After such an informative interview with Steve at Beau’s All-Natural Brewing, we decided to make a little series out of brewer interviews. And so, we present to you our second such endeavor: an interview with Gabriel, founder of Half Acre Beer Company in Chicago, who we discovered through our friend Ted, brewer and drummer and all-around good guy. Half Acre is still young, which is one of the reasons why their input is so valuable. I couldn’t do as good a job introducing them as they could, so I’m just going to plagiarize from their website:
Half Acre Beer Company uses a grass roots approach to bring original beers to the community. We develop all of our recipes at home in Chicago, then work with friends in Black River Falls, WI to brew our beer. We can’t afford our own brewery as of yet, but brewing with friends allows us to minimize our physical footprint while maximizing the output of another great brew house close to home. Our beer is only distributed in Chicago, at the same bars, restaurants and stores we enjoy. We’re building our company one beer at a time and with hard work and support we’ll create the opportunity to build our brewery at home in Chicago.
So that about sums it up. The only thing left… is the interview:
1) What were the steps that led you up to the decision to start a brewery?
There were many things that led up to the decision, but I would say first and foremost would be the love for the community that surrounds craft beer and a passion for entrepreneurial endeavors. We researched the industry on a national level then focused on our city and figured we’s have a decent shot on getting it done.
2) What is your favorite thing about w at you do?
My favorite thing about what I do is making a quality product that intersects with people’s lives in a positive way.
3) What has been the most effective marketing tactic for you when first starting up? (If word-of-mouth is the answer, what has been the second most effective tactic?)
Tastings have been the most effective. It gives you the chance to meet your customers, the people selling your beer i.e staff at your points of sale, you sell beer in the process and the account where the tasting is being held is likely going to order more beer as a result. This isn’t a huge thing, but vital and tangible.
4) Why start off with a lager? Why not something easier to brew?
We wanted to do something a little different. We love ale and are working on one now for full-scale release, but we wanted to shake things up a bit and brew a lager that could maybe stand out.
5) What is one thing about the brewing industry that you wish you had anticipated going in?
One thing doesn’t stick out, but there are a lot of little things you just can’t have a feel for until you begin the process. Every stage had had little surprises.
6) How do recipes translate when moving from something like a 5 gallon batch to a 5BBL batch?
Going from small to large is touchy. As long as there is a lot of communication and you can supply the large scale brewer with as much detail about the process of achieving your 5 gal beer then you’re on the right track.
7) Why start off with contract brewing?
We started contracting because it was the only way we could get rolling without taking on large amounts of debt or outside investors. It’s also an opportunity to build awareness and demand so by the time we do have our brewery we’ll be able to put its capacity to use right off the bat. We didn’t want to create a tiny brewhouse and have to expand in a couple year – nor did we want to build a big brewhouse and bear the weight of debt with very low production numbers. These types of decisions are the biggest you’ll make, and we prefer the feel of an organic process that slowly builds.
8 ) How has your experience with contract brewing been?
Contract brewing has been great. We’d prefer to have our own brewery under our own roof, but it wasn’t in the cards. I could still be working my old job, but instead I have a beer company and the chance to really build our brand and build that brewery before long. We’re lucky, though. Most contract relationships are very formal and lifeless. We’ve hooked up with friends that have a small brewhouse that can regularly brew fresh beer for us with little bullshit involved. They’re talented and passionate about what they do and how we’re involved with it. Most contract deals – at least around here – are with bigger houses that will crank out 100bbl+ at a time, and that’s not great for a little company just getting off the ground.