Hey everybody! It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to type one of these and I’m happy to be doing it again. We’re right in the middle of releasing some brands I’ve been dying to make again – most notably for me the Boxer IPA, which we’ve re-named Cart/Horse after having been asked politely to stop using the Boxer name for that brand by a foreign brewery. We complied, so now it’s the same beer, but with a name that we think describes our approach to the naming of that beer, in retrospect. Cart before the horse… You get it.
We’ve been in a state of almost constant construction and expansion at the brewery since November of 2017. The final work on our 8 new 80 and 120 bbl fermenters was completed in Mid-January and work on our 10bbl pilot brewery began the moment we got the 80 and 120s installed. For some context, one barrel (bbl) is 31 gallons for brewers. Half barrels – the big, heavy kegs you see at bars and restaurants-are just what they claim, so two of them make one bbl. That means we are yielding just about 220 1/2bbl worth of beer, or about 1100 cases worth of 16 oz cans in every 120bbl batch. So, we’re definitely ready to make a lot of beer. In fact, we went a little crazy, which I’ll cover below.
Physically installing the 10bbl pilot brewery was about the same as it is for any brewer who opens a pub with a new system, and with three 20 and three 10 bbl fermenters, to boot! So, it was kind of like starting construction on the brewing space for a whole new small facility right as we finished expanding our large system by roughly 80%. For that reason alone, we thought an overall duration of 4.5 months for the whole expansion project wasn’t too bad.
In December, as we were waiting for the big tanks to be built in and shipped from Portland, OR, we talked with our distributor about what this increased capacity could mean for how much beer we could make/week once the tanks were installed. They gave us a number we could handle, and we ran at that shipment count for about 2 months. At the end of that period, we looked at sales and inventory at the distributor. It turns out they were a little long on inventory. That happened for a number of different reasons: New large chain placements came up and they held stock for a couple of weeks to make sure there was enough to start those chain sales, etc. This is usually all completely normal stuff for a popular beer, and usually not an issue. For M43, though, it’s of course very problematic. So, we had to work together to clear their coolers in order to start fresh for the summer, and we immediately began that process with their great cooperation.
The (kind of) bad news is that there is M43 being shipped from our distributor to retailers at between 2 and 4 weeks of age. For us in the brewery that’s ok, as we like this beer best between 3-5 weeks. But, we’ve been listening to the feedback in the market for the last 8 weeks or so and acknowledge that our oldest supporters want it as fresh as it can be. So, we decided to slow way down on shipments of M43 can/cases (draft is doing great at more than 200 kegs shipped/week) to our Michigan distributor in order to try to get the lag time there down to no more than a week, meaning cans shipped to retailers will be no older than one week when they arrive and are stocked on the shelf at stores in MI.
Our out of state distributors are very happy to be receiving more M43 in Atlanta, Illinois, Maine and all over Europe (that’s right, we’re in Europe!). Did we forget to tell you we were shipping out of state? Sorry about that. As you can see we’ve been a little busy! We didn’t want to start making moves out of state until we were comfortable Michigan had enough stock and well, mission accomplished!
The whole reset will take 2 more weeks (or so) in Michigan and we really appreciate everyone’s patience as we jump this hurdle. There’s no model for trying to do this with so little tolerance in the context of putting out super fresh beer every week, and we’re trying to make it happen every day. We’ll get there long before summer comes, without a doubt.
The good news is that we just brewed a ton of the Cart/Horse, which is a favorite of the brewers here, and a great deal of Boss Tweed to finish out its first elongated season (moving forward the Boss will only be available September through March out in the open market). We’re also developing the double IPA replacement for Boss Tweed right now, based on a pretty good experiment we did with Foundation brewing Co. out of Maine earlier this year.
The new pilot system allows us to develop that beer and others at a really rapid pace, so you’ll start to see new brands of ours pop up in the pub, at your favorite beer bar, and sometimes on the shelves of your local retailer.
If you read this far, please also make sure to check out the Williamston International Lager Festival we’re putting on this June 2! The name is sort of tongue in cheek, but we will actually have several foreign lager brewers, along with new and old leaders in the field of American Craft Lager brewing including some from right here in Michigan! You can learn more about this at www.wifol.beer
Thanks for reading, and here’s to a warm, sunny summer filled with great beer, food and memories for all of us.