It was right around Memorial Day when we ran out of beer.
We became aware of this trend as early as December of last year. Based on the success of our tap room, and primarily our flagship IPA Hayburner on draft lines around the city, we were growing faster than we had originally planned to grow. By the time we won the TAP NY award for “Best Craft Brewery in New York State”, we knew that we would need to make more beer than we were capable of. And, by Memorial Day, we were all out.
Let’s back up a bit.
Even before we opened our brewery, there were three parts to our long term plan:
1) Make great beer
2) Serve it in a comfortable and appealing tap room (our factory showroom so to speak)
3) Distribute in bottles or cans all over Western New York
And so, we had always planned to expand the brewery in order to put the beer on shelves in supermarkets and retail stores. Just not this quickly.
There were a number of questions we had to answer immediately.
First question: bottles or cans?
In a sentence: cans have a story.
Cans completely protect beer from light exposure. All things being equal, the seam between the can and the can lid does a better job of keeping out oxygen than a bottle cap does. Cans are more accessible for outdoor drinking at parks and beaches, and easier to transport as well. Cans are lighter than bottles, and thus cost less to transport, both filled and unfilled.
And finally, cans are just cool right now. Probably because of all the stuff above. But also, they’re just cool.
So, we began the work of scoping our new brewing equipment – 6 x 60 barrel fermenters would effectively triple our capacity and give us some room to breathe.
More beer to package requires more packaging tanks, so we added on 3 more brite tanks as well. More beer production requires more raw materials, and so we decided to add on a 60,000 pound silo, which instantly reduced the cost of our most expensive material (base malt) as well as the number of people required to actually mill and mash. We bought a real time, inline weighing scale as well, so now we just program what we want to weigh, press a button and the mash begins!
Then, we realized that to store all these cans, we needed more warehouse space. And, we also knew that we were out of space to store all sorts of other stuff – dry food storage for the kitchen, spare furniture for the beer hall, etcetera, etcetera. We were even out of space to store employees. When we started this in 2014, we had three employees. We now have almost 90, including all of the tap room (part and full time) employees we have. This means we needed more office space, a bigger break room, and even another employee bathroom (we only had one bathroom for those 90ish employees up until this summer – which I can tell you, was not a pretty sight.) And finally, we were a bit short on space for tap room private events, which was a part of our business that had grown a lot since we first opened.
And so, what began as the (relatively simple) idea of putting beer into cans, became an expansion project for the entire site. This was incredibly stressful. Imagine starting with a crazy idea like opening a brewery, watching it succeed, then pretty much knocking it all down and starting all over again? Yet, that’s what we did.
So, on that Memorial Day, when we realized we were out of beer, well yeah, that was a problem. A “Good Problem to Have?” Of course. But still a problem.
Luckily, we already had a plan in place. We hired several new brewers to our staff that very same week. By middle of July, we had our new tanks in and switched our schedule to brewing three shifts a day. That’s right – we start brewing at about 11:30pm on Sunday and don’t finish until midnight on Friday. The brewers have worked very hard to make beer for you, Buffalo. If you happen to meet one of our brewers out, buy them a beer!
The Beer Hall was completed in August and we had a nice little party to celebrate the re-opening at the beginning of September. It is now a perfect place to hold a banquet, complete with its own bar, bathrooms, video and audio, and capable of being privatized from the rest of the tap room.
The cans were the last piece of the puzzle. Lots of decisions here.
12 oz in 6-packs or 16 oz in 4-packs? We went with 12 oz. More volume per pack, more servings per pack, more beer to share with friends.
Which beers? Of course Hayburner, but we wanted more than just the one option. Low Bridge, the low ABV yet flavorful crossover golden ale we make is regarded so well in our tap room; and often at events, we get great feedback about Excavator, our rich, chocolatey brown ale with notes of spicy rye. Our three signature beers are like a family. We just couldn’t split them apart.
We knew the first question people would ask: “Where’s Deep Cut?” We are totally planning to put Deep Cut, our award winning and buzzworthy double IPA in cans, just a bit further down the road. But what about your favorite beer (X)? Cans are expensive and it takes time to create and approve artwork and print cans or can labels. So, it is too early to say what the next beer we’ll can will be. This is just the beginning, people.
The artwork for these cans took longer than we wanted – but by now, you probably have a good idea who we are. We take our time until we feel like it’s right. And we’re very happy with how the cans look.
Getting the canning line up and running was incredibly difficult. Packaging is not at like brewing and there were many challenges. However, by Friday night on 9/23, we had canned all the beer we needed for the launch. That brings us to today.
You’ll be able to buy our beer in cans beginning on Thursday, 9/29.
A few features/notes about the cans:
- They are sold in these sweet 6-pack cartons: honestly, I almost like the way the cartons look more than the actual cans! These should be easy to spot on the shelf.
- “Drink this beer fresh. Keep refrigerated.” These phrases are written all over the can and carton. Craft beer is like fresh bread from your bakery. Take it home, store it properly, and enjoy it as fresh as possible. If you’re the kind of person that prefers Wonder Bread, you’re probably shopping for beer in the wrong section of the store.
- “Canned on” dates. We think it’s important that you know the date that we canned the beer so you have an idea of how fresh it is. What does fresh mean? There is no simple answer to this question. Rest assured, if you buy our beer, keep it cold, and drink it as soon as possible – you won’t be disappointed. The date is both printed on the can and stamped on the carton. (FYI - there may be a few cans missing the date as we worked on getting the canning line going – this is a problem that will be rectified, and you should not see much of this going forward.)
- Why is the ABV on the Hayburner can 7.2%? I thought it was 7.0%? And why is the ABV on the Excavator can 6.2%? I thought it was 5.8%? Yeah, well… New York State makes you file for a label approval before the beers are even brewed. And, sometimes, in order to get the flavors right, they don’t turn out at EXACTLY the ABV you thought they would turn out at. We also had the beers tested for ABV, because there are federally mandated alcohol tolerances on labeling, and in doing so we found out the ABVs were a bit higher than we thought. Sorry! There are a few of you out there reading this, nodding and saying to yourself “Now I get it…
Where can you get our beers in cans? As of 9/29, they will be sold at Consumers, Wegmans, most Tops, Dash's, a few independent gas stations, and bottle shops all over the area (ABW, Brewed and Bottled, Murphy Brown’s, Premier, VBM, and WOB.) Thanks to everyone who is supporting us in carrying this beer.
This weekend, we’ll be at the following locations sampling the beer from cans:
- Thursday 9/29: Consumer's 3160 Niagara Falls Blvd and 8580 Transit Rd 4 - 6PM
- Friday 9/30: Wegmans Amherst Street 4 - 6PM
- Friday 9/30: Wegmans McKinley Parkway 4 - 6PM
- Friday 9/30: Village Beer Merchant Elmwood 5-7PM
- Saturday 10/1: Consumer's 2644 Elmwood Ave 11AM - 1PM and 3025 Sheridan Drive 1:30 - 4PM
- Saturday 10/1: Wegmans Alberta Drive 12 - 2PM
- Saturday 10/1: Wegmans Sheridan Drive 3 - 5PM
- Sunday 10/2: Tops South Transit (Lockport) 10AM - 12PM
We’ll also have six packs for sale in our tap room in the new cooler in our merchandise area (another thing we had to build this summer!)
Thanks to all that have helped us get this far – our contractors, the Iskalo Development team, other breweries that have spoken with us about the canning line (Rohrbach in Rochester and Tool Shed in Calgary – you are both awesome), and our staff that had to deal with our mess of a warehouse for the last four months – thanks for persevering.
We have worked very hard to bring you this beer and we very much hope that you enjoy it. Cheers!