Visit the Student Brewer site

The whole point of this blog - the brewery! Whilst it's been nice to think about the pub, the way it's going, where it's come from, I have sorely missed thinking about the brewery. That's a lie - I have been thinking about it but in an almost subconscious way. But now that Bank Holiday is over (honestly, a weekend selling 250 pints of ale a day followed by all of 55 pints of it on Tuesday!) I can step out the kitchen a little, falling into the current role of telling the chefs and cooks what jobs I'd like doing and leaving them to it, checking at the end of the day. It works - and means that in one day I've managed to tick off a huge list of important jobs like finding beds for all the guests at the beer festival and the minor factor of ordering some drinking vessels for it!
But the brewery. My brewery. I've found myself going into where it's currently stored, sitting on an empty firkin, day-dreaming of it operational, the hum of the pump, the bubbling of the boil, the smell of the bag of whole-leaf hops upon first opening the silver bag of dreams. The hops are extremely in my mind at the minute - I've got the vine ready to go above the bar tomorrow morning. Apparently spraying it with hairspray will allow it to keep it's colour as it dries out, but it feels wrong, in the same way finishing the Christmas menu the day after August bank holiday feels wrong. Ale is natural, and I'm lucky enough to be situated in an area of hops, spring water and grain. Adding a spray to preserve part of this natural product - no. I'd rather let it age gracefully, greying throughout the year. I've already got plans for a hop festival next year over the last week of summer holidays - getting the school children involved and other such things. As with most of my thoughts, the details won't be there until the day of the festivities.

Back to the brewery - again! I've been thinking hard since meeting with a couple of people. Person #1 was a planning officer in Brecon at an open surgery, giving advice about planning permission for different types of building and what not. Turns out, for the huge process we'd have to go through to gain a brewhouse so huge it would take up 2 car parking spaces in the car park, we might as well put in planning for something a bit bigger. If we did the planning process and all went well, I'd have an operational brewery by the end of December. At the earliest. Part of the business plan was me using the quiet period after summer to spend more time in the brewery, developing ales and practising the techniques. But back to that business plan in a minute. The point is, I wanted the brewery 2 months back. It's rare I get impatient for something these days.

The second person was a lady at an open surgery for new businesses. It's a great idea - the Welsh Assembly has a pot of grants (somewhat diminished recently but still there) and found that not a lot of people were applying. Someone suggested that instead of expecting self employed and soon-to-be self employed to spend a vast amount of time drudging through tedious websites with no clear idea of what grant may be available, they get on the road and tell people 'you can have a grand to help you develop your website'.

Talking with this lady about the grants available, she asked to see the business plan. It had a best case scenario (so, so tempted to be silly about this), worst case scenario (made me grow up quickly) and an expected scenario. It stated the expected cost of production in a generic form (£x a firkin) gathered by helpful brewers around the area. And how much I thought I could sell the stuff for - and to how many places. And a load of other things - time taken, marketing spend, etc etc.

She read through the 3 pages and didn't laugh. She did, however, floor me with 1 simple question that looking back I should have asked myself.

'Where do you see yourself, and the business, in 5 years time'

I know why I haven't asked myself this question - I don't really like the answer. Pubs are home for me - always worked in them, love socialising in them, just feel completely comfortable and relaxed in them. In 5 years time would the family still have the pub? Would I have it? Would I want it? Would I have another, or would I focus entirely on the brewery?

I've always dwarfed myself with what I do. I don't do halves. Sell ale? Stick 3 or 4 handpumps on, get a different ale from 4 local breweries, don't change them. Make life easy. Sell bar food? 6 mains on a chaulkboard, changing depending on cost and freshness. Make life easy. Beer festival? 20 beers, local band, hose the barrels down with cold water and stick a jacket on them. Make life easy.

But no, I want 10 handpumps selling ale, cider and perry, guests changing after each barrel. I want a menu made of forgotten classics - all those dishes you can buy ready made and just reheat - proper steak and kidney pudding, made by hand and steamed properly. 50 beers, full cooling system, Phil Bates and Co playing and a line up of guest speakers I never dreamed I'd be able to offer.

How will this transpire. Apparently, given the amount of background research I've done, building up a potential customer base of other, local pubs, offering more than other local breweries, the business plan of developing sides to the brewery, she thinks the business could be more of a success than I wrote as the 'expected' part of the business plan. I pointed out that I currently haven't brewed an ale entirely by myself, but that seemed of little concern to her. Apparently it's the way I think - I put the beer festival webpage on the the brewery website purely because I had complete control over it, supported by google. As opposed to the pub's website with which I have to send updates to an email address that take up to 4 working days to come through. So the 500+ people that have looked at the festival site have seen we have a brewery.

Interesting times ahead. Apparently that's a Chinese curse - may you live in interesting times. But with a couple of industrial units available from the end of September, I may be just in time to release a beer full of mixed spice.*

The end of the meeting with the lady from the WA was very positive. They'll help with the business plan. They'll help with funding for capital equipment (she didn't look too happy when I said a shiny fully copper brewery would look good). They'll help after 12 months with an expansion grant. They'll help me every step of the way. And news like that, after weeks and weeks of 'no, not like that' and the such, is music to my ears. Time for a beer to celebrate.


*Don't worry, I won't.