At some point along the way, the thought creeps into the mind of every serious homebrewer.
Spend years perfecting your craft, churning out batch after batch to zero in on the perfect recipes. Develop a business plan. Revise the business plan. Make connections, and possibly consider outside investment. Convince your spouse that this is in fact not an insanely crazy idea, and yes honey, we will indeed have enough money to pay the bills and keep the kids in diapers (fingers crossed). Find a brewhouse, likely used, and a place to put it. Contract with a malting company. Navigate local city zoning ordinances. Figure out distribution strategy. Flip the switch, and pray that the beer lovers flock.
Easier said than done, of course. And entirely oversimplified.
But this is the long and winding path taken by many brewers, including Eric Biermann, founder and brewmaster of what, if he has his say over the next year or so, will eventually become the Twin Cities newest microbrewery, Lucid Brewing.
Anyone named Biermann almost doesn’t have a chance to do anything BUT brew craft beer. And brew craft beer he has…hundreds of batches over the past 10 years refining his stable of recipes for what he hopes will be a core line of balanced offerings with potential for artisan-style seasonals. Lucid is proof positive that, despite the Minnesota state legislature’s best efforts recently with its proposed (and failed) brewery excise tax, brewing culture and industry is still strong and thriving in the state.
I had a chance to talk with Eric recently, and discuss what it’s like taking the plunge into the world of microbrewing entrepreneurship.
THE CAPTAIN (ME): Tell me about Lucid Brewing…what sparked the idea and what’s your vision?
ERIC BIERMANN (EB): I’ve been homebrewing for about ten-ish years. It all started when my friend Jeff and I went to happy hour at the Old Chicago in Apple Valley. Old Chicago became our hookup for our new gateway drug known as craft beer. As a matter of fact, our addiction had us finishing our first World Beer Tour in a little more than a month. Amazing…spend a bit more money on your beer and get some awesome flavor.
I ended up moving to Uptown and started frequenting the Old Chicago there and the peanut bar at Williams. Then out of nowhere, Jeff comes over to my house with a beer kit. What, you can make your own beer? It’s legal? The next thing you know I’m buying an all-grain system from a guy named Collin at Midwest Supplies (by the way, a few years later, my path crossed with Collin again…he’s the guy making the awesome beer I often drink at Barley John’s). The all-grain system has grown more complex, as has the beer. I’ve always had a passion for cooking, and brewing beer is just another form of cooking. The Minnesota Home Brewers Assocation has been great for beer – I have gotten to know a lot of local brewers and have learned a lot. I also took a Beer Judge Certification Program course a few years back which really introduced me to the technical side. Over the years, I’ve just gotten more and more interested in all aspects of beer production: the ingredients, flavors, body styles, and clarity you can create.
As for venturing into the commercial side, the idea really took hold at a bar in California (surprise, surprise). My wife and I were skiing and snowboarding in Tahoe and we were working our way through a local brewpub’s sampler. They had a variety of beers that were pretty good, not anything particularly extreme – unlike what you see in a lot of beers today – and they seemed to have a good business going. I started mentally comparing them to all the beers I have made and just realized that my brews could stand up against any of these. You can do the wild, extreme beers, but also do great beers that can appeal to a broader audience that may normally gravitate to macro-produced beers. Thankfully I’ve had a lot of friends and family to test on. My trick was to create a beer that appealed to them, without muting its flavors, but by balancing the different aspects of the beer and by changing some of the ingredients to round out the flavor. I knew my recipe was where it needed to be when both my macro-produced beer drinking friends and my home brew friends both really liked the beer.
ME: Are you working with anyone else to get things off the ground?
EB: Currently, this is a venture between my wife and me. We are open to other partners depending on what they bring to the table. Friends and family have been supportive, but some think we may be somewhat on the crazy side.
ME: What types of beers are you planning to focus on? Any particular styles, historical approaches, seasonal considerations?
EB: I cannot say for sure which beers Lucid Brewing will begin brewing first. This final call will be made when we are closer to being in production. Lucid Brewing will be offering a variety of styles, some of which may not meet any particular style. The main line of beers will not be extreme in nature, but more balanced and well-rounded. Lucid Brewing does have plans to offer a second line, which may be our seasonal offering, that will be more artisan in design and method. Don’t be surprised if you see a few open fermenters in the brewery or a few other old school items. We’d like to experiment with local ingredients or organic, if possible.
ME: What influenced these stylistic decisions?
EB: We just love having fun with beer. We brew all kinds of styles as well as experiment off the “defined” style guidelines. The basic criteria is that it has to use good quality ingredients, taste good and be fun. And we hope that gets across to the people that drink it. We are looking more to complement a good and growing Minnesota craft beer market. I think people are always thirsty for something new and different, and we can certainly offer that. We also hope to offer some great alternatives to macro-drinking consumers. We weren’t necessarily looking for gaps in what’s currently out there, but we do have a few ideas – it’s early yet.
ME: How long have you been working on the recipes?
EB: Some base recipes go back several years and are where we want them to be. Other recipes have only been brewed once. It’s exciting to see what you get from a recipe you had for years, that makes a very tasty beer, and change one thing to find out what type of overall impact it has on the beer. More exciting is when a recipe is completely created from scratch, something that has never been done before, does not meet a particular style, just doing some research and applying what you know about ingredients and putting it together. Sometimes these new recipes come through needing only a minor tweak and other times they make me rethink the entire recipe. This is something I can do currently on a small scale to make sure the recipes are in order when the production brewery is online. Most exciting is when someone tries your beer and has the Frank the Tank response, “Fill it up again….!”
ME: I see on your blog you’re planning to attend brewers school early next year.
EB: I’m currently taking a chemistry class and will be taking another this fall. In January I start brewing school with the American Brewer’s Guild, which will wrap-up the following summer with an internship.
ME: Where are you in the process right now with the actual facility and brewhouse?
EB: Right now I’m doing a ton of research on equipment size, pricing and availability. We also have been scoping out several locations. Once we narrow down the location selection, we will begin procuring production equipment. We have ordered our pilot brewhouse, which should be delivered the end of August.
ME: Any consideration for location?
EB: The for sure thing is that the location of the brewery will be in the Twin Cities metro area. I personally want to locate the brewery in Northeast Minneapolis. The reality of this depends on many things aligning, including a few planets. We briefly explored Wisconsin, but even though I grew up in rural Minnesota, our family really likes living in the “city” and we do not want to move to a more rural area to take advantage of Wisconsin’s friendlier brewing laws.
ME: What kind of advice or consultation have you sought through this process? Talk to any other local or national brewers?
EB: I have chatted with many brewers that have been generous in their advice to me. Most of my consultation has been with brewers of recently-opened breweries or soon-to-open breweries. Other consultation has come from a few equipment suppliers. As we get closer to ordering equipment, I will be seeking the services of a professional brewery planning consultant.
ME: I notice on your blog you’ve attended some industry events, like the recently held Craft Brewers Conference in Boston. What was your experience there like?
EB: The overall experience was awesome. The craft brewing industry as a whole has been doing quite well and the energy at the conference reflected it. My wife and I went on numerous brewery and brewpub tours and sampled many different beers. The days were long, but the knowledge gained from the seminars and networking was invaluable for someone in our position. We talked with brewers from as close as Brooklyn Center to as far away as Norway and many more from all over the United States. Some of the connections have been great resources in helping to make some difficult decisions and others have been great for just chatting and comparing ideas. I’ve also attended a few classes held locally by the Master Brewers Association of the Americas.
ME: What’s your general timeline for being production-ready?
EB: Original target is fall of 2010, but don’t be shocked if we’re pushed back to spring or summer 2011. Unexpected things are expected when starting a brewery.
ME: How are you packaging?
EB: We’ll initially be available only in kegs, but hope to get bottling within a few months. Of course, we will be filling growlers and bombers from the start.
ME: Distribution strategy?
EB: This is still up in the air, but we are leaning towards starting with self-distribution. Lucid Brewing will make sure its capacity can fulfill the local market demand before distributing to regional and national markets.
ME: What’s been the most rewarding thing about this experience so far?
EB: I am apt to say it’s the learning process. It is a big step to move from the home brew size up to the production brewery level. There is a ton to learn and thankfully there are resources available to get the necessary education.
ME: How about the most challenging?
EB: Being able to decipher through an equipment supplier’s bid and figure out what is and is not included. Then do the same with another equipment supplier’s bid and attempt to compare the two.
ME: Any unexpected hurdles or roadblocks?
EB: So far so good but it’s still early. Keep your fingers crossed and wrapped around a good beer.
ME: What’s in your beer fridge right now?
EB: Well, mainly stuff I’ve made: 100% Willamette hopped IPA, Schwarzbier, Classic American Pilsner, Mayan Chocolate black ale, Cherry hefeweizen, American hefeweizen, Saison, another IPA, cream ale, Russian Imperial Stout, and a couple cans of Colt 45 (It works every time). I’m sure there are a few other items I bought tucked in the beer fridge somewhere.
Check out the Lucid Brewing blog at www.lucidbrewing.com.