Friday, August 31, 2007

What's The Difference Between "craft" and "industry"?

From an email newsletter sent out by Tyranena owner and brewer Rob Larson (sorry for the excessive copying, but I hope you'll indulge me):

Earlier this year we installed a larger motor for our glycol pump to handle our increased number of tanks. That installation required running a new electrical line... which managed to direct water (from occassional melts of ice on the pump) to a low point on the top of the boiler room (where our glycol resevoir and pumps are located) which just happed to be immediately above one of our control boxes... and this 1/4" of water running down the wall just happened to hit a point where the box was mounted to the wall with a bolt... which just happened to be located immediately above the frequency control drive... which, well, doesn't really like water all that much. A couple of days (and a couple of grand... and some caulk - with the need of some more caulk, weather stripping and perhaps insulation) later, we are up and running again. It's always something. So go out and buy a few six packs... or come down to the brewery for a few pints... and help us pay for yet another equipment failure.

Bottled 634 cases of Hop Wh0re Imperial IPA on Tuesday which was a truly painful experience. Those highly-hopped beers, for some reason, cause several of the filler heads to occassioanlly short-fill. That and a 6 hour plus bottling day is really stinkin' long... especially when three orders go out and two come in.

So, that's life at a small brewery. Pretty typical actually; it's always something. And, in preparation for what's coming up: 634 cases is 15,216 bottles. In 6 hours. Even at it's best their line fills 2 cases per minute and would take 5 hours and 15 minutes to bottle that many cases. While that may seem like a long time, how long would it take you?

Well. Here's life at a big brewery. In fact, one of the biggest:

[Coors'] Vast facility on 2000 acres looked nearly empty. Only 100-120 on shift at any one time as brewery runs pretty much 24/7 and employs about 450 people, plus 50 seasonal. ... It brews 1,000 bbls at a time (almost 2x Golden) and turns that every 2 hours. Running flat out right now and packaging 30% more than last yr with same number of people. Mostly cans come out of Shenandoah. There are 3 can lines that do 2150 cans per minute. Bottle lines do 1600-1700 per minute. The brewery has “multiple layers of automation” and “multiple levels of human/machine interface,” said Tim, noting that designing ability to extract meaningful info in a brewery this size (i.e. thru software) “sets this brewery apart.” ... Shenandoah also has first “cross flow membrane filtration” machine in North America, a process that filters out brew down to “microscopic level.”

The Coors Shenandoah facility brews in 2 hours about 1/6 of what Tyranena brews all year. It takes the Coors facility exactly (and we can say "exactly" because I assure you it is "exactly") 8 minutes to do what took Rob (and probably Benji) 6 HOURS to accomplish.

So, you want to know why you pay more for Tyranena Beer than for Coors (and why Tyranena's Three Beaches Blonde is scores better than anything Coors can ever produce)? Because the owner of the company, the head brewer, is taking 6 hours out of his day to make sure that each bottle is packaged correctly. The owner and head brewer is out there installing and fixing equipment. He has his hands in every aspect of the production mechanism. And he takes his time doing it so that you have a beer that is exactly as he envisioned it, using quality ingredients and local labor.

Tyranena, indeed any "craft" brewery, doesn't run a faceless, mechanical process that runs 24/7 using ingredients not intended to make the beer better, but rather to make the beer cheaper. There aren't "multiple layers of automation" and there isn't "multiple levels of human/machine interface" (unless you include "machine working" as one level, and "machine not working" as another level, both requiring "human interface").

That is why it is important to support the "craft" brewers, particularly those here in Wisconsin. They have dedicated their lives, and the lives of your co-residents, to crafting the best beer they know how to make. It's the same reason why we buy vegetables and bread and salsas and flowers and meat and cheese at the Dane County Farmer's Market instead of the Super WalMart or Super Target. It's the same reason we buy Shullsburg and Organic Valley cheese (and Carr Valley and Blue Mont and all of the other fine Wisconsin cheeses) instead of Kraft singles.

So, when you go to Riley's or Steve's or Woodman's or Star Liquor next time take a 6 pack of Tyranena's Hop Wh0re Imperial IPA and set it next to a case of Coors Light and contemplate the above. Then decide which one you'll take to the cash register (keeping in mind that a 6 pack - or 4 pack - of the Hop Wh0re Imperial IPA has about the same alcohol content as that entire case of Coors Light).

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