Monday, February 28, 2011

It has been over a year since our last post!

I can hardly believe that a year has gone by since that last post. I was washing bottles for the first time on our home-made bottle spraying, POS (and I don't mean 'point of sale') bottle washer.

Since then, not only did we engineer a kick-ass bottle washer, but we have streamlined the label removal, have a light table for bottle inspection, and we successfully petitioned the bottle manufacturer to change materials used for the bottle gaskets (previously 1/15 bottles failed to hold carbonation; now it is more like 1/150, and most of those turn out to have a tiny crack here or there).

Back then, I think we were only selling to a handful of places. Now we have our bottles at all the co-ops, all the New Seasons Markets, most all of the bottle shops and specialty beer bars, and on Tuesday I will be making the first delivery to Zupans on Burnside. Back then, we didn't want to make too big of a deal about the reusable bottle idea, because we didn't know if it would work out; now it is a major part of the brewery work schedule.

Last year, we had a wonderful second season of serving out of our beer bus at Krugers Farm on Sauvie Island. This year, we have that same bus (hopefully) permanently parked at the D-Street Noshery (SE 32 and Division), and in a few months will have a 1946 ex-Franz bread truck pouring pints at NE 23 and Alberta, as well as having our third season at Krugers Farm.

This time last year, we were almost completely dependent upon one distributor that only sold our kegs to a handful of places. Now we have a (different) distributor that carries our bottles to all of Oregon outside of the pdx-area, and we distribute our bottles directly to the pdx-area, and are looking to get certified to direct sell to southern Washington.

Also since last year: we partnered with our friend Balam to make and sell bottled kombucha. After the Lindsey Lohan kombucha recall, I at first contacted a couple of local kombucha brewers to see if we could work something out; perhaps we could use our licensed premises until they could get their own licenses (takes about four months for federal approval). Both declined, seeking their own ways to keep the alcohol out of their 'bucha. Balam had been homebrewing kombucha for about twelve years, and neither of us was impressed with anything on the market then. Thus was born Invisible Alchemy Kombucha, barely alcoholic as any real kombucha will be once you bottle it.

We have also decided that we want to have as a goal that anyone that works with us on a regular basis have a hand at brewing. We set up a one barrel pilot for training, and then a three barrel nano-brew for making small, six keg batches for the experiments we want to put on at the beer bus. Further, we want each beer bus to have around ten different of our beers, so the small batches will allow us to make a diverse spread of beers without burrying us under a ton of kegs of just one flavor.

I think that is about it. I think the bottle delabeler is heated up by now, so I am off to remove the labels from about forty cases of bottles.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Washing Bottles

First run at washing bottles took far too long, but I knew that we just had to do it in order to figure out how best to change the equipment for efficiency. Only a few bottles had to be left to soak in the alkaline rinse solution (we filled them up from the leftover after setting them aside). Finished everything at 3am, and got home safely!

Need more washing racks so we can go through more bottles with fewer change overs.
Need more surface areas for staging and stacking.
Need rack for sink so bottles drip dry better before boxing.
Need fixed light for easier inspection.

Remove cap, replace gasket, rinse, wash, rinse, inspect, sanitize, inspect, fill, cap, rinse off outside and drain-dry, box, condition, test (hiccup), label, case, load, deliver. Easy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Liberty Hall Art Bazaar and Craft Fair

Liberty Hall is soon to be no more! This Friday they are having an art and craft bazaar, which would be a great place to buy your holiday gifts and support local artisans. CbP will have pints for your enjoyment on site, and BOTTLES TO GO or to gift! We just got our Certificate of Label Approval from the feds for our IPA, and the silkscreen is being burnt right now for the label (like, downstairs in the laundry room under a 150 watt bulb).

Liberty Hall is at 311 N Ivy St here in PDX. Show is this Friday (the 18th) and runs from 4pm to 9pm.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why do you want to use reusable bottles? Isn’t that more work than just using recyclable glass like everyone else?

Reuse helps the environment. Glass is horribly inefficient to recycle: recycling glass saves only 30% of the energy that takes to make a bottle from new, raw ingredients. Imagine leaving a standard 60 Watt bulb on for a week, all day and all night: that is how much energy that is saved by a single reuse of one of our 750ml bottles instead of recycling it. Nearly as much energy as it takes to create a new six pack of 12oz bottles.

Reuse helps the local economy. Instead of shipping recycled glass elsewhere to be reformed into new bottles, our bottles will be washed here. Instead of sending our dollars elsewhere to constantly buy new bottles, we will pay our friends and neighbors to wash them.

Reuse involves people in the process of making responsible choices. It demands that they physically set the bottle aside, return it to the store. People will get satisfaction from the tangible act, rather than simply putting their money into a product with environmental claims. The bottle becomes a piece of equipment, a utensil, rather than a piece of (recyclable) garbage.

Other beverage companies are already doing this. Noris, Strauss, and Lady-Lane Dairies and Dragonfly Chai use returnable, reusable containers. Glass milk is on the shelves of Co-ops, and natural food stores like New Seasons in glass milk jugs and carry a $1.50 deposit. The Dragonfly Chai Company delivers its chai mix in reusable glass gallon jugs to coffee shops and restaurants.

The OLCC loves the idea and has approved our plan. I met with Lynn Johnson of the OLCC’s Wholesale and Manufacturing Specialist (503-872-5188) and submitted an application as per the Oregon Bottle Bill ORS 459A.725. She concluded that we did not need certification as we were not going through OBRC. Deposits must be at least five cents per container, but larger deposits are allowed. There are plans for OBRC to include reusable bottles someday, but it is years from realization yet.

How is it going to work? When we deliver cases of beer to retailer, there will be a charge for the beer and a separate charge for the bottle deposit. When the customer buys the bottle, the the Out The Door price includes a dollar deposit, which the customer can collect upon returning the bottle in usable (but not washed - we do that!) condition. Every delivery (once a week), we will collect the empties, and credit the retailer a dollar per bottle collected on the invoice.
We provide sturdy and stackable wooden crates to safely house returned empties.

BTW, if you would rather keep the container for your own reuse, please do so! The bottles cost us a bit over a dollar new, and the difference is made up in the additional labor cost of thoroughly washing and inspecting used bottles, so our bottom line is not affected. The purpose of all of this is to break the 'use once and destroy' mentality that wastes so many resources.

We know that it is a bit of a PITA, and welcome any suggestions!

Bottles in time for Xmas?

Yesterday we bottled. Two halfie kegs became about fourteen cases of 750ml (25.4 oz, or as the TTB required us to state on the bottle, "One pint, 9.4 fl. oz.") of flip top, reusable bottles. They are carbonating in the glass right now, though I doubt they are doing so very quickly even though they were primed with lager yeast. Gotta get them in a small, heated space for about a week.

The first bottle run went as expected: it took too long! But we had to arrange all the right parts, boil everything, then boil what we forgot. Measuring the priming sugar; finding the goldern priming sugar (I know it is here somewhere!). Ed had to tinker a bit with the bottle washer. He sorted the easy to clean from those destined to be recycled (I had brought out the graveyard of homebrew bottles to test the wash method). But at the end of the day, we knew that next run will be way faster and easier.

I first seriously started looking into using reusable deposit bottles for our beer after our participation in the Green Renaiscance Festival this year. We were going to pour our beer into corn cups, but I had heard that the corn poly plastic was not as eco-groovy (™ , Bob Ornelas, 1994) as claimed. Turns out that they only break down in a "commercial composting environment" and that they do so more slowly than other compost, delaying the composting company's ability to turn around and sell their product to farms. City of Portland basically forced the companies that take the curbside compost to accept the corn cups as part in parcel, but they would not take ours as we were from "out of town" e.g. Saint Helens. Nice woman with City of Portland (forgot her name) gently chided me that "use once and destroy" was not really sustainable, anyways.

So out on Krugers Farm, Suz tried using mason jars with some success, some failure. We are going to try again next summer, with better a return plan in place. People loved both that they got to drink out of glass instead of plastic, and that we were making an extra effort to do business in a more responsible manner. Also, there was something in the way that they carried themselves when they brought the jar back and put it into the bus tub for reuse.

Kegs are great. When treated right, a keg lasts (nearly) forever. They are 100% reusable, right down to the keg collars that we scrub clean and re-lable, and the plastic caps we scrub off the Sharpie™ markings. With one keg sale, 124 pints of our lovely ale moves from brewery to site of consumption. Cost-savvy beer lovers can glean free or cheap fridges from Craigslist or such and buy beer in bulk for a garage fridge.

Kegs suck. They are big and heavy. Our keg army is a mix up of three different styles, each of which has its perks and drawbacks, and takes different setups to clean and fill. Competition for tap handles at bars and restaurants is fierce, and you have to deal with the politics of distribution, old loyalties, and whether or not a relatively unknown brewery’s keg is going to move quickly enough to justify its space, especially if the venue only has a few taps.

A bottle just takes up a few inches on a store shelf. Bottle shop patrons love new things. Hmmm…

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Few weeks ago I found a broken pump at the Rebuild Center for $25, found the replacement part for $17 online, and today we fired up the new keg washer. A billion times better than previously! It blasts about twice as strong as the tap (oh, and btw cannot help but gloat at having saved hundreds compared to the new cost!).

Got a rejection letter today from the TTB on my label design, WHICH IS A GOOD THING, because I have already been calling and emailing the inspector, and with this letter I can now resubmit with all the corrections already in place as per our conversations. Anyone got a spare two grand so we can get certified organic? Turns out I cannot even mention that we use organic grains on the label, even on an ingredients list on the back. I tried to say "grains grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides" and that, too, was rejected based on the "disparaging implication that other breweries do." Like I said, just send two grand my way and we will be done with it.

The keg washer pump will also be powering a bottle washer. Judging by the performance today, I might have to refigure it so that the bottles don't end up being blasted to the ceiling.

Thanks tons to Edwin and John for their pipe fitting and plumbing expertise, and basic coolness in helping put this together!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bottling soon, and with a new twist...

No, not twist off caps. Don't want to jinx it just yet, but big plans are in the works. The OLCC just gave us the green light for our secret project, a 'back to the future' take on bottling. Our homebrewing friend just got laid off of his job as a union pipefitter. The label submission to the feds is still waiting approval. Availability of sufficient quantity of bottles has been secured. First batch to be destined for glass instead of steel is planned, yeast prop will start on Monday for a Friday brew day. Four retailers have already agreed to carry the product in the method required, and so far no one has said 'no.'

Hint: Did you know that when you recycle a glass bottle, that the melting and reforming of that bottle still takes 70% of the energy as if it were made from new raw materials?