Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Nanobrewery Movement

So, to preface this post let's get to the announcement first: TONIGHT!

7pm - E. Warren School House Market/Rootswork - I'm giving a talk entitled "On Brewing Excellence: Beer Hobbyist to Entrepreneur" and we'll be sampling up some Liquids. The store will also be open and stock up (briefly!) on two varieties of Lawson's for sale in bottles.

I've read a lot lately on the web and blogs about "Nanobreweries". Heck, I didn't even know *we* are a nanobrewery or that the term existed until about six months after we opened and people started calling us just that. At the time, I wasn't sure if it was an insult or a compliment. Now I know that there is real movement out there, all across the US, of very small community-based breweries that make beer in tiny batches for their very local customers. What is 'Nano'?Most people think the range is generally 10 gallons to 3 barrels - a barrel is an old English measure of beer and is 31 gallons, but its the industry standard for volume.

There are at least 35 nanobreweries in existence that have been listed on various websites, but I'd be willing to bet that there are more we don't even know about. Here are a few lists on blogs and some nifty writing about them:

What have other folks been saying? Well try any one of the gazillion blogs out there for some reading. Erik over at his blog wrote an intriguing piece on the movement and is interested in opening his own (nano?) brewery some day. To sum it up, he is fascinated by the idea, but daunted by the seemingly crazy idea of a potentially not-so-sound business model (a tiny brewery). He thinks that to succeed we must either be 1) independently wealthy or supported by a well-off partner; 2)"batshit crazy insane"; and/or 3) headed for a bankrupt nano-brewers, that is. He raises some really good issues, and I can see that he really wants the idea to work. I agree with him on the 'crazy' part :) - you've got to be a bit mad to quit a good full-time job to start your own business....*any* business. Nano-brewing can be a risky venture, and every "industry expert" will tell you NOT to start a production brewery that is smaller than 15 bbl (a brewery that packages and sells beer - no on-site brewpub). In the face of these challenges and odds, though there are now dozens of these tiny breweries making a go for it. Time will tell how successful we are, just like any business venture, lots will start and many will likely fail too. Fortunately the risks are much smaller with a nano-brewery than a full-scale production brewery, and your not going to rack up six or seven figures of debt in the process.

So, Erik's post got me thinking in the right direction for the talk I have tonight. My response/comment to his post (below) sums up what I plan to talk about tonight (along with some background on my own history, the basics of the brewing process, and of course some banter about each of the styles of beer that I present.) on! And thanks for visiting.


Hey Erik,

I’m fascinated with your fascination and enjoyed reading your post. We started our ‘nano’ in Vermont over two years ago, and it was big success right from the get-go. I think you’ve got it now, and had most of it in the first place. The people behind nano or really small breweries start out because they have the passion and desire to follow their dreams, with a mix of many of the reasons you listed. You’ve got to have some money to start, many of us keep some income stream on the side (part-time for me), we have spouses/partners/friends that help pull off the work or support the household, lots of us have little kids and brewing small close to home means more family time. We’re a little (or a lot) mad like crazy, we probably sleep less than your average person, and we work some wizardy AKA magic everytime we put together a mere collection of barely, hops, water and seasonings with that crafty little critter Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast cell, and turn it into this beautiful beverage we call beer. OK, so I’m romanticizing here. But, for me, it really is an act of creation, and people in small (and big) communities are very attracted to food/beverage/goods that are crafted locally by people they know.

Yes, there are the logistics and they are what will make or break your business. Like licensing, debt, cost of goods, sales price, volume of production and all that necessary but essential business work like marketing, sales, distribution, taxes, and so on. But I digress. The point is that if you make a quality beer it will sell itself. Nano or community-based breweries have a very engaging and local story that connects them to their customers and to retail and draft accounts. Our experience has been that people are willing to pay a lot more for a quality ‘local’ beer, one you have to come here to central Vermont to try or buy, and that they are willing to travel from all over to find us!

I brew two 1bbl batches each week and bottle about 1/3 and the rest goes into 5 gallon kegs for our draft accounts. We have five draft locations, one retail store (where 8+ cases sells out every week), plus I crank out a bit more into bottles for special events and farmers markets (where in VT you can sample and sell wine and beer directly as a manufacturer). In VT, you can self-distribute through a separate, licensed wholesaler (read: costs more but well worth it). Its just enough that I can manage the brewing and distribution all myself, with support (especially on the family front) from my amazing wife. We’re having a blast along with way, have garnered a really great following, and are poised to grow with a long list of accounts waiting to order the beer once we do. The lesson for me is to follow your dreams with a well thought-out, researched (and slightly crazy) plan AND make sure you put your quality of life measures first (how do you want to spend your time?). As my great friend Jeff “Sparks” Bercuvitz puts it – create yourself a “good life index” where you list, categorize, and prioritize all the “INGS” of your life (being with family, brewing, sleeping, etc.). If you can plan your life around those priorities AND open a nano brewery at the same time…, you’ve made it to beer nirvana!

Cheers! – Sean Lawson, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Vermont

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Quick Update

Hey all,
BIG thanks to every one that celebrated our 2nd Anniversary with us (whether you were there in person or not!)

Just to let you know, as usual we are working hard to keep the ever-elusive supply of bottles on the shelf at the Warren Store, where it seems to disappear daily. Coming for this weekend, (2 bottle limit) is the fresh batch of Hopzilla Double IPA and the Fayston Maple Imperial Stout. The Permagrin Rye Pale Ale will be quick on their heels, followed by a new twist on the Crooked Cabin Ale next week. Yes, I like to tinker with recipes, so if it seems is!

On tap now:
Mad River Glen - Fayston Maple Imperial Stout
American Flatbread, Waitsfield (Fri, Sat eves) - Permagrin Rye Pale Ale
Pitcher Inn, Warren - Crooked Cabin Ale (as of 3/26)
Common Man, Warren - Permagrin Pale Ale
The Village Porch, Rochester, VT - Porch Pint Ale (you never know ;)

Upcoming soon, with more details to follow, lots of exciting dates on the calendar ahead!

April - IPA Month at Flatbread/Zero Gravity Brewing Burlington - Lawson's on tap, TBA date.
April 22 - Earth Day with Lawsons Finest Liquids at Three Penny Taproom, Montpelier, VT.
April 28 - Beer Dinner at the Perfect Pear Cafe (and soon to be brewpub!) in Bradford, VT
May 22 - Brattleboro Brewers Festival! Look for the inaugural release of a colossal new(aged) brew
July 16-17- Vermont Brewers Festival!!!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lawson's Finest 2nd Anniversary Party!

St. Paddy's Day, Wednesday March 17!

This week we will celebrate our second anniversary in fine fashion at the place where we sold our very first keg of beer, in the Stark's Pub at Mad River Glen ski area in Waitsfield, VT. Several special kegs of beer will be tapped at 6pm and live music with Sugar Shack will start at 7pm. The pub will be serving food so that you can have dinner or light fare while you enjoy your brews and boogie! Many thanks go out to our supporters and everyone that has made it possible for us to be in the business of creating beer one barrel at a time (most especially my lovely wife Karen!)

Here's the line-up for the evening:

Wannagrin Rye IPA, 6.5% abv - a special collaboration brew with Our Lager Boys of the Wanna Brew Club here in the Mad River Valley. Brewed with rye malt and hefty additions of fresh whole-cone hops, in true Chuck D. style!

Crooked Cabin Brown Ale, 5.5% abv - our English-style inspired brown ale with a round malty character.

Fayston Maple Imperial Stout, 10.1% abv - Hefty, complex and full of roasted and burnt character, all balanced by a subtle maple and malt sweetness. Great to pair with dessert or a piece of dark chocolate.

Hopzilla Double IPA, 8.7% abv - Double dry-hopped version! Wicked strong and intensely bitter, this brew is designed for hop fiends and to terrorize your taste buds.

Woodchuck Stout, 5.7% abv - Vanilla Espresso version! - This special one-time release for our anniversary will occur when one of the other kegs runs out....or it will go into bottles the next day!

I'll also be raiding the vault to bring some very limited edition bottles to the event, including the 2009 Maple Tripple Ale and the 2009 Farmhouse Rye in both Oak-aged and standard versions!


Friday, March 5, 2010

Montpelier Farmers Market - March 6th

A quick note to let you know what I will have to offer in bottles and for sampling at the Market tommorrow.

I'll definitely be bringing the following:

  • Hopzilla Double IPA

  • Honey I Love You Ale - new brew, featuring a sweet full body of honey flavor

  • Paradise Ale - our hoppy American Amber

I am still finishing up labeling and even some bottling tonight, so *tentatively* I will also be bringing these brews:

  • Fayston Maple Imperial Stout

  • Starkbier! - weizenbock wheat style ale

  • Permagrin Rye Pale Ale


Monday, March 1, 2010


Hey Friends great news!

Lawson's Finest Liquids - Chinooker'd IPA has advanced to Round 4 and the Sweet 16 in the National IPA Championship!!!! 128 beers started this tournament and only 16 competitors are left. The grand titan of American IPA's is up next against Lawson's - Union Jack IPA from Firestone Walker in California is the reigning champion, two years running, of the Great American Beer Fest. Cheer us on all the way!

Don't forget - this Saturday March 6 - Montpelier Farmers Market and Wed. March 17, Lawson's 2nd Anniversary Party at Mad River Glen.