Brewing beer is fun. It’s rewarding, and it always makes me feel proud to be able to share a good beer with someone. I thought I’d talk for a bit about the other side of the coin: running a business. Since I have to do both at once, they are completely intertwined. While I feel pretty comfortable with the brewing process, doing it professionally is quite a bit different, and there are a lot of aspects to it that customers never get to see.
Crooked Run opened in July 2013. When I opened the doors, I had two weeks to make rent, or I was going to be in a lot of trouble. I had been paying rent with no revenue for two months during the licensing process. At that point when I opened, I had no money left whatsoever.
Starting a business with no money is infinitely harder than starting a business with lots of money. If you are starting a brewery and are properly capitalized, everything you need is available. Equipment, staff, merchandise, furniture–you can have all of it when you open your doors. If you’re not ready to open, you can wait. I didn’t have any of those options. I had to open immediately, and I had to wait for a lot of things, and I’m still waiting.
Fortunately, business was pretty good from day one. Even though the place looked pretty rough (and it still does), people mostly cared about the beer. Most of the beer was good, and some was not so good. I thought brewing beer at a nano would be just like brewing at home. It’s not a huge leap, but there is a lot that I have learned over the past year.
Making sure good beer is on tap has been my number one priority; when people ask about promotion and advertising, I tell them I have done almost none, because I haven’t had the time. Quality control has occupied, or rather, preoccupied, everything that I have done over the last eight months. I have dumped hundreds of gallons of beer down the drain. Although not every beer I have served has been up to par, I have made every effort possible to only put the best beer I can on tap. This is important to me, but it’s also just good business sense. If you are serving four beers and even just one isn’t good, if that is the only beer someone tries, they probably aren’t coming back again. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Gee, this guy sucks at sanitation,” keep in mind that I brewed hundreds of batches as a homebrewer before I started the nano, and never had any problems with fermentation. This is a different ballgame.
Now, I think things are starting to come together. I feel pretty confident that I probably won’t lose so many batches, which means I’ll have time and money to spend elsewhere. Another limitation I have had is that with no money and a lot of work to be done, I have been stretched extremely thin. If you’re ever wondering why I didn’t do something, chances are that I’m probably aware of it.
Things are different, now. My next priorities are to improve the decor of the place, plan more events, and to start distributing. This week my black Belgian tripel, Shadow of Truth, hits a bunch of bars in the DMV area. Having this excellent beer on tap elsewhere is going to really help bring people into the brewery. This is perfect timing, too, since all the beers on tap now are really strong. I have my first two events planned for this month: St. Patrick’s Day Ale-Fest and Belgian Beer Night on March 15 and 29.
I’m very excited for this summer. This winter was a bit of a trial period, but I think things are going to be very busy very soon! Already, each week more people are coming through the door.