Bob Kunz, of the Highland Park Brewery, Cost Me $2500 . .

  . . and I thank him for it.  More on that later.  Back in September I emailed Bob about meeting up, talking about his brewery and his experience opening up.  He was cool enough to let me drop by one evening and hang around while he prepped for his next brew day.  We chopped it up about his thoughts on the brewing business, his plans for the future of the Highland Park Brewery, and some of the details on how he put his brewery together.  Being that this was a few months back, I am relying on notes and my substandard memory.  For future meetings and posts, I’ll be sure to do better.

The Highland Park Brewery opened in June of 2014 and consists of a 7bbl system with two 15bbl fermenters, packed into a space about as big as a linen closet.  Sorry.  I’m still on paternity leave and linen closets are a big part of my life right now.  Let’s change that to “packed into a space about as big as something 500 sq.ft.”  This is all located in the back of The Hermosillo, a bar that has changed in a decade from an escort club to craft beer destination.  

hpbphotos

Bob is the sole employee and therefore works 70 hour weeks and as of our meeting, had yet to give himself a paycheck.  But the guy seems thrilled to be doing his own thing and brewing the beers he wants to brew.  With start up costs in the range of “less than a few hundred thousand bucks,” this is not a budget operation.  The fermenters are stainless, the floors have drains and the pipes are filled with glycol.  However, Bob did do tons of the buildout himself, opting to pay for others to do his plumbing and concrete.  There are other nods to the DIY aspect of brewery building as well, notably a bottle filler fashioned out of homebrew parts, costing a fraction of what a professional model would cost to buy (Link to DIY bottle filler).  The major issue as far as I saw was the lack of a tap room that would allow him to sell his pints at retail price.  This undoubtedly hampers his revenue potential, but he hopes to open an off-site tap room, perhaps in Downtown Los Angeles.

A few more things we talked about:

  • Bob got the community behind him early so he did not encounter the kind of opposition from neighbors that has hampered many other breweries opening in densely populated areas.

  • He has an accountant come in once a week (started off doing it himself) and uses Quickbooks

  • IPAs sell very well even though that’s not his favorite thing to make or drink.

  • He made a point that lager drinkers will often times order a lager without seeing or caring for a description, whereas IPA drinkers want the details of what makes the beer unique. It’s two different types of beer drinkers.

  • He recently started bottling specialty beers (sours) which he sees as a way of making some good money

  • Using the California Ale Yeast, he can ferment out in 4 days and thinks he could get a beer out out in 10 days.  However, 20 days is where the beer hits its stride with flavor

  • Uses City water with sediment and carbon filtration, then uses lactic acid and calcium chloride for basically all of his brews.

  • While there, I had his Refresh ale, a pseudo lager made with pilsner malt and Tettnang hops, fermented with the Cali Ale yeast.  Light, crisp, very tasty.

Now about that $2500.  While we were talking, I noticed a copy of Tom Hennessy’s book, Brewery Operations Manual, sitting there.  That lead to talking about my lack of experience in anything either business or brewery related.  Kind of a major hole for a guy who wants to BE IN THE BREWING BUSINESS.  Being that I have a full time job and all sorts of other adult-like responsibilities, getting a second job at a brewery is impossible.  Volunteering is equally impossible because:

  1. It is illegal and breweries can get in serious trouble

  2. Volunteers are unreliable and take resources to train, so breweries are (understandably) reluctant to take them on

  3. Once again, I HAVE NO PROFESSIONAL BREWING EXPERIENCE, so even if I found somebody who would take me on and was willing to work with my schedule, there are thousands of other slightly balding guys who would be a better choice.

So taking this all into account, we talked about Tom Hennessy’s Brewery Immersion Course as a great way to get that experience.  I read a bit more about the course and the positive reviews from past participants, got the OK from the ever-supportive wife, and plunked down my deposit for mid-April.  That course is going to cost me $2500 and it will likely be some of the best money I spend on the brewery.  Thanks to Bob at HPB for tipping me over the edge and making me $2500 poorer.


Check them out at http://hpb.la