Thursday, 10 December 2015

And the end of 2015 takes a nosedive...

Just as we thought the year was winding down rather gracefully and without too much crisis management old JZ drops the bomb. Now the whole country is bending forward, grabbing their ankles and we just have to take it from behind.

The past 24 hours can simply be classified as a tumultuous day. From our fairly competent Minister of Finance getting fired to having to deal with unreasonable & overreacting people at work it was a pretty crap day.

Today did not start well. As always I checked all my social networks this morning... Guess what... The Thief in Charge calling himself the President of South Africa decided to sack the Minister of Finance for no proper reason. I must confess... When Mr Nene was appointed as Finance Minister I was quite skeptical. His falling off a chair incident a couple of years back did an injustice to his competence. The poor guy actually did a stellar job in the horrible conditions he inherited. The poisoned chalice he received was filled with wanton looting and corruption to please JZ and retain loyalty + votes.
Thanks to this our currency tanked and I am pretty sure numerous South Africans and companies are making plans and organizing to get as much money out of SA as quickly as possible.

The deteriorating exchange rate is not the kind of development you want when working in the construction industry and when you are expanding a small sideline business that relies on numerous imported items... Stainless steel components, speciality malts, yeast, hops, etc.

Even though this is a scary situation and will surely result in numerous sleepless nights and worrying, it is quite exciting to try and make things work when the deck is stacked against you.

Packing out large stainless tanks, arranging them in line, sorting out tri-clamps, valves & thermometers and planning the interesting year ahead is weirdly exciting and interesting. It is at that point when you realize that running the sideline we have is one of those things that keeps us sane... That one thing that makes you say: "Fuck this shit... We'll do it our way... The way we want to do it... And we are going to give it our best."

In order to avoid listening to the news while driving today, I opted for a podcast... Thanks to The Brewing Network (Justin Crossley you are a legend) and the guys from Scratch Town Brewing Co, the following got stuck in my mind: We area still young. We are in our mid thirties. Even if we do stuff up, there is enough life left to recover. Real life is about the little things we enjoy. At this moment that enjoyment is making beer. The best thing about beer is the way it makes people feel and act. Beer makes people happy. One of the best things about being in the beer industry is that fuzzy feeling you get when someone tastes the product you give them and their eyes glaze over with pleasure. 

At this point I can honestly say... I get more joy and appreciation out of someone enjoying a simple glass of beer than successfully delivering a complex building to an ungrateful client...

Since this is supposed to be a blog more related to brewing and not an outlet to bitch about real life, corporate bullshit and the general hassles of growing up I have to get back to beer, brewing and stainless steel.

To say the least 2016 is going to be an interesting year...
We have to master our new brewing system and try to stay on top of managing the cost increases of imported ingredients & products we use.
We have to strike some kind of balance between family lives, day jobs and our sideline business.
We have to differentiate our products in a market that is blindly going down the wrong road... Chasing high volumes and maximized margins akin to the modus operandi of the mega-brewers.
We have to drive the quality of small scale beers to a new level.
And we will have to deal with not always having enough beer...

2016 will most probably also be quite insightful in terms of the direction beer is heading in South Africa. Will it be more Session oriented, more Belgian, more hoppy or more bland + dumbed down yellow lagers...? Who knows!

Given the economic difficulties we face... Thanks to bright-spark JZ... Some breweries will be facing financially challenging times. The questions are: Who will fail and how will the remainder manage to weather the storm?

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

October 2015 - Holiday & Brewery Expansion

Time off is always a great thing. Getting away from the daily grind with the constant chasing of deadlines and targets is always pleasant. It takes me a couple of days to switch off and clear my mind. Not thinking of work and personal projects is a well deserved luxury. Unfortunately just like taking a couple of days to switch off, my brain kicks into overdrive about 5 or so days before the end of the holiday.

With our brewery expansion project in progress there are more items to get to than possible in the available time with the resources we have. As everyone tells you: It is close to insanity to start a brewing company when you have a toddler at home or starting a family; while at the same time all parties involved juggle crazy schedules at their day jobs.

To some extent I think we are suckers for punishment and rarely pick an easy route. In the end it certainly creates great stories and opportunities to learn. Adversity is a breeding ground for innovation and can result in achieving results against the odds provided you are willing to put in the effort required.

More on the struggles and brewery expansion in a bit… Back to the holiday first.

Travel is essential to broaden ones outlook on life; to figure out what is important and what not; and to learn more about yourself and the people traveling with you. Getting to experience far off places and remote unexplored territories is an added bonus when included in the trip.

We were lucky to be offered an opportunity to join a trip from Vancouver up the British Columbian coast. It is a vast area. BC is larger than California, Oregon & Washington State combined.

The first leg of the trip comprised the circumnavigation of Princess Royal Island on a sailing vessel. 16 people in a confined environment helped create memorable experiences. On the numerous stops along the way we got to see a great array of wildlife, including the bears we came to see as the main focus of the trip. We had awesome sightings of Black, Grizzly (Brown) & Spirit Bears. The latter being the elusive white version of the Black Bear.

The second leg of the trip was spent at the Great Bear Lodge where all our time was focused on watching Brown Bears catching salmon along the river.

Two days ahead and two days after the expedition was spent rambling around Vancouver. Vancouver is an awesome little city. Compact and filled with great shops, restaurants and of course a good selection of breweries.

As always we manage to fit in quite a bit of beer ’research’ on our trips. With Vancouver being in the Pacific North West the selection of hop-forward beers alone makes the trip worth it.

Based on the beers tasted it is safe to say that quite a few of our South African beers are on par with those available in BC. Sadly the majority of breweries in SA need to do a LOT of catching up. Some of our breweries are also losing the plot a bit… trying to play the volume game by pushing dumbed down beer to compete with the mega-brewers. It is a bad idea that will lead to a bad ending!

I am most definitely biased, but I think our beers & brewery are on the right track. The beers still needs some tweaking and as a brewery we have a lot to still figure out. Most importantly I think our beers can stand tall with some of the best we’ve tasted on the trip.

By now the holiday is a distant memory...

Back to the daily grind.

Back to the adventures (and lack of sleep) due to the addition of a new member to the family. (Welcome Hadrian!)

Back to dealing with the art of juggling limited funds while ordering pumps, fittings, tanks, equipment & importing a new brew house.

Ramping up a bootstrapped brewing operation is no easy task. Especially when you decide to say "Fuck it... We are doing our own way and figuring it out as we go." At least we have (we hope) resolved most of the issues and only have a couple of outstanding items to be resolved in the coming weeks.

By early to mid November we will be able to put our grubby little paws on a new custum brew house. If everything goes to plan we will be able to fire it up and start churning out beers before the end of the year.

It has been a long-ass and tricky journey up till now. Pretty sure the coming couple of years will be even wilder... A proper roller coaster ride is very likely. At least I hope the ride has a good ending and does not finish in a flaming ball of twisted metal.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

2015 - Quarter 1 DONE !!

WOW... I just realized we are through the first quarter of 2015. It was actually a bit of a blur to tell the truth, but I guess that is just the way life is. Especially  when you want to juggle too many things at once. The constant feeling of actually flying by the seat of your pants is tiring, challenging, exciting + rewarding all at the same time.

To tell the truth we are not quite where we planned to be by now. There are no new shiny brewing vessels on a boat to Cape Town, well at least not yet. I guess that is also fine as we took a bit of time and again changed our plans. It has been quite an interesting dynamic between my brother and I. Initially it started with me being on the bigger is better side of the fence. He was a proponent of a small, bootstrapped approach. In a year it turned round... I was leaning towards a smaller system size being used harder, while he was going the bigger route. Finally we have settled somewhere in the middle. Our brewhouse will be not too big and not too small, yet flexible and capable of taking abuse. A lot of it will still be a bootstrapping operation. At least we have a plan.

I reckon the motto of a family friend always rings in the back of my mind: "Running out of money is not a problem, but not having a plan IS a problem!"

We have a fairly solid idea of what we want to do now; we have cleared a couple of hurdles already and we have a hit list of items to resolve. The following couple of months are going to be riddled with logistic and cash flow hurdles.

Pretty sure this first real expansion will be challenging to say the least, but in a couple of years we should be able to look back with at least one of the following possible outcomes:
Option 1: YIKES...!! It actually worked and we pulled it off.
Option 2: Oh boy, did we fuck this up or what... !?!? At least we had loads of fun and learnt tremendously valuable lessons along the way. (And we had loads of beer on hand along the way)

When everything is running we will focus on two things... OK, maybe three.

Slowly solidifying our current footprint with additional production capacity, and when we have ironed out the first wrinkles of the upgrade a steady organic growth plan.

Focusing on QUALITY! There are quite a number of areas where we need to and can improve.

Trying new things and expanding the horizon of beer in Cape Town. Sticking to the way we like things and making what we like to drink. If you want to make the lowest common denominator beer to satisfy everyone you will be doomed.