AS TOLD BY G
Let’s see...where to start...ah yes! Curiosity. All good stories begins with curiosity. It might be found in the reader or listener, it might be found in a character, or it might be found the motivation of the story itself. Our story begins with curiosity.
Alice, we will call her that because that is her real name, had introduced her brother-in-law, Leo, to craft beer. In an unusual turn, Leo had an immediate affinity for IPAs! There is no explanation for this...but it is what one should expect from Leo. Leo is a curious person. A scientist and accomplished cook, Leo’s thoughts began to swirl around his new found affinity for craft beer. So he decided to buy himself a beer kit from a home brew store. He brewed the beer from the kit...and he liked it.
Shortly there after, Leo brought his beer to a neighborhood party to see if other people would like his beer. It received good reviews. He proceeded to ask if any of us had brewed beer before. I had, decades ago, in graduate school, when the term microbrew was being introduced and so had Fran. We decided to all get together one Saturday afternoon and brew another beer kit together. There were five of us:
Leo: Almost exclusively an IPA drinker who occasionally enjoys a Saison
Mark G: If it’s red he’s drinking it, brewing it, or showering in it! He loves reds.
Fran: He loves the darkside! “I don’t want to see any light coming through my glass.”
Frank: Fran’s antithesis...“Wheat please.”
G: He’s just crazy in a fedora.
Together, around a stove we would come to affectionately calle the “Flintstone stove,” for the technology and mechanical working of this stove are really that old, we began to brew beer.
One of our first kits was an Imperial Red Ale that we named King Leo’s Red Ale. We made a fancy label, we love making labels, and bottled our beer. Now, Leo scoffed at his name on the label which made us speak of it even more and then lovingly refer to his house, where we brewed all of our beer, as the “castle.”
(As you can see we were still playing with names)
We evolved our way from DME & LME kits of many styles, to mini-mash kits, and finally to all-grain brewing...because we were curious to see if we could. We moved on from the Flintstone stove to electric immersion elements to propane burners meant for making beer.
Oh we were excited to all-grain brew! We felt like real brewers! All the equipment, the grain, the hops, the yeast styles and starters, the science and the technology, BeerSmith software...so many moving parts!
Due to the excitement of being “all-grain brewers” and figuring out what system we would use for mashing, boiling, and cooling, we spent almost a whole year mashing incorrectly...but we learned from our mistakes...and we learned a lot!
We knew there was much to learn and if we only brewed occasionally we might be in the nursing home before figuring it all out, so we committed ourselves to brewing every week. We’ve brewed in rain, snow, heat, hail, and on some of Mother Nature’s most beautiful days. We called ourselves W5 Craft Brew...
(Design by Matthew Witmer)
...but by the time we chose the name our group had grown and changed. One brew pot grew to three and we regularly hosted/taught guest brewers what we had learned. We grew to a club of about fifteen people who brewed together. We were friends who became family. The castle was crowded but there was always room for one more.
About eighteen months into W5, Leo made a curious comment when tasting one of our beers. “This is too good not to share!” he exclaimed. Now it is uncertain if he intended this to be anything more than a happy exclamation of a beer done well but it has become a sentiment we have embraced. W5 donated beer to many charities over the last year and a half which not only gave us an opportunity to share but to receive good feedback on our beer. This experience nudged our confidence to move from home brewers to commercial brewers. Would it be too much if I said we were curious to see if we could become commercial brewers?
Seven members of W5, and two business-wise wives, have founded Crowded Castle Brewing Company.
The gift of beer which brought together friends who shared their gift of beer has spawned a brewing company which hopes to share their gift and love of beer.
Join us at Crowded Castle where we always have room for one more.
I am the storyteller and this is our story...as best I can remember.
Oh the paperwork!
I read in a blog written by a brewer that running a brewery is 90% cleaning and 10% paperwork. Well, starting a brewery seems to be 90% paperwork and 10% planning!
After assembling the owners group:
Leo: who you’ve been introduced to earlier
Kathryn: Leo’s wife, Lawyer, and IPA drinker
Fran: who you’ve been introduced to earlier
Michele: Fran’s wife and business manager, book keeper, techie, etc...
Mark G: who you’ve been introduced to earlier
Kyle: Business and Marketing
Anna: Communications and Marketing
Margaret: Business Development...and my wife
The first order of business was to give ourselves an identity. What should we call ourselves? After several brainstorming sessions we came up with a list which was then made into a ballot for voting...yep, this is a democratic group.
(A side note here: we received much advice advising us to not be democratic and to reduce the number of people involved in ownership but we decided to give it a go. We had worked together for several years already and it just felt right. Only time will tell.)
The votes were counted and Crowded Castle Brewing Company won! Yea!
Next came a decision on a logo. For this we submitted our name and ideas to a website, 99 Designs, that uses multiple artists who compete for your business with their designs. Every design we received was awesome! We could have easily chosen any one of the designs, the artists are that talented! After much discussion...and another vote...we chose a design by Ivanna, an artist from Serbia! No kidding! Via the internet, we bought our logo from a woman in Serbia! How cool is that!!
It took a little tweeking to get it just the way we wanted but Ivanna’s patience with us matched her talent! In the end we ended up with a logo that we think not only helps tell our story but also reflects the global and diverse history and presence of beer in our world. We also think it is one rockin’ logo!
The next question was how should we go about brewing? We began by looking for property and equipment for a very small proof of concept brewery, basically a pilot system brewery. Then we looked at our business plan. We looked at property and equipment for small 10-15 BBL brewery. Then we looked at our business plan. Finally, we decided that the wisest decision was to begin by contract brewing. This would allow us to meet the demands of our business plan by focusing our resources on production and sales with out the weight of property and equipment costs. It is a good place for us to start. But where can a small start up brewing company find a contract brewer willing to work with them?
Free Will Brewing Company is that place. John Stemler and he business partners at Free Will Brewing Company, located in Perkasie, Pennsylvania are going to be brewing our first batch of commercial COPR IPA, on June 16, 2015 and we are very excited to be working with Free Will Brewing Company as our contract brewery.
Oh, if only this were the end of the paperwork! There is a partnership agreement, licensing from the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau...I guess with Government cutbacks they couldn’t afford the first two letters!), liability insurance for the company, a contract brewer contract, hop contracts, new customer paperwork from the malt vendors, and distributor contracts!
I can only wish that this was the end of the list and that everything was completed...sigh...but it is not so! Soon, very soon I hope, all of this paperwork will be but a memory blur. That is what those who have done this before tell us will happen but for now it is just a big pile of paperwork we need to complete...and then wait for approval!
Why is it I am always seeking approval?!