Tuesday, January 31, 2012

State of the brewery

This year will be the year we start brewing!
So it is time to give you an update on what is happening. An important step was to set up a core management team to review my preparations, projections and plans, and to reconstruct it in a way that would work. I am very proud and honored to have found 2 exceptional professionals who were enthusiastically willing to join the Saint William Brewery. They represent 2 different sides of the beer medal. In later blog posts, they will introduce themselves as well.

The first person to join was Peter Renzulli, an accomplished accountant, who heads his own national accounting and bookkeeping firm. Currently in his final semester at Rutgers University to complete his MBA, he is a very meticulous and driven person, with a keen sense for business and numbers. Having tried his hand at home brewing, he loved the idea.
He is the man who will ensure the numbers work. Passion for beer is key, but if you cannot make a profit, our goal to share the best possible beer, born from Old World tradition and New World innovation, to as many people as possible, would stop before you know it.

Secondly, Alan Jestice joined Saint William Brewery. He is a very accomplished Craft Beer evangelist, with years of experience and understanding in the wonderful world of American Craft Beer. He is co-owner of the Blind Tiger Ale House in New York, for years responsible for managing the tap choices, branding and marketing, making it one of the most influential places to be for cutting edge brews you'd find nowhere else. With a vast experience in the restaurant and bar business, he knows how to bring Craft Beer to the thirsty consumers wanting the best.
He will assist us in navigating the Craft Beer world, help us bring our message and beer to beer lovers in NJ and beyond. To use his own words:
My work consists of merging ideological aspirations of the brewer and the practical realities of consumerism in craft beer — to sift out a brand that is specific, recognizable and truthful. Currently, as the basic story has been laid out, I am using the financial and physical parameters of this fledgling brewery a part of the brand's public persona — making the journey of the brand as unique and accessible as the beer that it is built upon. 
Between the three of us we cover the business side, the organisational issues, the branding and marketing side, the technical side, making us a formidable team to reconcile passion and vision with the reality of today's economy and market. I am honored and proud of their commitment to lift Saint William Brewery to the highest possible standards, and cannot wait to bring you the fruits of our labor!

Practically, we have been weighing different options, and at this point are ready to go out and find a location. The formula we are pursuing is called 'Alternate Brewing'. This is how Mikkeller  Brewery goes about brewing their highly successful beers, and several American Craft Breweries (such as the Rheingold Brewing Company in Connecticut and Pig's Eye Brewery in Minnesota) are following this route as well. The website of the TTB (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, part of the US Department of the Treasury) defines it this way:
An “alternating proprietorship” is a term used to describe an arrangement in which two or more people take turns using the physical premises of a brewery. 
Generally, the proprietor of an existing brewery, the “host brewery,” agrees to rent space and equipment to a new “tenant brewer.”  Alternating brewery proprietorships allow existing breweries to use excess capacity and give new entrants to the beer business an opportunity to begin on a small scale, without investing in premises and equipment. 
This means that we are looking in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania to find a brewery with excess capacity, willing to enter into a contractual agreement with us, allowing us to rent their facilities for 1 or 2 brews a week. Once we have found that, and have the contract agreed upon, we can start the licensing and start brewing as soon as all the approvals are received. This would strictly be a temporary situation, for 6 to 18 months, as the goal is to have our own brewery as soon as possible.Under this arrangement, the 'hosting brewery' would receive additional income from their equipment, lowering their liability. We will also offer to buy any additional fermentation tanks needed, and once we leave donate them to the host. On the other hand, we would avoid the high initial start-up costs, while still being able to start brewing and get our branding and marketing started (meaning, getting our beers to you!).  This allows us to have something solid, to show investors real data, substantially lowering their risk as we get ready for the next phase. It's a win-win for both parties! As we go ahead with this, I would love to hear what you think of this formula. Leave us a comment!

And that, dear beer people, could only mean one thing: the official start of Saint William Brewery and our beers. We look forward to offer you our Saint William Triple, Saint William Honey and Saint William Amber. For starters. We know you'll be back... And we will be ready to fulfill your need for deeply satisfying beer, one glass at a time. Cheers!
Party in honor of tapping the first keg of Saint William's  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Beer pairing 2 and NJ Winery laws

January has been quite busy already, and we barely started the month!

First some interesting news: yesterday, the NJ Legislature adopted a bill (S3172-A4436) that will allow wineries in New Jersey to directly ship their wines throughout the state. For small and upcoming wineries, this opens the doors for growth, being able to sell directly to consumers. The bill offers small vineyards the possibility to buy a shipping license, allowing them to sell directly to consumers and make up to 250,000 gallons of wine per year. A previous attempt to pass such law would give that ability only to NJ vineyards but was struck down as unconstitutional, which threatened to force closure of the tasting rooms in NJ wineries. These tasting rooms were the main source of income for many small vineyards who did not produce enough to meet wholesale distribution deals, so failure to adopt this bill would have dealt a fatal blow to many small and new vineyards in NJ, such as Beneduce Vineyards, a new vineyard in Pittstown, NJ that is operated by Justen Hiles, a great friend, and her husband and brother.
The main argument opponents of this bill wielded, was the notion that it would cost jobs to retail sellers and distributors. This was clearly a scare tactic by distribution and retail lobbies, as direct shipping and online sales only make up 1% of total sales. It is also very short sighted: allowing these vineyards to do this, and establish themselves, will bring more and more people in contact with their wines and increase interest in NJ wines, something that will consequently spill over to the retail stores as well. They will remain the one spot to go to, in order find a nice and large selection. Most people only go directly to the source if the local stores do not offer a particular wine (or beer) in their selection.

Same for beer: allowing breweries to have a tasting room with a functional bar would not in the slightest hurt bars and pubs. On the contrary: it would help create a healthy beer culture and awareness from which those bars and pubs would profit as well, both because of increased interest with consumers, and because of having healthier and stronger breweries around. Next on my wish list: a bill that would allow breweries to have a bona fide tasting room, allowing to sell their beer normally. An internal bar, where you can buy a full pint of beer, not just four 4 ounce samples, and were you can buy more than just 2 six packs of the brewery's beer. Where you can perhaps enjoy a limited selection of food or snacks, so the visitor to the brewery can experience a more full savoring of what the beers have to offer.

In a previous article I wrote about beer pairings, with a great quote from Greg Engert who wrote about this in his blog "What Wine Can Teach Us About Beer And Food" (Blogged on YoungAndHungry, Washington City Paper, August 10, 2010). I love this quote so much because it gives such better understanding, that I gladly repeat it here again. And it follows nicely after writing about wineries, doesn't it? Greg said:
And in truth, wine does taste wonderfully with many dishes, as does beer; they just tend to do different things when tasted in congress with food. One general idea I subscribe to is that beer tends to complement the flavors of food, while wine tends to contrast. This is born out by the processes involved in the creation of either beverage. The malts employed in brewing have been "cooked," resulting in flavors one will find in cooked food: roasted, caramelized, toasted, grilled. And beer is seasoned with hops, but often also orange peel, coriander, ginger, chocolate, etc. This allows for beer to echo the flavors found in foods also cooked and seasoned. I will admit that this sort of commonality makes beer and food pairing a bit more approachable, but it is different than what wine can do with food (and not necessarily better).

Wine can complement from time to time, but I prefer the interaction of contrasting flavors when wine confronts a dish. Wine does not have the cooked malt effect or the seasoning aspect of beer, but demonstrates a host of fermentation aromas and tastes resulting from its production. I think it is helpful to look at wine as a sort of additional saucing for the dish, and one that tends to transform the dish’s (and wine’s) flavors; beer and food have more of a tendency to mutually accentuate the similarities of aroma and taste found therein. 
Just the other day I came across another pairing that offered a divinely perfect pairing, where the beer completed the food in such a way you'd think they were dancing on your tongue. So, what was that pairing, you now ask. Westmalle Tripel and honey drizzled speculaas ice cream.
Westmalle Tripel is a classic in his own right, the gold standard for tripel ales. Brewed by the monks at the Abbey of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Westmalle, Belgium, it is a full rich malty Trappist beer. The monks themselves describe is as follows:
Westmalle Tripel is a clear, golden yellow Trappist beer that undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle (9,5% alcohol). It is a complex beer with a fruity aroma and a nice nuanced hop scent. It is soft and creamy in the mouth, with a bitter touch carried by the fruity aroma. An exceptional beer, with a great deal of finesse and elegance. And with a splendid long aftertaste.

 It so happened that a friend came over to visit, and stayed for dinner. After a great meal, it felt a nice dessert would top of the evening just perfectly, so I prepared a simple ice cream coupe I had come up with a while ago. It uses finely crumbled speculaas, a Belgian gingerbread like cookie traditionally made for the feast of Saint Nicolas on December 6th. These fine crumbs and a dash of roasted cinnamon powder are then mixed under vanilla ice cream, and the still frozen ice is then scooped on plates in small balls, topped of with a drizzle of preferably wild honey. I served this to my guest table, and opened a large bottle of Westmalle Tripel. Being the first time I paired that specific dessert with a beer, I had a hunch it would be good, but I was not prepared for the perfection of the pairing. The maltiness, slight bitterness and a hint of vanilla in the Westmalle complemented perfectly with the spiced cookie ice and the rich sweetness of the honey. Definitely recommended to try to make this yourself so you too can enjoy this delicious pairing!

Traditional 'Sinterklaas Speculoos'