Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Interview with a Brewer (To Be)

For today's post I've got a real treat for you guys. If you've looked around this site, you might have noticed that I've linked to other exceptional beer-related blogs. Well, the last couple of months I've been keeping up with the guys over at Monday Night Brewery as they chase their dream of opening up brewery.

Who/What is Monday Night Brewery?

In short, three young ambitious homebrewers in the Atlanta area attempting to start up a brewery by 2010. See their about page on their site for the longer version.

I managed to get in contact with MNB's Jonathan Baker and asked if he'd like to participate in a HolzBrew exclusive interview. He was down with it. Here goes:

Holz: You guys have been hard at work for a number of years trying to commercially start up Monday Night Brewery by 2010, what has been the most unexpected delay in the process thus far?

MNB: You know, it’s funny. From the outset we gave ourselves a 3-year time frame and we’ve actually stuck to it pretty well. We’re still on track to hit our original target date. Who knows what will happen between now and the end of the year, that could change, but thus far we haven’t encountered any huge delays.

Giving ourselves more time than necessary upfront was definitely a wise decision in hindsight. We wouldn’t have had the time to really develop and think through our brand otherwise. It’s also given us time to actually get pretty decent at brewing, which is obviously a critical piece in this whole picture. The real goal for us is to make sure that we have done everything possible to be successful before actually investing any serious capital into the enterprise.

Holz: By all accounts starting up a brewery is an expensive process. To date, has raising capital been tough?

MNB: It IS expensive. Which is one of the reasons why we’re going to start by contract brewing. Upfront we will only need a fraction of the capital we would need if we were building a brewery from scratch, which will allow us to own more of the company and build some of the demand we will need to sustain ourselves long term with less risk.

I think the 3-year time frame has actually been very helpful in this regard as well. 3 years has given us ample time to make connections and prove to potential investors that we are very serious. Thus far we haven’t had any trouble raising the money we need. We aren’t there yet, but we don’t foresee any huge hurdles in getting it done. We are also throwing in a good chunk of the money we need ourselves, which helps.

Holz: If you could look 5 years out past the initial start up of the brewery, how do you want to distribute your product? In other words, do you see yourself limiting distribution to just the state of Georgia, or perhaps limiting it to a specific region like the Southeast?

MNB: Great question. From the beginning I think we’ve always seen ourselves as a regional brewery. We want to focus on Atlanta and Georgia for the first couple years at least, but eventually we would like to distribute throughout the Southeast. Craft beer is still a local product, in our minds.

Holz: Determining the proper mix of year round offerings vs. seasonal or even limited releases is a delicate process for a professional brewer. What is your current plan for the number of regular year round selections and season/limited releases?

MNB: We are going to launch with 2 beers, a malty IPA (Eye Patch Ale) and a dark, smokey scotch ale (Drafty Kilt Scotch Ale). Eventually we’d like to have around 5 year-round beers, though that is probably a few years out. I think our homebrewing background has instilled in us a desire to experiment, so we would love to focus on limited edition seasonals to the extent that the market will allow it. It would be great if we could have 1-2 seasonals at any one time. We already want to work in our imperial pumpkin ale (Headless Horseman) and our barleywine (Laissez-Faire) whenever possible.

Holz: Could you guys use a good CPA sometime in the future (because I know one)?

MNB: Hmmm. Depends, does he work for beer?

Holz: Just to be clear, I do work for beer.

Seriously though, currently you three are full time professionals in fields outside of brewing, how do you plan to staff the brewery once it is in operation? Do the three of you intend to work at the brewery full time or will you share oversight responsibilities while still maintaining some professional schedule?

MNB: At the very beginning there will be some combination of 1 or 2 of us working part-time and then everyone working nights/weekends (especially Monday nights). We plan on jumping on full-time as the brewery needs it. Joel and I will be the first to make the leap, and then Jeff as we expand and can sustain the monstrous income that he plans to draw (joking). It could be a several year process, depending on how fast we are able to grow. The ultimate goal is that we will all be working full-time at the brewery.

Holz: You guys have been busy updating your brand image lately, how do you plan to differentiate yourself from all of the other great craft beer offerings in your area?

MNB: Part of the reason we updated our brand image was precisely to differentiate ourselves from some of the great craft beer here in Georgia. I think there is still a need for a slightly sophisticated, white-collar beer here. That’s where we fit in. We want to brew well-balanced, interesting beers that can be consumed on weeknights with or without food, with or without friends. Though we obviously recommend friends. We are shooting for a clean, clever look, and we want that same nuance to permeate our beers.

Holz: Besides drinking the final product, what do you guys enjoy most about brewing?

MNB: You know, I find the actual brewing process very cathartic. It’s hard work, but it’s almost like therapy. That or the people – we meet so many great people and the craft beer industry is unlike any industry I’ve ever been a part of. It’s very close-knit and communal.

Holz: Which current craft brewers and breweries do you most admire and why?

MNB: The impossible question. There are obviously too many to name, since craft beer is all about trying new things. But we do look up to Dogfish Head for their brazenness and willingness to experiment (and great beers) and Terrapin for what they’ve done to elevate craft beer in Georgia.

Holz: Which beer style do you enjoy brewing/drinking the most? The least?

MNB: You’ll get a different answer from all of us. Jeff is a hophead, so he loves the Eye Patch Ale. I love darker beers, so my favorite is the Drafty Kilt Scotch Ale. And Joel has a soft spot in his heart for our Belgian wit. I do think we can agree on our least favorite beer styles. We’ve never been too keen on lagers. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy them, we just don’t enjoy them as much as some of the other styles. So even though we have the equipment to lager beer, we just haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

Big thanks to Jonathan for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions! Head over to the MNB site to keep up with their progress and buy their beer in 2010.

Brew on Mondays,



HunterVT03 said...

What a great interview - I love the model these guys have used to start their brewery. I check their site periodically to see how they are doing and have really enjoyed tracking their progress. Also, I think an interview with an up-and-coming brewer adds an interesting facet to the blog Eric. Keep up the good work.

Brent A. Simer said...

I found this interview to be relatively insightful seeing as though I am somewhat new to the whole craft brewing concept. I think that these three individuals have their business plan in order. Their label/logo identifies their product very well with their brand image. Best of luck to them over the next year, and I hope to sample some of their brew in early 2010.

Peter said...

Really good questions. It gives good insight into balancing "real" jobs at least until brewing can be the real job. This is a cool idea and I would love to see more interviews with small and up-and-coming brewers. Nice work.

Don said...

I'd have to agree with everything that has already been stated. Looks to be a solid business plan, interesting to see the balance/transition of current work and brewing, and I really like the "white collar" brand image! If you guys ever need a taste tester...!!!