We got wind several weeks ago that Idle Hands was planning an expansion. With Maine’s TigPro building their custom five-barrel brewhouse with a mix of five and 10-barrel fermenting tanks, Chris Tkach is set to start brewing five times more beer than before. Whoa! And knowing how busy Chris and Grace are (they do everything themselves with the help of some in-house volunteers), we’re extremely grateful they took the time to answer some of our questions.
How did you get to this point . starting small and getting to where you’re ready for an expansion. Did it take longer than you expected? Not as long?
We.ve been very methodical in our origins and growth plans in terms of not wanting to overextend ourselves but also making sure that the demand is there before we invest more money into the business. We opted to start small to ensure we could prove that the concept was viable as we have self-funded the brewery from the start.
That .tipping point. for expansion came around early last fall, which is about where we expected it to happen. However, we were a bit delayed in making a decision on what our next step was because we wanted to look at the larger picture and explore a few things to see how big we could realistically grow without bringing in investors, taking out large loans, or growing beyond our core Boston market.
At the end of the day, we still had a brewery to run with an employee count of one, on top of needing to do that analysis. We ultimately decided to take an incremental step by installing the five barrel brewhouse and remaining in our current locale. We believe this approach will enable us to experience minimal disruptions in serving our current customers (retail and wholesale), but also will enable us to more quickly (relatively speaking) produce more beer in the short term, and then enable us to continue to explore a longer term growth strategy.
How will this affect your distribution in terms of coverage?
Our distribution strategy will not change: we still plan on serving our core Boston market by staying within 128 and will continue to self-distribute. When we started Idle Hands, we did so with the notion of being a .local. brewery. We.d much prefer to expend our energy close to home and grow deep within our core market versus taking a thin and wide approach. To us, it just makes sense from an environmental, product freshness and human resources perspective.
The expansion will in essence allow us to reach those stores and restaurants that we haven.t been able to take on due to our limited production. Right now we have a longer list of distribution outlets interested in carrying our beer than the list we current serve so we feel confident that demand for this additional capacity is mostly there and we.re excited to finally be able to say .yes. to those who have supported us and patiently waited for our beer.
Will you have to close the brewery at any point during the expansion?
We don.t expect to close completely but we do anticipate that there will be some interruptions in our production schedule/quantities. We.re doing our best to alert our current retail outlets that they might encounter a hiccup for a few weeks while we get the new systems in place and trialed. We have a plan to help alleviate these disruptions by having the fermenters delivered and installed first, which would allow us to brew into them using our existing brewhouse (and some really long days) that we hope will alleviate some of the potential shortage as a result of inoperability while installing new equipment. Once those fermenters are full, we.ll rip out the existing brewhouse and replace it while that beer is fermenting.
Do you think you’ll ever outgrow this space? Is that even a goal?
Yes, eventually we.ll outgrow our space in Everett. We hope it’s inevitable though we don.t know the timeline. Anyone who has been out to the brewery understands our space limitations and .ambience. constraints. While we do what we can with what we have, eventually that becomes an issue. We.d love to have a kickass tasting room like Mystic.s but putting something in like that in our current location is difficult and would require a lot of investment in infrastructure, leasehold improvements, etc. which in the end would only give us an incremental bump.
You mentioned in your last newsletter that some new styles are on the horizon.
Yes, we hinted at that in our past newsletter. We like to tease our fans a bit and let their imaginations take them where they will. Without giving away too much, we do plan on branching out into some other .classic. brewing regions outside of Belgium that require more stringent fermentation control than we currently have the capability of doing. Our new system will allow that and we can.t be more excited about that prospect! Prost!
What are some of the new places that will likely serve/carry your brews?
Oh boy, there are too many to list. Honestly, as mentioned, our book of requested stores is twice as long as the number we currently supply. We hope to open up more accounts in several Boston neighborhoods where you just can.t find Idle Hands beer at all (e.g. Southie, South End, Back Bay, Brookline, Newton) as well as provide consistency in being able to deliver product to our current partners who are unable to keep our product in stock and need to wait for additional deliveries.
We.ll also start to brew some of our current rotational beers year round (e.g. Blanche de Grace, Dubbel Dimples, Absence of Light). Triplication will be available on draft year-round (currently only in bottles) and we.d like to bring Cognition (draft only) on full-time as well. Other than that, maybe we.ll start making Patriarch bottles available at the brewery?! The options are plentiful and we.re still working on some of those details. We also hope to get back to doing some one-off beers which we.ve had to curtail the past several months due to just having to satisfy demand for our core lineup.
Does this mean you’ll be hiring? Surely curious beer geeks want to know…!
Oh yeah, we.ll definitely need some more .hands. involved. We.re going to start with a part-time brewer that should turn into a full-time position relatively quickly. Beyond production staff, we.ll need a sales representative, again part-time to start with an eye towards going full-time. We.ll see how deliveries go, for the time being, it.ll probably still be me huffing cases and kegs around to the various accounts but I do expect that to change eventually too. For those that have interest, keep an eye out for positions as we.ll announce them on our newsletter, Facebook, and Twitter feeds.
Speaking of growth and expansion, what do you think about the huge influx of craft breweries in recent . and coming . years?
It.s a double-edged sword. I.m excited that there is so much interest in craft beer in general and that there are more and more breweries being .born,. but at the same time one has to wonder where the breaking point is. Also, I.m fearful of the quality of beers declining. It seems like anyone who has a spare $5,000 lying around, has homebrewed for a couple of years (or even once or twice) and has what I call the .Yeah, dude that.s good beer!. validation of their friends thinks that starting a brewery is easy. There is the brewing side of things, but also the aspect of running a business. Then you have those who think that given the growth of the industry, there is an easy buck to be made through setting up a brand and contract brewing relationship or some other iteration of getting into the industry. Like any other craft business, there is the need to balance craft and business and the massive influx of breweries that can.t balance the two may take away from the appeal of what truly is .craft beer..
While Will.s recent blog post was certainly polarizing, there was definitely some truth in it. If you.re not going to take your own time to produce a quality product (or maybe you don.t know what a quality product even is) and you.re going to leave much of the production to someone else to care about then why are you in this business? It.s a business sure, but as a craft beer producer, shouldn.t it be about the beer?
The unfortunate side-effect of an industry that has seen double-digit growth for the past five years is that it.s gathered the attention of people who just see dollar signs and care less about the quality of the product and more about its marketability. The industry doesn.t need these pure .money men. and I hope that it isn.t the undoing of something that, to this point, has been a very grassroots, transparent and collegial environment.
Do you get the sense that friendly competition is becoming more prevalent now that (it seems) you have to compete for shelf space?
It.s always been there it just hasn.t been talked about. Recently, stores have had the ability of increasing shelf-space because there has been demand that has driven it. And old school stores that used to rely upon sales of the macros have wised up to the craft segment and have made a concerted effect to increase shelf-space as well. Five years ago, those same stores were deriving much of their business from the big three, so shelf-space was tight for craft and I suspect that there was competition for that limited space. We may see a return to that faster than you think (hopefully not the macro part). Particularly in Massachusetts where real estate is expensive yet it’s known as a very progressive craft beer drinking state which obviously attracts breweries/brands. As long as the essence of .craft beer. remains true to what it should be and the consumer becomes more and more educated, we have a lot of room to grow and that growth should continue to come at the expense of macro beers versus each other.