Hindsight is 2020 - Looking back and ahead
I've missed a year-end post by a few days, but better late than never. I'll try not to get too sentimental. 2020 was a bit of a dumpster fire for the world and was for many people the worst year of their life. We're all happy to see the year behind us, but it's wise to remember that changing the calendar does not make our problems go away... I'm not here to talk about that though. I have been extremely fortunate in that I've been able to keep my job(s) and my health in 2020. I even helped start a brewery. So let's talk about one of the unexpected (at least to me) challenges around that.
Looking in 11 months ago
The normal arch for a pro brewer seems to be that they start at the bottom, maybe volunteering at a brewery to help clean kegs, then getting hired on as a cellarman, then assistant brewer, and finally head brewer. After enough experience with that, they make the leap and open their own brewery. I have the utmost respect for those who follow that path. It is a tremendous amount of work and dedication. I did not follow that path. I had the opportunity to jump right into the deep end and I did so - without knowing how to swim. So far, I have not drowned.
Our RO system wasn't working yet on our first test batch so we had to improvise
I've been homebrewing for about a decade and a half so I wasn't entirely unprepared. The process is largely the same, just bigger and most steps take longer. Plus there is dangerous equipment and chemicals that don't exist at the homebrew scale. Homebrewing does not prepare you for necessary bits of pro brewing of maintaining a cellar, keeping a large draft system clean and balanced, keeping the beer people love in stock, and not making too much of the stuff they don't love as much.
That last bit has been the biggest challenge for me. I hardly know what I want to drink on a given day, let alone what the public wants to drink. So I started with a few of my personal favorite recipes with the hope that people would have similar tastes. And they did! We received mostly positive feedback from those initial brews. Some of them have come back already and some will come back in the future, but I have many more recipes to try out.
Our first troll HATED our initial selection of beers and let us know how wrong we were.
In my other life, I often write short programs to automate a process or make insights into data when there's too much to manually parse through. So I created a program that looks into our POS data and calculates a "popularity" metric for each beer. It's essentially ounces sold per day. This isn't perfect, of course. When we only had 5 beers on tap, those 5 skew higher than beers when we have 20 on tap. Slowdowns due to weather or COVID restrictions skew the results down just as busy weekends skew upwards. Imperfections aside, this data point gives me a rough idea of what people like to drink. So here's our top 10 for 2020 in descending order:
2. 80 East to Ariana
3. Moliner Weisse
4. Cherry Pylon
5. The Gold
7. 80 East To Amarillo
8. Merry (cran) Berry
10. Mango Milkshake IPA
What does this tell us? Should I just brew barrel-aged Ryetoberfest year-round? Maybe... but I'd probably be haunted by my German ancestors for brewing an Oktoberfest out of season. Should I throw out all versions of 80 East except for Ariana? No - I feel like variety is important and Ariana was sold during beautiful weather and with far fewer COVID cases in the QCA. 80 East Amarillo is likely the more "popular" beer given proper context.
So what does this data show? Honestly, I don't know yet, but it's been fueling a lot of my thoughts around what I'll brew in 2021. I'm certainly taking a more strategic approach to filling the tap rails. I plan on always having a fruited sour on and always having a Pylon on. More barrel-aged beers and more juicy hop bomb IPAs too. And The Gold and Liffey aren't going away anytime soon. There will be plenty of new stuff too! I have a notebook full of recipes I'm excited to introduce to everyone.
Cheers to you all and here's to 2021!