
Unfortunately, when it came to looking for potential investors, ‘staying small’ isn’t exactly an inspiring goal, especially when their biggest concern isn’t simply owning part of a brewery, but the very real potential return on their investment. My lack of practical experience in the brewing industry was also an understandable concern – why would anyone invest with me when I have really no idea what I’m talking about, and can’t possibly understand the market I’m planning on jumping into? To paraphrase Darth Vader, they found my lack of confidence disturbing.
Even with all of that going against me, I was able to lay the groundwork for some of the long-term promotional plans I had. I brewed a lot of beer, and had a few tasting parties, which were moderately successful in getting the word out about what I want to do, and what it will take to get me there. That part of the plan, at least, proved itself strongly, and went about as well as I’d hoped. I mean really, how can you go wrong with free beer?
So what’s next for Megalith, moving forward? Well, my timeline has drastically shifted. I’d hoped originally to be opening the doors on the taproom this past January, and obviously that didn’t happen. I’m probably about as far from opening now as I was when I first put that plan together. So it’s time for a new plan.
First step is to develop some confidence in my understanding of the brewing industry, which means enrolling in the ‘Business of Craft Brewing’ certificate program being offered here at PSU. It’s a year-long program, and at the end of it I’ll have a much better understanding of running the business side of things, from brewhouse efficiency to marketing and distribution. I hope that the added confidence will come through when I start drumming up investors.
And attracting investors is the next step. Past experience has shown me that, for a business the scale I’m working on, angel investors aren’t going to be the way to go. With such a high ROI needed, I would need to plan to grow the brewery much more quickly than I feel comfortable with, and to shift the sales focus away from a retail taproom, and more onto distribution. The best option to realize my business plan will be to work with a program like Hatch:Oregon, which allows regular Oregon residents to invest small amounts in local businesses as a form of crowd-funding— similar to Kickstarter, but instead of merchandise rewards, supporters actually purchase equity in the business, with a potential (modest) ROI. It seems like a great program, geared exactly for business plans like mine, and I’m looking forward to getting that set up when I’m much further along on my certificate program.
And of course, in the meantime, I’ll be continuing to brew small batches of my pillar beers, and hosting tasting parties in the area. If you’re in Oregon and want to talk to me about providing beer for your party, get in touch and we’ll see if your event would be a good fit for Megalith Brewing!
Alright, back to brewing!
Been thinking a lot this week about hops, and my aversion to over-using them. I tend not to go for beers that are highly-hopped, and this preference informs everything I’ve been doing with Megalith Brewing. However, I also don’t want to shut the door on trying new things, and that includes getting more comfortable with more hops.
One of the things I said I’d never do was to make and sell an IPA. To clarify, I have yet to taste a locally-made Northwest-style IPA that I actually like, due to the preference for Citra and Cascade/Centennial hops, and their distinctive grapefruit-like flavor and aroma. Unfortunately for me, I get the same muddy taste on the back of my tongue from these hop varieties as I do with actual grapefruit, and this just kills the beers for me.
I just finished reading this excellent article on late-hop additions for flavor and aroma (my favorite qualities of hops, honestly). I’m going to keep it here for future reference. It’s made me wonder if I could get a stronger hop quality in my own beers without bringing in the bitterness I’ve found with so many highly-hopped beers. Coupled with my recent introduction to Pelican Brewing’s excellent Bad Santa CDA (a Cascadian Dark Ale made entirely with the milder Fuggles hops which I like so much for my English Ales), and I’m starting to reconsider my anti-IPA stance.
My next goal, therefore, is to make a bunch of IPAs with different hop blends and schedules, in an effort to find a good, mild, hoppy, grassy, bright IPA recipe that’s rich and light, and easy to drink. I’ll be basing the first one off of my Laser Brain ESB recipe, so I know I’m starting with a solid malt foundation. We’ll see what happens!
I kind of dropped off the map there for a little bit, as I’ve been reorienting a bit after the beer tasting party at Play|Date a few weekends ago. The tasting was a success, turnout was massive (over 50 people showed up!), lots of happy folks tried the full range of beers, and Abby from Nom*Ables brought some excellent treats for everyone—including a plum cake made using my stout! Megalith even got our first few checkins on Untappd, which is a nice little milestone! There were some technical problems at the start of the event, though – certainly things to chalk up in the ‘lessons learned’ category, mistakes that it will be easy to avoid in the future.
Speaking of lessons learned, here’s a great article I found today, with feedback from a whole bunch of brewers around the US giving their top tips for starting a small craft brewery:
I think my biggest takeaway from that is that it’s good to see I’m not the only one planning to start extremely small, and that I need to have a solid growth plan in mind when I’m seeking out locations. I keep expecting this to start very small, and to stay that way indefinitely, but I should be prepared for the distinct possibility that this plan of mine might actually take off (such thinking tends to go against my better nature, unfortunately).
Future stuff: I’m currently in the planning stages for the next Tasting Party, which should coincide with the launch of a Kickstarter project to get the funds necessary to take the next legal steps (which include signing a lease, applying for the necessary permits, and procuring the equipment & furniture I’ll need to open up). In the meantime, I’m also fine-tuning the details on a Founder’s Club, which is going to be the first real step toward greater fund-raising goals. Keep checking here for more details, and if you’re interested in investing in Megalith please let me know, and I’ll keep you in the loop as plans continue to develop.