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Freetail Partners with Silver Eagle Distributors

I’ve told this story a million times, but here it is again. When I started working on building Freetail in 2006, I “borrowed” my business model from Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head: start as a brewpub to build our brand, and eventually move into distribution. One small detail in this business model: a brewpub distributing in Texas was illegal. So, our original included a paragraph that explained how we were going to change the law to remedy this minor inconvenience (as I’ve since joked to Sam, who I have the pleasure of serving with on the Brewers Association Board of Directors, “if some guy from Delaware can do it, how hard can it be?”).

The point of retelling this origin story is to say that despite my model and business plan from the get-go, there were more than a few instances when I was less than confident it would become reality. As you know by now, we did change the laws, and we are building our new “production brewpub” (new term I’ve invented to describe the brewpub designed for wholesale production that we are building).

With all those other parts in play, I’m extremely proud to announce that we have partnered with Silver Eagle Distributors to be the exclusive wholesalers of our products for a multi-county region which includes our home market of San Antonio. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the Silver Eagle team through our battles at the Capitol, and without their support for statutory reform, brewpubs still wouldn’t be allowed to distribute in Texas.

As I got to know the team at Silver Eagle better, it became clear that they weren’t just the right legislative partner, but they’d also be the right partner for our distribution plans. Their presence, scale, and thirst to grow the craft market aligns greatly with our desire to be San Antonio’s Beer and eventually expand into other markets around Texas. I’m more excited than ever for the prospects of our brand.

See the official press release below.

-Scott

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Freetail Brewing Co. and Silver Eagle Distributors Partner on Distribution Agreement in San Antonio
Date: 3/24/2014
New state laws allow brewpub’s beers to reach the market for the first time

(March 24, 2014) San Antonio, TX – With recent changes to the state’s alcoholic beverage code, Freetail Brewing Co. is able to sell its beer for wholesale distribution for the first time, and it has partnered with the nation’s second largest beer distributor to do so. Silver Eagle Distributors, with operations in Houston, San Antonio and surrounding areas, will be the exclusive wholesaler of Freetail products for a roll-out that will initially include the San Antonio metro area and surrounding counties.“This is a historic moment for our company,” said Freetail founder and CEO Scott Metzger. “We are honored to not only be partnering with one of the country’s premier distributors, but also with an organization that stood beside us in the fight to loosen restrictions on small craft breweries in Texas.”

During the 2013 regular session of the Texas Legislature, SB 515 was passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support. The bill made it legal for brewpubs like Freetail to sell their beer to wholesalers, who in turn can sell to retail license holders such as grocery stores, restaurants, bars and package stores. Such sales were previously outlawed.

“Freetail Brewing Co. has been a favorite of San Antonians since opening its doors in 2008,” says John Nau, president and CEO, Silver Eagle Distributors. “All of us at Silver Eagle are very excited to partner with a business like Freetail that has such a passion for both beer and the local community. We look forward to expanding the brewery’s reach outside of its brewpub so that local residents can also enjoy Freetail in the comfort of their own home or favorite bar.”

In order to meet the market demand for Freetail beer, the company is constructing a 30,000 SF brewery at 2000 S Presa St. in San Antonio. When complete, the facility will have an initial capacity of 6,000 barrels/year, expandable up to 60,000 barrels/year. The company has stated its goal is to be “San Antonio’s beer” and to first expand its presence at home.

“A lot of breweries start out and expand to as many markets as possible. We want to do the opposite by focusing on our hometown and become the first thing people think of when it comes to craft beer in San Antonio,” said Metzger.

Though the San Antonio market will be the primary focus starting out, the company still has eyes on other markets in the future. “Houston, we hear you,” said Metzger, referencing a failed bid to open a Freetail location in Houston in 2011. “While we may not be opening a physical location there, our partnership with Silver Eagle is especially exciting because it gives us the potential to expand to the Houston market when the time is right.”

The initial roll-out, slated for mid-summer, will include draft and 22oz bombers. Cans are projected to be available as early as this fall. The brewery currently has four year-round beers plus a variety of seasonal and limited editions available throughout the year.

About Freetail Brewing Co.
Freetail Brewing Co. is founded on the pursuit of creating exciting, innovative and unique world class beer. We embrace the laid back and fun-loving Texas culture and set out to create products that mirror the lifestyle of our diverse and rapidly growing community. We believe in promoting an increased appreciation of craft products and their responsible enjoyment. For more information visitwww.freetailbrewing.com.


More FT2 pics

A few more pics from FT2 as things progress

Trenches are now fully dug, plumbing being roughed-in

 

Smart contracting: build the office of the guy who pays the bills first


Five Full Years, In The Books

Having closed down for the rest of 2013 about forty-five minutes ago, I thought I’d be fun to dust off the old business plan (which had a five-year projection) and play the “how good of a guesser am I?” game. If nothing else, I thought it might be a good bit of information for start-up brewers out there.

While we ended up making & selling about 18% less beer than I thought we would in our first year, turns out I was a pretty good guesser from years 2-5. I projected within 1% of our output in year two, 1.74% in year 3, 6.75% in year 5 and 4.14% in year 5. Pretty good considering all those projections were made before we even had an idea of what our restaurants floor layout would look like! The bad news: all those percentages I was off? They were all to the negative, meaning we didn’t end up making as much beer as I thought we would. But, we still finished a shade under 1,100 barrels in 2013. Not too shabby for a brewpub in a town that some felt couldn’t support one.

On the revenue side, there was good news. After falling 1.8% short of our revenue projections in year 1, we’ve exceeded them ever since (6.9%, 4.3%, 10.0% & 13.3%, respectively). Hey, more revenue is a good thing (sorry, I’m not going to share our financial details with you)! Unfortunately, our actual profits have been about half of what I projected (hence why I still don’t drive a Lambo) as it turns out running a brewpub costs more than I thought. I will say that counter to some narratives I read, running a brewpub doesn’t mean you’re going to struggle to keep food on your family’s table. You definitely won’t get rich doing it either: there is always something else to spend some money on, including a brand new brewery!

With five full years in the books, my original projections are an out-dated reference (not that they really matter once you open the door for business anyway) and I feel like our little pub on the outskirts has reached adulthood. In 2014, we start the next chapter for Freetail, opening our production facility. It turned out I was pretty good at projecting brewpub numbers, but I’m far less confident in projecting wholesale figures. Thankfully I tend to err on the conservative side, so I’m hoping I’m pleasantly surprised as we blow through our wholesale projections.

Thanks again for everyone who has supported us and we look forward to the adventures to come!


Dia de La Muerta 2013 Release Details

Blue Wax for La Muerta VI (2013)

Wednesday is here and, as promised, so are the details on this year’s Dia de La Muerta.

We will be selling 1,596 bottles/133 cases this year (up from 1,476 bottles/123 cases last year).

Here are details on the event itself:

  • The bottle share will start at 7:30am. We request that no one come on the patio until this time, and there should definitely be NO ALCOHOL CONSUMED PRIOR TO THE OFFICIAL START OF THE BOTTLE SHARE. This is done for our safety and yours.
  • Upon the start of the bottle-share, numbered and color coded wristbands will be distributed. Because of the volume of bottles produced, we do not anticipate a sell-out on the first day. Wristbands will be distributed mostly to determine the order of purchasing.
  • Bottles will be $11/each and there will be no limit on the number of bottles that can be purchased. We also have bombers of Hopothesis G available for sale for $9 and some bottles of Nexus Texas for $6 (this was a beer we produced for the Master Brewers Association of America national conference in Austin). Note: prices do not include sales tax, which will be added to your total.
  • Sales of bottles will begin at 9:30am and there will be two registers open to conduct transactions. Both registers will accept cash or credit cards, but we will state that cash is always appreciated and helps things move more smoothly.
  • At 10:35am we will make a 10 minute announcement and at 10:45am the bottle share will need to come to an end so that we may prepare for open of business at 11am.

The tap list for beers available at Dia de La Muerta (Edited 11/01 with Guest Taps):

Updated Tap List for Dia de La Muerta

See you Saturday!

Scott


FT2 Update, Sustainable Business Relationships & Taking the Long View

So I admit it, I say a lot of stuff and then not follow through. I tell my wife I’m going to wash the dishes, or put together our daughter’s “big girl bed” or I claim I’m going to have a frequently updated blog detailing the progress of the new brewery. I don’t think I’m a liar, I just commit to more than I can execute sometimes.

On the last example, I know I’ve slacked a bit on the blog. As I rambled on a bit on Twitter the other day, I really did hope to do a better job of documenting the construction of Freetail2. My goal was to create almost a “how-to” of sorts, but not in the “hey you need x and y and z” sense but more of a “this is the journey of going from a 4700 SF brewpub where the brewery takes up about 800 SF to a 30,000 production brewery that can (theoretically) produces half of our pub’s annual volume in 6 days”. The hope was that this journey would at least give some insight to someone on whatever project they were working on (be it a brewery themselves, or anything else).

The good news is that not a whole lot has happened that you’ve missed out on. We are awaiting demolition permits to do some minor (I use that term lightly, since it’s almost $40,000 worth) of demolition work inside the building. The biggest part being tearing down an old ceiling that was put up and exposing the roof deck and the cool beams up there:

In the meantime, we are also working on finishing our construction drawings, which I’ll share some images of when they are ready. Hopefully (and it is a big hope) we can stay on track to start construction in December. Some of the fun “unexpected” things that have come up – we need to sprinkler the building and the closest water line to tie into is across the street, which means we’ll have to come across the street and bring water in. This is probably at least a $100,000 extra project and one that will definitely cut back on some of the things we had hoped to do. But that’s usually the way brewery projects work.

I also wanted to talk a little more on the business philosophies that drive us at Freetail. We are very big on Sustainable Business Relationships, and we aren’t talking about environmental practices but rather the way we conduct business with outside suppliers, vendors, etc.

There is an obvious motivation for a business to extract the most value out of every single transaction they take part in to maximize the net benefits from such a transaction. When you view isolated transactions, this is a common sense way of doing business. Stepping back and taking a longer view of things, however, this isn’t always the best approach. We always take the approach that we want transactions to be mutually beneficial to both sides (because we want to conduct these transactions again in the future!).

One example: I got a call from our growler supplier yesterday saying they had accidentally overprinted our order by 4 cases. It would be easy for me to say “I will only pay for what I ordered” and I probably could have gotten those four extra cases for free (because they have no use for 4 cases of Freetail growlers other than to ship them to me). However, because we enjoy a long-term relationship with this supplier, I have little interest in pissing them off. Sure, we’ll take the 4 extra cases, just add it to the invoice.

This is an oversimplified example, but it is one that should extend to all business relationships. It is important to take the long view and approach your relationships in wanting to make it mutually beneficial for both sides. If I enjoy the product & service provided by one of my suppliers, I want them to make a profit so they are successful and can continue providing me with this product & service. Negotiating them down to the very last penny doesn’t achieve this.

The same philosophy can be applied to pricing of the products we make. Can we charge you double for the bottles of beer we sell you? Yes. But I want you to pay a price for our beer that you feel good about, and that leaves you money to go try some other beers and come back around to buy more of our beer in the future. On the wholesale level, I’ve seen a  lot of brand new breweries charge prices for their kegs that exceeds the price for a keg of world class beer from established breweries.

I understand that these new guys are hungry to recoup some of their investment, but in my opinion this is a mistake born of taking a short-term view. If I charge you too much for a keg (and try to extract the profit away from the retailer) then all I’m doing is one of a few things: 1) discouraging the retailer from buying my beer again or 2) forcing the retailer to charge even more for my beer to the customer, which may discourage the customer from buying my beer again which trickles down to discouraging the retailer from buying my beer again.

In economics, we always stress the concept that “price matters” and this couldn’t be any truer than in relationships between suppliers. Take the long view, and support your suppliers’  AND customers’ long-run viability.

Until next time,

Scott


The Future of Freetail Bottle Releases (for now)

After  Super Mega Awesome Bottle Release Day, I decided we needed to rethinking bottle releases (again). This time, it isn’t because it was a fiasco or because things didn’t go well… it was because I felt we’d become a little too popular for own good. When I arrived at 7:15am for SMABRD, I was handed a list of 92 people who were already in line to buy bottles. While we are extraordinarily flattered by this, my team and I are all in agreement that we need to tweak things again, especially with releases that involve a small number of bottles.

As is customary for any instance in which I have time to sit in front of a keyboard and expound, I want to reiterate a little bit of our philosophy, which will provide context for why things will be the way they will be.

Philosophical Tenet #1: Beer is the Democratic Beverage

I’ve talked about this tenet to the point of nausea I am sure; but we aim for our beers — all of our beers — to be accessible to all, both in terms of the price at which we offer them and the means by which we make them available. It would be very easy for us to simply increase the price of our special releases and ration limited supply by that means. I have little doubt that we could charge double for some of our beers and still sell out of them in the same time we do now. However, to do so would be to exclude some people from enjoying our beer, and we have no interest in doing so. We charge a price for our special releases that we feel is reflective of our cost to produce them while including a level of profit that is necessary for our business to continue to grow and succeed. We do so with the explicit knowledge that we are leaving money on the table with the goal in mind of building a real, sincere, long-term relationship with our customers.

As such, we’ve gotten to know a lot of them over the years. We consciously resist the temptation to extract the maximum dollars from you for the simple reason that we want you to have enough money to go try some other beers. To take your families out to the park. To hang out with your friends. To go on vacation. And yes, to come back and share another pint with us later.

The other reason we keep our pricing as low as we can is that we want good beer to be a beverage as many people can have access to, financially, as possible. The fact is I’ll never be able to afford to taste the world’s best wines, spirits or foods (or, sadly, be able to drive a Lambo). But insofar as I can think of ZERO reason for this also to be true of the world’s best beers, I’m going to do everything in my power to keep pricing accessible. I don’t begrudge other breweries’ rights to charge higher prices for their product, but I don’t have a compelling reason to charge more for mine.

Philosophical Tenet #2: Trading is Cool, but I Really Don’t Care About Your Trades

Another one I’ve gone overboard explaining. In a nutshell: I think trading is awesome. I simultaneously put traders last on the list of people I care about. I take that back, I put people who illegally resell my beers at a 100% mark-up last… and by a wide margin over traders.

Note, this doesn’t mean I don’t want you to trade our beer. By all means, trade away! I’m actually amazed you can get such awesome beers with our beers, and it is flattering. However, I want to make sure people who want to drink our beer here in San Antonio get it before traders. I think this is a pretty fair policy, if you disagree I’d love to talk about it.

Philosophical Tenet #3: It’s Going to Be Okay

This is a new one, but basically it goes like this. If there is a beer you really want, but you don’t get it… it’s going to be okay. I did spend a fair amount of time in my early 20′s lamenting the fact that that I’d never marry Heidi Klum, but I eventually got over it and… it all turned out okay.

ENOUGH ALREADY JUST TELL US HOW IT’S GOING TO WORK!!!

Okay okay… here is how it will work:

Formal Bottle Releases.

We’ll have 3 formal bottle releases throughout the year: Ananke Day, Super Mega Awesome Bottle Release Day, and Dia de La Muerta. At these bottle releases, we’ll host a bottle share on the patio. These will be the only bottle releases where this is allowed. Some tweaks to the way it’s worked in the past:

  • No one will be allowed on the patio prior to the start of the bottle share, which will occur at 7:30 am. No one will be allowed to consume alcohol while waiting in line to get onto the patio (and, doing so would be in violation of the law, FYI, since it would fall outside of our secured area and public consumption is not legal in San Antonio)
  • As soon as you show up, you’ll get your wrist band, which will be numbered and color coded.
  • Details are still forth-coming on this next part for Dia de La Muerta on 11/2, but we will allow payment and bottle pick-up in advance of opening at 11:00am and will have two registers inside to make payment, which will speed things up considerably. Basically, the bottle process will start earlier, and then you can go back to the bottle share.
  • The bottle share will still end promptly at 10:45 am in preparation for open for business at 11:00 am.

All Other Bottle Releases

All other bottle releases will be done on a semi-silent basis. We will simply put them on the shelf one day. After a few days, we’ll probably send a push notification via our app. After a few days we’ll post on social media.

Some other details on these:

  • We will still reserve the right to limit the number of bottles you can purchase per day
  • We may split releases up. For example, say we are releasing a Jostaberry-Pumpkin Spice Wild Ale (which we wouldn’t do, because that sounds disgusting, but roll with it for a moment). Maybe we put 5 cases out one random Tuesday. A few weeks later we put another 5 cases out, etc.
  • We don’t mind if you immediate tweet out a picture of you in front of the cooler, but doing so of course limits your ability to come back and buy more bottles tomorrow (since they’ll all be gone)

I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch of details, if I remember them, I’ll edit the post (and highlight what I edited).

I know a lot of this sounds draconian and maybe a little bit fascist… but we’re doing it so that we can ensure a smooth experience going forward. In the end, we love seeing you guys and love seeing you have a good time. As always, don’t be shy about your feedback. I’m not promising that I’ve thought of everything or that this is perfect, and I am open to changes if they will make things better and are consistent with the 3 philosophical tenets above.

Cheers,

Scott


Super Mega Awesome Details Repost

This is a repost of the details for Super Mega Awesome Bottle Release Day, this Saturday 9.21. We just wanted to make sure it was up top for anyone who missed it the first time.

With Super Mega Awesome Bottle Release Day ’13 right around the corner, it’s about time we released the details.

First off, based on taste tests this morning, we’ve determined Peche’cus will NOT be ready. We will release these bottles at a later date to be determined. Just to eliminate any speculation now, we will NOT release these at Dia de La Muerta on November 2. I repeat, they will NOT be release at the La Muerta bottle release.

With that said, here is what we ARE releasing:

  • Salado Kriek – American Wild Ale with Cherries. $12/bottle. 700 bottles available for sale.
  • Woodicus – Barrel aged Witicus. $11/bottle. 200 bottles available for sale.
  • Bandito – Barrel aged Outlaw McCaw. $11/bottle. 200 bottles available for sale.

All bottles will be waxed. There will be a limit of 4/person on Salado Kriek and 2/person on Woodicus and Bandito.

With the growth of the popularity of our bottles releases have come the need to make some adjustments to make them run smoother. We’ve made some changes that we feel will make things easier on everyone, while still maintaining some of the traditions that are part of a Freetail Bottle release.

Here is how the release will work:

  • Pre-event bottle share must end by 10:50am, and all bottles will be picked up discarded by Freetail staff at that time. If you are wanting to save something make sure you’ve taken care of it prior to 10:50am. We will make an announcement as 10:50am approaches, but consider this as official notice.
  • Starting at 8am numbered, color-coded wristbands will be distributed that will represent your place in line. A person must be physically present to get a wrist-band. No one will be allowed to pick up a wrist-band for someone who is not there to have it placed on their wrist (even if they “just ran out to the car”).
  • The last wristband will be distributed at noon (assuming there is still bottles available to be sold). A wristband does NOT guaranty you will get bottles.
  • Bottle sales will begin at 10:30am by color-code and number. We will then call groups to purchase their bottles by Color-group and number. For example, if the first color we distribute is Red, we will call up “Red 1-25″ to buy their bottles first. Then “Red 26-50″, then “Blue 1-25″, etc. (Note: the colors used here are for example purposes only and you will not know color groups until the day of). Important: as groups line-up, they will do so in the number of their wrist-band. We will NOT sell bottles to someone who is coming up out of order, even if you are with someone who is in the right order. (So if your wife has Red 6, but you have Blue 13… she buys in her spot and you buy in yours).
  • Any excess bottles will be sold only after all people with wristbands have had a chance to purchase their allotment.
  • Excess bottles will be sold in the same order as the 1st round of sales (so in the previous example, we’d start over with “Red 1-25″).
  • Limit 2 bottles/person on excess bottles.

I realize some of these rules might seem a little strict, but I feel this is the best way to ensure a fair, orderly process for buying bottles. I know people would love to have more bottles, but my philosophy continues to be that we want to offer our beers, even the most special among them, to the greatest range of people at fair, reasonable prices.

Thank you, and I welcome your comments and of course look forward to seeing you on the 21st!


Honoring Our Friends & Unveiling Freetail2

I’m extremely please to announce and invite you all to an event this Saturday, September 7, as we formally unveil the site of our new facility and honor Representative Mike Villarreal and Senator Leticia Van de Putte, who were both instrumental leaders in finally changing those Texas beer laws.

Here are the details of the event:

Date: Saturday, September 7, 2013
Time: 11am – 12:30pm
Where: 2000 S Presa, San Antonio, TX 78210
What: A short program detailing a brief history of Texas beer laws; awards for Representative Villarreal and Senator Van de Putte; formal unveiling of the new space;  and an open house to check out the new digs, mingle and yes… enjoy some beer.

We hope you will come out and check out the next step in our evolution. Here is a copy of the official press release we sent out today:

 

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE VILLARREAL AND SENATOR LETICIA VAN DE PUTTE TO BE HONORED AT UNVEILING OF NEW FREETAIL SITE AT 2000 SOUTH PRESA

Legislative changes paying immediate dividends throughout state; San Antonio’s most decorated brewery begins multi-million dollar expansion

 

(September 4, 2013) San Antonio, TX – Freetail Brewing Co. will announce the unveiling of its much anticipated new facility, located at 2000 S Presa, at 11:15am on Saturday, September 7.

Along with the unveiling, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild will be honoring Representative Mike Villarreal (District 123) and Senator Leticia Van de Putte (District 26) with special awards commemorating their work in the Texas Legislature. Villarreal and Van de Putte were leading figures in the fight for statutory reform to aid the state’s burgeoning craft beer industry. The Guild estimates the new laws – which for the first time allow Texas breweries to sell directly to consumers and Texas brewpubs to sell into the wholesale market – could create up to $5 billion of new economic activity and 50,000 new jobs over the next decade. The news laws were signed by Governor Perry and went into effect on June 14, 2013.

According to Villarreal, the new laws are working as he envisioned. “Freetail’s expansion is exactly what we had in mind when we wrote this legislation. By replacing outdated laws with smart regulations we’re allowing small business owners to create new jobs. I’ll raise a glass to that.”

To benefit from the new laws, San Antonio’s Freetail Brewing Co. has announced they would be building a new facility with the capacity to allow for wholesale production. “At our original location, we simply don’t have the space,” said Freetail Founder & CEO Scott Metzger, adding “We can hardly keep up with the demand for our beer for customers of our pub. Expanding into another facility was a no-brainer in terms of being able to take advantage of these new laws.”

Van de Putte echoed these statements, stating, “This type of business expansion and job creation is exactly what I had in mind when I called together beer and spirits industry stakeholders back in 2012 to reform our Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. The craft beer sector was skyrocketing around the nation, yet Texas’ craft brewing industry was restrained by outdated laws. I applaud the Freetail success story and anticipate many more as Texas’  brewpubs finally catch up with pent-up demand for a great product.”

As previously rumored, the new Freetail facility, codenamed “Freetail2” will be located at 2000 S Presa, occupying 30,000 SF on 1.8 acres, costing an estimated $3 million and creating 15 new jobs. Freetail2 will be designed in order to produce up to 10,000 barrels a year, the new statutory limit for brewpubs. The company’s goal, according to Metzger, is rooted in the company’s heritage. “San Antonio is my home town and Freetail is a San Antonio company. We want to be San Antonio’s beer.”

Saturday’s unveiling will begin at 11:15am and include a brief program introducing the space and presenting awards, followed by an open house and samples of Freetail product until 1:00pm. Representative Villarreal and Senator Van de Putte will be available for questions and to meet with constituents during the open house.

 

Freetail Brewing Co. is founded on the pursuit of creating exciting, innovative and unique world class beer and beer-centric cuisine. We embrace the laid back and fun-loving Texas culture and set out to create products that mirror the lifestyle of our diverse and rapidly growing community. We believe in promoting an increased appreciation of craft products and their responsible enjoyment.

 

For more information visit www.freetailbrewing.com.

 

###

 


Super Mega Awesome Bottle Release Day ’13 Details

With Super Mega Awesome Bottle Release Day ’13 right around the corner, it’s about time we released the details.

First off, based on taste tests this morning, we’ve determined Peche’cus will NOT be ready. We will release these bottles at a later date to be determined. Just to eliminate any speculation now, we will NOT release these at Dia de La Muerta on November 2. I repeat, they will NOT be release at the La Muerta bottle release.

With that said, here is what we ARE releasing:

  • Salado Kriek – American Wild Ale with Cherries. $12/bottle. 700 bottles available for sale.
  • Woodicus – Barrel aged Witicus. $11/bottle. 200 bottles available for sale.
  • Bandito – Barrel aged Outlaw McCaw. $11/bottle. 200 bottles available for sale.

All bottles will be waxed. There will be a limit of 4/person on Salado Kriek and 2/person on Woodicus and Bandito.

With the growth of the popularity of our bottles releases have come the need to make some adjustments to make them run smoother. We’ve made some changes that we feel will make things easier on everyone, while still maintaining some of the traditions that are part of a Freetail Bottle release.

Here is how the release will work:

  • Pre-event bottle share must end by 10:50am, and all bottles will be picked up discarded by Freetail staff at that time. If you are wanting to save something make sure you’ve taken care of it prior to 10:50am. We will make an announcement as 10:50am approaches, but consider this as official notice.
  • Starting at 8am numbered, color-coded wristbands will be distributed that will represent your place in line. A person must be physically present to get a wrist-band. No one will be allowed to pick up a wrist-band for someone who is not there to have it placed on their wrist (even if they “just ran out to the car”).
  • The last wristband will be distributed at noon (assuming there is still bottles available to be sold). A wristband does NOT guaranty you will get bottles.
  • Bottle sales will begin at 10:30am by color-code and number. We will then call groups to purchase their bottles by Color-group and number. For example, if the first color we distribute is Red, we will call up “Red 1-25″ to buy their bottles first. Then “Red 26-50″, then “Blue 1-25″, etc. (Note: the colors used here are for example purposes only and you will not know color groups until the day of). Important: as groups line-up, they will do so in the number of their wrist-band. We will NOT sell bottles to someone who is coming up out of order, even if you are with someone who is in the right order. (So if your wife has Red 6, but you have Blue 13… she buys in her spot and you buy in yours).
  • Any excess bottles will be sold only after all people with wristbands have had a chance to purchase their allotment.
  • Excess bottles will be sold in the same order as the 1st round of sales (so in the previous example, we’d start over with “Red 1-25″).
  • Limit 2 bottles/person on excess bottles.

I realize some of these rules might seem a little strict, but I feel this is the best way to ensure a fair, orderly process for buying bottles. I know people would love to have more bottles, but my philosophy continues to be that we want to offer our beers, even the most special among them, to the greatest range of people at fair, reasonable prices.

Thank you, and I welcome your comments and of course look forward to seeing you on the 21st!


Deets for Ananke Day 2013

Original 12oz Ananke Bottles, Released in 2010

Ananke Day 2013 is just a few days away, so I wanted to take the chance to answer some Frequently Asked Questions and wax poetic on a little Freetail philosophy. I was extremely flattered to see Ananke make it on writer Thomas Berg’s list of 20 Most Coveted Craft Beer Releases in America. To even be listed with those other breweries is amazing. It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, that list plays on the crowd Saturday.

Let’s jump right into it.

Q: HOW MANY BOTTLES WILL BE AVAILABLE?

A: We won’t be bottling Ananke until Friday, so we won’t have a final count until then. We are planning around 700 bottles.

Q: WILL THERE BE A BOTTLE LIMIT?

A: Yes. although you may still be able to buy as much as you want. The limit will be determined by the following mathematical formula:

Limit = b/n

Where:
b = Final # of bottles available
n = number of people waiting to buy bottles at 10:45 before we start selling them

Not everyone buys their limit, keep in mind. Last year we didn’t sell out on day 1. So, you may be able to get as much as you need. Just depends on the crowd.

Q: WHY THE BOTTLE LIMIT?

A: In the hierarchy of folks who will be purchasing bottles of Ananke we put the people who will be drinking it first and foremost. Anytime that someone makes the effort to come visit our brewery, we want to do our absolute best in order to get them what they came for. On a day like this, that thing is bottles of Ananke. While we understand this may create a less-than-ideal situation for traders, we would rather sell fewer bottles to someone who will enjoy them personally than more bottles to someone who is going to trade them away.

This isn’t a knock on the trading community. As a beer lover, I too enjoy trying different beers I don’t have easy access to. As a beer maker, I love the opportunity to get my beer in front of new people. As an economist, I love the market that has emerged between folks wanting to try new beers.  But with that said, the people who came to the brewery to get a bottle come first to me, and when we’ve had sell-outs in the past (especially with lower quantity releases) I have been bummed to see someone miss out on a bottle, then see bottles get shipped off to another part of the country.

I’ll also take the opportunity to say that I recognize the responsibility we share in this situation too, and that’s why we strive to increase bottle numbers when possible. On barrel aged beers, it’s tough because of the physical requirements of barrel aged beers, and that is something we will address with Freetail2 (a new brewery we are working on – more details on that another time). Along those lines, we don’t want to limit bottles to the point where it is not worth the effort of even trying to get any (the 2 bottle limit on Fortuna Roja was right on that fine line last year, and if not for the other 4 beers being released on the same day I’d have not liked to put on a bottle release with such a limited quantity). So, to summarize, we will continue to reasonably limit bottles while doing everything in our power to increase supply to meet demand.

Q: HOW MUCH WILL BOTTLES COST AND WHAT SIZE WILL THEY BE?

A: Ananke will be in our new standard (since we put the bottling line into operation) – 22oz bombers. They will be $11/each plus sales tax.

Q: COULDN’T YOU RAISE THE PRICE?

A: Absolutely. But along the same lines of the bottle limits, we want to make the enjoyment of our beer more of a democratic process, rather than one that creates people who are “in” and people who are “out”. $11 represents what we feel is a fair price given the price structure of our business. I can glance out into the market and quickly get a feel that we could easily charge more for these bottles considering what I see other bottles being sold for, but that isn’t my style. We will continue to price bottles based on what we feel is good for our business and a good value for all of you who support us. You can expect this philosophy from Freetail until I get hit by a bus or lose my mind.

Q: HOW WILL THE SALE GO? HOPEFULLY NOT LIKE THAT DIA DE LA MUERTA 2012 DEBACLE! 

A: If you joined us for Dia de La Muerta 2012, you’ll recall we tried something new – having everyone sit down and order from their waitress. Based on your feedback, I’ve decided this was a terrible idea. We’ll be going back to the old way of doing things. Show up, get a number, and then we’ll line everyone up to pay for bottles then take their receipt to pick them up. Though it takes some time to work through the line, I find this the most effective way at doing it, and it gives me an opportunity to say hey to everyone.

Q: BLAH BLAH BLAH… WHAT ABOUT THE BOTTLESHARE?!?!?!

A: Whoever said there is no such thing as a stupid question never anticipated this one. BOTTLE SHARE IS ON!!! Come, have a good time with new friends and old, and have responsible fun.

See you Saturday!

 


Dia de La Muerta (And General Bottle Release) FAQs

With Dia de La Muerta on Saturday, we’re getting flooded with various questions about the release, so I figured a FAQ was in order. Here is everything you need to know about Dia de La Muerta, a lot of which pertains to bottle releases in general.

Wait, I thought you couldn’t couldn’t bottle your beer?

In Texas, we are prohibited from selling our beer for resale (so we can’t sell to distributors, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, etc.). However, our brewpub license explicitly gives us the right to manufacture, brew, bottle, can, package, and label malt liquor, ale, and beer. We’re happy to take the state up on this right and we’ve been bottling and releasing beers since right after we opened. We’re also one of the few on-premise only brewpubs in the world (maybe the only one?) with a bottling line. Hopefully one day the law will change and we’ll be able to distribute beers that come off of it.

Okay, so what is Dia de La Muerta?

Dia de La Muerta is the annual bottle release for our imperial stout. La Muerta is released on draft every year on November 1, with the bottle release always on the first Saturday of November (this year, November 3, 2012).

How early do I need to show up to get in line?

In years past, La Muerta has sold out quickly and generally required you get here early to get your “ticket” (basically your place in line) and get your allocation of bottles. Last year we sold approximately 750 bottles and essentially were instantly sold out (it took two hours, but everyone was in line when we opened). This year we have upped production to somewhere between 1500-1700 bottles (we’ll find out tomorrow when we bottle), so we don’t anticipate an “instant sell-out”. However, we cannot make any promises, and recommend coming early.

What time to they actually go on sale?

Bottles go on sale when we open at 11am.

What the hell do I do while I’m waiting for bottles to go on sale?

Through the years, a really cool event has evolved for many of our bottle releases. Freetail fans from around the state show up early and have a bottle share while waiting for us to open. Many rare and amazing beers (WARNING: DO NOT DRINK THE GHOST SCORPION PEPPER BEER!!! IT HAS GHOST SCORPION PEPPERS IN IT!!!) are opened at these bottle shares and are attended by a lot of really cool people. You can come, drink epic beers, and mingle with beer-loving friends old and new. We do not organize this event and take no responsibility other than making sure everyone is comfortable and has access to water and restrooms and we monitor to make sure no one over-consumes. This is a fun event and we’d like to keep it that way by making sure it never gets rowdy or out of hand.

Okay, so how much do these bottles cost?

For 2012, bottles will be $10/each.

That’s it, can I buy a pallet load?!?

Well, maybe not a pallet. We reserve the right to place a limit on the number of bottles a person can purchase. Our goal is to make sure everyone who is here when we open has a chance to buy bottles. This year, because of the increased production, we do not anticipate the need to have a bottle limit, but we still reserve that right.

What about on draft? How much does it cost? Will there be anything else on tap?

2012 La Muerta costs $7 for an 11oz pour. In addition to what we have on tap, we’ll also have La Muerta 2011 on tap in addition to a few other surprises (both from us and from our friends around the state of Texas).


For La Muerta V, A Brief History (To Date)

The fifth iteration of La Muerta day looms, and I thought it was a good time to reflect on and share how this all came to be.

When Freetail was still in its planning phases, we knew (like pretty much any brewery that opened since 2004 or so) we wanted to brew an imperial stout. A perfectly healthy admiration for skulls & Dia de los Muertos coupled with half of my DNA rooted in Mexican-American culture led me to a name for our imp-y before we had a recipe: La Muerta. I had grand ideas for a line of similarly named brews. Maybe El Muerto could be a supercharged version, a Double Imperial Stout, if you will. Muertito could be a smaller version, meant for more casual sipping by a winter fire. While these other ideas have not yet (and may never) come to fruition, La Muerta was a concept with legs.

Back then, head brewer Jason Davis and I used to have regular brainstorming sessions. What did we want to brew? What ideas toed the proverbial crazy line? Could we pull all that off or did we need more tanks? How the hell would yeast management work? While not every idea from those early meetings ever came into being (or are even stuck in our memories anywhere), they did go on to help mold the general direction of our brewing and how the brewery needed to be set up to supply such ambitions. It was in one of these meetings that I told Jason about La Muerta.

Jason, the evil brewing genius he is, decided to venture slightly from what we were seeing on the national scene where imp-ys tended to be on the sweeter side, with alcohol content going up but apparent attenuation seemingly going down. Pulling ideas from a previous homebrew test batch, we would leave some sweetness, but focus more on the chocolate characteristics along with another that would be specific to our imperial stout–the addition of rauch malt which now makes up almost 20% of the grain bill. Over the years, my occasional glance at review websites reveals comments like “surprisingly smokey”. Well, I can say that it should no longer come as a surprise to anyone… there’s a whole lot of smoked malt in there!

Here is a brief history of La Muerta, both in pictures and narrative, including slight recipe changes over the years. I’m honored that this beer has become appreciated by so many, but also that Dia de La Muerta has become (in my completely biased opinion) one of the best regular beer events in the state of Texas. All of you, and the epic bottle share you have developed over the years, are responsible for this. The laws here in Texas are a little quirky  so we can’t really have things like Dark Lord Day, but I think Dia de La Muerta is the closest thing we have because of all you guys and gals who wake up early, drive across the state, and come hang out on the patio at 8am waiting to buy some bottles. Y’all are awesome!

La Muerta I. 10.2% ABV 50 IBU, 5.9 barrels produced. Brewed January 2, 2009, released on draft January 26, 2009. Approximately 100 bottles released on February 14, 2009. Most bottles had black wax. Bottles sold out in approximately 6 days. Original recipe was 11.4% rauch malt in grain bill.

Unused label concept for La Muerta, produced by The Mad House.

 

Unused label art concept for La Muerta, produced by The Mad House

 

Hand bottling first batch of La Muerta, circa Feb 2009

Wax dipping the first bottles of La Muerta, circa Feb 2009

La Muerta II. 11.2% ABV 50 IBU, 6.3 barrels produced. Brewed October 1, 2009. Released on draft November 1, 2009. Bottles released November 7, 2009. Some bottles black wax, some bottles gold wax. Approximately 250 bottles sold. Bottles sold out approximately 10pm on November 7. Recipe still unchanged from original.

La Muerta moves to its eventual normal release date of November 1 for draft, first Saturday of November for bottles (what we now call Dia de La Muerta).

Promotional photo for La Muerta

Bourbon Barrel La Muerta. La Muerta II aged in a Four Roses distillery barrel. Released on Draft January 6, 2010. Bottles release February 13, 2010. Red wax. 95 bottles sold, initial limit was 1/customer, “coupon” emailed out via newsletter on January 1, 2010. Sold out within 4 hours.

This was a very successful release that provided a very delicious beer, for some people. Some other people ended up with a sour, infected imperial stout that I personally despised. This constituted the end of bourbon barrel projects (with the exception of occasional 5 gallon bourbon barrels we get for draft only releases). After this, all barrel aging was done for our Wild Ale program.

Terribly Photoshopped “coupon” emailed out. Required to get a bottle.

Bourbon Barrel La Muerta labels. Maybe the best part of this beer.

La Muerta III. 10.3% ABV 55 IBU, 10.0 barrels produced. Brewed September 30 and October 1, 2010. Released November 1, 2010 on draft, bottles November 6, 2010. Red wax. Approximately 450 bottles produced. Sold out in approximately 2 hours. Slight bump in the rauch malt to 12%, increase in IBUs to 55.

We significantly upped the production, “double-batching” La Muerta.

Dia de La Muerta 2010 t-shirts.

La Muerta IV. 9.3% ABV 50 IBU, 11.9 barrels produced. Brewed October 5 & 6, 2011. Release November 1, 2011 on draft, bottles November 5. Gold wax White wax [Edited on 10/31]. Approximately 800 bottles produced. Sold out in approximately 1.5 hours. Recipe increases rauch mault to 18%, IBUs back down to 50.

Labels switch from vinyl “logo only” to wrap-around pressure sensitive labels with brew info (and Government Warning).

Promotional photo for La Muerta

La Muerta V. 9.1% ABV 50 IBU, 18.5 barrels produced. Brewed October 3 and 4, 2012. Draft release November 1, 2012. Bottles release November 3, 2012. No wax. 1500-1700 bottles to be produced. 2012 recipe 11.8% rauch malt and 7% oak smoked wheat malt.

Our first ever “triple batch” in order to try to keep up with demand. Also the first time La Muerta will not be bottled by hand, as we’ve had our bottling line operating since January 2012.

Labeling La Muerta V.

I hope you enjoy this brief recap of La Muerta history.

On behalf of myself, Jason and everyone involved in Freetail, thanks again for making this such a cool annual event. I’m looking forward to the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years of this and beyond…

Cheers,

Scott


Is this thing on?

Okay okay, I’ve been slacking… big time. No posts since July? Pathetic. Not to make excuses, but I have been busy with getting a new website up and running (check it out if you haven’t already: www.freetailbrewing.com), starting the long-awaited Online Store, the new beer board, about to unveil an app, insane bottle releases, and then the every day workings of a Texas brewpub.

With that said, I haven’t been slacking on the legislative front, and neither have my colleagues. I’m very happy to report that we’ve been engaged in discussions with legislators, wholesalers, retailers, big brewers and other industry stakeholders to discuss changes to the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Code which would get Freetail beers (and other brewpub beers) into the hands of distributors (and eventually retailers, then eventually you) and get you the ability to buy beer at a brewery.

Brock Wagner (of Saint Arnold of course) and I have been Co-Chairing the Texas Craft Brewers Guild Legislative Committee and have come a long way. There is still a ton of work to do,  and nothing is certain, but I feel better about our chances than ever before. For the first time this issue is being tackled from the perspective of economic development and helping Texas-born businesses flourish. From that angle, there is really no denying that changes must be made to grant Texas craft brewers greater access to market.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild has released this position paper laying out our legislative agenda. Specifically, we have four goals (all equal in importance):

  • Gain the ability for packaging breweries to sell their products to consumers on the premise of their breweries
  • Gain the ability for brewpubs to sell to the wholesale tier
  • Protect small brewer’s existing rights to self-distribute
  • Achieve these goals while protecting the integrity and viability of the 3-tier system

As I wrote here last November, protecting a viable, independent 3-tier system is vital for the health of the craft brewing industry. Without independent wholesalers, craft beer would never see the light of the shelves or taps we’d be stuck in a world without the wide variety of choices we enjoy today.

I promise I’ll do better updating going forward, but if I’m not updating then it means I’m busy fighting hard for the changes we all want to see!

Cheers!


AleHeads Podcast

Wanna hear me talk about stuff? I didn’t think so. In any event, if you feel like hearing my opinion on Freetail, beer trading, Texas laws, the craft beer industry and dinosaurs, you can listen here:

http://aleheads.com/2012/02/03/the-aleheads-podcast-scott-metzger-freetail-brewing-co/

Cheers.


My vendors are funny.

This arrived today, unsolicited, from one of my merch Vendors. Thanks Brewery Branding!


No Really Though… I Do Not Like Groupon

For whatever reason, the people at Groupon think that repeatedly sending a different person to call/email me will eventually result in me submitting to their corrosive program that hurts small businesses. I’m tired of responding politely, so here was my latest exchange with the rep assigned to me.

And yes, before you point it out, I’m quite aware of how childish I am.

Click photos to enlarge.

To Mitch’s credit, he tried to stoop to my ridiculously low level and respond with a graph of his own:

Unfortunately I have no clue what this graph is trying to say, or if it says anything at all. I won’t bother responding, because I’m out of graphs in which I can convey “no thank you.”


One Last Word on Dinosaurs and Lawyers

I wanted to say one last thing about Dinosaurs and Lawyers, since messages keep pouring in from numerous channels about “The Letter”. I posted this to BeerAdvocate.com, and hopefully helps explain things a bit.

Warning: this response is likely to be far less entertaining than anything else you could possibly be doing.

First of all, I didn’t think the letter would get shared the way it did. I posted it for kicks on my personal twitter where I don’t have that many followers, because I’m not really that important and/or cool. My friends would agree.

I don’t have anything against Steelhead Brewery, the lawyer in question, or our mail woman who delivered the C&D letter. Actually, I don’t really like our mail woman… she refuses to deliver the mail on Mondays and she always sticks packages into a box where the key doesn’t work, delaying the delivery of said package until I can flag her down to open it for me. But I digress…

Unfortunately, I have way more familiarity with Intellectual Property law than I ever cared for. I’ve been on the receiving end of C&Ds (even one from a brewery that to my knowledge STILL has never produced a single beer), none of which I’ve ever fought because I’ve never cared enough to. I’ve also been on the sending end of one C&D for the brand we are most known for, which we issued AFTER a number of conversations with the brewery in question and before they had ever produced a single drop of the potentially infringing beer.

An important characteristic of trademark law is that trademarks are very costly to protect because IP lawyers are really proud of themselves and charge commensurately. I have one of the nation’s best IP firms representing me, but I hope to never write them another check. My IP lawyer (who isn’t the one who advised me to draw the dinosaur, nor was he ever involved in this situation) is a nice guy, but I’m no Rockefeller or even Jay-Z… I need to save my pennies to make more beer. So even if you “win” a lawsuit, it could cost you tens of thousands of dollars. As small businesses, can we even really call this winning? The money I spent on my IP lawyer the one time we got involved in issuing and C&D and negotiating the actual cessation of the use could and should have been spent on something much more productive in the brewery.

A few clarifications, just because I’m anal like that…

1) Freetail has never made a beer called Hopasaurus Rex. We have a page for Hopasaurus Rex on our webpage, but is it meant to describe a process we occasionally used on IPAs (and actually, we’ve used it on non-IPAs too). Most people don’t know much about Hopasaurus Rex because we haven’t done it a lot and even when we have we haven’t always pointed out we’re doing it. Here is the official description for what we formerly called “Hopasaurus Rex”:

“Once thought to be extinct, the Hopasaurus Rex is occasionally sighted on the outskirts of San Antonio, gobbling up IPAs as they make their way to the taps and instead sending forth a transformed version of hop gloriousness. His belly full of whole leaf northwestern hops, this beast’s mark is often described with terms like pine, citrus and grapefruit. The Hopasaurus does not discriminate in his IPA diet, so long as the IBUs quench his thirst.”

What all that mumbo jumbo really says is: Hopasaurus Rex is an inline “hop filter” of sorts. We stick a 5 gallon corny keg of whole leaf hops between the serving tank and the tap, for some extra hop character. So really Sam and Dogfish Head owe us a C&D letter too. Sam, if you are reading this, I will buy you some beers and let you slug me 10 times in the arm for “borrowing” the idea of Randall.

2) I can’t believe this thread has gone on this long without someone making fun of our webpage. That was a gimme. Anyway, we have a new one coming soon. [Shameless plug!]

3) I’m fortunate to have one of the coolest jobs I can think of – running a brewery. Someone previously mentioned this was kind of childish, and I agree. I’m kind of childish & I like to joke around. I’m lucky that being childish isn’t a (complete) detriment to my job, but it frustrates the hell out of our local Brewers News writer because he can’t tell if my updates are serious or not.

4) [Soapbox Alert] I think a lot of our country’s problems could be solved if people (especially elected officials) would sit down over a beer and interact more with one another instead of immediately resorting to legal options. In an ideal world, disputes like this should be handled as follows:

Brewery A: “Hey, you have a beer the same name as our trademarked beer. Can you stop”
Brewery B: “Sure, sorry about that.”
Brewery A: “Cool, can we get this in writing just so we have a paper trail”
Brewery B: “Sure amigo, let’s meet up at the next GABF or CBC and share a beer”

5) As we approach (and maybe have passed by now) 2,000 operating breweries in the United States, these disputes are inevitable. Especially since there is a finite number of lame hop puns to be used. Sometimes I get sad when I don’t think of them first, but I move on.

I was going to keep this list going, but I’m out of stuff to say. Thanks to everyone in this thread for supporting craft beer!

Hugs not drugs & beers instead of tears,

Scott

PS: Texas rules.

I appreciate everyone’s words of support – but I want to stress that “The Letter” was just me having a little fun. Again, I really do have nothing against the other brewery and I hope it continues to get support from visitors and its local community.

Support your local brewery, no matter where it is!

Scott


Of Dinosaurs and Dealing With Lawyers

Okay, so I don’t have a whole lot to say on this topic, but I did want to address it.

Yes, I received a Cease and Desist (C&D) letter from an attorney representing another brewery over the name HOPASAURUS REX. Yes, I responded to that C&D like a child. Yes, I also had a lot of fun in acting like a child. Yes, I did include a drawing of a dinosaur waiving white flags in his little T-Rex arms. Yes, I had a lot of fun doing it.

But I didn’t do it with the intention of “going viral” or getting publicity for my brewery. I did it because that’s the kind of thing I do. I have no ill will towards the other brewery or the lawyer.

At the end of the day, I hope the main message are:

1) A lot can be solved if we just communicate with one another directly instead of always resorting to lawyers as the first option and

2) Please continue to support your local craft brewery, wherever you are!

That is all!

Scott

PS: A lot of you are asking about T-Rex with White Flags t-shirts… hmmmm… maybe. Lemme think about it.


Bottling Line Update: Hurry Up & Wait

What the hell is going on with this bottling line at Freetail? Back on December 13, this photo was posted to our Facebook, announcing the physical arrival of our bottling line.

And yet… no Freetail bottles grace the shelves of our new merchandiser. Instead you can find bottles from great craft breweries from around the country, but that wasn’t really the point, was it?

The biggest delay we are facing, is the arrival of a commercial grade air compressor that is required for the operation of the bottling line. We ordered one back on December 14 that was supposed to have a 7 day turnaround time, yet we haven’t seen it yet and the vendor we ordered it from is unable to either a) contact the manufacturer to get an update (well, they’ve been sending messages to the manufacturer, but haven’t heard anything back) or b) cancel the order… so we are in hurry up and wait mode. If you happen to work for Quincy Air Compressor… hurry up and make our unit!

The good news is that I have a shipment of bottles arriving today that I’ll at least get to label in advance of our first bottling. Those of you who are fans of the crooked, bubbly nature of our hand-applied labels will be disappointed to learn we also have a new labeller that will result in nice, straight, evenly applied, professional looking labels going forward.

I’ll definitely keep everyone updated on the status of bottles and the first release, both on my personal twitter (@beermonkey) in addition to the Freetail twitter (@freetailbrewing) and Facebook feeds. The good news is that the first release will include a few bottles. Look for Three: Anniversary Ale, Old Bat Rastard, PirateTail V and one of our IPAs all hitting the shelves at the same time.

Until next time.


2011 Rewind & Beer Industry Predictions for 2012

2011 is in the books, and it was an eventful one for the beer industry as the craft segment continues to explode and the traditional powerhouses continue to cling to market share. My list of the year’s top stories looks something like this, in no particular order:

Without question, there are a lot of other huge stories that I’m not addressing as was a busy year. There was some major projects for me personally as well: I was involved in an (unsuccessful) legislative effort, (unsuccessfully) attempted to open another brewery 200 miles from where I live, was a witness on a high profile industry lawsuit, began installing a bottling line at our existing brewery. Fit that in between teaching at the University, serving on two Brewers Association committees, giving a TEDx talk, and the whole “running a business” thing. Despite two major unsuccessful ventures, I consider 2011 to have been a smashing success and I’m looking forward to 2012.

Speaking of which, here are my Beer Industry Predictions for 2012:

  • Craft Beer Will Simultaneously Become More National and More Local. The continued growth of Craft Beer brings with it some growing pains. We will see an increasing number of breweries “pulling back” from markets on the outer reaches of their distribution territory in order to keep up with demand closer to home. Some of this newly available shelf space will be filled by an increased proliferation of the “big” craft brands like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, etc. and imports. Simultaneously, some of the shelf space will be filled by local brands, either new breweries or existing ones finding increased access to market.
  • Setbacks for Start-ups. Despite the optimism of some of my peers in the industry, I share the cautious skepticism of others who wonder if the market can support what amounts to a 50% increase in the number of breweries in America (if all the “in planning” came fruition). My personal feeling based on anecdotal evidence as someone who has given multiple Start-up talks at national conventions & gets a lot of inquires for advice is that the growth of the industry has once again drawn the attention of a lot of people who really shouldn’t get into the industry. I’m not suggesting there are or should be “rules” on who can start a brewery; but I do have a (completely unsupported by anything like empirical evidence) feeling that start-ups backed by people who see a breweries as nothing more than investments for the potential for high-return fail at a significantly higher rate than those of us who got into this business for the love of the industry. That isn’t to say that every start-up doesn’t have someone who loves the industry (though I know that isn’t the case), but there is a certain corrosive element that having the wrong people involved in a start-up can bring and it is becoming increasingly common. I think we’ll see some quick, and even high-profile with shiny new equipment, failures in the coming years.
  • Natural Selection. I also predict an increased number of closures of established breweries in 2012 as competition becomes more intense. There are a lot of newbies (5 years old or less) making incredible beer pushing established breweries to up their game, or fade away into history. The result will be excellence on a more consistent basis from craft breweries. You’re favorite brands will either continue to get better, or they’ll just go away.
  • A Glut of Equipment. The good news about my last prediction, is that if you are a start-up there should be a glut of equipment coming available as breweries fail. Some free start-up advice from yours truly: be a contrarian! If there is no used equipment available, it’s a bad time to start a brewery, because it means everyone else is starting breweries.
  • Despite These Factors, Craft Continues to Blow Up. Based on the Wall Street Journal growth numbers quoted above, Craft Beer should enter 2012 with a market share around 5.1% by volume and 8.0% by dollars. I predict another year of high-teens growth, maybe even 20% as craft beer becomes increasingly mainstream, and craft will enter 2013 with dollar share of 10%.
  • Distributors Start to Play Nice. In many states, there has long been an uneasy relationship between brewers and distributors, especially in the legislative arena where distributors feel empowering breweries puts their place in the 3-tier system at risk. I see 2012 as the year distributors in lagging states “see the light” and drop their opposition to legislative changes that would help small brands. Operationally, I predict increased pressure from InBev on its distributors to focus on their brands and wouldn’t discount the possibility of threats on those distributors if they don’t focus on InBev’s portfolio. Even so, I see craft beer & brand promiscuity accounting for an increasing percentage of wholesalers’ portfolios.
  • Texas Will Change in 2013, and We’ll Know About it in 2012. Before the end of the year, craft brewers, distributors, retailers, consumers & lawmakers will have agreed upon legislation that allows production brewers to sell directly to consumers on the brewery premise and for brewpubs to sell their beer to distributors for resale. Texas will be free from the shackles of the past… which leads me to:
  • BONUS 2013 PREDICTION: Texas experiences a craft beer Renaissance. Some of you may already think we are there, with all the new brewers popping up around the state… but by the end of 2013, you’ll look back and realize that we hadn’t seen anything yet.

Cheers,

Scott

 


Judge Sparks’ Greatest Hits!

And now for the lighter side. As I alluded to previously, Judge Sparks’ judgement is full of all kinds of funny lines. If this whole judging thing ever gets old to him, he’s got a career in comedy.

Judge Sparks wastes no time getting into the humor (and a little jab), and offers this in his background on the case:

The practice of law is often dry, and it is the rare case that presents an issue of genuine interest to the public. This is just such a case, however. Dealing as it does with constitutional challenges to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, it is anything but “dry”and this Court wouldnever be so foolish as to question the sincerity of Texans’ interest in beer.

Given this obvious public interest, it is both surprising, and unfortunate for proponents of the Alcoholic Beverage Code, that the State of Texas does not appear to have taken as much of an interest in this case as it might have.

Judge Sparks did limit comedy to his commentary, and titled one section of his Judgement as:

2. Beers and Liquors and Wines, Oh My!

On the defense’s argument that The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code is constitution because it is the Texas Alcohol Beverage Code:

In a remarkable (though logically dubious) demonstration of circular reasoninga tactic it repeats throughout its briefing, and which it echoed in open court TABC attempts to defend the constitutional legitimacy of the Code through an appeal to the statutory authority of the Code itself.

On the idea that the state should have the authority to define words however the legislature sees fit (and in what can only be seen as a tip of the hat to Freetail Brewing Co… right?):

Second, TABC’s argument, combined with artful legislative drafting, could be used to justify any restriction on commercial speech. For instance, Texas would likely face no (legal) obstacle if it wished to pass a law defining the word “milk” to mean “a nocturnal flying mammal that eatsinsects and employs echolocation.” Under TABC’s logic, Texas would then be authorized not only to prohibit use of the word “milk” by producers of a certain liquid dairy product, but also to require Austin promoters to advertise the famous annual “Milk Festival” on the Congress Avenue bridge. Regardless of one’s feelings about milk or bats, this result is inconsistent with the guarantees of the First Amendment.

This one isn’t so humorous as it is an insight into the larger issue that I have dealt with extensively: the restrictions of brewpubs to sell their beer to distributors or retailers for resale based on 3-tier arguments. Judge Sparks questions whether or not the concerns purported by the WBDT as reasons for not letting brewpubs sell their beer to distributors and retailers is a valid one.

Although unquestionablytrue whenthe Code was first written, andthe evils oforganized crime’s involvement in the alcoholic beverage industry were both immediate and substantial, it is less clear that vertical integration of the alcoholic beverage industry still poses a grave threat to Texas’s interests. In any case, in light of wineries’ exemption from these regulations, this purported interest is suspect.

In response to the defendant’s argument that the “Beer” and “Ale” distinctions are important for consumers to know how strong a product is in terms of alcohol, the Court reponds (my favorite part highlighted by me):

Although a typical member of the public may not be able, off the cuff, to state the average alcohol content of popular Texas malt beverages, the Court is confident that same person could, if presented with the alcohol content of a variety of malt beverages, come to a reasonably quick and accurate conclusion regarding their average range. Having determined the average range, this person could then make an intelligent choice whether to deviate from that range, in which direction, and by how much. The Court simply does not share TABC’s apparently low estimation of Texans, and remains steadfast in its belief that they are capable of basic math.

On why TABC’s lawyers presented what appears to be a less-than-full effort:

Regrettably, TABC has almost wholly failed to submit such evidence, and has often failed even to respond to Authentic’s arguments. Whether this failure reflects a tactical error, laziness, an implicit concession that the Code cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny, an erroneous assumption that TABC is entitled to special treatment, or a mere oversight, the Court cannot say. However, under the circumstances here, the Court is obligated to grant summary judgment in favor of Authentic on its First Amendment challenges.

On why just because TABC doesn’t know why it enforces stuff, it doesn’t make it unconstitutional:

However, as noted above, the state need not come forward with any record evidence whatsoever in defense of the Code. Further, just because particular individuals within the Texas governmenteven those of high rank within the administrative agency that enforces the law may not be able to articulate a reason for the Code’s disparate treatment, that does not mean no reason exists. Indeed, although it may well be desirable, there is no constitutional requirement that a personwho enforces of a law must also know the legislative purpose behind it.

Again, on defendant’s level of effort in defense:

The Court is shocked and dismayed at the Texas Attorney General’s halfhearted conduct in this case. The very purpose of having the Attorney General’s Office defend suits like this, is so the State of Texas can vigorously defend its duly enacted legislative mandates. Here, however, when TABC responded to Authentic’s challenges at all, it responded with little in the way of argument, and even less in the way of relevant evidence. The State of Texas is lucky the burden of proof was on Authentic for many of its claims, or else the Alcoholic Beverage Code might have fared even worse than it has.

Final note: I don’t feel the Attorney General let the TABC down as much as Judge Sparks thinks they did. Judge Sparks thinks the AG left arguments on the table, but I would contend THERE WERE NO ARGUMENTS TO PUT ON THE TABLE!

Been a fun day. Cheers everyone.


Dia de La Muerta 2011

Happy Halloween to all – may your treats be craft beer and may no one trick you into drinking anything less!

Just a quick update to talk about one of the most anticipated days of the year for those of us at Freetail and many of you, Dia de La Muerta.


For those unacquainted, La Muerta is our Imperial Stout, brewed only once per year to coincide with the remembrance of our dearly departed on Dia de los Muertos. The draught release will always been on November 1 and the bottle release will always be the first Saturday of November, which this year falls on the 5th.

Dia de La Muerta has come a long way in a short amount of time. The first batch (2008) was actually released in February of 2009, was a little under 100 bottles and took about a week to sell. We only made about 6 barrels total of La Muerta and it took about 2 months to sell it all, but we started to see a few bottles pop up around the country and started getting calls about it. Why only 6 barrels? Our mash tun maxes out at about 1,000 lbs of grain and the grain bill for La Muerta is so intense that’s all we can yield from a single mash.

La Muerta 2009 was the first version to adhere to the traditional release dates, and had a bottle release of approximately 250 and sold out around 10 pm the evening of the release. We made about 6 barrels again and it sold out in about a month. Some of the 2009 was diverted to a freshly emptied bourbon barrel and 95 bottles of Bourbon Barrel La Muerta 2009 were released in February of 2010. Bourbon Barrel La Muerta was made available to members of our email list, who were mailed a “coupon” a few weeks prior to the event for redemption on a first come, first serve basis. The email was passed around to non-email list members and, if my memory serves me correctly, it was our first “instant sell-out” of any bottle release (which has become the norm). Sadly, reports of infected bottles started to surface (and I even had the misfortune of tasting a few) and thus (among other things) led to the decision to not do bourbon barrel beers anymore and devote our barrel aging program to our wild ales.

La Muerta 2010 was our first double batch, brewed on back-to-back brew days to increase the volume to 12 barrels. Even with twice the volume, we still sold out of La Muerta in a little under a month. We amped the bottle count to 450 available for sale, and witnessed a sell out in under 30 minutes. This is when we knew our imperial stout was really taking off. I started to see not just the occasional review from another state, but lots of out-of-state and out-of-country reviews (more on trading later). I immediately knew the following year we’d have to amp up the production yet again.

La Muerta 2011 was another double batch, brewed on October 5th and 6th. We’re spending all of Halloween day filling the 750 bottles that will be made available to the public, plus a couple of extras for “internal purposes”. Our bottle releases have gotten pretty big, and we know La Muerta is the grandaddy of them all and we plan on making this the best bottle release yet. We’ll have a staff member distributing “tickets” on a first-come, first-serve basis starting at 8am. You’ll need to turn in your ticket to buy your beers, which have a 3 bottle/person limit. If there are any left over after everyone makes it through the line, we’ll allow folks to buy more. Quite honestly I’m a little anxious to see if we make it completely through the line.

Since folks are known to show up as early as 8am to wait for a bottle release and… um, socialize… I’ve partnered with my friend Manny of Tin Can Tacos (follow him on twitter @tincantacos) for breakfast. Manny doesn’t do anything half-ass, and is bringing the heat for Dia de La Muerta. I don’t know what exactly he’ll end up doing, but he’s talked about “Borracho Carne Guisada con La Muerta” and “Borracho Black Bean and Cheese” and has politely requested we make beer available to him to make tacos with. Sounds like a plan to me!

So, why a 3 bottle limit? Well, there are a few reasons and all of them have to do with some personal philosophies of mine. The biggest reason is to ensure that as many people get an opportunity to get some as possible, while still providing opportunity for folks the chance to get multiple bottles to enjoy one now and age a bottle or two. In respect to trading, while I think it is very cool to see our beer pop up in other places and I don’t mind people trading – that is a personal choice the person trading the beer makes. With that said, I’m not inclined to make policies to accommodate beer traders at the expense of the people in my immediate community. At the end of the day, we’re a brewpub in San Antonio, TX and I want to take care of my fellow Texans and the people who visit us in San Antonio first and foremost. Our bottle limits are designed to give as many people as possible a chance to enjoy our beers – and I won’t increase a bottle limit so a trader can trade away his beer while keeping one to drink when it means someone who just wants to drink it won’t get a chance. That isn’t to say I’m “anti-trader” – I think trading is awesome. I’m just way more “pro-local who wants a bottle to drink” than I am “pro-trader.”

So there is a little history of La Muerta and some details for this year’s bottle release. Hope to see many of you starting on November 1 for draught (which, we don’t allow growlers of La Muerta because we’d run out way too quick… that goes back to wanting as many people to try it as possible) and I know I’ll see a ton of you on the 5th.

Salud,

Scott