I am sitting on the porch of a vacation rental, listening to the gentle pattering of the rain that just rolled in off the bay. For the last couple of years, our family has planned a getaway to the Eastern Shore. Each of us harbors a connection to this place. For Andrea, it is nostalgia for the times spent here with her family when she was younger. For me it is the connection with the slower places I have enjoyed throughout my life. For the boys, this is the place we have spent the most time when traveling away from home. We don’t belabor it or even emphasize it but we all enjoy the quiet. While there are a few touristy sort of things to do near the places we usually stay, it isn’t a priority. Instead we enjoy spending time together (except for the older son who had to stay behind this year for a new job.) We indulge in our various hands on hobbies, the younger son and I brought guitars and Andrea her sewing machine. I find I tend to get more writing done, easing into a much more contemplative state of mind.
During the various pauses these past few days, I can’t help but ponder where we are at with the decision that I wrote about almost a month ago, to open a brewery. I say “we” not as some sort of affectation, but rather because this project has gladly grown beyond my efforts alone.
Right after I wrote up the decision, Andrea and I traveled to Burlington. As planned, I spent two days at a boot camp that dove deep into the process of assembling and writing a business plan. I absorbed a great deal of information, confirming a lot of what I knew that I did not know. I discovered more things to consider. Mostly I came away with a perspective that there would be no single point where I would be entirely ready but rather that I would always be learning as I went. If I am able to have at least one or two leads or ideas, people or resources to help, that seems about right in terms of navigating my way through. At the end of the two days, I felt both more prepared and more overwhelmed.
I spent two more days at a conference focused on nano-scale breweries. The presentations offered a lot more details and depth on topics covered in the boot camp. Equally as valuable was the chance to meet and talk with people just like me, comparing notes and experiences. Some times those conversations were validating, at other times I was again grateful for being exposed to questions I hadn’t considered, fueled by someone else’s take on the whole process.
As you might imagine, there was a lot of beer on offer, especially during latter two days, as part of the conference itself. The organizers brought in local breweries to serve a couple of beers during the breaks and at receptions each night. I bought a plus one ticket for Andrea for one of those receptions. Up to this point, the main purpose of the trip was to equip me. She decided to come along more as a vacation, to explore Burlington while I was learning. The brewery had been my dream, even with Andrea’s interest in helping out in the tap room. We had been talking too about how she could tackle learning about beer, to better equip her for work in the tasting room. Andrea is more of a cider drinker, often struggling to appreciate differences in different kinds of beers.
I have to give her a good deal of credit. She has never really made a big deal about not liking beer. She often would try in good faith, just as often declaring, “Yep, tastes like beer.” At this reception, though, she was eager to learn, asking what she should be trying and why. Maybe it was the tour around the vendors we did first, where she got to see how much ready support there is. Maybe it was the change of scenery, like when we travel to the shore, helping her to feel more adventurous. Whatever the case, she not only tried a good variety of beers, she was able to tease out some interesting insights and identify at least one style of beer that is new to her that she liked and may come back to to explore further.
The exhibition space and reception was modest in size. We didn’t take long to go through each vendor’s offering and to sample our fill. We kept talking about what she had seen and she continued to ask more and more about the past few days for me. Over breakfast the next morning, while we were still talking about our brewery, solidifying the sense that this is our brewery not solely mine. We realized that the next time we are able to attend something like this conference, Andrea will have many more of her own reasons to participate.
Since we returned from Burlington, I have been swamped at work. This long weekend is really the first chance I have had to pause and reflect. Thankfully, that shift we went through in Vermont from mine to ours has been a timely blessing. We haven’t made a good deal of progress this past month but it has not been nothing. We met a prospective lawyer at the end of the first week back, one whom we’ve since decided to retain. That first meeting, like parts of the boot camp and conference the week before, was validating. We weren’t entirely crazy. Much of what we were thinking met with nods and interested questions. This lawyer has industry experience, which is helpful, and even turned us on to another consultant who may be able to help us with the business plan.
One of the things I took away from our time in Vermont is that the right consultants can be a huge benefit. I definitely feel like the first meeting with our lawyer was a case in point. My initial call with this business consultant was as well. We haven’t contracted her, yet, but for free she gave some good advice about how to organize the work we need to do at this point with regards to our plan. With Andrea’s newfound interest and focus, there is a lot we can divvy up between us, applying our respect strengths in terms of gathering information and doing our early due diligence.
I have another call right after we get back from the shore with another possible consultant. This one is an old acquaintance, one who has successfully started a couple of commercial breweries and consulted on several more. He often weighs in on what I share of my home brewing, with good constructive feedback and questions. I am hopeful that whatever comes of our call, it will help move us forward on the parts of our plan that will touch on actual production.
Time is going to continue to be a scarce commodity through the end of the year. I will keep my day job for some time to come, even after we are able to open the brewery. Mostly we will need the benefits and added security. Thankfully, everyone at my employer, especially my boss, are super supportive. I will do my utmost to continue to give them my best effort, doing what I can to strike the right balance with planning and then running the brewery. This is yet another area where Andrea’s evolution has really helped me feel more at ease. We’d always expected there were things she could help out with beyond the tap room itself while I juggled both jobs. The fact that she is now so much more hands on with the planning means that she will be better able to find her own best opportunities to help. She will know why some bit of work is critical, not only that it is.
For now, we are working to narrow down where within the county we’d like to open. Andrea has already found some great resources to help pull more data and ideas into the mix. We talk pretty much every day about what we’ve found and how that is helping us filtering down the likely candidates. I am encouraged that I find the kinds of questions and issues we dig into almost as fascinating as the process and product of brewing. A lot of what we have to consider speaks strongly to the values we want to instill in this venture and to represent in a very real way in the world, through our space and our offerings.
Progress will likely continue to be slow yet steady, both due to the demands of the day job and the realities of people taking time off at this time of year. My employer is hiring for over a dozen positions, right now, an effort that is likely to continue into the new year. I am one of the hiring managers, every spare moment at work is spent working with candidates and managing the process.
I am hopeful that we will be able to complete the formation of the legal entity for the brewery in the next few weeks and at least start the trademark application to hopefully clear and then protect our chosen brand. I am less clear on how much progress we’ll make on the location list and other aspects of the business plan. Regardless, we’ll keep plugging away. As we reach each milestone, no matter how minor, I’ll also try to take some time to share thoughts on that steady progress.