July 31, 2007
In my brew history, there have been some good times. Particularly recently, with a trophy, a blue ribbon, and the potential for some mini-fame with the Sam Adams thing.
But it’s not all trophies and blue ribbons. Occasionally there are failures. The Agave Wheat is one of them. I’m finally done with the keg, though, so I can officially call it a failure. It’s not that the beer was poorly made; it was brewed properly. It was just a bad recipe. The Agave syrup was more flavorful than I expected, and took over the mild flavors of a wheat recipe I started with. It was bearable if I could squeeze a wedge of lime in there, but even with the lime not something I would call “good”.
I haven’t given up on the agave idea, but I learned that it’s far too strong of a flavor for the recipe I started with. I’m trying to think of a potential recipe to use it, perhaps a wheat beer with fruit to balance the agave. The wife even suggested a hard lemonade with agave, which might just be perfect.
As I’ve said before, any experience is useful if something is learned from it. This is one of those “what not to do” experiments, but at the same time it game me ideas about what I can do with the agave, and if I choose to use it in another beer, I’ll know how to make good use of the flavor.
I’m reading Sam Calagione’s “Brewing Up a Business”, a story about the success of Dogfish Head brewery. So far I’m enjoying it. It’s definitely interesting to understand exactly how he got to where he is today, and how his business grew.
But I’ve got a complaint. The book is designed to be a primer to aspiring entrepreneurs on how to start their own businesses, but the overall tone of the book seems to be “be as unique as Dogfish Head, and for all the same reasons”. There are definitely good points there, and I’m starting to think less about “I want to be a brewer” and more about “What will I be able to to do to distinguish my beer from other brewers’ beer?” I think this is one of the typical problems with books written by entrepreneurs, though, where they write about what made their successful and market it as a description of what will make other businesses successful.
A book about the experiences of other entrepreneurs is still quite helpful, specifically since it was written by someone in the industry I’d like to enter. I’m learning lessons left and right, and count it as a useful tool in getting me to my goal.
But I want something more. Learning from experience can be very helpful, but too often people focus on learning from the success of others. Books written from the perspective of a successful entrepreneur tend to be biased towards how well the decisions worked out, rather than how difficult the decisions were at the time.
So I’m looking for other books. I don’t want books written about successful entrepreneurs. I want books about failure. I want to hear case studies of unsuccessful businesses, and learn as much from the “what not to do” stories as I can learn from the “what to do” stories. There are a lot of reasons why businesses fail, and understanding those pitfalls, written honestly from the perspective of the person who made the wrong decisions, has to be a great tool.
I know these books are out there. While my readership on this blog is pretty tiny, I know some of you have probably read them. So let’s hear some suggestions. What books do I need to read?
July 30, 2007
My company does sales kickoff meetings twice a year, in January and July. About 4 years back, I started a tradition where we have a poker tournament on the second night of the meetings. It’s not a company-sponsored event, but we’ve now gotten to the point where over half the company participates, and I expect the number to rise next January.
As I’ve pointed out, I’ve actually won the tournament twice, January 2006 and July 2006. We played again a few weeks ago, and I had big hopes for my entry fee. After all, I’ve got a baby on the way, karma should dictate that I win another one, right? Given the size of the tournament, with 32 players (buy-in of $40 each minus food/beer), we had our first prize pool in excess of $1000, and our 1st-place prize was nearly $500. It’s by far the biggest we’ve had (the last one was 26 players), and with the new office we moved into, we had four nice tables in one room.
The tournament started off well. I played ultra-conservative, and won a few mid-size pots as the blinds started raising. As is typical, I don’t remember a single hand I won. As I started building some chips, it was about time to press.
One hand came along, and I had A-T suited. I raised pre-flop, and pushed all but one other player out of the hand. Flop comes queen and two blanks. He had position, and bet into me. I pushed and raised him, hoping to catch him out on a bluff. It wasn’t many chips, but given my conservative play, I knew it would make him think. He called, and I was worried. Turn comes, another blank. He checks, and rather than throw more chips away, I check behind him. The river comes, another blank, and he bets big into me. Given that I was on nothing more than ace-high, I had to step away from the hand.
Not long after, I pulled pocket 5’s. Pre-flop, I raise, trying to push everyone off the hand. One guy stays with me, and he’s a serious player, so I know I’ve got to tread lightly. Flop comes A-2-3, giving me an inside straight draw, but with a big card out, scaring the hell out of me. He checks to me, perhaps thinking I’m holding an ace. I bet 200 chips into him, looking to push him off if he’s holding KQ or something similar. I know he can’t call without an ace. Well, he doesn’t call. He moves all-in. This puts me in a tough spot. I know he’s a strong enough player to make a bluff on that, but also know that he knows I’m a conservative player, and won’t get into a hand if I don’t have something. I felt a little like the below scene… I knew what I knew, knew what he knew, but knew that he knew that I knew what he knew. So all bets were off. I judged that there was no way he’d make a move like that on me without an ace, and even if he didn’t have an ace, it was too early in the tournament for me to throw it away on a hunch. So I folded again. I did find out the next day that he was holding an ace with a weak kicker, so we were both in a position of non-strength, but I was happy with my decision.
So at this point, my stack is starting to drop off. Blinds are raising, and I need to find a place to make a move. I have a little over 400 chips, and the blinds are 50-100. So I’m getting to an all-in or fold moment. Luckily, a dream hand comes. A-Q suited. In position. You can’t ask for much more than that. I figure I’m a shoo-in to steal the blinds, and if I do get into a hand, there’s only a few hands that I’m actually an underdog to. So I move in. Everyone folds but the big blind, who (I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t realize it) was pot-committed. He’s in for maybe 275 chips or so, and he’s dwindling so far that in the big blind, I think he’d have called on anything. Well, he had 6-7 offsuit, so there’s not much “anything” below that. Granted, I’m a fair favorite in this hand, but I know all it takes is a 6 or 7 to beat me. And a 6 comes on the flop, but so does my queen. So I’m no longer a fair favorite, I’m now a pretty strong favorite. We’ve each got a pair, but I’ve got the big pair and there’s only two cards to come. And then he hits his 7 on the river, to beat me with two pair, leaving me in an UGLY chip position.
Now I’m desperate. With the blinds at 50-100, and me with only 120 chips in front of me, I know I need to pick my best hand and move in with it, and pray for luck. And again, a hand comes along… Ace-King offsuit (king is clubs). That’s a heck of a lot better than I can expect when I’m only two seats out of the blind, so I move in (obviously). Given the tiny move it was, three players stick in the pot. Flop comes with three clubs in it. I’m thinking I’ve got a shot, but two other players move all-in on the hand (the third player folds), so I’m a bit worried. The guy who moved me off the pot earlier shows two low clubs, and the guy who is about to double him up shows something else (it was obviously inconsequential at this point). So all I need is a fourth club and I’m golden, I quadruple up and the other guy still makes a nice big pot. The turn is a red card. River is an ace, but not of clubs. And I’m done.
All told, in a field of 32, I finished roughly in the high teens. Not great, but I didn’t do anything stupid. Looking at all the hands I played, I can’t think of a way that I could have played a single one better, given the circumstances. I’ve had tournaments where I’ve won but made some questionable decisions, but this was one of those days that I made great decisions yet still lost. So I was happy with my performance, just not my results.
I was a bit pleased that the tournament was won by a fellow Boilermaker. There are only two Purdue guys in the entire company, and between us we’ve won the tournament 3 times. Given that the company is in California, and Purdue is in Indiana, I think that’s a nice bragging point. He was at a different table, so I didn’t get to see his tournament, but I’m told it hinged on one hand. For some reason he called two all-in bets preflop with 2-4. Nobody knows why he did it. But I think he ended up making a full-house with that hand, and that was the one everyone remembers. One guy in particular, Joe, who is a decent player, was complaining about that hand all night long, as he got knocked out. But the winner, counting a little side bet, walked away with over $500.
We’ve had a few side games occur during the tournaments. I decided, for the first time, to actually take part in this game this time. Usually if I’m not at the final table, I’m observing it, in order to get enough interesting information to write a poker summary that the entire company has grown to expect the next day. But this time, I decided to throw responsibility to the wind, and join the “loser’s” table.
We ended up with 8 players, in for $20 each. We started with a huge number of chips in comparison to the blinds, and we ended up being ahead of the blinds the whole tournament. Given my conservative nature, I love playing with enough chips to disregard the blinds. I’m sure I could have simply folded into 3rd place (the low-money spot), and possibly even into second. With players who were all amped-up and looking to make up for their poor performance in the big tourney, it was a lot of wild betting with little purpose. So I just sat back and played a tight-aggressive strategy, and watched as everyone picked each other off. Getting down to 4th place, I knew I was in decent shape. When we finally hit the money, I started opening things up a bit, as I was the short stack at the table (without being a small stack, I was still the shortest at the table). I also started getting some decent cards.
We knocked off another player, and were down to 2. I started pulling a few big hands, and took the chip lead by a decent margin. A hand came up, and I was holding 2-7 suited. Not very good, but I was in the big blind and my opponent, Joe*, simply called. So with a free flop, I checked. Flop came 7 and two other blanks. I move all-in, knowing I’ve probably got the best hand and that my opponent will see the move as a bluff. He calls. Turn comes 7, and river comes 2, for a full house.
I managed to win the loser’s table, but considering that I won $90, I was still $30 in the positive. And that’s not even counting the case and a half of free beer. It was cheap beer, but it was free cheap beer, so I’ll take it.
All in all, a nice evening. I certainly would have liked to win the whole thing, but any time you make money is a good night in a poker tournament.
* Joe is the same guy who lost to me with 2-7, and the winner of the big tournament with 2-4. Not exactly his night, and he’s still complaining about that!
July 29, 2007
I used to smoke. My friends when I started were all Marlboro Red smokers, so that’s what I started with. Over time I switched to Camel, and eventually Camel Lights. But I had heard that smoking lights wasn’t any less unhealthy than smoking regulars. The reason is that smokers, when they switch to lights, tend to take deeper and longer drags in order to compensate for the lighter “feel” of the cigarette.
I realized over the last few nights that the same thing occurs with light beer. Recently I did a poker night with a bunch of coworkers (I’ll have to post that story soon), and since I organize it, I’m always there to the end. We reached the end of the night and had a case and a half of beer left, so I managed to bring that home with me. It was a case of Coors Light, and half a case of Bud. These are two things that never see the inside of my fridge.
The Bud was actually better than I expected. It had a more full taste than most American macro beers I’ve had, and I’d seriously consider buying it sometimes instead of Miller Lite, my usual beer when I’m just looking for something cheap and drinkable. But the Coors Light, well, wasn’t full-bodied. I can take an average bottle of craft brew, and I find if I’m just having one in the evening I’ll gladly nurse it for an hour, taking my time. But the Coors Light was different. With such a light body and flavor, I find I’m taking bigger gulps more often. I can sit drinking a nice IPA for an hour, I might finish a Coors Light in 15 minutes and feel completely unsatisfied.
It seems just like light cigarettes. Light beer might have less calories and alcohol than regular beer, but if you drink more of them and drink them faster, you’re not doing yourself any good. Might as well get the real stuff and at least feel satisfied afterwards, right?
So the wheels in my brain have been turning, and the plans have started to form.
The first question is brewery vs. brewpub. There are advantages to a brewery, in that you have two jobs: brew and sell. Yes, like any small business, that’s probably two full-time jobs. But even if you work 12 hours a day, the ability to set your own hours would be nice. It definitely appears to allow more freedom. But there’s one disadvantage. There’s not much money there. When you run the numbers, retail price compared to brewing cost is a huge margin. But when you factor in distributor profit, retail profit, bottling, etc, it just sucks the money right out. A brewpub has a distinct monetary advantage. As Sam Calagione says in his book, restaurants with brewpubs have about 1/10th the failure rate as restaurants without brewpubs. One of the main reasons for this is that the revenue stream from the brewing side is nearly all profit. The downside, though, is that a restaurant is a 7-day a week job, and instead of starting small as a 1 or 2 man operation in a little industrial park, you need to think about location, staff, and all the headaches that are associated with the restaurant business.
That’s not easy, especially for me, as I know nothing about the restaurant business. But it still makes a lot more sense. I think the chances of success are much better with a restaurant. Of course that opens a million other questions… Do I find a partner that knows the restaurant side to go into business with? Do I try to do it myself (with the assistance of the wife, who is the only one of us that knows anything about food)? There’s a lot of learning to be done here, but at least I have an idea of what I have to learn about.
Obviously, the brewing side will need to be fleshed out quite a bit. I think I’ve worked my way through IPA’s to the point where I can make a solid IPA. I haven’t tried it yet, but I hear that the Amber Ale I brewed with my brewing buddies is darn good. I’ll have to check it myself, but it might be a good start for a recipe. I haven’t done much with wheat beers, but those are typically not as difficult. But I’ve never brewed a good stout or porter (I haven’t really tried either), and every high-gravity beer I’ve made has flopped. You can’t have a respectable brewery in SoCal and not put out a double IPA, and I’d have to have an Imperial Stout available for the “winter” months. But I’ve got time between now and then, so I’ll try to work that out.
Next, of course, is debt… Getting out of debt takes a level of self-control I’ve never really had. But I can’t get a bank loan with the level of debt that I’ve got. And I’ll be damned if I let that get in the way of this. So I’m turning over a true new leaf, and I’m going to stop being an idiot about it, and get it under control.
There’s one more thing. I need a name. I had “Revolutionary Brewing Company” all scoped out. But it appears to be taken, and by another aspiring brewery here in SoCal. I’d do the “Patrick Henry” thing, but that’s a little too close to “Samuel Adams”, and I don’t have the Virginia or farming connections to Henry. Maybe a little inside joke and call it “Spooner’s”, or just drop the politics altogether and start fresh.
So that’s where I stand. I’m working out steps 5 and 6 on a 678-step process.
July 26, 2007
Ever felt like you’re being drawn, almost by fate, into something?
I realized a few years ago that you never become truly wealthy working for someone else. The people who really “get ahead” do it on their own. You set out on a course unknown, and you try to make your mark. Entrepreneurship is the true path to wealth and freedom.
But it’s more than that. I’m not the type of person who can really be passionate about something unless it’s personal. I like my job, and I’m interested in seeing the company do well, but only so much as their success contributes to my personal success. I’m not passionate about it. I am passionate about creating. I love crafting things, whether it be with words (as in blogging), or with barley and hops (as in beer), I want to make something and make it well.
I’ve been thinking for a while about what it would take to start a brewery. The success I’ve had with some of my competitions has told me that I can brew good beer. I’ve still got a lot of learning to do, but my ability to craft a recipe and brew a nice drinkable beer is starting to become a lot more consistent. I’ve made a few stinkers when I try to experiment, but each of those experiences has been instructive, and when I brew my Smoked IPA in a few weeks/months, I think I might actually get it right.
Then, I started talking about the idea of a brewery with my new brew partners, and they seem interested in the idea. And I started reading Monday Night Brewery, a blog written by three friends in Atlanta who are working to open a brewery in the next few years. But it goes farther. Just a week and a half ago, my brother was out here and we started talking about the logistics… How much space would be necessary, how much the initial investment might be, etc.
Last night, for my birthday, I went to a beer tasting at a local brewpub with my wife, her sister, and my brother-in-law. We started speaking with the head brewer, and he took us in back to give us a tour of the facilities. I made sure to get into questions about output, the sort of turnover and fermentation time that’s necessary, all with a little question in the back of my head: “What do I need to do to make this happen?” So I took some of that information, and started working up an ultra-rough idea of what a monthly balance sheet would need to look like to make it happen, and I’m starting to do some research on what the initial capital investment will take.
And last, but what I’m sure will not be the end of it, I arrived home today to find a very nice birthday gift from my brother. He bought me a copy of Brewing Up A Business by Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head brewery. It’s the story of a guy who said to himself “I can do it better and I can do it my way”, and he’s done it.
I’ve still got work to do. I need to expand my repertoire of styles. I really need to start thinking not only about brewing good beer, but about what I want a brewery to be and represent. But that’s mere steps on the road. I want to be a brewer. I want to make beer I like to drink, and share it with the world. I want to be able to go to Wyatt’s “career day” at school and be the cool dad who makes beer.
So I’ve got some reading to do. I see where I am, Point A. Point B is me making 100% of my income from brewing. Hopefully this new book will help me start mapping the route.
Why I love the business of brewing | Monday Night Brewery : Atlanta, GA linked with Why I love the business of brewing | Monday Night Brewery : Atlanta, GA
July 25, 2007
So life is pretty good for me right now… Positive things occurring at work, a new baby on the way, a lot of exciting news in the beer world, I live in the middle of sunshine next to the ocean and today’s my birthday.
But sometimes I see news that worries me. In this case, it’s financial. I reported on this over at The Liberty Papers, regarding a housing crash that may rival what we saw during the Great Depression, and knowing that if our government does anything to try to fix it, they’ll only make it worse.
But it’s still a good day… I’m happy and healthy, and I’m sure I can be whoopin’ and hollerin’ all the way down.
July 24, 2007
As I mentioned a few times, I brewed a Raspberry Wheat beer shortly after the move to CA, in order to have a nice clean summer beer for the SoCal heat. I was desperately trying to get it done and bottled in time to submit to the Orange County Fair’s Homemade Beer competition, but due to a couple of forces, missed the deadline. I bottled as usual, and then two days before judging, got a call from the competition organizer, asking if I still wanted to submit (since I had already sent in the paperwork and entry fee).
Well, that was about the last I had heard of it. I later received a letter asking if I wanted to attend a private party for “Beer Exhibitors”, but assumed that this was sent out to all participants.
So I was a bit surprised when I was at the event, the winners of each category were called up front to talk about their beers, and my name was called for the “Fruit Beer” category… It was a bit awkward, actually, because most winners had brought samples of their beer for tasting purposes, and I obviously didn’t have any of that. Plus, not knowing that I had won, I really had no clue what to say… The below photo is me fumbling through my little speech.
But hey, chock another feather in the cap. If you want to see my [misspelled] name in print, check out this site and select “Entry” and “620 – Fruit Beer”. Hopefully they’ll spell my name right on the ribbon, because that will one day be displayed in my brewery… If I keep making beers like these, perhaps one day I’ll actually have a brewery
In addition, while there my brother-in-law and I met some very nice fellow homebrewers, one of whom took runner-up in best-in-show for a pomegranate mead that I got to taste… That was some very good mead, and major credit to her for taking second place for the best-in-show category in a beer competition with a mead — doesn’t happen often.
July 23, 2007
Cross-posted at The Liberty Papers…
From The Agitator, taken directly from Hit & Run:
July 22, 2007
Britney Spears has apparently joined the trend of buying Yorkshire Terriers, a trend which I* spotted years ago when I purchased mine.
Of course, in an attempt to show that she actually understands what nation these dogs are typically associated with, she named the dog “London”. I don’t know if anyone bothered to explain to her that London and Yorkshire are two completely different cities, about 200 miles apart? It’s like going to someone’s house where they want to impress you and serve steak, but give you Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese as a side dish…
Besides, I don’t think Britney’s dog could ever be as cute as Guinness anyway…
* By saying “I” spotted the trend, I’m taking credit for my wife, who actually knows and cares about trends… If it had been my choice, I’d probably have gone down to the pound and picked up a mutt…
July 21, 2007
This is an angle that I haven’t quite seen exploited on this story:
Poker champion Phil Laak has a good chance of winning when he sits down this week to play 2,000 hands of Texas Hold’em â€” against a computer.
It may be the last chance he gets. Computers have gotten a lot better at poker in recent years; they’re good enough now to challenge top professionals like Laak, who won the World Poker Tour invitational in 2004.
But it’s only a matter of time before the machines take a commanding lead in the war for poker supremacy. Just as they already have in backgammon, checkers and chess, computers are expected to surpass even the best human poker players within a decade. They can already beat virtually any amateur player.
This is a really interesting test of AI. Games like chess are fundamentally different than poker, because a computer knows precisely where all of a competitor’s pieces are located at all given times. In poker, you only have imperfect information. Knowing how to calculate odds is important, but reading your opponent is often more important. You can only guess from your opponents betting trends and behavior as to what cards he holds, and a good pro knows how to vary those trends enough to fool just about anyone.
The question of computers and poker are not new, as I mentioned here. Typical poker programs are set up with a varying level of aggressiveness, willingness to bluff, risk tolerance, etc. Setting up a computer to play a moderately “correct” strategy will usually be enough to beat mediocre players, but against a pro, won’t work at all.
So this will really be a good test of how far AI has come. The better they teach the computer to read Laak and vary its own behavior, the closer we’ll get to a computer that can really “think”. So for geeks, this one is pretty interesting.
There’s a bit of a different component, though… Phil Laak has a nickname, due to his fashion sense (hooded sweatshirts). He’s known as “The Unabomber”. The Unabomber, of course, was the guy who was attacking technology companies. Does anyone else find it a bit coincidental that he’s the guy picked to go against the highest level of artificial intelligence and technology?
July 13, 2007
Now, as most of you know, I don’t think pot should be illegal. I personally don’t care for it, but on the list of dangerous drugs, I think it’s clearly less destructive to families and individuals than even alcohol. So the fact that he made himself some special brownies doesn’t bother me in the slightest, even though he’s a cop.
But to call 911 like this?! Anybody stupid enough to do that really shouldn’t be entrusted with the protection of others.
July 11, 2007
James Hetfield, lead-singer of Metallica, learned this week that the UK’s Luton airport was not on his list of places he can roam freely. Sad but true, Hetfield was detained due to his “Taliban-like beard” making officials nervous. One wonders if the rock star felt like an outlaw torn or just another victim of the master of puppets, big brother government. But for his devil’s dance, quickly explaining to the officials that he was a rock star, and not a terrorist, Hetfield may have felt a bit … I don’t know … minus human? Though Hetfield escaped relatively unscathed, nay more a hero of the day, I have no doubt that the memory of his detiainment will remain though nothing else matters.
Let this be a lesson: in the land of wolf and man, the bell tolls for us all … until the-thing-that-should-not-be sleeps, that is.
I’d warn those governments about Hetfield, though… He’s been known to fight fire with fire, and may leave you blackened.
July 10, 2007
Let’s see… The below video shows something that’s childish, stupid, pointless, probably more expensive than it’s worth, highly dangerous, and blatantly illegal.
I just might have found a new hobby.
Adult Soap Box Derby!
I particularly like how they’re the SFV Illegal Soap Box Federation. It’s like a personalized invitation
July 9, 2007
Do the below.
Go to the Samuel Adams web site.
Enter your birthdate when asked…
At the opening page, click on “Promotions”
Click on the “LongShot” image
Click on “The Winner’s List”
Scroll down to the Boston Regional.
Some of you may remember a few weeks ago, I was talking rather cryptically about a good karma experience. This is it.
The Sam Adams LongShot competition began in 2006, and immediately got the attention of homebrewers across the country. Sam Adams is picking two winning brews from homebrewers each year, to be released as part of a special six-pack along with their own top employee homebrewer. The beer will be released under the Sam Adams brand, but the winners will have a little bio/description on the label. For many of us who dream of being able to have our beers on store shelves, this is a chance unlike any other. Sam Adams has national distribution, which is something almost all of the most successful craft brewers in the US haven’t reached yet. There are four finalists, and those four finalists are being flown out to Denver in October for the Great American Beer Festival where they’ll reveal the two winners.
And I’m one of those finalists, along with my neighbor (pictured here in the Guinness shirt). We had decided that if we won that little local competition, we’d submit the beer to the Sam Adams competition. My hope was that we’d get a score sheet back with good feedback from the judges, but somehow we managed to get ourselves into the final four, out of about 1700 entries.
Needless to say, I’m pretty psyched. At this point, if I were to win I’d be ecstatic, but just to get this far is an incredible honor. I’d been thinking about going to the GABF this year, but didn’t think I’d have a chance, due to money, a new baby, etc. So the opportunity to go there and just be a part of this is amazing. And if we win, Sam Adams will actually brew the beer commercially, and everyone I know can get a chance to sample it. And if someday I decide I want to start a new career, recognition like this makes me think it might even be feasible to start a brewery or brewpub in the future.
Obviously there’ll be more news to come in the future… But for now, I’m enjoying a few more of my 15 minutes of fame!
Below The Beltway linked with Brad Warbiany, Brewer And Libertarian
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