Is there room for more breweries?

So one of the most asked questions that we have been asked is, “Is the market saturated in Charleston?” or “Is there enough room for another brewery in Charleston?”

We have been working on our business plan very diligently and this question is one that HAS to be answered before we move forward.

The research that we have done makes the answer a bit elusive and somewhat difficult to determine, although there have yet to be any indications of market saturation in regional markets with a very high density of breweries per capita. This is good news for us and for the Charleston beer scene in general.

Portland, Oregon has the distinction of having more craft breweries than any other city in the world at 52 (current as of our research), and they continue to grow. In the greater Portland area, they boast more than 70 total breweries. Charleston currently has 11 Breweries. To put this into perspective, the population of the Greater Charleston area is around 698,000 while Portland’s population around 610,000. The Charleston area has a greater population than Portland, while the greater Portland area has more than 6 times the number of active breweries in operation.  With the explosive growth experienced by almost every craft brewery in the greater Charleston area, it is a reasonable conclusion that the greater Charleston area has room for growth of the craft beer industry.

I AM starting to get concerned about the ever-dwindling shelf space and tap availability. I have even seen reference to SKU-maggedon, or the overabundance of craft-beers for retailers who will eventually not have space no matter how high-quality and well-differentiated the beer is. I DO think that this is catastrophic thinking and fear-mongering, but I WILL keep my eyes on it.

Regardless, as far as I am concerned is that YES, there is room for another brewery here in Charleston. It might as well be us.

 

Award Winning Homebrewers

This past week, we won our first homebrew competition.

I had not been super concerned with entering competitions until recently. When we first got started brewing, it was all about having fun and making great beer. I sort of felt like I didn’t need some “certified judge” telling me what might or might not be technically wrong with the beer we were making as long as we liked it and our friends liked it.

mericas-mugThat attitude changed when we decided to pursue going commercial. Pearce convinced me that entering competitions wasn’t about validation of our recipes. It was truly about learning from qualified people AND bolstering our reputation as brewers. At this point, we have no street cred in the brewing community and we are really rookie want-to-be-brewers.  If we enter some competitions and fail to impress the judges, then we will be able to take the critical feedback that they give us and improve our product. If we enter and win ribbons… well, that at least validates that we aren’t dolts.

Our first competition was the Savannah Brewers League ‘Merica’s Mug competition. This one crossed our radar a bit too late and instead of preparing and entering beers brewed specifically for the competition, we entered the two beers that we had on hand at the time. One was a heavily Mosaic hopped American Pale Ale that for some reason I entered as an American IPA. The other was an aggressive and seriously strong double IPA. Both of the beers had slight flaws that we knew about. The APA was sweeter than intended and the DIPA was not quite where we wanted it either. Regardless, we thought they were pretty damn good. The judges, on the other hand, thought differently. They provided detailed feedback about the flaws in the beers. Both beers were deemed to have had issues with fermentation control which may have led to off-flavors. The first beer was not entered in the correct category and it was considered too “fruity” and sweet with not enough hop character.  The second beer was considered “pleasant” yet not hoppy enough by one judge and “not a good example” by the other and was deemed to have a possible diacetyl issue… Live and learn. In all seriousness, though, we took the feedback from the judges as constructive and it will lead to a better understanding of brewing in future batches.

judge-feedback

After digesting the feedback we tightened our processes and really dialed in our fermentation temperature control. We studied a little more about what made beer better. We kept brewing and kept tweaking our process.

IMG_3335So we entered two beers into a regional homebrew competition called Brewtopia 2.2 several weeks ago. This is NOT your typical homebrew competition where you can enter any BJCP style beer, but rather a very specific brewing competition. The rules stated that we could submit ANY type of beer as long as primary fermentation was accomplished by a French Saison yeast (specifically Wyeast 3711 or WLP590.) Pearce and I were excited about the opportunity to take things out of the box a bit. We developed a recipe for a Saison aged on vanilla beans and figs as well as a Saison d’Hiver (a Winter Saison) brewed with winter vegetables and aged on beets. Raise your hand if you are thirsty. We totally over did it with the beets on the Saison d’Hiver and we knew it, but we entered it anyway because WTH not? I was pretty pumped about the Vanilla Fig Saison though. It turned out really nice.
I have realized that this post is much longer than I wanted it to be so I will leave it at this… We took 1st Place with the Vanilla Fig and 4th place with the Saison d’Hiver. We won our first homebrew competition. Does this mean we will become award winning commercial brewers? No. But at least we know that we are building a foundation to become great brewers.

If you are a homebrewer and you HAVEN’T entered a competition yet, let me challenge you to do so. Go fo BJCP certified competitions, if possible, or ones with a reputation for providing scoring sheets. The resulting feedback from the judges will make you a better brewer.

 

 

The Background Story – Part I

How We Started Brewing

Pearce and I were friends before we started brewing together. We actually met through a mutual friend (this is your shout-out Jason Trotta) in the triathlon community. That’s right, Pearce and I are triathletes. Don’t be so surprised. We have been known to crush that shiz.

PH-tri
Triathlon & Beer go together like bacon & anything.

I am pretty sure that both Pearce and I could have been considered beer connoisseurs (read: snobs, geeks, a-holes) before we knew each other. If nothing else, you could say that we appreciated the finer craftings of barley, water and hops. I am not sure where Pearce’s interest in craft-beer came from (I will ask him and update his profile) but I can tell you that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Pete’s Wicked Ale were the first beers to touch these lips and I never looked back. (I also went to a hippie college ((App State)) where you were actually made fun of for drinking macro-brewed American lagers.) This love of beer and getting outside, while not the glue that holds this friendship together, made it easy for Pearce and me to have something to rally around. I know that “me” doesn’t seem correct in that sentence, but, according to grammar, it is so no trolling…

There have been a lot of Saturday mornings where Pearce and I go out and ride bikes or run and then will have a “brewery lunch.” That is that thing where we burn a bunch of calories and then negate the effort by heading over to Coast Brewing or Revelry Brewing and grabbing some BBQ and a couple of beers. I think it is a common practice among those in the know.

One day while we were hanging out, Pearce said, “I think we should brew some beer.” I, being one to never back down from a challenge, said, “Okay.” So off we went to the LHBS (local home brew shop) to purchase the goods with which our own craft was born.

English Nut Brown - Yes, I know...
English Nut Brown – Yes, I know…

We met up at his house one day and proceeded to brew up our first batch, an English Nut Brown Ale. We chose an easy to brew kit with the knowledge that we wanted to get at least one easy brew under our belt before diving into IPAs and Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stouts and Spontaneously Fermented American Wild Ales.

It was funny, because even though neither of us had done this before, there was something familiar about it. We felt like we were naturals. When the brew day was done, we were hooked. Even though we would have to wait several weeks before tasting the first fruits of our first labor, we knew that we were destined to brew beer. I know, I know. We were just a couple of newbz who had not even produced a drinkable product. But still. Sometimes you just know.

Over the next year or so, we produced several batches of beer, we built a fermentation chamber to help us control temperature during fermentation, we started kegging and we upgraded our equipment a couple of times.  We still had not taken the leap into all-grain brewing, but the story of that transition is for another day.

In the next background post I will tell you about the name we chose to call our homebrew endeavors and about our first homebrew “competition.” Please make sure to subscribe to this blog to get notified whenever new posts are made. I look forward to you coming along on this journey with us…

brew2 chilling ferm-chamber siphon
bottling2 bottling bottled open