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.