The Exciting Year
2018 was a pretty crazy year: we quit our desk jobs, got licensed, installed a brewery, and brewed and sold our first beers! It was at times the most exciting, scary, confusing, tiring, and fun experiences of our lives. It only worked thanks to our fantastic staff (who seem to get more praise in reviews than the beer does), and all of you for actually showing up to drink our beer! December was the tasting room’s busiest month, mostly thanks to Pillowfort our Citra-Azacca DIPA (we made a vanilla bean version for Thursday, and the standard version won’t last the coming weekend). Hopefully, January raises the bar with the 1/10 release of Concentric Rings (50% stronger and 100% more Citra dry hops compared to Rings of Light)! We also have batch #2 of Snip Snap scheduled for brewing in two weeks.
December featured the first annual Sapwood Cellar-bration (Sap and Founders holiday party). Each attendee sampled eight special beers including Passionfruit-Vanilla Cheater Hops, Juniper-Rosemary Rings of Light, and the first pull from our Sauvignon Blanc barrel-aged saisons. It was a challenge, but it gave us a chance to play with a variety of flavors we might not have for standard variants (also nice to have a captive audience). It ran pretty smoothly for a first try, but we learned plenty. We’re not sure what the 2019 Cellar-bration will look like, maybe a bigger event at the brewery? Rent out space and invite other breweries to bring holiday beers too?
Internet Brewery Hype
It can’t be understated how much of a benefit the Internet can be to a small brewery. We haven’t spent any money on advertising, yet Google, Facebook, Instagram, Untappd etc. all help beer nerds (and regular beer drinkers) near and far discover us for free! It doesn’t make sense at this point for us to pay for ad space in print when the internet is where most people go for information:
Google Maps – Thankfully many people search for “breweries near me” and we appear. Thanks for all of the positive reviews (and the constructive suggestions), we’ll keep working to improve the whole experience of visiting our tasting room.
Maryland Beer Drinkers Club – This sizable Facebook group of like-minded beer drinkers have been a big boost for us. They’ve been incredibly supportive and generous to us and our beers. For example, a recent poll rated us as the brewery that gained the most traction this year. Thanks for getting as excited as we are for each new release!
Untappd – We have a love-hate relationship with Internet beer ratings. Mike wrote ~200 BeerAdvocate reviews over a couple years. Beer ratings have always biased towards the hedonistic: stronger-sweeter-bolder-unique. The top beers on any site tend to be Imperial Stouts, DIPAs, Belgian Quads, and intensely-fruited sour beers. The problem is that chasing high ratings leads to beers that are less drinkable and balanced (wonderful in a sample, often not by the glass). It is amazing to see a couple of our beers with some of the highest rated beers and one of the best brewery averages of any brewery in Maryland, at the same time it can be frustrating to see some of our favorite beers panned because they are designed to be consumed in larger quantities or just by people who don’t like a particular style.
Big plans for 2019!
So far we’ve filled 22 barrels with 3 more waiting (hopefully the count will be close to 75 by this time next year). The most recent were two Jamaican Rum and two Chardonnay barrels with an apple-cider-Tripel (the non-barrel-aged version will be out later in January)! This spring we’ll be bottling our first barrel-aged blend (probably an intersection of wine-barrel and wine-grape-aged saisons). We’re still talking to our friends in the industry to figure out the best approach at this scale, and for a graphic designer to do the labels! To hold you over, we’ll be brewing an apricot and dry-hopped sour for February draft release to replace Little by Slowly!
For the hoppy beers, we’re still deciding on an approach for canning. Either having a mobile canning company come in or working with a local brewery to allow us to come in to produce and package beer to our specifications on their system. There are costs and benefits to each approach, but our goal is to make sure the beer in the can is every bit as good as it is on draft in the tasting room!
We’ve also talked about hiring our first employee on the brewery-side to free a little time for us to take on these new challenges. As much as the two of us have enjoyed running the production-side for the last four months, there is only so long we can work 6-7 days a week 8-12 hours a day! We’ll be looking for someone with a complementary skill set to our own (that is to say production brewing experience). If that sounds like you, keep your eyes out for a job posting in the next couple of months!
Mike & Scott