Startup. Fourteen. Thirty Months.

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Startup. Fourteen. Thirty Months.

On November 14th 2014 I set a goal. It was my birthday and I was feeling optimistic. At that time, Blue Tape Brewing was little more than a concept and a hobby. But from the feedback that we were getting about our beer, we thought it was something we could turn into an actual business. Of course, this is what happens to a lot of home brewers who decide to go pro. Their friends and family tell them something like “I would totally buy this” and then they take of blindly trying to open a brewery. I knew we could make the beer, or at least we could pay someone to make the beer for us. The challenge was how do we fit making beer into the larger picture of operating a business. On that day, I decided to go full steam ahead in trying to solve that problem. I gave myself thirty months to get it open.

As I type this, we are two days away from that target date. We are not going to make it. Had we stayed in Bloomington, I don’t think we would have made the goal either. Am I upset? Absolutely not. Do I worry sometimes about opening a brewery in a landscape that contains over 5,000 breweries? Sometimes. Do I think we are still on track? Yep.

This is a topic (opening a brewery) that I have researched more than anything in my life including American History and Politics, which I happen to hold a degree in. The number one thing you hear on online forums and from people who have opened breweries before is that it is going to cost twice and much as you think and take three times as long. I guess that means we are a third of the way there. For us though, the delays have not been in planning, or finding a site, or waiting on licensing or equipment (we will get there someday) but rather they have been in an evolving identity of what this company is and intends to produce in terms of product. And when I say product I don’t necessarily mean beer, but the overall experience that we will provide.

I’ve alluded to it in the past, but in Illinois this was meant to be a brewery that specializes in pale beers. Pale ales, IPAs, Double IPAs—variants until the cows come home. But that's been done before, and while it necessarily hasn't been done to death, there is uncharted territory out there that needs to be explored. Or maybe not uncharted, but definitely under-explored. As hops become increasingly difficult to acquire in any meaningful quantity to make the kind of beers, and as IBUs overtake the beer boards across the country, I realized that a shift was necessary. I texted Elizabeth and told her “We are a farmhouse brewery now” and she said “I’m good with that” which is about as short of a discussion we have ever had about anything, professional or personal.

This shift to farmhouse ales not only indicates a distancing from hop forward beers to yeast driven beers, but it also represents a shift in our attitudes about where we belong in this larger brand that is Craft.. Thirty months on and I am still trying to figure that out. The good news is that we don’t have a brewery yet and it is very easy to shift our mentality at this point. Every test batch we have brewed in South Carolina has used the same yeast strain. It's fun to play with because its versatile. It can express almost no yeast character or completely dominate the beer. And we are making some incredibly decent beer that we are proud of. But as much as we are tinkering with this yeast, we are also tinkering with how we will come to market, what we will come to market with, and the best place for us to do so. The plan is evolving as the market shifts around us and we will do everything in our creative will to ensure our success.

According to my original timeline, I should be pouring the first commercial Blue Tape beer on Sunday. That is not going to happen and I could not be happier about that fact. Maybe we are a third of the way there, maybe half, perhaps even a fifth. When the time is right, when the stars align or everything falls into place or whatever, we will make it happen. Until then all I can hope to do is keep making farmhouse ales and jump in when we are ready and when the market is ready. This is a dream that will not die, but will always change.

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Startup. Thirteen. Arts and Crafts.

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Startup. Thirteen. Arts and Crafts.

I've heard that there is an inverted bell curve of attitude to creating something as elaborate as a craft brewing company. Initially, there is much excitement and optimism. "This is the best idea ever!" "I can't believe we are doing this but I'm glad we are!" These are the attitudes at the very beginning which quickly declines into "This is harder than I thought." And "This sucks I have no idea what I'm doing." These attitudes eventually slide to a nadir in a dark swamp of despair. This is sort of where we are at the moment. It is fortunate that this is an identifiable and ultimately fleeting feeling, but it is going to get worse before it gets better. Right now, everything is conceptual; I can't even imagine how hard this is going to be when we get to a point of practical execution. Of walking into an empty space that will eventually be our brewery. Of placing stainless steel tanks. And plumbing. And coolers. And tables and chairs and bar stools. And various ornamentation. Actually I'm beginning to have a panic attack even thinking about all of that. I'm confident that we are more than capable of accomplishing all of this, but there are ominous factors in the industry that are causing doubt in the whole operation. Hence the deep pit of despair. 

In the first (and only as of yet) Head Retention post, I stated that I thought the possibility of an industry shakeout was unlikely, or perhaps even impossible. I think I'm starting to change my mind about that. We are in it, it's happening. But it might not be revealed until it is long over. Without going in to a lot of detail, some breweries back home in Illinois had to close recently for one reason or another. I am not informed enough about the reasons why with any level of authority, so I will not, but when I heard about them closing, I remember thinking "It's actually happening. The shakeout is here." And then I started to slide into the deep pit of despair. There are over 5,000 breweries in operation in this country now with more opening every day. Do we need another? Can the market accept another? Should we proceed?

The answers. Yes. Yes. And Yes.

The shakeout may or may not be happening, but it implies a shift-- not an end. Sierra Nevada could have never started the way it did in this current market. Nor Sam Adams, New Belgium or Lagunitas. The days of widespread distribution are seemingly coming to a close. There just aren't enough draft faucets or shelf space. Would we love for Blue Tape to be a household name? Hell yes. But it's not going to happen beyond our immediate market. We are ambitious, but realistic. 

There need to be more breweries to drive quality in a hyper-local setting. Not just quality of beer, but quality of the overall experience. Ramshackle taprooms with drinkable beer will pass. The market will accept innovation in beer hospitality  and enlightened business owners. Perhaps by saying this I am trying to describe some prophecy that I hope we fit into, but at the same time I think it is absolutely necessary for the continued success of this industry. So we are at the bottom of this success curve, staying optimistic, beginning to climb out. In a way, we took a huge risk coming to South Carolina. It's an unfamiliar environment. It's a largely conservative state when it comes to alcohol, and the Charleston area is flooded with local craft businesses. But proceed we must. This is important for the entire industry.

So what the hell does any of this have to do with Arts and Crafts? I've been painting cardboard letters for the past two days. The color is "Honorable Blue" from Sherwin Williams and the letters are "lebuewrbgnipeta", which is the current order they are in on the drying rack, but that will eventually spell "Blue Tape Brewing." They will adorn a decent sized wooden backboard, which will someday be displayed in our brewery. Regardless of the occasional despair, we are still moving forward. Even if it just involves arts and crafts. 

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Startup. Twelve. Aurelia.

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Startup. Twelve. Aurelia.

The story is often the same. A home brewer finds his passion in making beer and wants to find a way to make it a living. Some go to work in local breweries, others start their own. We are the latter. Unfortunately it often goes overlooked that there is a critical fundamental difference between making beer at home and making it commercially. Home brewing is pure undiluted creativity. From recipe formulation, to tinkering with and upgrading equipment, to designing labels, to enjoying the final product-- It's all about imagination. These aspects of creativity are necessary on the commercial level as well but the key difference is that commercial breweries do not just make beer. They sell beer. That is something that Blue Tape realized early on. We don't yet have a brewery to make beer, so we are doing everything we can to sell beer that doesn't yet exist. This website, our social media pages, our business cards, any promotional item we produce, are meant to sell this brand and its theoretical beer. But where does that leave creativity?

Legally speaking, any pilot batches we brew for recipe testing are home brew. Undiluted Creativity. More often than not, we brew a version of a beer that we have started calling "Aurelia." Aurelia is Elizabeth's middle name, and also the name of her Grandmother. It's also delicious beer. The recipe for this beer has much more resembled a process rather than codified list of ingredients. I think we have brewed the exact same version maybe twice; there are always subtle differences to make this the ideal version of the initial idea.

That initial idea was simple. At the time, my two favorite styles were American Amber Ale and Saison. On a basic level, we took the grain bill from an Amber, combined it with traditional Saison bittering and aroma hops and fermented it with Belgian Saison yeast (if I recall, Belgian was chosen over French because the French are assholes). Pretty simple. The first time Aurelia was brewed I think it was just called "Amber Saison." But it almost didn't even become beer. The Belgian Saison yeast is notoriously finicky and stops fermenting halfway through its process. It will start again given time and a rise in temperature, but I needed to try this beer sooner so we added a more behaved French Saison strain (preconceived notions of the French were put aside). It yielded a delicious beer. Was not quite amber enough though. So the grain bill was modified and on a whim a small quantity of the ever popular Citra hops were added for some irresistible tropical notes. French Saison remained the yeast of choice and its peppery spice and citrus qualities played incredibly well with the spike of Citra. These yeast characteristics are amplified by warmer fermentations, so this beer has been allowed to freely ferment at ambient room temperature for subtle flavors, but it has also been fermented in an attic at the height of summer for more pronounced flavors. Over the next brews, various caramel malts were added in various quantities to strike a balance with a varying hopping schedule to provide the perfect bitter edge and subtle earthy aromatics. The creativity never stops. 

All of that said, this beer is still just a concept. We hope that it will become our flagship ale someday, but ultimately that will be determined by our guests. Aurelia is a beer we brewed because it is the beer we want to drink. But someday this will be beer for selling as much as it is beer for drinking. 

On a meta note, I'd like to do more posts of this nature that sort of lay out the creative process behind developing various beers. Depending on feedback, they could be more or less technically detailed, focus more on what goes through our heads when conceptualizing a new beer or discuss flavors and aromas at length.

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Startup. Eleven. Pivot.

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Startup. Eleven. Pivot.

It's safe to say that we knew exactly what we wanted to do when we were based in Central Illinois. The idea that is Blue Tape Brewing was perfectly formed for that market. The Lowcountry is fundamentally different. We are in an interesting place both geographically and temporally in the history of craft brewing. Breweries opening now, including BTB are regarded as third wave craft brewers. This is by far the largest mass opening of breweries in the short history of American craft brewing. It's definitely getting to the point where there is a fear of reaching a saturation point. This fear has definitely crossed my mind as well but it's also important for all brewers to look beyond that such that it does not become a self fulfilling prophecy. The question necessarily becomes, what needs to be done to ensure that we enter the market in an appropriate and needed way.

Central Illinois was underserved in terms of quality and quantity of locally produced beer. It was our goal to provide an improved experience by being the most popular watering hole in town. We would provide great beer and somewhere to have a bite that wasn't a national chain, something desperately lacking from Bloomington-Normal. The South Carolina Lowcountry is different. There are no shortage of breweries here. By my last count, just under 20 with another dozen or so in planning, Blue Tape included. That is lot of people making beer. And the good news is that there are no shortage of bars or restaurants in which to wholesale beer to. What is concerning however, is that this is not necessarily a mature beer market. No doubt it's on its way up but thus far it has been tough to read.

Now I should be careful here. After all, this is going to be read by potential consumers in the Lowcountry, but it has been my impression that Charleston is just at the beginning of its history in craft beer. And as such, the quality is not what it will be. This is true for new breweries anywhere. It takes a while to get things dialed in on a given system. And of course this will be the case for us as well. For now, I view this as a race to quality which will only be further driven by new breweries opening.

As underserved as Central Illinois was, we were also a two hour drive away from Chicago, one of the most distributed to beer markets in the world. Beyond distribution, it seems like a new brewery opens in Chicagoland at least once a month. This was a driver behind creativity and quality, but Chicago is also a very mature market in terms of beer to the point where it seems impossible to open a restaurant in Chicago and not have 10 beers on draft. Now by no means am trying to correlate Charleston to Chicago in any other way than the nature in which beer will unfold here. It's just going to happen a lot faster here due to the inundation of new breweries and the smaller size of the population. This is going to become a beer town QUICK. And we realize that we can't play the same game we were going to in Illinois and as such we are in the process of pivoting.

The core motivations that drive us will not change at all. Our flagship beer will not change at all. The way we present ourselves will not change at all. However, the way we make it to market is likely going to shift drastically. Would it be nice to be the most popular watering hole in town? Absolutely. But that is a lot harder to measure here. I'd like to move in a direction where we are the best for our specific market segment. What that exactly is will be revealed as this pivot continues.

This is no more our market today that it was yesterday as it is no more our collective brand anymore than it is the next brewers. This brand is Craft and it is all of ours to improve, protect and to enjoy.

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Head Retention. One. Shakeout?

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Head Retention. One. Shakeout?

So this is something new that I wanted to try. A few people have encouraged me to go a little further with this blog, so I have decided to do just that. "Head Retention" will represent an editorial outlet where I may speak on a variety of beer related topics. At times, these entries may involve something Blue Tape related, but it is really meant to be a window into the larger industry. The views expressed will solely be mine and there is no reason to take them seriously. Jump off from here and form your own opinions. The direction and format of this series is yet to be determined so it will likely evolve over time. For now, it will be located within the Blog tab of the website, but it may be relocated to its own tab, or if it takes off I may move it to a different site entirely (big dreams). 

Why the name? "Head Retention" refers to the ability of a beer to maintain a nice foamy top. Among carbonated beverages, this quality is unique to beer. Sparkling wine, cider, soft drinks are all certainly bubbly, but they do not display head retention as a beer does. Without going into to much detail, beer is capable of doing largely due to the presence of dissolved proteins and dissolved hop oils which provide a physical structure for CO2 to resides. Other carbonated beverages lack these characteristics. In the case of these editorials "Head Retention" refers to all of the thoughts that are stuck in my brain. The things I ponder while showering, cycling, serving tables or just otherwise going about my day. This is their outlet. Let's get started.

It is widely accepted that craft beer as we know it started in the mid 1980s. Many of these early craft breweries (not known by that moniker at the time) are still around making delicious beer to this day. Sierra Nevada, Anchor,  and Boston Beer are practically household names, but for one reason or another, not all of the first wave craft breweries were as successful. In the early years some merely faded away, others closed due to quality issues, others were purchased by larger non-craft brewers and dissolved. But towards the end of the 90s and into the early 2000s, craft beer saw a huge shakeout. Very suddenly, more breweries were closing than opening. Quality fell and entire brands disappeared. By the mid 2000s, the number of operating breweries dropped to just under 1500 (still a huge improvement over less than 100 just 20 years prior). Since this dip in the curve, the craft brewing industry has recovered in a big way. At the end of 2015, there were 4,225 craft breweries operating in the US. It is estimated that 2 breweries are opening everyday.

Many in the industry believe that another shakeout is coming. This time around it will not be due to quality. The industry has come a long way since Ken Grossman pieced together Sierra Nevada out of old dairy and soft drink equipment. Entire industries parallel craft beer to provide the best possible brewing equipment, raw ingredients and testing devices. There is no excuse for bad beer. The shakeout will not be due to lack of consumer education. Discerning palates will seek out the beers they want. More than ever there is a need of the craft beer drinker to seek out the best and the freshest. The accessibility and anti-elitism of craft beer only serves to bolster this drive, and as it continues, bland and boring "macro" beers will continue to lose market share.

The concern now is saturation. Are there too many breweries opening? Maybe. With two opening every day it can be hard to keep up (Since I moved to Charleston 3 WEEKS AGO, I've noticed 2 more that weren't here when I was packing my UHaul). All of these new breweries WILL be successful if they can make outstanding beer, find a niche, and more importantly have a presence that is more than just "Hey, we make an IPA," or "Come have a beer at our taproom." It's getting the market recognize your brand not only for its quality, but for the experience and the feel that surrounds it. A memorable identity. It is getting harder and harder to make something new in regard to beer. Almost everything has been done before and there is likely someone out there doing it better. So presence and identity will be critical to survive as a brewery in the current environment.

Then again, maybe a shakeout isn't coming. Pick a grocery store anywhere  and I guarantee I can name at least 5 beers in their cold case that aren't "macro." Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, Lagunitas, New Belgium, Ballast Point. Compared to the larger global brewers, those breweries are still small, but they are also ubiquitous. That is something that will likely change with more and more small breweries opening. This may be less of a shakeout and more of an intense regionalism developing. Where there used to be several national brands on the shelf, perhaps there will be a handful of regional or even locally produced beers. Instead of going to the local pub to have an IPA brewed 2,000 miles away, maybe there will be more of a push to actually try a local sour or farmhouse ale, and actually go to its source for enjoyment. 

That was essentially a very long way of expressing my doubts about this coming shakeout. In 1873 there were as many breweries as there are today, but the population was a tenth of what it is today. A growing number of breweries will continue to be supported as long as quality, consistency, and identity are the top priority. Yes, breweries will close, but it will not be due to a bubble bursting. The Brewers Association has a goal for craft beer to hold 20% beer market share by 2020. It's going to take more than 4,000 small breweries to do that. Get ready for more.

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Startup. Ten. Exodus.

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Startup. Ten. Exodus.

So a lot of our fans and our followers already know, and for those that don't, this may come as a little bit of a shock. As of two weeks ago, Blue Tape Brewing relocated to Charleston, South Carolina. This was part calculated strategy and part wanderlust. I was lucky enough to call Bloomington-Normal my home for 11 years, Elizabeth for 6 years. Leaving McLean county was a very challenging thing to do, but it was ultimately the right move to make for the success of this business. It also is providing Lizz and I with fresh perspective on how to approach this thing. 

By no means were we stagnating in Bloomington, but at a certain point we stopped moving forward with any sort of meaningful pace. In part, that may be due to the fact that we made the decision to move in early March, we just didn't know when the move would take place. At that point, it seemed a waste of time to focus any more efforts into this brewery for the McLean County Market. I should clarify however that no part of me believes that McLean County is a waste of time. If anything it is the opposite. It is reasonable to assume that in less than 5 years, McLean County could be the most exciting place for beer in Illinois outside of Chicagoland. If my count is correct, we would have been 1 of 5 breweries in the county (2 of which are currently in operation). The surrounding areas in Illinois have their breweries, sure, but the ones currently operating and those in planning are not just breweries for the sake of being a brewery. They are true evangelists for this larger brand we call Craft Beer. A phenomenal population of home brewers, beer enthusiasts and a number of excellent beer bars will ensure that important things are going to happen with craft beer in McLean County. Part of me will always think we should not have left (then again, snow. There, I said it).

There are a lot of strings attached with this move. Our business plan was tailored to a very specific part of Central, Illinois. Charleston sits in a region of South Carolina referred to as "The Lowcountry". As I type this, I am sitting about 10 feet above sea level. Pretty low. South Carolina, and therefore The Lowcountry, is not an awesome place to start a brewery. Illinois has its problems, but over all, not a terrible place to start a brewery. South Carolina by my estimation is about 20 years behind in brewery culture. Full strength beer became legal only 11 years ago. Limited tap room sales became legal shortly after that. Self-distribution does not exist. The excise tax on a barrel of beer is almost punitive. This is where we CHOSE to relocate our brewery. Now the good news. The culture of Food and Beverage in this town is outstanding. Besides the occasional Subway or Starbucks, you just don't see that many restaurant chains here. Local food is done well and it is done everywhere around here. I see the same happening for beer, but it will be an uphill battle.

There are about a dozen breweries and brewpubs operating in the Lowcountry. There are about three-quarter million people in the immediate metro area. More breweries are going to open and I'm excited that we are going to be one of them. But what is most exciting is that we will be part of a movement to bring this larger brand that is Craft Beer to prominence in the Lowcountry.  On the macro level, this will involve beer evangelism to affect a cultural shift, lobbying for more accommodating legislation, and making a lot of good beer. On a micro level, we are going to have to analyze where we will fit in this market. The business plan will have to be largely re-written, a new niche will need to be identified, and we will have to make a lot of good beer. Realistically we have been set back at least a year, but I am more excited about this project than ever.

We will never forget everything our former community taught us. Both of us graduated from ISU, both of developed a love of craft beer while working at Medici, both of us were completely supported by our many friends and colleagues in Bloomington-Normal. When this thing finally gets off the ground and we are comfortable with our local distribution, McLean County will be the next market that we penetrate. Without what we gained there, we would be nothing.

This is not "Goodbye;" this is "See you next time."

Stay Tuned.

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Startup. Nine. Market Research.

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Startup. Nine. Market Research.

We've been doing a lot of research around here. I suppose for me, this is one of the more fun parts of starting a business. Research is basically what my BS is in. I'm not bad at it. History must be researched with hindsight and professional objectivity (or not, depending on who you ask it may or may not matter) and politics must be researched in the context of current trends and where those trends may end up. It's a little Getting out in the field and doing research. It's a little bit of both with beer and brewing, and of course it takes its many forms.

Books are a huge resource. The Brewer's Associations publishing arm has put out an incredible breadth of literature covering everything from beer history to practical brewing techniques, and that's just one publisher of dozens that are putting out phenomenal beer information. Currently, I only read one beer periodical which is BeerAdvocate; I find it presents a balanced and wide reaching view of the current state of beer around the country. Beyond print, the internet is omnipresent in the current discussion of all things beer. Brewbound, Craft Brewing Business , and The Brewer's Association , just to name a few, feature up to date happenings in the craft beer community. Beer is also covered by the more mainstream media as well from Bloomberg to USA Today. At the opposite end of the "mainstream" spectrum, countless bloggers, message boards and even reddit are great sources of information. It all comes together as a powerful tool that is easily accessed and contains all of information necessary to start a brewery. But that's not what this is about.

All the reading in the world is no comparison for practical research. Now, this can be as simple as strolling to your nearest beer bar and trying out a few brews, or purchasing a 6 pack for home consumption. The key is not to drink beer so much as it is to taste beer. Solid sensory analysis. Sensory analysis is great, but we need more than that. We know what kind of beer we like, we know the beer we want to brew, so the research we focus on when we aren't reading or tasting is more destination based. 

Researching breweries and brewpubs can be either deliberate or opportunistic. It seems that I have been traveling more than usual lately. For the most part, these are social trips to see friends or family. But if I find myself in an area where there are breweries I haven't seen before, I make it a point to at least make an appearance. This is opportunistic research. I guess this could be considered pleasure with a little bit of business. Other times, I may travel with the express purpose of seeing what other breweries in a given locale are up to. This is the closest we come to a "Business Trip" in this early phase. The intent is of course to learn as much as we can, but due to the nature of this industry, these events are invariably enjoyable. It's about more than consumption. Sure, beers are had (perhaps more than the recommended dosage at times), but you have to go about this in a certain way in order to gain anything meaningful out of it. In order to glean new ideas from those breweries that came before us. 

Like many patrons who enter a brewpub or a taproom, I start the journey by glancing at the draft list. I'm terrible at this, I give it a cursory look at best. I take in what styles they have and usually order an IPA to start. Jumpstart the palate. I might lack initial attention to detail in regard to what is on draft, but I am taking a detailed look at everything else. Layout; decor; their graphic design scheme; how many draft handles there are vs how many are pouring beer; the neighborhood this place is in; where the brewhouse is in relation to the taproom; where the coldbox is in relation to the draft faucets; do they have a kitchen? What's the bathroom like? Is food available otherwise through a third party food truck or platform? Is there merchandise readily available? Growlers or crowlers? Packaged beer? It's 2 in the afternoon, what is the guest traffic like through here? Do the bartenders and servers know their product? This is a mere sampling of everything that is going through my head as I'm judging the shit out of my colleagues. Most importantly, do these factors I'm analyzing add up to success, or at least a perception of success. How did they achieve this? I'm halfway through my first beer now and I give the menu a more detailed look. Order my second beer, probably a double IPA or some off-the-wall sour.

And now the breaking point. Is the beer good? The atmosphere, the location, the food, the everything else might be perfect, but ultimately the beer has to be outstanding. 4,000 breweries and counting. The beer has unquestionably awesome. Fortunately, it seems like most others in this industry have done their research as well. There is a lot of great beer out there. Sure, this market research is about finding great beer, but it is even more about finding the ideal way to present great beer. While the right look won't save a crappy brew, the best beer won't be successful without the right look. It's no secret that part of Blue Tape's success will be the brand that it builds before you ever taste our first commercial beer. As much as we are developing and perfecting our beers, our market research is about the best possible way to present them. That's something I can't fully understand by reading a book.

 

 

Photo: The research team with Kevin Lemp, Founder of 4 Hands Brewery in St. Louis

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Startup. Eight. The Beer We Want To Drink.

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Startup. Eight. The Beer We Want To Drink.

Well, we made it through the holidays and unsurprisingly got very little accomplished in December with the 5 or so Christmases we attended. But it's been an interesting January. Without going in to too much detail and without being too long winded, an opportunity has been presented to us that if taken, would set us on a trajectory that would get our brewpub open faster than we could have previously imagined. That opportunity has led to several weeks of consultation to determine the best way to do things here. What it has led us to is that we want to brew the beer we want to drink.

In BeerAdvocate Magazine, every month there is an article titled "9 Steps to Beerdom" in which a different brewery owner or brewmaster is interviewed each month. And through the over 3 years I've been reading this magazine, you see a pattern emerge. These brewers aren't brewing what they think other people will like, they are brewing what they will like. And on its face this may seem a little selfish and a poor business model. But time and time again, it works because this is how innovation happens, and it turns out people buy into it and support it.

So the way I see it, you can have a beer list that looks one of two ways. You can run down the Beer Judge Certificate Program style guidelines and brew a beer to exact spec for all the classic styles in that guide, and that's fine. Good beer will be made. But people have already had that beer. It's the industry standard for a reason (I should be fair here and state that the BJCP has come a long way in the past 7 years and currently reflects both classic and modern interpretations of style, but allow me to continue). This menu will likely feature an Irish Red Ale, a Hefeweizen, a Brown Ale, a Blond Ale, and maybe a conservative IPA. This is the list that is brewed for other people. Beer that a brewer thinks the consumer wants.

Or we can do it the second way. We can brew the beer we want to drink. Some of these beers may fall in line with the BJCP guidelines; many will likely not. This menu has two pale ales that are nothing alike; two IPAs, one of which will make you question why you haven't been drinking IPAs; a couple of interpretations of farmhouse ale; a fruited blond ale for the ladies; and a big ol' stout. And that's this month, who knows what's on tap next month. This is aggressive beer list. You're not going to find any beers like this at Chili's. But that's the point. We brew the beers we want to drink because deep down we know that people are going to try them, and they are going to like them. And it's going to keep them coming back for more. 

I think as a society, we are kind of over the national chains. Living in Bloomington-Normal, you might not be able to see that. But there are waves of change coming that shun the formulaic and embrace the original. This is evident more than anywhere in the brewing industry. Breweries in the United States now number over 4,000, the vast majority of these being locally owned and operated never-seen-before entities.  This country is embracing craft beer. It harkens back to a time when things were actually made with quality in the US. We want to make something with our hands and this really seems like the best way to do it. We want to bring more good beer to our community, so we want to do so in the most original way possible. By making it ourselves.

Brewing the beer we want to drink is about more than the beer though. It's about the concept as a whole, how we think it should be developed and executed. These are things like what colors the walls are going to be, the type of tables and chairs we have, what our draft tower looks like, what is on our dining menu, what type of music we play, the art we feature. I guess you could describe the larger vision for all of these things as "trendy," but I think that is the direction the larger food and beverage industry is heading. The brewpub segment within that industry is already there. That's where we need to be. I think there are people out there who think that a brewpub is meant to be a high-end sports bar with a brewery attached. We are meant to be a brewery with a kitchen attached. A place where people can come and have a few awesome beers with family and friends, and talk about those beers and how awesome or crappy their day was and they forget that the Chilis' of the world exist.

We have a great opportunity in front of us, and if we go for it, we are going to make sure that we do this the way we want to do it. It's cheesy, but we are chasing the American Dream here. We are a couple of people who don't have deep pockets but we have a vision that we believe is going to make this community a better place. And by bringing the right people together under the right circumstances we are going to make it happen. But we aren't going to compromise ourselves to the point that Blue Tape Brewing becomes something we had never intended it to be. It's going to be something we are proud of, something our kids (later than sooner hopefully) can be proud of, something this community can be proud of. We are going to brew the beer we want to drink. 

 

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Startup. Seven. A Brewing Company With No Brewery.

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Startup. Seven. A Brewing Company With No Brewery.

So I was talking to my business partner earlier this week, and it was very apparent that I have not written a blog post in quite some time. Which is somewhat problematic, because this blog is more or less the most significant window into what is going on with Blue Tape. Elizabeth and I know the direction we are going, but it is often hard to express that to people on an individual basis. We are sort of in this strange limbo period where seemingly, nothing is happening. 

Two weeks ago, I finished writing the draft our business plan. As alluded to in a previous post, it's its the greatest story I ever told. It is the fully conceptualized vision of everything we are working towards. Now, Elizabeth will proof it, I will make any corrections, and then it will be vetted by a number of third parties. A consultant will look over our financial model to ensure that we aren't overlooking anything. (Side Note:  Our financial model is a dozen or so pages of spreadsheets that flow in this sort of beautiful progression of practical projections. The numbers look good even with low-end projections, and that is terrifying. I am a little concerned that there is a cell that was missed somewhere and its just going to make everything collapse when we find it. Thankfully, we know professionals.) Everything we hope to accomplish is in this document, and once it is completely refined, we will begin the fundraising process.

In the meantime, we are brewing company with no brewery. And I'm oddly okay with that.

Last week, we shared a Brewbound story on our Facebook page that stated the number of breweries in this country has reached an all-time high of 4,144. The previous high was reached in 1873 when there were 4,131 breweries in operation. Prohibition, consolidation, and dilution of tastes saw this number drop to a low of less than 100 in the 1970s. Now, there are an average of 2 breweries opening per day in this country, meaning that by the time Blue Tape opens its doors, over 1,000 more breweries will have opened. Luckily, this is an industry of collaboration, not competition, so 1,000 breweries represent 1,000 more reasons why we will all succeed. Our collective brand is craft, and we all own it. 

For now, we are doing everything we can to ensure that Blue Tape will be the best representative it can be for this brand that all craft brewers own. Sure, the business plan is all but done and we can't brew beer, but there is still a lot that we are doing. Things that will impact long term success. We don't want to open this dream and not be prepared, so everything that we can do now we are doing. Blue Tape Brewing LLC's world headquarters is also our condo. It is the office that is currently producing systems that will be put into place on May 31st, 2017. 

All the boring things you don't even think twice about when you start working at a place are being developed right now. From job descriptions for hourly employees, to a training program, to standard operating procedures for the brewery and taproom- we are getting that all out of the way right now. Sure, there will still be a learning curve once they are put into practice, but we have an excellent jumpstart. Yes, this is our dream. Yes, it's a really cool dream. Yes, it's a brewery. But first and foremost, it is a business and we will not lose sight of that. This practical side of things is incredibly important, but there is also the creative side that ensures we don't lose our sanity.

We are conceptualizing the products that we will be selling as well. Developing a taproom food menu has been fun, and without going into to much detail, from-scratch tortillas are one of the most amazing culinary products i have ever experienced. Obviously, we think about beer a lot as well. What is our core selections of brews going to look like? How will we drum up hype about seasonal releases? What are we going to name all of these things? What do we want the flavor profiles to be like? What will our guests want? These are all questions that we are trying to work through now such that we are fully prepared when the time comes. All the parts of a brewery that you can't see are being completed during this time. You can't see them, but in a lot of ways they are the most important part of the operation. It takes a long time to open a brewery, it seems like a lot of waiting and not doing anything, but there is always something going on behind the scenes until the day the strike water hits the grain for the first time.

So on the surface, nothing is happening. Right after I left the farm-to-table group, a good friend of mine asked me where he could buy some of my beer. Well, you can't yet. These things take forever. Sure, it's frustrating to us and our potential clientele that we are a brewing company from which you cannot purchase beer. But this is because we want that first beer to be memorable in the most positive way imaginable. And a lot of that is accomplished behind the scenes.

We are no longer in the middle of the end of the beginning. This is the end of the end of the beginning (Are you still with me? Even I'm a little confused.) There will be a few more posts about what is going on in the background, but after that, this blog will become more frequent and more exciting. The turning point is coming where we stop conceptualizing and start putting nails into wood and hops into a kettle. Thanks for being here with us. 

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Startup. Six. The More I learn, The Less I Know.

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Startup. Six. The More I learn, The Less I Know.

So it's been a while, and honestly it's not because I've been doing nothing. Since my last post to this blog in August, the "speculative non-fiction" portion of the business plan has neared completion, our financial plan has started to be fleshed out and we even made some home brew. And I have been reading. A lot. I have a bit of an obsession with purchasing books on Amazon. Sometimes they pile up before I can read them all, so I've been playing a little bit of catch-up. And it's not just books, it's magazines and Reddit and beer news sites. There has been a lot going on in the past two months or so. (AB InBev and SABMiller, Ballast Point's IPO, Heineken and Lagunitas, etc.) It's a lot to take in. For the most part, the beer news doesn't really affect what we are trying to accomplish, it's just nice to know what context you are existing in. What does get to me though, is the practical knowledge in all of these books.

Thirty years ago, there was very little written down about starting your own brewery or technical craft brewing practices. When Jack McAuliffe started the New Albion Brewery in Sonoma in the mid-seventies, not only did he begin operating the first modern-era craft brewery in the US, he just sort of did it. He didn't have an instruction book, he just figured it out. And then Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing came along, and then Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada, Tony Magee of Lagunitas, Steve Hindy and Tom Potter of The Brooklyn Brewery, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Kim Jordan of New Belgium. These are just a few of the people that came before. And they figured out how to do this thing we want to do with very little literature of how to do it and with virtually no formal education of how to do it. In their wake, they left all the information we need though.

In a way, they have made it easier. Many of the founders mentioned above have written books, you can literally read how they did it. They have left behind compendiums of their successes and failures to guide aspiring brewers in the right direction. Beyond that there are a number of publications that give step by step instructions on how to open a brewery (I own at least four, and trust me, some are better than others), there are books on how to brew, there are books each dedicated to the four major ingredients (yeast, hops, water and malt), there are books about quality control, there are books about the history of the American Craft beer movement.. the list goes on. And the more of these books I read, the more I realize I don't know shit.

That's actually probably a little extreme. I know plenty about what we are doing. I thought I put a lot of work into researching my capstone thesis in undergrad, but that seems easy now. I have a good understanding of the history of American Craft Beer, I know beer styles in and out, and I'm learning more and more about the nuances of brewing through both theory and practice. But the more I learn, it seems the less I know. Or perhaps it's that I realize there is much more out there. That can be a little discouraging. Being at the very starting stages of this thing and having seemingly come so far and identifying that there is so much more to learn before this thing can become a reality.

As much as it is discouraging to realize this is far from over, to realize there is so much more to do and so much more to digest, it's also sort of reassuring. I never want to know everything there is about brewing, or running a brewery or a taproom, or marketing my beer. I think that is a sure way to fail. If someday I wake up and think I have seen it all or know it all, that is the day we start to fall apart. Part of the very nature of this business is to innovate and always be producing something new and exciting. Something better. Thirty-plus years ago, craft breweries started popping up and since then that number has climbed every year (actually there may have been like one anomalous year in there where the number of breweries actually decreased, hasn't happened before or since) and it's because no one ever knows it all. There is always something new. No one ever seems to finish what they are doing, there is always this "what's next" attitude. 

My excitement always overcomes my discouraged feelings. We can see how they did it at the beginning, now it's time to take all of this knowledge that has been left to us and do it exactly how we want to do it.

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Startup. Five. My Inner Milton Glaser.

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Startup. Five. My Inner Milton Glaser.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Blue Tape Brewing is a brewing company with no brewery. We are an LLC in the State of Illinois, but we have yet to secure a space to brew on a commercial scale. Without that space (and a substantial amount of startup capital), we cannot buy equipment, without equipment and a brewery layout we cannot apply for federal and state licensing, without federal and state licensing we cannot sell any beer. It might seem like a huge problem to be a brewing company that produces no beer. I see it as a huge advantage. At this point in the process, brewing can almost be a distraction. We are blissfully devoid of any responsibility to produce beer, and that gives us all of the time in the world to focus on all of the parts of a brewing company that don't actually involve extracting maltose from barley, boiling it with hops and allowing yeast to turn it alcoholic.

Early on in this venture, even before Blue Tape Brewing was officially a company, back when it was a struggle to even get 5 gallons out of a batch due to hop absorption (actually its amazing the difference a dip tube makes), I started tooling around with some rudimentary label design. Very rudimentary. Produced-in-Microsoft-Word-Rudimentary. But these labels at least gave a tangible identity to a product that disappears as it is enjoyed. I kind of realized at this point that branding this thing called Blue Tape would be of critical importance. 

Steve Hindy is one of the founders of The Brooklyn Brewery. Much of my motivation to form this identity for our brand came from actions he took early in his process. Hindy courted some of the best graphic design firms in New York and after much persistence, ended up with the absolute best. Milton Glaser. Glaser is responsible for some of the most notorious graphic design of the 20th century including the "I Love NY" logo and the design of New York Magazine, and as luck with have it, the "B" logo of The Brooklyn Brewery. And Glaser designed that logo personally, he didn't staff it out. It was a pet project for him and it has become one of the most recognizable brewery logos in the country. That said, we can't afford Milton Glaser, or any graphic design firm for that matter. So I ditched Word and found some easy to use graphic design software and started playing around with a logo.

I didn't go to graphic design school. No one taught me how to do this. I guess I just have an eye for this sort of thing. And I knew it was very important. And it's really less about a logo and more about the look and feel that we want to project as a brewing company. It's identity. It's our face. It's bigger than the logo. The website, our social media pages, our business cards, any printed materials, all needed to display some sort of uniformity. Honestly, it has sort of been unfolding organically.

There have been dozens of versions of the logo you see on our website since we started this thing, many of them virtually unrecognizable compared to what you see everywhere. There have been many a heated conversation between Lizz and I over changes in the logo. It started as a light dusty blue, then it was a brighter royal blue, and now it is what it is. It's not quite the color of actual blue painters tape, but it's a lot more appealing to the eye. Fonts have been somewhat of a source of stress as well. Our consulting design person (Thank you Becca, we owe you beer) helped enlighten me on typefaces. It is minimalistic and uniform across mediums. The font of "Blue Tape" in our logo is the only instance of it being used anywhere in our design repertoire. This makes it impactful and memorable. The word "Brewing" in the logo is the same font that you are reading now for the reason that it is highly visible and easily read. All of the headings on our website are in a font that is repeated on our business cards and will appear on our beer labels when they are designed. This all comes together into the visual side of our brand. Other aspects of our brand are still being built, but for the time being we have defined how our graphic presence is going to be. 

Will the "Blue Tape Brewing" logo be as iconic as Glaser's "I Love NY" logo? Almost certainly not, but it's a start. And like everything else about this company, it is something that we were able to do ourselves. It's another thing that we were able to develop early. So we are going to keep doing non-brewing things and eventually we are going to run out of these non-brewing things and that is our motivation and it's so exciting.

 

Photo: A very early Blue Tape label. Credit Sam Evans of Ale Syndicate

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Startup. Four. The Greatest Story I Ever Told.

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Startup. Four. The Greatest Story I Ever Told.

Creating a business plan is the process writing down every thing you hope to accomplish someday, why you are going to do it, and how you are going to do it. And all of this with the hopes of acquaintances and strangers reading it. And hopefully everything you hope to accomplish someday is interesting enough for them to write you a check so that you can make it happen.

It's kind of funny, when I was in college I spent untold hours writing untold numbers of double-spaced pages about things that happened in the past while providing a convincing argument of why they happened the way they did, with the goal of getting a piece of paper to hang on the wall (oh, I finally found it. It was underneath the printer. Oh! Lizz's is here too!). Now I'm spending untold hours writing untold number of single space pages about things that are going to happen in the future while providing a convincing argument of how we are going to get to that future (The font you are reading this in is "Futura," as is the font of the business plan. Mind Games). 

Dick Cantwell, founder of Elysian Brewing Company (he left after they were purchased by ABI) and current Quality Ambassador of The Brewers Association describes a business plan as "Speculative Non-Fiction" and "It is a creative work, to be sure, and it needs to be gripping and entertaining, evocative and inviting, but it also needs to display seriousness and understanding, to engage the analytical and not just the narrative reader." In this way, writing a business plan is like conveying the greatest story I ever told. Speculative non-fiction might as well be fiction. It hasn't happened yet, no one knows if it ever will happen. It's just a well put together idea. However, if this idea is not put on paper in detail, it is likely that it will never happen. And it is certainly not just a tool to raise capital for startup. The deeper Lizz and I get in to writing this document, the more we realize that it is as much for us as it is for potential investors.

When we formed Blue Tape Brewing LLC, it's not that we thought the next steps were going to be easy or that we could glaze over them, but at that time I feel like we both thought all of the answers were already inside of us. I remember Lizz saying that we could just sit down and finish our business plan in a day. Yeah, not so much. Here we are 6 months after our company was formed and we are still writing this thing. But by no means is that a bad thing. A lot of people argue that college isn't so much about the content you are learning, but the process of learning itself. You teach yourself to find the answers no matter what. That and the partying and drinking and shitty diet. I think that's more what writing this thing is about. It's about teaching ourselves the process of running a business. We are learning this new process of how to start working for ourselves. No one is telling us what to do, we are just figuring out how to do it.

Analyzing every detail over and over again is interesting when the details are only concepts of physical constructs. We are writing this whole thing without even knowing exactly what type of space we are going to be in. There is an idea of what we want our tables and chairs to look like, but until we have space, until we have those tables and chairs, who knows if they are actually what we imagined. So we have this perfect idea of how everything is going to be. But we can't be sure if that's perfect until it actually happens. The beer is good now when we brew it on the small scale, but how will it be when we are making it in batches that are 10 times the size they are now. How will we address these potential problems? By writing one hell of an awesome business plan. We explore every contingency from every direction right now, while it's still just an idea. Essentially, we know everything about what we are going to do before we even do it. That is what this process is about. Maybe the chairs aren't perfect. We have a backup plan. Maybe the beer doesn't taste the way it did when it was brewed in our apartment. We know someone who can help us fix that.

Two weeks ago, I hit some serious writer's block on this piece of Speculative Non-Fiction that is a business plan. Couldn't think of anything else to write although I had sections that were entirely blank. Didn't feel like researching anything else. It felt like finishing it was going to be impossible. So I started running the numbers instead, and I found myself strangely encouraged by what was in front of me. And then I brewed some beer and was reminded why we are writing this thing to begin with. To do what we love for the rest of our lives. This is a difficult task, but it's also a useful one. Without it, there will never be any of our own beer. 

I asked Lizz a while ago "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" She hated that. That quotation makes it seem like you need luck to make things like this happen. But it's not luck, it's unbridled passion. We know we are going to succeed. And when we do, it is because we spent the time, we did the research, we did the leg work, and we did it all ourselves. 

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Startup. Three. The Middle of the End of the Beginning.

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Startup. Three. The Middle of the End of the Beginning.

So I think since we ever started dating, Lizz and I wanted to start our own business. It's something that's in our blood. I guess its part not wanting to work for other people and part wanting to build something that we can be proud of. Something that will leave our mark on this world. Long before we ever even had the inkling of the concept for Blue Tape Brewing, we wanted to start a brewpub. In the early days of our relationship, it seemed like it was just a dream-- that nothing would every come out of it.

As my career path shifted several times, there were times when I completely forgot this is what we were supposed to be doing. The frustration with what I was doing to pay the bills became impossibly distracting, but then I found a job I actually liked, and thats where the name was forged. Blue Tape Brewing. People seemed to respond to the name with enthusiasm so we saw no reason not to move forward. In November of 2014 I was once again frustrated with my job because I had little to no time to work on Blue Tape. Thats when we sat down and gave ourselves a timeline. We wanted to be open in 30 months. 2.5 years. I started reading like crazy. Business Books. Brewing Books. Brewing Business books. Books on how to start your own brewery. Since November I have read more books than I did in 4.5 years of college. 

So I had time to read, but I still didn't feel I could effectively draft anything resembling a business plan with how much effort I was putting in to my full time job. So instead, we took care of what we could. I purchased a DSLR camera to document the whole process (all of the photos on this website are taken with a Canon Rebel SL1). I started tooling around with logo design so that our company could be easily identified (the logo as you see it now has gone through about 10 different versions and is still changing, but thats a blog on its own). Lizz started drafting the outline of our business plan. And then, one freezing cold day in February, Lizz dragged me out of bed at the outrageous hour of 10am with all of the enthusiasm in the world saying "let's go start a company." Several weeks later, we had articles of organization for Blue Tape Brewing LLC.

But then we hit a stall, big time. We both got promoted. Even less of our free time could be devoted to this endeavor. When Steve Hindy and Tom Potter started the Brooklyn Brewery, they were both holding down full-time jobs. At a certain point, they realized that one of them was going to have to leave their job to focus on raising money to get their own company off the ground. After much consideration, it was determined that I was going to leave. I'll spare most of the details (separation did not go as planned), but in May of 2015 I successfully stopped being the General Manager of a restaurant group. That said, I'm still running a full time job, still in the same industry, just as a bartender. More of my time can be focused on Blue Tape Brewing. Since executing the decision to separate, this company developed more in 6 weeks than it did in the previous 6 months and we are continuing to push forward. Our business plan is roughly half done, we are becoming more active in social media, and our website continues to grow.

 

* * *

 

We are members of a young industry. Although beer itself is thousands of years old, the American craft beer revolution only started a few decades ago. Since then, there have been periods of rapid growth, there have been shakeouts where a large number of breweries close, there have been collaborations, there have been lawsuits-- but there has always been good beer. There will continue to be good beer. Recently, Larry Bell (Founder of Bell's Brewery Inc.) was quoted saying "Here’s my line about the current situation: We are in the middle of the end of the beginning of craft beer. All the pioneers who started it off are getting older, and they have to look at an exit strategy." This is the environment in which we exist. We are starting in a time where our founding fathers with names like Maytag, Grossman, and Koch have been doing this for over 30 years. We are a new generation of craft brewer and its super exciting to be a part of it. At the same time, Bell's quote holds a double meaning for us. Blue Tape Brewing is also in the middle of the end of the beginning. We are still very much a startup, but now we are more capable than ever. We will leave our mark on the world, and it's going to be with good beer.

And that concludes the 3 part history of Blue Tape Brewing. We are now back to the present. It's going to be a hell of a ride from here on out.

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Startup. Two. Backword.

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Startup. Two. Backword.

As a guy with a history degree, I think it is important to gain as much context as possible as to how we got where we are today. I spent 4 years of my life analyzing and interpreting events that happened in the past. Often from hundreds of years ago, sometimes from just decades ago, it was my job to explore the facts, draw conclusions, and present a convincing argument as to how and why things are the way based on what happened in the past. At the time, I did this with the intent of finishing a Bachelors Degree (it's around here somewhere). Now, I present my own brief history to you to illustrate how and why Blue Tape Brewing came to be. Here is the context of this startup existing in my life. This is the Backword. 

After completing the 4 or so years of History studies (with a second major in politics), I decided to enter graduate school for Politics in the Fall of 2010. Seemed like a great idea at the time since I really didn't know how to be anything except a student. Upon starting graduate studies, it did not take long for me to realize that I wanted little to do with politics be it on a professional or academic level. I remember there was this sign hanging in the restaurant where I held a summer job during undergrad. It said "Don't tell my mother I'm a politician, she thinks I play the piano at the local bordello." That's about where my sentiments were. 

Around the same time, my buddies and I were throwing around ideas for this almost biopic-like film about working in restaurants (working title was "I found God face down in the middle of Main St." True story, although not about me). Think of it as a gritty version of "Waiting." I even started typing up a screen play. The opening scenes depicted the three protagonists as they woke up to their individual stresses in life. The character based on myself was stressed out about grad school and the 200 or so students that were under him during his assistantship. Constant nagging emails, hundreds of papers to grade, all to the back ground of graduate coursework and a 30 hour per week bartending job. Enter the quarter-life crisis. 

I talked through it with my mom first. We determined that I was only happy when I was working-- when I was in a restaurant. Surely that's something I could do for myself someday, own and operate my own restaurant. I had no firm concept at the time, just a drive to start a restaurant. I conferred with my aforementioned buddies who agreed that is something they would be interested in as well. So we threw around ideas of what our restaurant would be like. The next week I left grad school (oddly enough, really easy to do. Sign a half page form, see you never again). Our plans to open a place with my would-be business partners never got farther than a couple of meetings. However, I suddenly had a lot more free time without school weighing me down anymore, so I was able to pour all of my energy in to working at Medici in Normal. This is a restaurant that you could describe as a New American Beer Bar. 32 rotating craft brews on draft that would help propel me in yet another direction. 

Within months of leaving graduate school, I was managing at Medici during a pivotal time in the restaurant's history. It was a rebranding of sorts. This was invaluable to be a part of first hand. All the while, I had nearly unlimited access to all of these craft beers. Two Brothers, Rogue, Dogfish Head, Green Flash, Stone... the list goes on. Although usually an adjunct lager drinker in undergrad, I had dabbled in Guinness, Blue Moon and the occasional Dead Guy Ale, I was suddenly thrust in to an infinite world of flavor and discovery. During this time I tried to teach myself all that I could about running a restaurant, but I think honestly I taught myself even more about beer. This knowledge turned in to a passion as soon as I brewed my first batch at home. 

As part of an incentive program to place an undisclosed beer on draft, an undisclosed distributor provided us with 2 very nice home-brew kits (undisclosed as the act of quid pro quo deals such as this were in a legal gray area at the time and super-not-above-board these days). I had the pleasure of taking one of them home and then I brewed beer and then I bottled the beer and then I drank the beer and then I needed to know everything there was about making beer. So I read every home-brew book I could get my hands on and brewed more and more beer, quickly making the transition from simple extract brewing to the more complicated all-grain brewing. Soon I was even afforded the opportunity of brewing on a commercial scale at Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery (Flossmoor, IL). Two coworkers and myself traveled to the brewery to make a custom beer for Medici. It was awesome. It was something I had to do permanently. 

Upon our return after that brew day, I suggested in our weekly manager meeting that we somehow install a brewery at the restaurant. We definitely had the space and we had the beginning of the knowledge set necessary to complete such a task. I started researching equipment costs, licensing, what kind of buildout would need to be done. And I kept brewing at home. What was once a driving desire to open my own restaurant became an unbridled passion to start a brewery. And then my employment at Medici abruptly ended. That was September of 2012. 

I spent the better part of the next year working for a couple of beverage alcohol distributors. I didn't brew much, and honestly I hated those jobs worse than grad school. And then I found Station Two Twenty (now Epiphany Farms Restaurant). I started in an entry level position, but quickly convinced them that they needed a Beverage Coordinator, and that it needed to be me. I spent the next two year transforming what was a fairly basic cocktail and beer list in to something to be talked about (the wine list was in pretty good shape. Actually I learned A LOT about wine in a very short amount of time, but I'm not starting a winery so it's not especially relevant).

Some where in there, I started brewing again too. My bosses encouraged me to brew more and even let me do so at the restaurant where the BTUs were a little (read: a lot) higher than my apartment. I could brew faster, and clean up was easier in a commercial kitchen. So I brewed more. And I started developing and dialing in recipes.

Working in any sort of commercial kitchen, you have to label any sort of food that is prepared for storage. It's labeled with what it is, when it was made, and who made it. A lot of corporate places use "day-dots" or these fancy lined labels that will dissolve in a commercial dishwasher to label their preparations. Now here is the thing about an extremely chef-driven professional kitchen. They don't believe in these labels. They just buy blue painter's tape and write on it with a black permanent marker. I adopted this practice for labeling hop additions and fermenters. Everything brewing related had blue tape on it. It was the blue tape brewery which quickly became Blue Tape Brewing. 

This was Spring of 2014. And this is effectively the historical context of how and why Blue Tape Brewing exists. Fed up with politics, I left grad school to learn everything I could about the restaurant business and ended up gaining just as much knowledge about beer and a drive to start a brewery (I can also make a mean Old Fashioned now, but I'm not starting a cocktail bar so it's not especially relevant). My brewery suddenly had a name. I definitely did not realize it at the time, but this startup was in its very early phases.

 

 

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Startup. One. Foreword.

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Startup. One. Foreword.

In a lot of ways, the idea for this brewery started in autumn of 2010. Call it my quarter-life crisis. I decided to leave graduate school and further my career in the restaurant industry-- this all with the intent of learning everything I possibly could about it so that I could eventually open my own place. I viewed it as a self directed internship of sorts. Within months of this decision, I was able to transition from just being a server, to bartender, and quickly to front-of-house manager.

At the time, I was working at what is arguably the best beer bar in Bloomington-Normal, IL. So as my knowledge of the restaurant industry grew, my understanding and love of beer also grew. About a year into it, an incentive program run by The Boston Beer Company landed me my first home-brew kit. Instantly hooked. Had to learn everything I could about making beer. Started reading every home-brew book I could get my hands on. Brewed more beer at home. Even got to brew a batch for the bar at a small brewpub in the Chicago Suburbs. My entrepreneurial aspirations suddenly shifted from opening a restaurant to opening a brewpub.

About 6 jobs and 4 years after that quarter-life crisis, an idea that had been on the back burner while my "internship" was completed finally began to gather momentum. My business partner (read: my very motivated and very beautiful life partner, Elizabeth) and I were effectively tired of working for other people. We put a 30 month timeline on getting a brewpub open. May 2017. I started reading even more. We started writing our business plan. In February of 2015 Blue Tape Brewing LLC was organized.

Despite this apparent progress, I felt that things were progressing too slowly. Elizabeth was promoted to store manager in her current job. A short time later, I was promoted to General Manager of the farm-to-table restaurant group where I was previously Beverage Coordinator. This was a position I never had any desire to hold. I made this clear to my superiors and terms of release at the end of 3 months were verbally negotiated. After a month-long panic attack, I decided to cut these terms short and left that company to focus developing my own into something tangible.

This is a blog about the startup of a brewery/pub headquartered in Bloomington, IL. We are two people who own a brewing company that has no brewery. We want to make better beer for our community. This blog will serve as a window into our progress towards pouring our first pint of Aurelia at our yet-to-be-established storefront. We will provide new content on a weekly basis. Surely to the chagrin of our readers and my business partner, but to my delight as a student of history, the next few entries will likely be a more complete history of events that led to Blue Tape Brewing. Following that, updates will follow what is actually happening. 

If you are still reading, thank you. I hope you continue to do so.

"I'm getting to chase what absolutely I'm so passionate about. I've done a lot of things in my short career of working for other people that I did or did not believe in, and now I have the chance to do it exactly how I would do it, and I think that's a rare privilege in our world, and I'm so excited to be going after it." -Branden Miller, Black Shirt Brewing Company. Denver, CO

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