I started back to work this new year by organizing some old files, which has been long overdue. Going through 10 years of computer files can be a daunting task, particularly for a digital packrat like myself. In the process, I stumbled across a bunch of our old homebrew labels, pictured below.
One of my personal favorites is the Bog Monster Cranberry Ale, mostly because it was so, so terrible. It would have been terrible even if it had fermented correctly, but it became an exploding yeast bomb in the bottles. We didn’t end up brewing that one again. You’re welcome.
2017 is going to be a big year for us, particularly when the construction of our 2nd brewery gets underway this spring. We’ve already been busy working on the plans (and beers) for the new space, so it was fun to take a look at some of the things from our past that have shaped where we are now as a brewery. Even if they weren’t all that glamorous.
We have big news. We are building a 2nd brewery focusing on barrel-aged and sour beers. We are building this brewery along one of the largest urban renewal projectsin the country: the BeltLine. We are planting an urban orchard to aid in wild fermentation. We are opening a 2nd tasting room as part of this new development. We hope to be open Summer 2017.
Okay, let’s start at the beginning. The past few years our barrel-aged beers have won numerous awards, ranging from Gold at the Great American Beer Festival for Bourbon Barrel Drafty Kilt, to Silver at the World Beer Cup for Laissez-Faire Cabernet Barrel Wheat Wine. Our barrel program has quickly become an integral part of who we are as a brewery, and it’s also something we’re pretty good at. Unfortunately, we simply don’t have the room at our Westside location to do all the things we want to be able to do.
We started thinking about additional space for barrel-aging, but before we got too far down the road, we realized we needed to approach this potentially large business decision via our stated purpose:
Monday Night Brewing exists to deepen human relationships over some of the best beer in the country.
We can never forget that inviting friends and strangers into the garage to brew on Monday nights is how we got started. The ability to help build and shape community is why we wanted to open a brewery in the first place. With deepening human relationships as the end goal, we realized we needed to add a couple things to our search criteria:
Space for barrel-aging and souring
Physical location in an underserved part of Atlanta
Tasting room as key component of buildout
We ended up finding an amazing spot along the BeltLine’s Southwest corridor, currently under construction and slated to open next summer. We thought long and hard about building in the City again. Frankly, we were courted seriously by other cities in Georgia and other states as well. Ultimately, we love this city and want to help build something great here. We are part of the Lee + White Development (at the corner of Lee St. and White St.), which will be home to other local food producers including Southern Aged Cheese, Doux South Pickles, and Honeysuckle Gelato. As if that wasn’t tantalizing enough, here are some things we have planned for the 22,000 sq ft space (for reference, our current facility is 20,000 sq ft):
Multiple barrel-aging and souring rooms
Wild/open fermentation capabilities
Tasting room with patio along BeltLine
Orchard (fruits will be used in beer production and will also aid with wild fermentation)
As we now begin the process of planning and buildout, we have started reaching out to the various neighborhoods and organizations operating around us. We obviously want to make sure this new space is economically viable, but we also want to make sure we are building something that enhances and reflects the community that surrounds it. Southwest Atlanta isn’t as developed as the Westside, but it is already home to vibrant communities such as West End and Adair Park. We hope to be a meeting place for these neighbors, to employ these neighbors, and to invest back into the community when possible.
As our plans unfold, we’ll continue to update you on the yet-to-be-named new space. Which leads us to the obvious question – any ideas on what we should call it?
Monday Night Brewing has only been around for 4 years as a revenue-generating entity, so in one sense we’re still making up for 5 revenue-losing years of home-brewing out of our garage. In those 4 short years, we’ve experienced double-digit and triple-digit growth annually, now distribute to two states, and employ a motley crew of 22 full-timers and a troupe of part-timers.
Our brewery today looks pretty different from the way we envisioned it when gathered around Jeff’s table working on a business plan and drinking early versions of Eye Patch Ale. The interesting thing is – it looks different almost every day. When sales grow, production grows. But while sales grow in a relatively smooth curve, beer production is dependent on large pieces of machinery, and you can’t just add a quarter of a tank. We’re always fighting the battle between sales outselling production or having idle capacity in the back. When we add equipment and people to brew beer, it’s a step-function, not a smooth curve.
Further complicating things (or making them fun, depending on how you look at it) – the larger we get, the more other efficiency-saving investments make sense, for instance installing a more efficient grain mill to increase the consistency of our grind and decrease the amount of grain we have to use per batch of beer brewed. This year alone we’ve undertaken quite a few capital projects that have tied up time and resources and changed the way the brewery operates. In 2015 we have:
Added 4 120bbl fermenters
Installed a new grain mill
Added 3 grain silos for bulk grain storage (and put a wolf, eagle and bear on them, obviously)
Installed 5bbl pilot system for test batches
Purchased a canning line – I keep telling the guys in the back to plug it in and push the “start” button, but they maintain it’s “more complicated than that”
Hired some good-looking brewers and continued to pay the ugly one
We’ve had to learn to embrace change, expect problems and listen to feedback. As we’ve grown, we’ve also taught ourselves to enjoy the problem-solving process, knowing that issues are inevitable. As an example, here’s a hypothetical scenario:
There is a wedding happening at the brewery in 6 hours. Without notice, the city shuts off all water to the street, meaning toilets don’t flush and sinks don’t work. Our first solution, “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” has been lambasted by the wedding planner. Our brewmaster, realizing that our cold liquor tank is full of water, rigs up some pumps to supply all of our incoming water from a tank in the brewery. Boom. Problem solved – and even the wedding planner is impressed. She stops throwing shade and even lets us dance during the wedding.
Our ethos has always been about loving our professions, and that hasn’t changed. We love what we do and we love who we work with. And while we’ve grown rapidly, we are still tiny by brewery standards. Merely a blip on the national beer radar, as it were.
We’re expecting to grow even more next year. And we’re excited about that.
Our top priority is (and always has been) making awesome beer for awesome people, but creating a cool and comfortable environment where those awesome people can enjoy our brews is pretty high up there too. The Monday Night Brewing tasting room has been a beer-lovers’ mecca since we opened our own brewery just over two years ago, and while a lot of thought was put into the design of the space before we ever opened our doors, there’s always room for improvement. So, if you haven’t been by recently, here’s what we’ve done to make our tasting room even better.
Shortly after we opened up, we put once-intern-but-now-sales-gal Zoe to work decorating two giant chalkboards to hang above the bar to tell people about our four beers. It wasn’t long before four beers turned to five, which quickly grew to ten, and soon those two chalkboards were falling down on the job (not literally though, that would be dangerous). And as we’ve been getting busier, we realized that there needed to be a better way to let you guys know which beers were on tap, and where. So to make it easier to figure out which line to get in at the bar, we’ve drawn new chalkboards (thanks, Zoe!) for each beer that hang over whichever tap that beer is being poured from. Less confusion, faster lines, better experience! Plus, it’s pretty.
The guys really thought out the design of the tasting room when they renovated our old warehouse into the functional space it is today. Building the main bar to open up to the patio in addition to the indoor part of the tasting room is an awesome (and super useful) feature of the space. But with the recent upswing in temperatures, our patio has become busier than ever, so to help alleviate the lines at our main bar, we’ve added a custom-built outdoor bar with eight more taps. It’s not up and running quite yet, but will be very very soon.
Our patio is amazing during the warm months, but our guests (and employees, if we’re being real here) want to be able to enjoy it during the cooler months too. We noticed over the last two winters that a couple of fire pits that needed constant tending weren’t cutting it during the winter, so we’ve run gas lines the length of the patio. We added a gas starter to one of the fire pits, and we have hook ups for standing propane heaters. We’re sure they’ll be a welcome addition once the temperatures drop.
We now have four new 120bbl fermenters (and one 120 bbl brite tank) taking up space in our brewery. These shiny new toys will allow us to add more than 5,000 barrels of annual capacity. What does this mean for you? It means you need to start drinking more Monday Night. Immediately.
The new tanks are the ones without any plumbing to them in the picture below, so realistically you have about 2 weeks before you need to ramp up your beer consumption. Better buy some sweatpants.
One of the most common questions we get on the brewery tour is:
What are the steps you took to move from homebrewing to this?
As you might imagine, this is an impossibly complex question to answer. Still, as 2013 wraps up, I’d like to recap what has been the most significant year for us thus far. As our long-time readers are aware (thanks mom!), we used to blog more regularly, chronicling our journey as we opened our own brewery. We still want to do that. The truth is, 2013 has simply been too crazy to sit down for any length of time and collect our thoughts. Lucky for you, I’m feeling sentimental today. Before we get into how to start a brewery, I’d like to recap our year – paying special attention to the most meaningful events in our eyes:
January: Opened our tasting room to the public.
March: Launched 6-packs of Fu Manbrew, Eye Patch Ale, and Drafty Kilt
Quadrupled monthly production from January – December (from “really tiny” to “a little less tiny”)
Grew staff from 3 full-time to 9 full-time and 40 part-timers
Whoa. It’s notoriously difficult to survive as a brewery. The margins are slim, competition for taps and shelf space is becoming fierce, and capitalization is key. We entered 2013 with a lot of uncertainty, only knowing that we had to try to make work what we’d been investing our time, money, and efforts in for 6 years. We will enter 2014 with a more defined plan, an ever-growing appreciation for our city and the folks that make Atlanta great, and a desire to produce even better beers in the coming year.
So, what are the steps one takes from homebrewing to starting a brewery? First, one must name each of their fermenters after a Bryan Adams song.
Once you’ve done that, the rest is easy. All you have to do is…
Raise enough money. But in order to raise enough money, you have to know what you are spending it on. Which means you have to decide what size brewery to invest it, what part of town you want to be in, and what style of beers you want to brew. Which means you have to develop a business plan, with completely naive sales projections, utility costs, ingredient costs, marketing costs, labor costs, keg costs, etc.
Develop your recipes. You can’t build a business plan with accurate costs and volume projections without having recipes finalized.
Gain distribution. But in order to gain distribution, you need to understand the distribution laws in your state, talk to distributors, convince distributors that you are going to be the most culturally significant thing since Kanye West, and negotiate contracts. Oh, do you know a lawyer you can convince to work for back rubs and IOU’s?
Convince your significant other and family that you aren’t crazy. You’re on your own here… good luck.
Build out a brewery. You’ve got to get that thing licensed before you build it out, however. And licensing depends a lot on where your brewery is located, so good luck with that too. Do you have enough cold storage? Dry storage? Room for expansion? Are you going to use silos for grain, either now or in the future? Will you be open to the public at all? Are you prepared to spend money for 9 months without a cent coming in the door?
Sell your beer. Which is harder than you might think. Even if your beer is great, there are more and more good options these days, and if you make the sale, you’re usually taking the sale away from another brewery. It’s sad, but true.
In all seriousness, it’s been an insane, white-knuckled roller-coaster ride so far. But we wouldn’t trade it for the world. We love what we do, we love pouring ourselves into a product that enables community. And heck, it’s still fun to talk about.
So. Y’all have been buying all the beer we have been brewing. Which is cool, but that means we need to brew more beer. So we bought some more tanks. And for allowing us to supply you with some Monday Night beers, we tank you from the bottom of our heart. Here are a few pictures of our new tanks in construction. They’ll be the biggest fermenters and brite tanks we have, at 120bbl’s each. Coming in July. ROCKETSHIPS!!!!