Six months in

A lot has changed in the year (sheesh!) since my last post, about the 2012 East Nashville Beer Fest. We are quickly coming up on the 2013 festival and everyone at Fat Bottom is stoked to have a beer festival happening right down the street from us. We will be releasing a number of small batch beers over the course of that week (from March 19 to 23) and we’re planning live music and lots of fun in the courtyard following the festival. Watch Facebook and Twitter for details.

We officially opened the taproom on August 17, 2012 and began distributing to bars around town the following week. Our fist account was at Village Pub at Riverside Village (thank you!) and we’re now on tap at 35 locations around town, including Finley’s Irish pub at Opryland and (soon) two bars in the airport. The taproom serves the balance of our beer and a full menu of food — we are open Tuesday through Friday 4-10 PM and Saturday 2-10 PM.

We’ve maxed out our initial capacity and new tanks were ordered in early January. We opened with 60 barrels of capacity and we will be adding 90 barrels more, with arrival of those tanks expected in early May. Once those are online, we are going to try to blow it up…my target is to have 100 regular accounts by the end of the year.

So come visit us in the taproom sometime and ask for Fat Bottom beer at your local bars and favorite restaurant. Thank you for supporting local beer!

ENBF Recovery & Data

Aric, Kendall and me, manning the booth
and looking good in our logo tees.
Photo courtesy of @KennysFrmHseChz

Whew. I think I’ve finally recovered from yesterday’s East Nashville Beer Fest.

While I didn’t get to do much drinking (er…tasting), our booth was slammed with folks lining up to taste the beer. Black Betty and Ginger were on tap, along with a secret keg of pale ale. I cannot imagine doing a beer festival like that alone or even with one other person. We had three people manning the booth almost the whole time, and even had some friends rotate in to help pour and give us short breaks.

I didn’t hear any complaints about the beer, which I’ll count as a plus. We had several people who kept coming back for more, and a lot of people who told us that their friends had sent them over specifically to try Ginger. That was the big win in my mind. I think that Ginger is going to be our big seller and finding out that people were recommending it specifically was really exciting.

Now for the Data:

I geek out on data and had to figure this out. This is a wild guess, but I think we served about 1,500 beers over the course of 5 hours. Tasting glasses at the event were about five ounces and we were told to fill them half-way, which almost never happened. We served 45 gallons (5,760 oz) of beer at the event. If each pour averaged four ounces, that works out to 1,440 glasses, almost 300 per hour. (The 300 number passes the sniff-test, too. That is an average of five per minute, and we had two people pouring most of the time. One beer every 24 seconds per server sounds busy but reasonable.)

On top of that, we sold about 50 pint glasses and 75 shirts in 95 transactions, which was far more than I expected. With a purchase happening every three minutes, I ended up dedicated to the sales and chatting with folks who stayed to talk about the brewery and our beer…I hardly poured any of the beer myself. (PS- If you want a shirt of your own, check out

Finally, lessons learned (first-timers take note):

  1. Label the beers. I never thought to do this, but we ended up telling people the names and styles of the two beers on tap over and over (1,500 times!). That alone was mentally fatiguing and gets old quickly.
  2. Check all your taps and connections BEFORE the event. I had trouble with a few kegs, where I couldn’t get the keg tapped. That was a simple, dumb mistake that could have been avoided if I had just checked that each valve was set up properly before we were in the heat of service.
  3. Price your merchandise to be whole dollars AFTER tax. A $4 pint glass works out to $4.37 and a t-shirt is $19.67 after tax. I was set up to swipe credit cards on the iPad and didn’t have any change, because I  never imagined how many people (almost 50%) wanted to pay with cash. Next time a shirt will be $20 with tax, a pint will be $4.50 and we’ll have a cash box with change.

Finally, a special thanks to my wife Dru (@Shmooobob), friends Chatty (@cbialeschki), Heath (@heathseals), and Kendall (@krjoseph), and taproom manager Aric (@Erco777) for helping out at the booth. This was my first beer fest and it was a success only with their help.

We’ll see you at the next one!

February Construction

No construction news for almost a month?!? I had an extra day in February and I still couldn’t get an update out on time. Work in February was mostly concerned with concrete and plumbing and work on re-pouring the floor starts today. There is also even MORE structural reinforcement going on, though we’ve hopefully dealt with most of it by now.

Part I

The last construction news showed the concrete crew tearing out the brewery floor. Once that was complete, we laid out the plumbing trenches in the back of the building and then cut and excavated everything.

And, of course, cutting up the floor revealed even more quirks about this building. In contrast to the two inches of concrete up front, the back half of the building had two layers totaling almost sixteen inches of concrete. We also discovered a void with multiple pipes, perhaps part of an old furnace, which will end up filled with gravel and covered back up.

The good news in all of this is that I have no concerns about the floor cracking when hot and cold liquor tanks are placed on that rear slab. For Fat Bottom, that is a total of about 1,900 gallons, weighing more than 15,000 pounds…that’s quite a load.

Sidebar for non-beer geeks: Hot and cold liquor tanks are for storage of hot and cold water. Quite a bit of energy goes into brewing, and we recover and store a lot of that as heat. Tap water is filtered and stored cold in one tank.  At the end of the brewing cycle, it is run though a heat exchanger to cool boiling wort down very quickly. That water is now hot is stored for use in the next batch of beer.

Part II
Once the trenches were cut, we forged ahead with laying out the in-slab plumbing. Trench drains in the brewery were installed, grease trap for the tap room, bathrooms, etc. Except for the drains, that wasn’t too exciting, but obviously it is important to get everything right before we seal it in concrete. You can see all the pictures from the month on Facebook.

The other major work going on was opening up walls. There is an interior wall that had to be cut away, just so we could get the tanks into the brewery itself.

For excavation, back fill and pouring the floor, a archway into the brewery was also opened up. This is an architectural detail in the original building that was just bricked up at some point in the past. Since we don’t need this to be a doorway in the finished building, I’m not sure yet exactly what we are going to do with it. Ideally it will be a large picture window looking into the brewery, but we have to figure out the cost of doing that vs. some other options.

Lesson for the month: If you’re building a brewery, don’t make any assumptions about site conditions. I can now guarantee you’ll be wrong about most of it.

Solid beer @ Twin Forks

Expedition Bread, proofing

If beer is liquid bread, then I guess the opposite is true, too.

I spent the morning visiting David Tannen at Twin Forks Farm in Primm Springs, TN, which is near Leiper’s Fork, which is near Franklin, which is near Nashville. David was once a jewelry salesman, who settled down to become a farmer at one point, who then decided to become a baker. He built his own 50 loaf wood-fired hearth oven on the farm and now bakes full time, selling at farmer’s markets and delivering twice a week to Whole Foods, the Turnip Truck, Porter Road Butcher, and several other retailers in Nashville.

Raw loaves on the peel & scoring the bread before baking.

He is baking up to 500 loaves a week, which translates to 900 pounds of raw dough, all mixed, kneaded, and shaped by hand. I arrived in time to bake one batch, package other loaves he made earlier, and shape another batch of bread. (I’m so proud to contribute: if you buy a loaf of his Sunflower Wheat dated “Wed 2/8/12″, then I personally labeled and bagged that bread for you.)

Everything is done by hand and local. David doesn’t use any commercial yeast: the dough is leavened only by a sourdough culture that he grew from wild yeast captured on his farm. He has been feeding the starter for the last four years by constantly making more bread. (Having tasted the bread, I have half a mind to capture yeast from his farm and make beer with it.)

To heat his oven, David actually has to build his fire 24 hours before he plans to bake. The fire is built right on the deck of the oven and burns overnight. Early the next morning he sweeps out all the coals and ash and can begin baking. The oven starts over 600 degrees and he can bake all day on the heat stored up in the brick. In fact, it is so hot and well insulated that he toasts granola in the same oven the day after baking.

Rotating hot loaves by hand

Even watching him bake is interesting…there is a clock in the room, but he doesn’t set an alarm or even note what time the bread went in. Because the temperature of the oven changes over time, he has to look and feel when the bread is done, and that can be different for every batch, every day.

The pictures here are somewhat blurry, and I’m sorry I don’t have a great shot of David, but it is because he moves fast. In fact, the picture to the left is him rotating loaves by hand after they’ve been in a 600 degree oven for 30 minutes…I’d move fast, too.

One of my goals is to serve an entirely local menu…I’ve got a partial cheese menu lined up, I’m hunting for charcuterie, and now I’ve got a bread supplier. (Throw me a lead if you know someone who is making cheese or salumi locally…I’d love to talk with them.)

Here is the number one thing that sold me on Twin Forks: David is a self-taught baker who absolutely loves what he does. He has made hundreds of loaves every week for 5 years, he still said “holy sh!t, that’s good bread” after every slice we tasted. And it is great bread…I bake a few times a week and I thought my loaves were really good, but his bread puts mine to shame.
I’m looking forward to serving Twin Forks bread this summer. Until then, check out his website and Facebook, find the bread in local stores, and go meet David when he sells at the farmers market.

A finished loaf. Shame!

Rip and pour

I tweeted a picture yesterday of workers tearing all the concrete out of the brewhouse area. Why would I do such a thing? (Hint: I like to keep everyone up to date.)

Well, I also need to install floor drains in the brewery, but why not follow the lead of Jackalope (and Yazoo, if I recall correctly) and only cut out and slope the floor right around the trenches? Certainly that would meet my needs and cost less.

Well, the architect discovered (after the lease was signed, obviously) that the floor in the brewery area was only about two inches of very old concrete over bare soil. That isn’t nearly strong enough to support the equipment, tanks and all the beer Fat Bottom is going to make. We really need 4 inches of concrete over another four inches of packed gravel.

Since the whole floor has to be re-poured, we have the opportunity to slope the entire surface towards the drains, just like the big boys. All this work, demolition included, is just a few dollars per square foot and will be a big help once we start brewing, so I’m happy to have it done. We also ended up with some savings in other areas: the same pour will create a required ADA ramp from the sidewalk up about 8 inches to the taproom and we get to include curbs (as a water barrier) between the brewery space and public walkway.

Seeing the work done was neat. The crew just drove the loader you see in the pictures right through the front door of the building. The driver had it down to an art, cruising through with about three inches of clearance on each side. The crew around the machine was pretty casual too…the driver would back up and swinging the bucket around, with just a few inches of space between their legs and the bucket, and nobody seemed to notice.

(Side note: If you ever have a chance to rent or drive a landscaper like this one, do it. I rented one while building a driveway a few years ago, and it is probably the most fun I’ve ever had with a tool. Just don’t stand to close when your buddy takes it for a spin.)

The demolition was done on Saturday and rough grading of the soil should happen Monday. Then the plumber can place the drains and pipes and the concrete team can come in to lay gravel and concrete later this week, and we’ll be one step closer to opening.

Re: The problem with wow

A friend sent me a link to a blog post today, from Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough, NC. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here is what resonated with me:

As soon as we open our doors and roll out onto the market, we graduate from pre-opening buzz. How do you keep that wow? [...] Will the anticipation built in pre-opening buzz live up to a blonde ale, even if it’s a great one?

While I don’t have quite the same concern that buzz around Fat Bottom is going to outpace your enjoyment of the beer, this is a question that I kicked around this week. Fat Bottom and our neighbors at Broadcast garnered a snowball of media attention, triggered by a story published in the Nashville Post last Sunday.

I did (very briefly) contemplate turning down the interviews, for precisely the reason above…I did not want to take all the media coverage now and not get any attention when we open in a few months. However, every business, particularly those selling to consumers, has a marketing obligation to maintain interest in their products. At best, turning down media coverage would simply defer the need to find the next exciting thing about the brewery. At worst, I might see little to no coverage or public interest at opening, which is when you want it the most.

To quote Erik at Mystery one more time:

…the only thing we can do is just keep on making great beer…enough to keep us a little corner of the wow.

I hope you get try the beer soon and have a little “wow” moment of your own. For now, keep an eye on your preferred network: Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. We’ll be announcing several pre-opening public events in the coming months where you can get your hands on a Fat Bottom.


Brewery Neighbors?

I was excited to learn late last week that I’m getting a brewery neighbor in the Fluffo factory complex. Broadcast Brewing (splash page, twitter) officially signed their lease for another space in the same building as Fat Bottom.

This was not a huge surprise, but was good to hear. When I first met the landlords, they were up front with me that they wanted multiple breweries in the building. While Fat Bottom was the first to sign a lease with them, another brewer was in serious discussions with them, but ended up pulling out and putting their project on hold.

A few weeks later I was in the building to meet with the architects and ran into the guys from Broadcast. We went out for beers and dinner and talked about our respective plans. They’re nice guys and now I will get to look out across the courtyard at their operation and maybe borrow a pound of hops occasionally.

Some people that I’ve mentioned this two pull back and give me a look that says “why do you want competition right next door?” I really believe that the more craft breweries there are in Nashville, the better we will all do, and I’m excited to create a brewery complex in East Nashville. Together, I think we can draw more people in, and at the end of the day Broadcast and Fat Bottom are both trying to create a packaging brewery, not a pub business.

Cheers to Nashville craft beer!

Design and construction update

Although we obviously had a break over Christmas, design and construction is moving forward.  Roof repairs (which I tweeted about two weeks ago) continue, though I think that some wet weather has slowed them down.

The last few meetings with the architects & engineer have been dedicated to all the final details before bidding and construction starts in earnest. I have never built or renovated a building before and the number of decisions to make is excruciating. Fortunately, the team at Powell is well organized and extremely helpful in working through everything.

I spent three hours last Thursday going over the final layout and finish details, which is everything from placing the fermentation tanks down to how wide I want the counter-tops to be. (In the northwest corner & 30 inches, please.) One thing that we discussed at length was the design of the tap room, how to finish the ceiling and walls, and how to handle lighting.

The picture below is a rendering of one proposed design, looking from the brewery/street entrance to the bar. This might be a little heavy on wood, but it has the feel that I’m going for. Forgive the picture quality and water stain on the right, this is a scan of a printout that I took with me.

I’m also excited to post an architectural drawing of the brewery below. Main Street is to the right and 9th Street is at the top of this drawing. One of the recent changes that I think is pretty exciting is the addition of tables & bar-top seating open to the actual brewery.

We have another review scheduled this week, hopefully to nail down the remaining details and get the heavy construction started.

Third tasting was a success

The new logo…slick!

Per yesterday’s tweet, I was pouring beers at Fat Bottom’s third public offering (the first two were parties hosted by friends). The event was an open house hosted by the architect & contractor working on the brewery, Powell Design Studio.

Around 50 people showed up over the course of the evening and it was fun to meet folks, talk up the brewery and hear what they thought of the beer. I also got to unveil the final black-and-white version of the new logo, delivered just a day earlier. The designers are working on the color version now.

On tap were test batches of wheat ale, a sweet stout and a coffee porter. (I do need to figure out some better names for these brews.) Most people had the wheat, as the lightest beer, but architect and east-sider Manley was going nuts over the porter and making sure everyone tried it. The beer got lots of compliments and nobody spit it out, so that’s good.

Thank you to Steve Powell and everyone at PDS for hosting and letting me share the beery love!