Startup

It takes a lot to start a brewery. We tried to cover some of it in these posts, but there is just so much. If you cannot find an answer about starting up here, contact us and ask!

Taproom 3/9-11 Tanks-A-Lot

Happy Brewery Expanding Day!

This weeks new beers:

Tanks-A-Lot
We would not be expanding if it wasn’t for all of your support! Thank you all so much! To celebrate we made one beast of an easy drinking beer. Roastyness up front is followed by a smooth transition to a slightly sweet finish. I would not have ever guessed this beer had an ABV of 10.5% if it weren’t for my head spinning after two.

Upcoming Events:
April 22: CC Brewery Festival! more details to very come.

Taproom:
Thursday: 5-9pm (25% off growler fills!)
Friday: 5-11pm
Saturday 3-11pm

Food Trucks:
Thursday: Iron Piñata
Friday: The MIX Grill
Saturday: Miseenplace Mobilecafe

Our Tap line up to start off this Weekend:
1. Session IPA
2. Beach in Wheat
3. Blonde
4. Texas Bock
5. Corpus Christi v11
6. Kombucha – Apple Rubarb (Followed by Orange Cranberry)
7. Hermits Lair
8. Smash Pekko
9. Tanks-A-Lot
10. cHoppy Waters

On Deck (aka we need more taps!):
1. Jetty Rock
2. 1799 Stout

New Tap Handles

Our new tap handles came in!

Lazy Beach Tap Handle

Up until now, we have been using some tap handles that we made by hand. These worked fine, but are not as pretty nor as durable as the ones ordered. The ones we made started turning from white to a yellowish color and you could see some small stains on them as well (pic below). It was a good thing most bars are a bit dark, hiding our sub par wood working skills.

Tap handles are expensive! Most tap handle makers required a 25-200 count minimum order. Then they add setup fees, art fees, and all sorts of other made up fees. The cost of each tap varies depending on design but it seemed to be in the $30-$120 range. With the high minimums the cost gets out of hand for our little startup. This was one of the many expenses we overlooked when doing the financial planning for this journey.

Here is a few pics of the old tap handles. I forgot to take pictures of most steps.

The original mockup printed on top of a cut board

Drilling the hole for the screw piece

After being painted white the logo and text was printed onto the wood

The taps were sealed to prevent water/beer damage

Something didn’t work right and the handle started to fade from bright white to nasty yellow within a few weeks. You can also see how pixelated the text looks up close.

The two handles that were in use, they for some reason seem to like angry orchard.

TABC Approval

We got our letter of approval from TABC!

Federal – Check
State – Check
City – Check

This letter means we can start making beer!

TABC was by far the best of the three levels to work with. Everyone there seems honest and helpful. They did more then we ever expected, to help us get approved. Once they helped us figure out which licensing we needed, all the steps were clear.

Before we can sell the beer we must get label approval. This can take another 3 or more weeks. But at least we can begin brewing, and learning the larger setup.

It won’t be long now!

Initial meetings with TABC

When we talked to TABC around the start of the year they told us to come back once we completed the federal TTB approval. So we waited until we were closer to approval to set up a meeting.

Our first meeting was about licensing. We explained our plans and they helped us determine which licenses best fit those plans. We decided it would be the Manufactures Permit and Manufactures Distribution permit. Together these let us self distribute to resale establishments such as bars, restaurants, and liquor stores. We can also sell on location via tours or tap room. The biggest downside is we cannot produce beer over 4%ABW (about 5% ABV). There is also a size limit to how much we can distribute, but it is much larger than we plan to be for quite a while.

In Texas malt beverages over 5% ABV are ale and below is beer. To produce beer you need the manufactures permit and to produce ale you need the brewers permit. Each having its own self distribution license. While we are able to get all 4 permits and produce everything, our wallet will not allow it. These permits are not cheap and they recur every other year creating more overhead costs.

For TABC the cost to manufacture and self distribute beer is $2901.00 every two years. The cost to brew ale and self distribute ale is $4326.00 every two years. So for us to have both would be $7227.00 every two years or $3613.50 a year. That is just for the permission to brew and sale. There are still other taxes when the beer is produced. When we want to expand to sell on premise we will need even more licenses.

One of the odd requirements to get licensed is to get a legal notice in a local newspaper. Which means we had to call the caller times since we have no other major paper, that we know of. That cost us $186.00 for two sentences that no one will ever read. Worst ROI for an advertisement ever?

We also found out that on the forms we have to get a bunch of signatures from city officials. This caught us by surprise and caused us a lot of delays in being able to apply. Read more about the city problems.

City of Corpus Christi

We talked to the city of Corpus Christi before filing for any alcohol licensing to make sure that the location was appropriate. They confirmed that the location was in the correct zoning. If we do not make any permanent changes to the building, then the inspections from the previous tenant would also remain valid. I would love to go back and punch that person in the face. It was a complete lie, and cost us two extra months time.

While the zoning statement was correct, all the inspections had to be redone. I think the official reason they gave us for having to redo all the inspections was because we changed it’s use. They should have known this when we talked to them and told them what we were going to do. It turns out that the more times you call the city the more different answers you will get. On the plus side call enough times and you might get an answer you want to hear.

Inspections

Since we changed the buildings use, we have to get a new Certificate of Occupancy. That requires getting electrical, plumbing, mechanical, building, fire, health and vector inspections. We got the privilege of paying $801.00 to get a new certificate, and to waste two months of rent, all with a side of pointless headaches.

Plumbing:

This one got us. We ran our temporary water piping with PVC because it is, cheap, easy and it gets the job done. It turns out using PVC to run water in the city of Corpus Christi is against code. Running the drain piping in PVC is acceptable though. Which makes little sense, since they claim it is because of excessive heat breaking weakening the PVC over time. I would like to have been able to read this code. It also turns out that only a licensed plumber can install plumbing, and they must get a permit to do so. “We” are not licensed plumbers, so we had to pay a licensed plumber to install it and pay for permit to do so. Only in the government do you get the joy of paying for permits to get permits. We paid the city another $100+ for this this anti-DIY plumbing permit, plus we got to hire a plumber to redo what we just did, on top of the $801.

As I alluded to we ended up removing all the pvc piping that we ran, and replaced it with CPVC to pass inspection. A waste of time and money that will make zero difference.

The inspector was a complete jerk, every time he found a problem he would smile. It seemed with every extra problem the smile got a little bit larger. As if he took joy in failing us. If he would have worked for a private company I would have kicked him out of the building and never done business with the company again. But this is the government, there is no competition.

I understand we used the wrong material, and we were wrong in doing so, but we could not find anywhere to read this “code” they enforce. For all we know they just make up stuff as they go. If it had not been for my knowledgeable neighbor this would have been even worse.

Electrical:

We failed this because one of our walk in coolers was not yet hooked up and had loose wires. Simple fix.

It turns out we didn’t need a licensed electrician to install the electrical items. We are free to electrocute and kill ourself, but heaven forbid a pipe should drip!

Mechanical:

Passed.

Building:

Passed, since nothing permanent was done to the building itself.

Fire

It is the year 2014 and the fire inspectors do not have cell phones they can use to call before they head to a business. They said they would be there between 1 pm and 5 pm. This is hard when we have a regular day job still and cannot just be waiting around for hours. On the positive side, they showed up at 1:15.

The inspection itself went well, and our one fire extinguisher was enough. There is not much flammable items in there. We could have a bonfire in the center of the building without risk of burning it down. The ping pong table might be the largest thing to burn.

Health

Everything we read about the city health department made it seem to only apply to retail food establishments. We are not retail, only manufacturing so it would appear we are exempt. From reading about other breweries experiences it seems that most do not get inspected at all. This is because a brewery is not regulated by the FDA, but instead by the TTB. So we were not sure if we would be exempt from inspection or not.

Other breweries have said the best advice is to avoid being inspected is to “in the nicest way possible” make the inspector show what gives them legal jurisdiction to inspect a brewery. Luckily we didn’t have to go that far. The last thing we need is someone who knows absolutely zero about beer making to tell us what we should be doing. First off, nothing can grow in beer that will make a person sick. Second if some wild yeast or other microbes do start growing in the beer it will taste terrible and no one would want to drink it, nor would we sell it.

The first time we called and got a person, they could not tell us if they needed to inspect it or not and said they would call us back and let us know. Well they never called, so we called back a few more times over the next two weeks left a few messages. But no calls back, finally when we called again on a Friday we got to talk to someone and they had an inspector give us a call a few minutes later. The inspector said that they would have to “inspect us to see if we needed to be inspected“. Government efficiency right there. Confused by this, I thought, does the law say you need to inspect us or not? It seems like a simple answer. I tried to argue that point (as nicely as something like that can be argued) but this made them irritated and defensive so I backed off. The last thing we want is a pissed off inspector to create reasons to fail us. We scheduled an inspection for the following Monday morning.

A different inspector showed up for the inspection and examined everything. He was extremely nice and had a few minor things that we corrected right then, and it passed.

They never told us if they needed to inspect us, nor if they ever would again.

Vector

Vector was very simple, they came out looked around at whatever they look for and gave us the OK.

Conclusion

It took two months for all these inspections.

We had to contacted each department independently, which makes it to where no one knows what is going on, there is no clear leader.

On top of the fact that they don’t know what is going on, neither do we.

  • These magical codes they enforce are hard to find, and the inspectors don’t seem to completely know them either.
  • There are no steps that say what we, the business owner, need to do.
  • We just hacked things in the ways that we need for them to work and hoped everything would pass. A terrible approach that luckily somehow worked.

Like I said in the first paragraph of this, the first person we talked to said we would not even have to do ANY of these inspections. If only that had remained true.

It was normal for person A to send us to person B who would send us to person C who would send us back to person A. Upon returning to person A we would get what we needed. It is extremely frustrating.

Very few people in this city government have a clue what they are doing.

Looking back, it is a simple process. But the pointless hassles, and untrained employees, make it very complicated.

Dear city of Corpus Christi

Get your shit together!

  1. Train your employees
  2. Create some simple guidelines for new businesses
  3. Know the codes your enforcing
  4. Make these codes easily accessible to us

Your making it WAY harder than it should be. If you want new local businesses to open instead of more shitty corporate chains then you need to do something about it! You need to help them. Currently you are only helping us waste our precious start up time and money.

With a lighter wallet and a pounding headache, we got approval.

TTB Approval

Federal approval through the TTB was approved on January 14 which took a total of 3 days shy of 3 months to be accepted.

A few hiccups along the way but nothing major.

We took the lease out in our personal name and did not have the brewery name anywhere. They made us add the brewery name as well as stating that the building would be used as a brewery. While a simple request it added almost a week to the process because as we had to get the landlord involved.

We also did not provide enough details about our equipment and process. It was written to make it as vague as possible so that we did not accidentally put anything that would slow the process such as poor word choice or other annoyances, but it appears that it was a bit too vague.

Overall it was a pretty painless process, and maybe it was because we are so small with the only owners being husband and wife. Some of the stories that I had read online made it seem a lot more scary than it actually was.

On to the City and State!

TTB License

The TTB application is the main federal permit a brewery needs in order to open.

They seemed to ask everything! They asked if we had committed any felony multiple times in different wording, they asked for height, weight, hair color, eye color, fathers name, mothers maiden name, everywhere you have lived and worked in the last 5 years. They wanted 4 references (Edit: 2014/05/14 they did not call any of them) and everything else I could think of.

A seemingly request was for a bank reference. I don’t know anyone at the bank. I talk to someone different every time. How are they going to be “able to speak to my character and business responsibility”. I could understand them asking this a few years from now once the company has been dealing with the same banker for a while. But for now they should reword it to say. Do you have money to pay taxes, and will you pay those taxes?

On the plus side both times that I called the support number, the wait was under a minute and the person who answered was extremely knowledgeable.

All in all It ended up taking us about 3-4 hours over a couple of days to get everything needed and submit the form.

Edit: We got an email saying it was incomplete because the bond check had not arrived in the mail yet. They work faster than USPS it seems.

 

Government Shutdown and Walk in Coolers

Due to the government shutdown we are not able to file for our brewers permit. So we are paying rent and waiting for this insanity to end. When will it end?!

Walk in Coolers

The good news is we found a walk in cooler at a price we can afford. I had been watching craigslist for a couple months and we had looked at a few that were in terrible shape before finding these. We ended up purchasing two 6’x8′ units, one freezer, one cooler.

We will use once of these coolers as a cold storage for cold crashing the fermenters and storing/carbonating kegs. The other will be our fermentation room.

Thanks so much to the great people ( Anthony, Britton, Scott, Dave, Matt, and Paul ) who spend many hours helping us dissemble and move these units. I wish I would have gotten a picture of everyone but we forgot to. Here are a few we did take though.

Scott was very happy when that first wall came down.

Anthony and Jess taking apart the freezer

We could not have done it without Grandpa Paul