Addressing the Two Most Frequently Asked Questions

When you’re in the process of starting a brewery, topics of conversation tend to fall somewhere in the category of beer, brewing, and business in general.  Since I started really getting into beer and brewing several years ago, I’ve been someone who likes to talk about these things.  I typically find myself clinging to my wife Shannon’s side or tucked away in the corner at parties, unless I find someone who wants to talk about beer, and  usually this isn’t a problem, so things tend to work out for me.

best-bars-sideways

I’ve been somewhat surprised at the two questions that come up most often after people find out that I’m starting a brewery.  The first one has been “what kind of beers will you make?”.  The first time someone asked me this, I didn’t really know how to answer it.  Not sure if they were asking if we would specialize in a specific style of beers, like Belgians or Sours, or if they actually wanted to know what our draft list would be on opening day.  My answer in general is that as a local craft brewery we plan on brewing all different kinds of beers.  We will be small enough to rotate through different styles and find out what people like the best.  Some traditional, some experimental.  We want to make sure that every time you come to Random Row, you will have the opportunity to try something different (unless you come every day).

One of the things I would really like to focus on are some high quality, memorable, lower ABV offerings in the 3-6% range (now known as “session” beers), which 10 years ago wouldn’t have been considered low ABV.  We want people to be able to enjoy a few of our beers without needing to crawl out of the tasting room.  It is often possible to pack a similar amount of flavor and aroma into a lower ABV beer as you might find in a much bigger cousin (e.g. Pale Ale vs. Imperial IPA) but it requires a fair amount of thought, planning, and trial and error.  All of that said, one of my favorite beers to make is an Imperial Stout, so there will be plenty of “big beers” as well.  Basically, I plan to push the envelope on both ends of the spectrum.

MorselCompass_RammelkampFoto

The second question I’m a little less surprised about, but maybe a little more surprised at how many people ask me this immediately after they find out I’m starting a brewery, “Will you have food?”  This has been a question the founders have been thinking about for a long time now.  The short answer is “Yes, but we will not be licensed as a restaurant.”  As a brewery, we will be licensed to sell beer we make at the brewery.  Preparing and selling food is regulated under a different set of standards.   A whole other set of requirements would need to be met to qualify for this, and we are not interested in adding something as complicated as a restaurant into the picture.  BUT, we do have plans for food.  One big asset to breweries like Random Row is food trucks like Morsel Compass.  They carry their own food license and can park right outside our tasting room to feed the hungry customers inside.  We plan on having a “dock” for food trucks to park right outside our patio and plug into our power source, rather than having to use a loud generator.  We also have plans to provide some other sort of pre-prepared food items in the tasting room, but have not finalized that yet.  Some options we have talked about are prepared sandwiches, soft pretzels, and sausages.  There is a line we cannot cross as far as handling and cooking goes (basically, it has to be “ready to eat” i.e. we are only reheating it so that it tastes good, not to kill bacteria), so we are currently researching our options.  We will also have snacks and non-alcoholic beverages available for the kids and non beer drinkers.  OrderUp is a new delivery company that we also plan on tapping into and advertising to our customers.  Its an easy way to get one of many Charlottesville restaurants to deliver food right to the brewery. A quick search finds that OrderUp will deliver 75 different restaurants to our brewery.  And you’ll always be welcome to bring your own picnic lunch or dinner with you (Bodos is across the street, Ace Biscuit and BBQ, Sticks Kebobs and Marie Bette a couple blocks away), we’ll provide the beverages!

Addressing the Two Most Frequently Asked Questions

We Have a Logo!

 

RRBC Logo

We worked with Kiki Hocking at KikiJeanDesign to come up with what you see here. Logo development was a very interesting and educational process for us, as we tend to fall on the scientific side of the brain spectrum. We wanted something that would be recognizable, that would be aesthetically pleasing, and that would have meaning. And we wanted people to be able to look at it, without reading, and think “beer.” One of our favorite brewery logos is from Real Ale Brewing Co. in Texas – very clean, very attractive, and subtle but obvious meaning (for those of you interested in graphic design, the story behind the logo and re-branding is quite interesting, and you can read it here)

To say “beer” we chose to use a row of barley kernels, for several reasons. First, malted barley is an essential component of beer. The other essential components are water and hops (at least according to the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, aka the “Reinheitsgebot”; of note yeast were not part of the Reinheitsgebot). Second, while we love hops (and hoppy beers), we think the beer pendulum is going to start swinging back towards malt, and one of our brewer’s signature beers is a to-die-for dopplebock – so it seemed only fitting to anchor our logo with barley, not hops.

We also wanted to anchor the logo in something meaningful to us, and for that we chose the cross section of a tree. Why? Because Random Row Brewing Company is located right next to the King Lumber Building, in what was likely a lumber yard. We wanted to incorporate the original map of the neighborhood into the logo somehow, but it got too messy – so we will be using the map as a sort of secondary logo.

random row street map

Map of the original Random Row neighborhood (most of which is gone)

Here is what our logos look like on a t-shirt (we will be doing a bulk order soon, for those who are interested):

RRBC Shirt - Next Level TriBlend - Blue

Or in a beer hall!

More RRBC Stuff

We Have a Logo!

A little help from my friends…

We just got back from a pilgrimage to Beer Hound Brewery in Culpeper, VA.  We spent a day with founder and brewer, Kenny Thacker, brewing a batch of IPA.  Kenny’s transformation into a brewer is quite interesting, so much so that it was described in this Money Magazine article.

The main reason we wanted to visit Kenny was to see him brew on his 7 Barrel Alpha Brewing Operation direct fire brewhouse, because we are getting almost the exact same system (ours will be slightly larger, but a little bit less automated).  We also wanted to pick his brain about the ups and downs of starting a new brewery, as he opened in 2014. Hopefully we can benefit from some of the things he has learned over the last year or more.  Oh, and one more thing – we wanted to taste his beer.  Which was delicious.

Below are some pictures we took of the brew day:

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Kevin pouring malt into the mill
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7 barrel brewhouse, kettle on the left, mash tun and hot liquor tank on the right
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7 barrel fermentation and bright tanks
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Kevin and Kenny
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Dustin helping clean out the mash tun
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Dustin and Kevin watching Bob clean out the mash tun

Kenny was beyond hospitable and we can’t thank him enough.  While we are many months away from our opening day and have much work to do, we are continually amazed at the craft beer community’s willingness to help us.  In addition to Kenny’s help on equipment selection, Karl Roulston at Woodstock Brewhouse invited Kevin to Woodstock, VA to learn about their system; several of Random Row’s founders have taken PVCC brewing classes taught by Hunter Smith (of Champion Brewing Co.).  Dave and Levi at 3 Notch’d Brewing Co. have been equally helpful, giving us all sorts of advice and having Kevin over to learn about brewing on a commercial system. Kevin also visited and spoke with Justin at Reaver Beach Brewing in Virginia Beach, Jeremy at Triple Crossing and Michael at Isley Brewing in Richmond earlier on.  Without the help of all these breweries, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

A quick search (ProBrewer, Brewers Association, etc.) reveals that this sort of behavior is not at all unusual.  When we took a brewery tour in Asheville, NC two years ago, we found the microbrewery business climate just as hospitable – and Asheville has a lot more breweries than Charlottesville (especially now that heavyweights Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are there, and with Oskar Blues in nearby Brevard).  We think (hope) that this sort of collegiality leads to mutually beneficial synergies, rather than competition and unfriendliness.  While we are not naive enough to assume that this will necessarily last forever, data from the Brewers Association suggests that there is still a tremendous amount of growth potential for craft brewers, as in 2014 craft beer still only made up 11% of the US Market!

Additionally, we note that with SABMiller and AB InBev tying up to create a $106 Billion “Behemoth” it is probably, more than ever, in the best interest of locally-owned craft brewers to work together to produce high quality, constantly changing products that benefit the local economy.

Taking this philosophy to the extreme is  Jim Koch, who founded the Boston Beer Company (maker of Sam Adams) and more recently started the Brewing the American Dream project – the goal of which is to provide low interest rate loans as well as a wealth of professional advice, coaching, and resources to promising startups in the food and beverage, hospitality, and craft brewing industries.  In what other business would the industry leaders go out of their way to finance their “competition”?

A little help from my friends…

What Does Random Row Mean?

A lot of people ask us about our name. We chose Random Row Brewing Company for several reasons. First, and foremost, it pays homage to the neighborhood roughly contained between West Main, 5th Street, Preston Ave, and 4th Street, about one block away from us. This neighborhood has a fascinating, but sad history, and is familiar to families who have lived in Charlottesville for more than one generation. Rather than try and paraphrase (and inadvertently distort the truth, which is worth re-telling accurately), we’d rather send you directly to some worthwhile source(s). The most complete accounts of the history of the Random Row, which would eventually become Vinegar Hill before it was essentially bulldozed to make way for the Downtown Mall, can be found at the Vinegar Hill Project website, on this UVA Website and also at UVA’s Visual Eyes Project.  For an even more complete account, talk to people who’ve lived here a while – it wasn’t that long ago this happened.

random row 1954.jpg

Aerial Map of Random Row / Vinegar Hill from 1954.  Notice that virtually all of this has been destroyed.

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Four houses, long gone, located about three blocks from where our brewery is now located.

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Aerial Map of Random Row / Vinegar Hill with Jefferson School visible.  You can still see the Lewis & Clark and Sacagawea Statue, but that’s about all that is the same.  Houses and/or small businesses occupied most of what would go on to become the Federal Courthouse, the Omni, the new Marriott Residence Inn on West Main, the Staples Parking Lot, McDonalds, etc.

There are a couple of other things we like about Random Row. One is the alliteration. Everyone loves alliteration (and assonance). We think the name Random Row will make our high school English teachers proud. Another is the allusion to numbers and randomness. As mentioned previously, the majority of our founders have some sort of scientific background. We love numbers. We also love the concept of randomness – one of our founders is bordering on obsessed with randomness (and highly recommends you read Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicolas Taleb, to learn more read the author, see his personal website here). And, as much as we hate to admit it, life sometimes feels random (especially when you are starting your own business), and without a doubt, there is an element of randomness to the production of beer, although the goal in brewing is to reduce as much of that randomness as possible.

While we work very hard to control absolutely every element of the brewing process, at the end of the day, the old adage is true – brewers make wort, yeast make beer. Beer is made by yeast, which are living organisms. They cannot be controlled the way you control your microwave, your garage door opener, or your air conditioner. They have to be cared for, and fed, and allowed to reproduce, but ultimately, they do what they want, and complete understanding of yeast behavior is not possible. Thus, the most important element to the production of beer, is in many ways out of our control (ok, maybe not random – we still haven’t figured out how yeast make decisions yet, or if they even think it all; preliminary data suggests that they think mostly about how they can screw us over on our next batch of beer, but we are still figuring them out).

And this is why, when you come to our brewery and ask for a “Random Row,” we will pour you four random beers, in a random order, and we won’t tell you what they are.

with added annotations, we added these, so their accuracy may be a little off
Vinegar Hill c. 1960 with added annotations, we added these, so their accuracy may be a little off

 

What Does Random Row Mean?

Equipment: How The Beer Is Made

Because equipment selection is one of the most important decisions made by a new brewery (although obviously not the only major decision), we spent a large percentage of our time researching equipment manufacturers and making calculations re: optimal size.

We considered everything from a 1 barrel (BBL) nano brewery system (bootstrap strategy) up to a 15BBL microbrewery system (go big or go home strategy).  In the end, we decided to purchase a 10 BBL direct fired gas brewhouse with 7 BBL tanks.  1 US BBL of beer is equal to 31 gallons (haven’t been able to figure out why it’s 31 BBL).  This will give us the flexibility to expand in the future with 10 or 20 BBL tanks if we need to (we hope so!).  The decision to go with 7 BBL tanks instead of 10 BBL tanks was so that we could focus on taproom sales and smaller batch brewing to bring customers more variety, i.e. turn over the tanks faster.  Additionally, having an “oversized” brewhouse lets us build super high gravity beers (e.g. quadruple IPA… just kidding [sort of]) in reasonable quantity.  And we’ll pretty much be married to our brewhouse, whereas the tanks are a little easier to trade out for bigger ones if we want to do that.  The cost difference between 7 and 10 BBL tanks is not huge, but for a startup every penny counts, so there were some financial calculations to be made as well, especially since we are purchasing seven tanks to begin with.

The other important decision aside from brewery size, was what manufacturer to go with.  Our brewer and co-founder, Kevin, visited several breweries around the state to look at some of the different options available.  Ultimately, we chose Alpha Brewing Operations, out of Nebraska, to furnish our brewhouse and tanks.

alpha brewing operation system

Above is a photo of an Alpha brewhouse (not the exact one we are getting, but similar).

We are still finalizing our equipment selections for the malt mill, glycol chiller, and other accessories.

Here is a picture of a 7 bbl tank, the size that ours will be.  We have a lot of work to do before the tanks arrive in February followed by the brewhouse soon after.

7bbl-fermentor-on-forklift

Equipment: How The Beer Is Made

There’s a Lot of Paperwork Involved in Opening a Brewery!

ttb

One of the huge steps that we have checked off our list is submission of our federal brewery licensing application.  The TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) is very interested in exactly what it is that you plan on operating.  By very, I mean they want to know the coordinates of your proposed location, the layout of the brewery and tasting room, how much beer you plan on producing, how the business is organized, and, the biggest pain, they want to know a lot about the owners and anyone intimately involved in the company.  That means bank statements, background checks, whether or not you have been or currently are involved in any other alcohol business.  The most difficult and time consuming part of this was gathering personal and financial information from the investors who met the qualifications for being scrutinized by the TTB.  If any of the investors have greater than 10% interest in the company, or are managing members, they are subject to these rules.  This is all completed online, which is convenient, except that during the month or so that we were working on this, there were two occasions where the system was shut down for several days for maintenance.

We started working on the application around the first week of September, 2015, and were able to submit it on October 13, 2015.  It was then accepted on October 29, 2015, which means someone has looked at it and it has been assigned to someone to review.   The average processing time for a brewery application is about 132 days as of August 2015.  That puts us into February before we can start brewing any beer.  Fortunately we won’t have equipment until then, and our building won’t be ready before then.  Now we just have to hope that we completed the application to the satisfaction of the TTB, or that 132 days can lengthen significantly.

Once the federal license is issued, we can submit our Virginia ABC application, which is no walk in the park, but much simpler than the TTB.  Each state is different. Additionally, there is the paperwork required to start and operate a business in your state.

We will update the status of our licensing applications as they progress. Until then, we will be working on designing the tasting room, sourcing ingredients for the first brews (hops in particular), and finishing up our equipment orders (still need a lot of ancillary items).

There’s a Lot of Paperwork Involved in Opening a Brewery!

Random Row Brewing Company finally has a home!  Starting late winter 2016 we will be occupying 608 Preston Avenue, Suite A, a large, open space formerly occupied by Moxie, which recently moved into a larger space at the back of the property.  The lease negotiation process took us a lot longer than we thought, but in retrospect that is understandable – we are asking our landlord to let us move tons (literally) of expensive, immovable equipment onto his property, cut trenches into his floor, drill holes in his ceiling, and do any other number of unspeakable things to the building.  But we have found an amazing partner in Mark Green, who is developing the King Lumber project of which we are now a part.  Mark has been extraordinarily professional to work with and has worked tirelessly to frame every potential point of contention (or negotiation) into a win-win context.  As for the property itself?  We think it will suit our needs perfectly.  It’s part of a larger historical renovation, the centerpiece of which is the King Lumber Building, and if interested in learning more information, see Sean Tubbs’ excellent article in Cville Tomorrow.  Features that we were particularly drawn to included ample parking (most of us have children and we don’t like dragging our kids across the street for any reason), high ceilings (lots of expansion opportunity), and central location (while not all of us live downtown anymore, we are always looking for an excuse to get down here).

This is 608 Preston Ave, Suite A, in all its post-demolition glory. By summer 2016 it will be the home of Random Row Brewing Co. 10 barrel brewhouse, fermenters, serving tanks, cold room, bar, etc. Have to start somewhere...
This is 608 Preston Ave, Suite A, in all its post-demolition glory. By summer 2016 it will be the home of Random Row Brewing Co. 10 barrel brewhouse, fermenters, serving tanks, cold room, bar, etc. Have to start somewhere…