Blood, Sweat, & Beers
by Dani McLeish
Undertaking the creation of a business from napkin schematics to reality is inevitably fraught with disaster and great risk. But for those who persevere on through the adventure to see their dreams come to fruition discover...beer.
The celebration of life often revolves around beer. It is no wonder why craft breweries have been multiplying eerily similar to that of the Fibonacci sequence. With great sorrow, most of them tank within a few years even when the beer is good. So what helps a brewery succeed if not the beer?
In this auspicious month of April, Vail Brewing Company, is celebrating its birthday. Naturally memories of struggle, hilarity, and triumph are meant to be told and retold for the stories that encompass the spirit of VBC are more than just the success of quality craft beer. The beer is good—don’t get me wrong—but the tangible life of VBC stems from the people who come together daily to fill its spaces.
Vail Brewing Company was born out of a garage in glass carboys with one sole purpose; to craft beer worthy of a very much-loved mountain community. A chance meeting through a mutual friend had brought the initial founders together in this common goal. With a great deal of science, creativity, and a twist of art their passion was refined into the staple beers on tap today. But getting them on tap was a triumphant struggle.
The other half of the founding team went to hunt down a Brewhouse set up for brewery sized batches. Funny enough, a couple of federally indicted men, down in Kentucky who distilled whiskey, were on their way to prison and the courts were auctioning off their Brewhouse. The team jumped on the chance to purchase the seized equipment and immediately flew out to inspect what they bought. What awaited was a barn stacked to the roof in equipment. Everything was too good to be true, and with only months to brew enough for their grand-soft opening, this was sure to save them time and money…that is until an integral part of the Brewhouse could not be found in the barn.
Where’s the kettle?
Don’t come with no kettle.
Without the kettle the entire system was rendered useless and it would take a six-month process to replace. There was no option of getting a refund either. It was also discovered around this time that the boiler was rusted out and completely useless as well. Regular, unforeseen, but known to happen building issues were popping up every which way. Twice the sweat, twice the blood, twice the beer?
Generally, the initial figures for opening a business are double or even triple the cost of what is first budgeted. At this point for the ‘hoping to be’ owners of VBC, two integral components of business--time and money--were quickly running out.
Without the equipment, there would be no brewery just an empty garage. Then, the inevitable question came. Is it worth it? Will people even come? They knew it was all or bust and decided to take their biggest financial risk yet in purchasing a new Brewhouse.
The grand opening drew nearer as the building, and brew crew painfully and injurious-ly came together. Not even five minutes before the doors opened, VBC’s very first powerhouse employee, General Manager Sarah B., was putting the finishing touches of paint on the wall. The four owners were skidding around mopping the floors, straightening stools, and still trying to figure out the cash drawer POS system—which they never did, except Sarah.
The question still was, would people come?
Once the doors opened, the owners of VBC realized there was a line wrapping all the way around the building past the auto store, and it was ALL LOCALS! The excitement of a brewery in the neighborhood was felt and the support was overwhelming. Yes, there were eyes that watered and shed a few tears.
Without any other employees, the four owners and Sarah jumped to bartending themselves—later they would realize there was a smorgasbord of young talented individuals in the valley who enjoyed bartending. As the night of the grand opening progressed the team dealt with problems as they came, which were plenty. Beer was uncontrollably flooding out of the taps, there was an owner scooting around on a mechanics creeper with a bust knee pouring beer, money flying through the air, beer sloshing, and a crowd of people having a great time.
“In truth, between the locals and our team, we have been incredibly fortunate.” Co-Owner Scott affirmed. “Each employee adds something that takes us to the next level. And then there are the locals, who even when the economy is harsh, are there for us. We just want to give back to them as well.”