Wednesday, December 4, 2013

No More Overhead

Wouldn't that be nice, to run a business without any overhead. That 2% to 6% typical profit margin in this trade might even double. However, that's not what I came here to talk to you about today. I came to talk about beer lines, a.k.a. trunk lines, a.k.a. pythons.

For the last five plus years that we've been open, we've had to put up with excessive fobbing when dispensing beer from the gas (guest) taps. Not only does this increase the time that it takes to pour a pint (which tends to irritate the staff), but also causes considerable waste as the foam that gets spooned out of the glass ends up in the slop bucket for feeding the bacteria down the sink at the end of the night. Since I was trained in setting up cask dispense and not keg dispense, I was not aware of the intricacies of what's called balancing a beer line. I ignorantly though that beer would flow through anything. So, instead of running the pythons under the floor from the cellar and cooler behind the bar, which involves the nasty business of cutting concrete, I thought it would save time and effort to just run them overhead through the woodwork above and inside the bar.

This was a Bad Idea.

Now, more than five years later, the beer is pouring just fine. Since we are on our Winter hours, being closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I determined that this would be the year in which the problem got solved proper. Last week also contained an additional day of closure called Thanksgiving, giving us a little extra time to work out the kinks. So, late last Monday night I started cleaning out the cellar and the bar and getting ready for an early Tuesday morning of concrete bashing.

As you can see, the two pythons run up from below and into the ceiling. Notice the fancy Sears air conditioner that we use as our refrigeration system, with the glycol lines that run through a small race car radiator.

Since Ben is younger than me and more spry and savvy with things like jackhammers and hammer drills, he volunteered (I think) to work with the concrete and my job was to deal with all the plumbing, clamps, fittings, liquids, etc.

Now, I've worked with a lot of mechanical things, rebuilt engines, spent years fiddling with hardware and software engineering, and am seldom surprised by the "Always One Principle", which often competes with my adage of "What Could Go Wrong?". This states that there is always at least one thing that has the potential of breaking off, dropping into a gutter, sproinging across the room or otherwise getting in the way - you know what I mean, that one manifold bolt out of four that breaks off and has to be drilled out. Sure enough, as I was muttering "What Could Go Wrong", we discovered, upon cutting the floor, that there was a large chunk of metal directly in the path of the future python trench.

We'd forgotten that was there when we built the bar, having just paved over it with the epoxy resin floor. It turned out be be encased in solid concrete, and took half a day to hammer out. 8 1/2 inches in diameter and 19 1/2 inches tall, it appears to be a drop safe that was ensconced in the floor when the building was built around 1945. There is a groove on the top surface that looks as though it used to house a handle, and a groove around the rim suggesting threads.

Whats inside? Beats me, although speculation runs the gamut - time capsule, drop safe full of gold coins, who knows? It is currently sitting in the front corner of the pub, easily up to the task of making a great conversation piece. It will get opened. Some day. Not sure how.

Anyway, by Wednesday night the pythons were in place and the concrete poured. I finished all the hookups and so forth later in the evening, and even updated the glycol lines at the shanks in the coffin box to provide better cooling.

So far, a week later, the experiment has been a success. The over-carbonating of the kegs caused by having to force the beer through 40 ft. of line with a significant amount of elevation gain using 18 lbs. of pressure is over. They are running at a comfortable 14 lbs. and are dispensing like a dream. I still prefer cask, which is what we sell the most of, and the benefit there is that the shorter lines also cause less waste there as well. So, we'll see you at the pub for a perfectly poured cold one.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Lonely Little Guy

That's what happens after four days of a busy Mountain Bike Oregon weekend, and that was after the last night. Granted, many of the firkins were already leaning by the time we opened the door for business.

That was taken at 11:00 PM on a Sunday. One poor little firkin left over. Note to self, for the next pub make sure there are two slots on stillage per handpull.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

And Then We Were Five

This was meant to be composed in a fit of brilliance yesterday, being that it was our fifth superannuation and we are still alive. With all the craziness going on this summer, I haven't really had time to reflect on what this means. That one-day-off-a-week project that I started this Spring didn't really materialize, except for last Friday when I took a half day. Perhaps this Friday I can attempt another half and just think about the pub.

Five. Yowzer! They say it takes three to five years in the BEST of times. It hasn't been so, something having to do with an economic downturn or some such thing. There were dark moments in the first three years when I just wanted to chuck it. Cash flow was poor in this diminutive and isolated mountain town. Then slowly in the fourth year we started to get caught up on the back bills and got the Oregon Department of Revenue and the IRS off our backs. In the fifth year we made some needed improvements and repairs to the kitchen, cellar and walk-in cooler and started staffing up a bit to cover the increased traffic. This is the first year that I've brought in brewery assistance and had double help in the front of the house during the peak hours on the weekends. While it cuts into the cash in a big way, it improves the customer experience and allows me a little time away. To plan. To scheme. To have a pint or two in someone else's pub.

Looking ahead, we are still thinking about growing this segment of small family-run pubs. I can't say too much at this point, but it's in the works. I don't suspect there is enough trade in the off-season to justify opening seven days a week, but that may come with a few more years. However, there are some other pub improvement projects we want to deal with during our closed days in the winter. And, I thought it might be time to start blogging again.

Anyway, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PUB. I'm heading up front for one of those rare pints of our birthday beer, a cask of 7.1% Old Ale called "Oh(k), The Humanities!" aged for the last six months with oak chips soaked in Laphroaig. See you at the pub.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Jan 2, 2013 - Not a Grumpy Publican Post

Just a shortie today. I was sitting here in the quiet pub (being closed on Wednesdays during the off-season) and dealing with end-of-year inventory and paperwork and so forth, and realized that the last time I'd blogged was somewhere in England back in November. Tempus fugit ex nostrilium. I'm trying to get used to writing the number 2013 on checks and thinking about a new calendar year. 2012 was, in my opinion and as the records show, our best year yet. We seemed to have turned a corner. Overall gross takings at the till were up almost 15% from 2011. This is cheery, and means that I don't have to write a grumpy publican post to start out the new year. 2012 also won us an award and installed me in my first foreign meet-the-brewer video. What could be finer?

Looking forward, progress is being made on planning for the next pub, albeit more slowly than I would like. And that's my fault, as I keep experiencing difficulty letting my staff do stuff that they are perfectly capable of themselves. Must. Let. Go. Also, I've been working on refining my recipes, particularly my session beers. It's interesting so see that putting a mere 100g less Galena at the top of the boil makes an enormous difference in the balance of the final product.

And before you wander off and forget to plan a visit to the pub, this year's Tanninbomb, our oak-aged old ale, is extraordinary. The new cellar we built last summer has been causing just a small amount of increased conditioning, especially over three months it takes to age, so it takes a bit of breathing on the stillage to get it right. I'm quite happy with that. It's worth the trouble. See you at the pub.