Tuesday, 31 December 2013

So many people...

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” ~ Jon Krakauer

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Good Service...

Good service is most definitely not the easiest thing to find in South Africa.
In general the level of service offered by most South African businesses is pretty shocking. I would say in most cases it is due to incompetent sales staff and employees.

Over the last couple of weeks we have been trying to get some printing done for our upcoming beers. The requests we had were pretty simple... We required a quote for the following: two types of vinyl labels, one type of paper labels with a few variations in the graphics and the die cutter for the paper labels to get the desired shaped... Guess what... One month later and we are back at square one.
None of the quotes we got so far listed the items correctly or in the breakdown we required. Most of the times the quotes took days or weeks just to get to us.
Ah well... We will just go elsewhere. There are many other printing companies in town, but if anybody asks for advice when it comes to printing, one printing shop will never see anyone sent to them by our team.

At least I have something good to say as well this round... One of the other companies we are dealing with is simply superb... They are the guys who print our bottles. A couple of emails, one meeting, a quick inspection when the printing started and the printing was done... They will most definitely see a lot of work from us in the future.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

I guess slow is usually better....

I guess taking things slow is generally the best approach. Well, at least, that is our approach for setting up Gallows Hill Brewing Co.

Taking it slow is not only due to the desire to ensure that we do it once only and correct, but also due to the fact that we are juggling day jobs while going through the motions and red tape to set up a small business. Furthermore, we are taking it slow because it is the way we want to do it.

Setting up a small business, especially a liquor manufacturer & seller, is no easy task. Obtaining liquor licenses for the manufacture and sale is a seriously dragged out and painful process. More detail on this will follow in an upcoming post. In the mean time let's just say the authorities are not going out of their way to assist & promote the creation of small businesses. We are dealing with a case of a lot of talking at the top and very little actually happening on the ground.

Once licensing is in place you have to deal with the South African Revenue Service. If you find the correct person to help you, the whole process is not too painful. There are some issues SARS can work on. Firstly they promote the use of brokers and their entire setup is structured in such a way that you need to pay a third party to help you. Why? My only guess is that they are lazy and like to create unwarranted jobs for their friends and ex colleagues. The second issue they need to work on is "registration packages".... Let me explain: Instead of simply walking in and saying: "Hey. We are starting a brewery / winery / distillery and would like to set up all our tax issues, can you help?" and getting a reply: "Certainly, please fill in forms A, C, D & Z" you have to go through an iterative process. You complete the one step only to find out you should have registered for something else first upon completion... Is it so bloody difficult to set up a more structured approach?
They can certainly learn a lot from our major retail banks.

I am glad to say that all these issues should be concluded by the end of today...

Our bottles are being printed towards the end of the week and if all goes well some of our labels will also be done. All that we are left with then is brewing, experimenting, testing, more brewing and slowly getting bottled beer on the liquor store shelves.

As soon as production, sales and our processes become more stable and refined we will get going on the design and procurement of our proper big-boy brewhouse...

When I get my day job under control again we will tackle construction in the taproom. Personally I am looking forward to have it up and running. Talking & selling beer directly to customers over weekends is always enjoyable.


PS. Our brewery truck went in for restoration yesterday... If all goes to plan it will be the most bad-ass brewery truck in Cape Town !! Watch this space for build updates...

Monday, 12 August 2013

The IPA Hegemony - Sourced from www.communitybeerworks.com

The IPA Hegemony

It’s the first week of the month, meaning it’s time for July’s Session, when beer bloggers get together and talk about a common theme. This month, Justin’s Brew Review is hosting the topic “IPA: What’s the Big Deal?”
sessionFor quite some time now, I’ve been wondering what makes the India Pale Ale (IPA) style of beer so popular. Don’t get me wrong–I thoroughly enjoy it and gladly participate in #IPADay. I’m just wondering, why all the hype? What is it about an IPA that makes craft beer enthusiasts (CBE) go wild? Is it because CBEs want to differentiate craft beer from crap beer? I don’t care if a watered-down pilsener is labeled as “triple-hops brewed”; it wouldn’t satisfy someone looking for an IPA.
The IPA is our best selling beer at retail every week, with exceptions only when we have something new or when people drank everything we made the week before. I’m not going to pretend that I have the answer to why this is, though. I have ideas, but obviously speaking factually about why people like what they like is at best fraught with peril and at worst complete drivel.
This is a blog, though, so let the drivel commence.

They taste good

This is easy, right? It’s pure capitalism: IPAs are a a craft beer favorite because they’re delicious. Cream rises to the top (ironically, above cream ales*).
They can be piney and resinous or tart and full of grapefruit. Like their cousins the pale ale they pair well with pretty much everything: with pizza, falafel, sandwiches or solo, an IPA is never out of its element. I’m a firm believer that all beer is appropriate for all seasons, but chances are even if you like your stouts in winter and your wheats in summer you think an IPA is in a category that never goes out of style.

They’re “advanced”

I have a clear memory of one day early in my journey down the beer rabbit hole. I had picked up a mixed 12 pack of Saranac and opened the pale ale. “Oh!” I said. “This is too bitter for me.”
That is now filed in my memory palace alongside when I thought a school field trip would go to an actual field. You know, for collecting soil samples and stuff.
My point is that I expect few people can jump from 0 to 60 IBUs immediately. It might be a small rite of passage but it’s a rite nonetheless. It’s a consumable shibboleth, and so professing your love of them can show you’re really “one of us.”
This is more subconscious than overt, and I may have pulled it out of thin air**, because nobody has ever asked me for the secret code word before letting me into a tasting. It’s also important to recognize that the inverse isn’t true: if you don’t like IPAs (or hoppy beers generally) it doesn’t mean you don’t love “good”/”real” beer, it means you don’t like IPAs. People are allowed to have opinions, even if they aren’t in agreement with mine (for now). Some people never like hoppy beer because that’s not their thing, and that’s fine. On the whole, though, if someone tries all five of our beers and doesn’t like one of them, it’s The IPA (if they don’t like two, it’s The IPA and Frank, our pale ale).

They have lots of flavor

You might think that I covered this in “They taste good.” I did, but this is another angle.
Take a gander at ratebeer’s top 50 beers. I’ll wait. Now BeerAdvocate.
Notice anything? Like how searching for “imperial” highlights the page like a used textbook? You have to get to #12 on ratebeer’s list before something isn’t “imperial”/”strong”, and then until #29 for a second. BeerAdvocate is slightly more diverse, with a pale ale at #4 and a sour at #10, but on the whole the trend is clear: people like stronger beers better than weaker ones.
(Yes, there are other explanations, like “The people who hang out on beer rating sites like stronger beers” but I’m not trying to publish this in a peer reviewed journal.)
I’m going to say that the alcohol content is a secondary factor here because we’re not a bunch of drunks. If we were we’d buy a bottle of cheap vodka and be done with it. Instead I’d say that, on average, people prefer more flavor to less flavor. A big imperial stout will have rich coffee and dark chocolate and plums and a bit of pleasant wine characteristic, whereas a mild still has plenty to write home about, only more subdued.
This question could just as easily be “why do people order dark roast coffee?” or “why do people put sriracha or Frank’s on everything?” Because subtlety is harder to appreciate, and a mediocre base can turn into a good product with its application. That’s not to say that hoppy/high gravity beers are lazy, but “AND A BUSHEL OF HOPS!!” as your final ingredient will on the whole produce at the very least a decent beer. It’s similar to how light American lagers are technically impressive, even if you don’t like them: off flavors have nowhere to hide.


It turns out that there’s actually some scientific basis to why hops are great. Alex (of Risk fame) did all the legwork on that, though, and plans to write a post of his own. I fully support any excuse to point a finger in the air and yell, “SCIENCE!”

In the end, they taste good

Having gone on for quite a while about subconscious reasons for the love of IPAs, I think it’s important to remember where I started: they’re popular because damn, they’re tasty.
* This is not ironic
** Like all social science***

Sunday, 14 July 2013


So you want to be a brewer, eh?

Late afternoon light, steam heat, and the probable finger cut—it could be almost any day in the brewery. After the grain has been shoveled from the mash tun, after yeast has been pitched, after the farmer has hauled away the trailer, there is water everywhere, and a half hour more of work to do before I can go home. I’d woken up today at 4:30 a.m., it’s now 3 in the afternoon, and

I think I’ll be having a beer while I squeegee the floor towards the drains.

Knee-high boots, I walk into the tasting room of my brewery and am confronted with a familiar sight:

a mid-thirtysomething married couple, all baby bjorned, the wife looking amusedly around at nothing in particular and the bearded husband with the look of a kid who can’t keep a secret.

He can tell by my safety glasses and rubber boots that I’ve got something to do with the beer he’s drinking, and (dammit!) he’s going to find out what.

(I want to be very clear about that fact that I really like people, and I really like talking to them about brewing and beer. Just not after an 11-hour shift, and not when my feet are wet).

These conversations are almost always identical: questions about the beer they’re drinking, then questions about what hops we used, then casual mentioning of homebrewing, then an effusive profession of one’s love for brewing, then the questions about how I got into brewing, then, finally, the heartbreaker:

“So, do you guys need volunteers, because I’m trying to get into the brewing industry?”

“Sorry man, we don’t need help. And, personally, I don’t bring on volunteers, because it ends up being more of a liability than a help.” He’s crushed.

I feel for ya, buddy. Most sincerely. It was only four or so years ago that I was following Dann Paquette around like a stray dog during the first St. Botolph’s Day barcrawl, giving him the Vistaprint business card on which I described myself (and I’m not exaggerating)  as “Christopher Shea: Home Brewer, Bon Vivant.”

Oliver Twist asking for more gruel.

And, really, I wish that everyone who wanted to work in a brewery, if that is truly what they love doing, could work in a brewery.

Every person should be able to do something that they find personally satisfying and get paid for it.

Unfortunately, that’s not how the world is, and no brewer worth his salt wants or needs someone to work for free. Brewing’s dangerous business, and, at the end of the day, it’s work.

So where does that leave Guy-who-wants-to-be-a-brewer? I really don’t have an answer for that. I’m faithful that if someone really loves something, they’ll do it regardless. If he wants to be a brewer, he should go for it. I can’t give him hours in my shop, but I can give him some free advice.

So here’s my advice for people who want to turn pro:


There’s a very good chance that, if you’re reading this article, you’re college educated and probably white (just going by statistics). The thing you need to understand is that brewing is not glamorous or cool. It’s hard, crap work and it’s not very rewarding.

There are people, like me, who are genetically predisposed to this kind of masochism, but we’re not to be emulated. I’m certain that you can find a job that pays really well and then you can homebrew on the weekends. If you still need fulfillment in your life, volunteer at a soup kitchen. Those people actually do need your help and time.

SECOND: accept the fact that you’re probably already screwed.

If you’re married, in your thirties, and have a kid, then, short of winning the lottery and opening a brewery, you’re boned, buddy. There are only two ways of getting into brewing: working your way up from the bottom by flipping kegs for minimum wage at a brewpub (like I did), or dropping thirty large to go to brewing school for three months (and then probably flipping kegs for minimum wage). There’s no way your wife will let you do that. And she’s right; listen to her.

THIRD: be ready to move.

Brewing work comes to no man! Another reason married men rarely become brewers. You gotta be open to work anywhere in the country.

Right now there are probably 20 start-up breweries hiring in Oregon. Go check out probrewer.com. You’ll find them in the classifieds. Are you ready to move to Oregon to flip kegs for minimum wage? If so, then you might have what it takes.

FOURTH: don’t expect to be fulfilled by your job.

If you, by God’s own grace, slog through the three or so years of crap work that it usually takes to be even allowed up on the brew deck, be ready for it to quickly become a job and not your soul’s salvation from the existential vacuum of modern living.

You now have 20-30 years of pouring flowers into boiling sugar water to look forward to. Cheers!

And FIFTH: do your best to be nice to the guy you used to be.

If you do become a brewer, you’re going to come across your past-self, searchingly trying to get his foot in the door. Tell him not to give up and that you’d be happy to talk to him about homebrewing. Have him send you an email.

Be nice! We were all there at one point.

As craft beer becomes ever more popular, and the bubble expands to the trembling edges of its capability, we will, inevitably, confront the fetishized and dreamed-up version of what a brewer is.

Rare are the Garret Olivers. Mostly a brewer is someone who spends 40-50 hours a week in a loud, ass-hot factory pushing around liquid.

We’re janitors who get free beer.

It’s not all that bad, but it’s certainly not cool or glamorous. We build our communities out of necessity, and we love each other, but that can be found anywhere you find kind and passionate people. If you really want this lifestyle, then by all means, go for it. But if you’re in your thirties, and you have a wife and two kids, maybe consider just keeping your day job.

Chances are, if you were supposed to be a brewer, you’d probably already be one by that point.

Still, sometimes people do win the lottery, and sometimes people do open up breweries. Do what’s right.

(Image credit: Solemn Oath Brewery)

Sunday, 3 March 2013

My thoughts on the basics and ethics of beer tasting, blogging & commentary...

The year 2012 is winding down.... It is time to plan the first batches of beer for the new year and to reflect on the year gone by. To say the least it was an eventful year. It was not quite what we expected, not in a bad way, but more in a a sense of learning a couple of new things, growing pains of starting to do things on a bigger scale and getting to grips with a few issues we thought we had a handle on... All in all it was a good beer year for us and I am pretty happy with the way things are going. The next year will be exciting, daunting, interesting and a big learning curve all rolled into one. There is one thing in the small South African beer community that got me hot under the collar this year and in this last part of the year I have reached my tipping point. The issue in question is irresponsible and anonymous commentary on brewers, breweries and their beer. Before I get into this let's look at the bigger picture: The South African Craft Beer Revolution is in it's infancy. We come from a background of fizzy yellow lagers and South Africans are slowly developing a more adventurous approach to beer. Most of the brewers are learning on the fly. We do not have a good frame of reference or many expert brewers to turn to for advice on many typical craft beer styles. We learn by means of trail and error and input from consumers. Small scale brewing techniques, beer marketing and all the various other issues with setting up a brewing business is a challenge, especially considering that most start-ups are brewing alongside having normal day jobs. As a small and pretty much amateur community we are all figuring this out as we go along. We are learning new things on a daily basis and we intend to learn these lessons quickly. Constructive criticism and advice from people are mostly appreciated and well received. Now back to irresponsible and/or anonymous blogging - and for that matter - twitter users. Yes, I am directing this at a very particular person or group of people on twitter... They know who they are and may even read this if the internet connection is not too spotty under the bridge or in the dumpster they live. I have had enough of irresponsible critique, commentary and/or opinions posted anonymously on the internet & twitter. My reasons for saying this are the following: Most of the small breweries starting up are small family businesses or sideline projects funded with money earned doing other jobs, loans and heaps of passion. We are all in it to make the best beer possible and to (hopefully) set up sustainable & profitable businesses. We are not huge conglomerates intent on extracting as much shareholder profit from consumers by means of mass production of fizzy yellow water. We are community centric, local industries with personal connections to our customers. Irresponsible critique, comments and/or opinions are not helping any of us in the beer community. It hurts both the consumer and producer... Bottom line is that this untactful behavior simply leaves a sour aftertaste... I guess it is pretty safe to say that we have more beers with minor (or even fairly big) defects that hit the market than we should. In fact it is an opportunity for discussion and maybe even education. There is no excuse for spewing derogatory critique on a public forum while hiding behind an anonymous avatar. If you are at a festival and there is something wrong with the beer you are drinking, walk up to the brewer and have a civil conversation with him. Discuss the problem and if you know how to fix it offer advice. If the brewer is not there or you are having a problem beer at a bar or at home send an email to the brewery or a direct message on twitter. At least give the guys an honest chance to respond, give you a better beer, give your money back or switch out kegs. I would say an honest and open person commenting on beers and handing out critique is much more credible than an anonymous coward. None of us like negative feedback, but it is necessary and all of us are willing to listen and learn. Well, that is enough of my banter. May 2013 be a great beer year for producers and consumers.

This pretty much sums up my thoughts on Contract Brewing

I picked this up on one of the Pro brewing forums. This is one of the best responses I've seen to date on the topic of Contract Brewing. It pretty much sums up my thoughts on Contract Brewing. (NOTE: The names in the extract below were changed) QUESTION: I am curious if you ever looked at the option of Contract Brewing...? REPLY: John, Contract brewing is a very viable option for many startup operations. I can think of a couple that I respect greatly that started that way. I decided to steer our brewery down a different path for many small reasons and one big one. Things like lack of contract brewing capacity, different state laws and %ABV restrictions, low margin or it loses money, and not learning anything about brewing operations and the complete business model (from grain to keg to distributor) were all factors. But I decided not to pursue contract brewing for one primary reason: No one else will brew or care for my beer like I do. Cheers, Peter