See also "The Complete Angler" by Donavan Hall (@theangler)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Small is beautiful

I noticed that a new craft brewing law was signed recently.  Amongst other things this new law imposes a minimum production level on licensed breweries.  The law set the minimum at 50 barrels.  Which might not sound like much, but for your small-scale nanobrewer, 50 barrels might be a difficult target to reach.  For the last few years, RPAB's annual production has been right in that range (I don't have the exact figures in front of me, but 50 barrels is BIG for a nanobrewery).

My guess is that there is pressure from the breweries with larger production to restrict the proliferation of tiny breweries, the sort of breweries that Mike, Rich, and I envisioned when we founded the Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts (LIBME).  My goal was to have a nanobrewery in every village brewing just enough for the local craft beer drinkers.  Back of the envelope calculations suggest that Long Island could support at least 80 of these small breweries.  There are some cultural conditions which need to be met though to sustain this kind of movement.  I could write about that in a future post.

What's interesting is that Brooklyn and Manhattan is a more receptive environment for the small-scale craft brewer than Long Island.  RPAB struggles to keep the attention of the local beer drinkers of Rocky Point.  There are many reasons for this.  Local bar owners (even the ones with an interest in craft) are not necessarily the best advocates for "local" producers.  What I mean is that most bar owners are more interested in beer that sells than they are in selling beer.  Even in Rocky Point, most people don't know about RPAB.  (It's not like we have much of a marketing budget.  We rely on word of mouth.)  So the bartender is the one that needs to be on board and convince people that it's something they absolutely much try.

One issue we've run into is a clash of expectations.  For example, DEKS here in Rocky Point, regularly asks for our "higher ABV" beers and we are happy to oblige.  However, I go to DEKS every Wednesday after work with a group of folks from my office.  Hardly any of them orders an RPAB beer at DEKS because the alcohol level is "too high."  I explained that RPAB makes plenty of low ABV beers (our Pilsner and Vienna lagers are right at 5%) and my friends asked why we don't sell those beer to DEKS.  Good question.  Is it the brewers' fault or the bar owners'?  Probably nobody's fault.  It's just one of those things.  Now if everyone who walked in asked for RPAB Pilsner, then the bar owner's ordering habits just might change.

If you are a local beer advocate, you should speak up.  Let your publican know what you want.  Let them know you want to "drink local."

Monday, November 10, 2014

Homebrewed lit

This morning I and my brewing colleagues received an email from Kevin & Alicia of Beer Loves Company.  They had some questions about statements I made in my recent "Brewing fetishism" post.  After reading their questions, I realized that I should explain better what I'm doing here on this blog.

Rough Drafts is not the official blog of either Rocky Point Artisan Brewers or Secret Engine.  Official news and announcements about RPAB can be found on the brewery web page.  And Secret Engine has its own web pageRough Drafts is a work of literature and an expression of my personal views and interests.

Eight or so years ago when Mike and I started talking about launching RPAB as a commercial enterprise I stipulated two requirements: (1) I wouldn't do it to make money in the capitalist sense of creating an entity whose primary motive was profit, and (2) I would get to write about the experience.  Mike agreed.

While I've been writing about our brewing experience and the struggles of our little brewery, I haven't posted that story on a blog or a web site.  The story exists in written form as drafts of four yet-to-be published "beer novels."  The first installment I self-published as A Year in Beer four years ago.

Rough Drafts is also the title of the nanobrewing novel that I've been working on since RPAB was first conceived.  So at the heart of Rough Drafts (the blog) is a brewing adventure told in the first person by one of the participants in a collective experience.  In short, the views here expressed are my own.  So don't blame, Mike, Yuri, Other Mike, Matt, or Dave for what you read here.

I am a writer and a brewer; the two activities are difficult to separate.  I've come to view the brewing life as an extension of the writing life.  We brewers make our own beer.  What I think is that we readers and writers should take responsibility for the books we read.  If we have to write those books to get something we want to read, then so be it.

Read this blog in the spirit in which it is created.  Rough Drafts is a writing experiment and the text is like what you might find written in a laboratory notebook.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Love thy soccer

On the du Nord Footbol Show the other day, Bruce mentioned he'd received a fat book called Love Thy Soccer.  Bruce didn't say much about the contents or what's in the book (aside from the fact that the book evidently contains photographs of supporter's scarves), but I have an interest in fat books and especially books about soccer.

I've been looking for an excerpt or sample chapter from the book, but have so far been unsuccessful.  At $30 plus $5 shipping, I'm a bit reluctant to splash out the cash unless I can see a little of what I'm investing in.  A few years ago, I heard an interview with an author who self-published their book.  The interview was interesting and so I thought the book would be pretty good so I ordered it sight-unseen.  The book was so poorly written it was laughable.  Ever since then, I've been more careful about what I buy.

Potential readers of my book, A Year in Beer, can at least preview it and read a few chapters before buying it.

This morning I found an interview with Sean Reid, the author of Love Thy Soccer, on Thin White Line.  The way Reid describes his project is attractive.  It sounds like he put a lot into making his book worth the price tag.  Maybe I'll roll the dice.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Brewing fetishism

Things at the brewery are kicking up a notch.  Other Mike (that is Secret Engine Mike) and Dave have been showing up at the brewery regularly for Big Brew Days and Matt and Dave have been doing our deliveries.  We have lots of new locations serving our beers.  I've added a list to our web site.

Every beer we make now (or nearly all of them) is a collaboration beer with our Secret Engine friends.  And having three other guys helping out has made it possible to increase our production as well as our distribution range.  Basically, we are like two nanobreweries.

I was talking with Other Mike yesterday and he's sketched out a brewing plan that will more than double our present production.  We purchased new fermenters which we will bring online soon to handle the increased production.

It's not that we are trying to get big, that's not really the goal.  We like being small and want to stay small.  The point is that now (in collaboration mode) we have to cover the expenses of four brewers instead of just one.

I've been reading some economic theory lately.  And so has Other Mike.  He's trying to come up with a plan that will help both our breweries cover our bills plus pay some of the living expenses for the brewers.  Volume is the key.  The more beer we make, the more money we can make.  However, making more beer means incurring more expenses.

The economic reading I've been doing concerns what Marx called "commodity fetishism."  Most modern people only use the word "fetish" in reference to sexual proclivities, but fetish has a couple of other meanings.  The original meaning of "fetish" was in the context of religious practice.  A fetish is like an idol, an inanimate object worshiped because of its (supposed) magical powers.

I've titled this post "brewing fetishism" because there's another usage of the word fetish that is appropriate to the RPAB / Secret Engine passion for making beer.  We have a brewing fetish in the sense of having "an excessive and irrational commitment" to making good beer.  I hope that describes us.

I'll be writing more about what Marx was talking about and how it relates to our nanobrewing "business plan" in a future installment.  Brew on, comrades!