The State of the Union and looking forward to 2015

If you’ve been following our blog posts up until now (THANK YOU!) then you probably already know that we’ve been in the planning phase to open our own brewery for some time now. Other then experimenting with different recipes there’s been a lot of work put into turning this goal into a reality. Logistics, financials, strengths, weaknesses, marketing, legalities, all of these either have been, or are about to be analysed and developed to make sure our future brewery is as successful as possible. As you’ve probably guessed there is a ton of information that needs to be sifted through before we can even start building a business plan. Luckily we’ve had a lot of help. Here’s a look at where we’re at so far and what we have planned for the near future.

The Business Plan

This is probably the longest, tedious, and least exciting part of the process (at least at first). Everything gets analysed and picked apart, statements need to be supported with sources that use something called “facts”, and long term goals are broken down into medium term goals, which are then broken down into short term goals. That’s all on top of figuring out how much cash is needed, who’s going to get it, what they going to use it for, and when the person lending the money can expect to get it all back. Right now we have a good chunk of this process done with a lot of help from some friends in the industry and a lovely, intelligent lady whom I’ll be marrying come September (I asked before she helped with the plan, but if I hadn’t this pretty much sealed the deal).

The good news is that once you get most of the plan done, things do start to get exciting. If you’ve done your research and planned things out properly using these “facts” you start to see the viability of your business fleshed out before you without spending a single dollar. Lucky for us we’re looking to open a business that’s part of a rapidly growing industry. So, needless to say, the outlook so far is pretty good. There’s still plenty to do before we can start shopping our business plan, but the meat of it is close to being done and hopefully we’ll be pitching it to investors later this year.

Education

While this will always be a big part of brewing for us (homebrew or commercial), we try to pursue formal classes whenever possible. Last year we attended classes that brought us all the way back to the very basics of brewing, which did wonders as a refresher while providing us with small bits of new info to stream line our brew day. We also took some classes on off-flavors and hop profiles to sharpen our palettes which were provided by the BC Beer Awards. It’s a good bet that we’ll expand on these smaller education classes this year with offerings from CAMRA Vancouver and our local homebrew clubs. On top of that I will be attending SFU’s new 8 month Craft Brewing Course certificate starting October. It’s not quite as in-depth as other offerings, but will definitely help strengthen our brewing theory as well as providing education on the business side of the brewing industry. Two areas which could really help us in the near future.

Another big change for us this year will be with competitions. Classes and such have been good for helping our brewing processes, but getting feedback from trained judges has worked wonders for perfecting our recipes. Last year our scores averaged between 30-37 points (Very Good). This year our goal is to push that average to the “Excellent” category (38-44 points) and maybe even place. The number of competitions we’ll be entering will also dramatically increase. Last year we entered three, while this year it’ll be more like ten or more. The more competitions we enter, the more feedback we get, which means our beer just keeps getting better.

Marketing and Branding

Up until now our branding and labels have more been about having fun and being creative. It’s always satisfying to have your homebrew mistaken for a commercial beer. However, lately these fun little art projects have turned into full blown market research to see how our branding measures up. Practicality has also moved into the conversation and has forced us to rethink the size and shape of our labels as well as how to to streamline the labeling process. The neck labels look really cool, but after labeling a single case of bottles we’d most likely look at the 20-30 remaining cases and let the explicits fly. In the coming weeks you’ll start seeing the fruits of our labor as we begin revealing new beers.

Our social media efforts have, so far, been paying off. Our efforts have even resulted with us being referred to as the “Silver Valley Guys” by fellow club members. Needless to say it put a big smile on our faces since it meant we were doing something right and had a name that was gaining traction. This year we hope to build on that with our expansion into Twitter and more frequent blog posts. Since there will be a lot more going on this year, there will definitely be a lot more to share. We may also begin offering apparel to those who wish to show their support. Stay tuned for that and many other cool announcements. There will be plenty in the near future.

Brewing and Recipes

Just like our increase in competition entries, 2015 will see us making more beer. A lot more beer! Between our large system and small Brew-In-A-Bag set up we have total of five beers planned already…and that’s just for February. Another brew day is already booked for March as well with more to follow once we get a few of these beers get knocked out. Don’t expect as many weird experimental beers as we’ve done in the past. This year will have a stronger focus on fine tuning recipes that we plan to eventually produce commercially. That doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t mix things up once in a while. After all, 2015 is supposed to be “the year of the sour”. A style we have yet to explore.

So there you have it! Lots of changes and new stuff for 2015. We’re very excited and can’t wait to share it all with you. Many of you reading this are probably already familiar with our Facebook page already, but if you’re more of the Twitter type please follow us @SVbrewing and feel free to ask us questions. We’d love to hear from you!

Cheers!

Kevin

Does Beer Have A Shelf Life?

None of us here have ever had any formal training in the art of home brewing. Most of what we’ve learned is through reading, Youtube, homebrew club meetings, and trial and error. So over the summer I decided to take a “Brewing 101” course a friend was teaching in hopes of learning a little more and giving our brew days a bit more structure. While attending, one of the students asked whether or not the 5 year bottle of Heineken above his fridge would still be good. Needless to say, in this case, the answer was a definite “no”. It’s not the first time I’ve heard questions about the shelf life of beer though. This gentleman’s beer was long past its prime, but does that mean all beer has a shelf life? The answer is a clear and uncomplicated “it kinda depends on a bunch of different factors”.

What kind of beer is it?

This is probably the biggest factor in determining the shelf life of a beer. Typically lighter and lower alcohol beers are best served fresh. Mainly because any kind of flaw is much more noticeable in lighter styles like American Lights and Pilsners. The common flaw that occurs in beer that’s passed its prime is oxidization. This is when oxygen works its way back into the bottle and into the beer.The result is a cardboard taste that’s definitely not complimentary to the beer. This can start being noticeable around the 6 month mark in bottles while cans may give you a few more months.

Hoppy beers like IPA’s or West Coast Pale Ale’s will also start losing that awesome hop aroma over time. We’ve noticed it starts to disappear after 3 months so best to drink them as fresh as possible.

Because of the strength of the darker malts used, Stouts and Porters seem to mask the oxidized off-flavors for longer then lighter styles. It’s still there, just more subtle and less noticeable depending on the style.

Sealing your bottles with wax can help reduced oxidization.
Sealing your bottles with wax can help reduced oxidization.

High gravity (high alcohol) beers like Russian Imperial Stouts, Scotch Ales, and Barleywines are actually ideal for aging. Most high gravity beers can have a strong alcohol or “hot” flavor when served fresh. Aging them for 6 months or more can help mellow out these flavors for a silky smooth finish. Oxygen can and will creep its way into the beer, but since these tend to be complex and rich beers (usually good with desert) it’s barely noticeable. That being said, most brewers will try and fend off oxidization as much as possible by dipping the top of the bottles in wax to help seal it.

What Colour is the bottle?

Clear bottles may have “nothing to hide”, but they are far from ideal when it comes to beer. Exposing your beer to UV (ultra-violet) light is a bad thing. That’s why brown bottles work best since they block most of the UV light. If your bottle is clear or green it can begin taking on a skunky smell and taste less then ideal. It’s this very reason that certain large breweries recommend serving their beer with a lime wedge. The acid from the lime has a way of counteracting the skunky character, turning your beverage into something much more pleasing.

The majority of brewers agree that brown bottles are better.
The majority of brewers agree that brown bottles are better.

So how long does it take for UV light to skunkify your beer? Put it this way; if you’re picking up a case of beer that has clear or green bottles, then there’s a high chance they’re already skunky and you’ve just gotten used to the flavor. That being said, if you find a fresh case and want to experiment for yourself then simply put that clear bottled beer next to a window for an hour or two and see what happens. Just make sure you’re within spitting distance of a sink when you try it. This skunky effect can still happen with brown bottles it just takes longer.

What about growlers?

Depending on the type of growler and how it was filled you may get a different longevity, but typically it’s best to open them within a week of filling and consume the contents within 24 hours after opening. This has less to do with possible off-flavors and infections and more to do with the loss of carbonation. Growlers are not designed to store beer for the long term. Having a quick look at the quality of the caps will make that glaringly obvious on most offerings. However, most breweries do offer higher quality options with better seals and insulation that keep your beer fresher and colder for longer. If you’re willing to cough up and extra $50-$80 during your next fill it’s well worth it!

Super fancy growler fillers...from the future!
Super fancy growler fillers…from the future!

Another factor, when dealing with growlers, is how it’s been filled. Most breweries will fill using a counter pressure system that purges the oxygen from the growler using CO2 before filling it right to the top with beer. This is, by far, the best method of filling a growler and will give your beer the longest life span. These systems are easily recognizable since they’ll either look like a filling chamber from the future or they will have some type of seal around the top of the growler when filling.

Filling a growler from the tap does still happen from time to time, but an extension of some kind should be used to prevent too much head. It’s better then nothing, but it’s still best to plan accordingly and drink the contents of your growler sooner rather then later.

That’s it for now! Have more questions about the shelf life of your beer? Do you have an idea for a future post? Comment and let us know!

Cheers!

SVB

One year later……

It’s pretty crazy to think that we’ve only been brewing for one year. If we hadn’t been recording it on here we’d definitely be asking ourselves “how the heck did that even happen?”. We’re not going to go into too much detail (if you’ve been following our blog you know most of the story already). That being said, here are five lessons that we’ve learned over this past year that we thought we’d share. There’s a lot to brewing, and we’re far from experts, but these should at least help get you on the right path.

1) A stuck mash sucks. Best to avoid it whenever possible.

2) If you’re brewing for the first time, don’t rely on the instructions you get with your first kit or recipe. They tend to assume that you already know what you’re doing. Instead, pick up a good book (pretty much anything by John Palmer is a good starting point) and learn about the process first. It’ll make everything far less hectic. Don’t worry about getting too technical. That’ll come later if you’re interested in taking it that far.

3) It’s okay to start off with extracts and don’t let anybody tell you different. You’ll eventually move to all-grain, but some of those extract recipes are perfectly fine if you’re looking to get your feet wet.

4) However good you think your first brew is now, in a month or two you’ll realize it’s either mediocre or terrible as your tastes develop…….and that’s okay. You can read every book on home brewing ever written, but nothing can replace experience and the sharper palette that comes as a result. Don’t get discouraged. Things are about to get much, much better.

5) Join a home brewing club. Getting feedback from your friends and family is always fun and rewarding, but if you really want constructive feedback it’s best to get it from experienced home brewers. Not only will they be specific about what they like and don’t like, they will also give you great tips on how to improve your recipe and brewing process. There’s other benefits like bulk buys on hops and grain, as well as yeast banks to help you save on your brew supplies.

Honourable mention: Hot Scotchies! Two parts fresh wort and one part scotch. This simple recipe will help keep you warm on chillier brew days.

So that’s it! Stay tuned for our next post and feel free to stop by our facebook page for a recap of our anniversary brew.

Choosing the starting line up

Just like many home brewers, we have aspirations to one day turn our much loved hobby into a viable business. To work towards that we gave ourselves some milestone goals. The first was solidifying at least two solid recipes that can be offered year round. The second was reading some key books and doing research on the topic of starting a brewery. The third was build a business plan. Fourth? Finding money.

Last night we met up for a couple of pints and dinner at our favorite local watering hole the Billy Miner Pub (try their pizza and thank us later) to discuss where we were at and what the next steps were. It turns out we’re a bit a head of schedule in some areas. Namely our selection of market ready (or nearly ready) recipes. Narrowing down which ones to select for our year round offering was quite the lengthy and in depth conversation. To be honest there were no right or wrong answers when it came to the styles, but finding the perfect balance or variety and accessibility can be tough.

Carboys

Ideally we would want to launch with three beers that are offered year round. The first would be a more accessible beer for the uninitiated. The second would be something a bit hoppier and complex for the beer connoisseurs. Finally, the third would be a darker Stout or Porter for those who enjoy “the black stuff”.  We won’t bore you with all the back and forth discussions we had, but ultimately it was the ingredients that finally determined our starting line up. It was our first real “business decision” that we’ve made that actually effects our products and it was an important moment since it’s an approach that will serve us well down the road.

Choosing beers that shared many of the same ingredients would allow us to purchase them in larger quantities, lowering costs and increasing profits. This is particularly important with yeast since it’s far and away the most costly ingredients in your beer. Not the ideal way to decide on beers, but this isn’t home brewing anymore where an extra $10 is okay. It’s pretty much all about finding ways to cut costs from here on in.

Californication Common Ale
Californication Common Ale

So what’s the starting line up? It looks like the Common, and Porter are going to make it into the mix for sure, but we’re still experimenting on the hoppy beer. Perhaps a west coast style ESB? We’ll keep you posted, but there’s a good chance that the next hoppy beer you see from us that’s around 5-6% alcohol is most likely going to fill that gap in our line up. Stay tuned!

 

Experimentation and why we brew what we brew.

Test Batch

If you’ve ever looked through our brewing history, or kept track of our Facebook page, then you’ve probably discovered our love for English style beers. It’s fair to say that our enthusiasm for a West Coast style IPA is a bit of an anomaly when looking at our catalog. The other thing you’ve probably discovered is that we like to put our own spin on the traditional. Some of these are relatively common tweaks using common brewing ingredients (Rye-Porter) and others are more wild and experimental (Pumpkin Spice Latte anybody?). That being said we try not to stray too far from what makes those styles great in the first place. This is by no means a template or how you should build your own recipes (we still have A LOT to learn). It’s just some insight into how we work.

Our Mocha Stout is a good example of how we like to construct one of our recipes. Naturally we’ll start by deciding what style we want to brew, but it’s not long until we’re racking our brains for a way to throw the drinker a curve ball. Something that makes them say “You put what in your beer? Does that even work?”. We won’t necessarily throw some random object into our for the sake of making it different. What we’re trying to find is something that will complement the style. For the Mocha Stout we had already seen Chocolate Stouts and Porters, as well as Coffee Stouts and Porters, but never a combination of the two using actual coffee and cocoa nibs. It was a suggestion that Dennis came up with after Jesse and I had been going back and forth about whether to go with coffee or chocolate. It was a solid suggestion and one that seemed to be a natural fit for the style.

Barista Mocha Stout
Barista Mocha Stout

Once we figure out what to shoot for we’ll usually start with a standard recipe for the style and make adjustments to help showcase our “wacky” ingredients. For the Mocha we really wanted it to complement the coffee flavor so we upped the Roasted Barley a little, while giving the Chocolate malt a little more love. We also wanted the rich and creamy characteristic you’d get with a real Mocha Latte, so we used Flaked Oats rather then Flaked Barley. All of these small tweaks can drastically change the impact of these new ingredients and how they work together to make a great beer.

By now it’s pretty easy to see how we approach each beer and it’s ingredients. We may have a solid recipe we use for a starting point, but that’s all it really is. Sure we could just take our Porter Recipe and throw cocoa nibs in it, but that’s exactly what it would taste like. Where’s the fun in that? Why not have a beer that stands on it’s own rather then on the shoulders of others?

Stay tuned for our next post!

The Challenge

Milliona Days IPA, Rye-nosaur Porter, and Willie's Scottish Ale
Milliona Days IPA, Rye-nosaur Porter, and Willie’s Scottish Ale

Humbled by our very first all-grain experience we took a few weeks off to recover and brewed a quick partial mash to help rebuild our confidence. During that time we were invited by a friend to join a small local brew club to share, learn, and just “nerd out” about all things related to beer and homebrewing. It was a fun and educational experience. If you’ve never been to one we’d highly recommend it. It was during this meeting that we were introduced to one of the best parts of a homebrew club; the brewing competition.

One thing to keep in mind about Jesse, Dennis, and myself is that we can get pretty darn competitive. Maybe not “trash the board when losing a game of Monopoly” competitive. However, you’d be surprised how intense things get when we’re betting $1 per hole on a par three golf course. It’s not about the prize, it’s about the pride that comes with the victory. So if there was ever a way for us to elevate our brewing prowess, putting a challenge in front of us was definitely the way to do it.

The rules were pretty straight forward; brew any kind of style you want, but it must include at least 5% rye malt. Living on the west coast we figured there were going to be a ton of Pale Ales and IPA’s entered (we were right by the way) so we wanted to try something a little different. During our research we came across a recipe for a Rye Porter which peaked our interest. The three of us love darker English style beers so we developed our recipe and began prepping for brew day.

With the highly coveted prize of bragging rights on the line we were able to shake off our first all-grain experience and approached this brew with laser precision. You can call it skill if you want, but we’re convinced that something else wan, beer, s going on that night because weird things were happening. PH reading? Perfect! Pre-boil Gravity? Perfect! Original gravity after boil? Nailed it! Even our final gravity before bottling was dead on. Everything, literally everything, was bang on. It was an exciting, but weird experience. So far this was the best brew day we’d ever had and, after the first tastes, it turns out it was the best beer we’d ever made. Things were looking good for our first contest submission.

If you’re not familiar with how most beer competitions are scored, feel free to visit the BJCP’s (Beer Judge Certification Program) website. It’s based on a set of guidelines for each beer style describing what the beer should and should not be. In the end your beer is given a score between 1 and 50. Usually a score between 30-40 is considered very good. Anything over 40 is regarded as a world class example of that style. We were all nervous leading up to competition night and, unfortunately for me, I was unable to attend the event (stupid family vacation!). After a few days of vacation, and a great dinner, Brandi and I were winding down for the night when I received a text from Jesse “Awesome event. Porter went over very well. Didn’t win, but it scored a 34!”. This was followed by a few explicits, fist pumps, and big smiles. Not too shabby for our second all-grain ever.

After such a glowing review and constructive feedback, we’ve since tweaked our recipe and it is now quickly becoming our “signature beer”. It also pushed us into asking our selves a question. If we could develop 1 or 2 more exceptional beers, could we make this a business? If so, what would those other beers be?

Stay tuned for those answers and more in our next post!

Adventures In All- Grain

First ever beer brewed? Check. Second beer brewed properly? Check. Legendary home-brewing status achieved? Not even close. Time to play with the big boys and brew our first all-grain!

Before we got too far into our first all-grain brew, we delayed the brew date a little longer so that we could do some proper research on what it was we were actually supposed to be doing. There was a lot more to know this time around and we were being extra causious. We learned our way around a mash tun and plate chiller we’d borrowed (again, THANKS JACK!!) and even ventured into constructing our own recipe. We’d also spent countless hours reading and watching YouTube how-to videos. Things were shaping up and, unlike our first brew, we felt we were prepared. Or so we thought.

Mash Tun Filled!
Mash Tun Filled!

For this brew we had planned for simple IPA using only Cascade for our hops. We decided to brew a “full bodied beer” which meant we’d “mash in” (steeping the grains for you non brewers) at a higher temperature. This would also mean we’d need more grain as well. We had read that it’s best to slowly add the water and grain bit by bit. What we didn’t realize was that you should have a nice layer of water BEFORE you start adding the grain. So, by the end of the mash, all that thick doughy grain at the bottom of the mash tun had made its way under the false bottom and was now preventing any wort (none fermented beer) from draining out of the tun. This is what you call a “stuck mash” and, let me tell ya, it sucked. We’re talking three hours to drain the mash tun kinda suck. Eventually that painfully late night ended with the yeast being pitched and the fermenter being transported down to Jesse’s basement to do its thing. It would be clear sailing from here on out. Right?

Not exactly. I said that we used Jesse’s basement for our fermentation room, but what I forgot to mention was that we were brewing in the middle of a cold January. Unfortunately for us, that part of Jesse’s basement was not known for its heat retention. Needless to say we were freaking out after we racked (transferred) the beer into the secondary. Why was our gravity still so high? Were we going to end up with a 3.5% IPA? Fun fact: if yeast is too cold it’s not going to ferment much of anything. So, after our initial freak out, we moved the carboy to a warmer climate. Luckily things finally kicked into gear and the airlock began bubbling like it should. While we were at it we had also noticed, from our gravity sample, that this beer was seriously lacking in the hop aroma and flavour department. We decided to give dry hopping a try and threw an once into the carboy for good measure. Disaster avoided!

You can dry out the grain to use for making bread and other great snacks.
You can dry out the grain to use for making bread and other great snacks.

The results were not bad actually. I think Dennis described it best as “a good entry level IPA for the none hop head”. Bottom line was, even with all of our trials and tribulations, we ended up with something that was miles ahead of the two extracts we’d previously brewed. We would end up doing one last extract brew, but from here on in it was all-grain for us.

Something good was happening here, but we didn’t start to really tap into our full potential until our local brew club threw out an interesting challenge.

Check back soon for our next post “The Challenge“.

In The Beginning…………..

It seems like ages ago when Dennis, Jesse, and myself finally stopped procrastinating and began brewing our first beers. In fact it wasn’t even a year ago. Jesse and myself were already big time beer nerds and had talked about biting the bullet on a starter kit numerous times. It wasn’t until Dennis had his first sip of Old Yale Brewing’s “Sasquatch Stout” (not a bad choice for your first craft beer) that the question was finally asked “so…is there a reason we’re not making this?”. That was a damn good question Dennis. This was the final push we needed to make us drive down to Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies and gear up to brew our first batch. It was an exciting time!

Dennis' first taste of craft beer.....and it was awesome!
Dennis’ first taste of craft beer…..and it was awesome!

We tried making things easier on ourselves for that first brew by starting with a partial mash recipe (whatever that meant). However, we had big stars in our eyes and went straight for our favorite style at the time. Scotch Ale here we come! We had our gear, ingredients, and some great beers ready to enjoy back at Jesse’s while we brewed. Everything was set and it was gonna be awesome.

Minus 9 and Broken Label bubbling away!
Minus 9 and Broken Label bubbling away!

Was it ACTUALLY awesome though? Yes and no. A more appropriate word to describe it would be “CHAOS”. Up until that point we had done little to no reading on what we were supposed to do and were relying HEAVILY on the instructions that came with the recipe, which seemed to assume that the reader had brewed before. Our measurements were right’ish, temperatures were taken with a meat thermometer and our times were…eh…close enough. Our original gravity reading was…oh…is that what that floaty thingy was for? We even dropped a label from one of the extract buckets in the boil for good measure, which inspired its name “Broken Label Scotch Ale” (Don’t worry we fished it out). It was one hell of a learning experience that’s for sure and we learned a lot. On top of that we were hooked.

The very first bottle we ever capped!
The very first bottle we ever capped!

It wasn’t long until we picked up more ingredients, borrowed some better gear (THANKS JACK!!), and began brewing our second batch, all the while dreaming out loud about what this could be leading to. “If we actually get good at this, could we turn it into a business?”. That question was running over and over in our heads, as I’m sure it has for many ambitious first time home brewers. Our first two batches tasted ok. Definitely drinkable, but the highest compliments we’d received were “not bad” and the occasional “good”. Are you kidding me? “Not bad”?! “Good”?! We were after words like “fantastic”, “amazing” or something similar with a well placed explicit. These “good” descriptions just wouldn’t do. After only two brews we were done messing around with extracts. Things were about to get serious.

Minus 9 Cream Ale and Broken Label Scotch Ale.
Minus 9 Cream Ale and Broken Label Scotch Ale.

Check back soon for our next post “Adventures In All-Grain”!

-Kevin