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.