Member Spotlight: Mustang Brewing Company
What Brewers Wish They Knew Back Then, What They Know Now
Here at Kinnek, we help small businesses across the U.S, find and purchase the equipment and supplies they need – faster and easier than ever before. We want to help entrepreneurs take their mind off purchasing and empower them to focus on what really matters: their customers.
We recently worked with a fantastic brewery in Oklahoma, who used Kinnek’s platform to get competitive quotes for a new brewing system and other supplies after their facilities were ravaged by last summer’s devastating tornadoes. We spoke with Gary, Mustang Brewing’s head brewmaster, about his experiences and his wisdom for new and aspiring brewers.
Kinnek: What’s the story behind Mustang?
Mustang started as a garage brewing project about five years ago. My boss Tim Schoelen came home from his job in the medical products arena, and his wife Carmen saw that he was really tired. She asked him what he’d rather be doing if not in the medical industry, as she brought him a cold beer. He said, “Well, I like beer”, and she told him that if he could make a beer she would enjoy drinking, he should go into the beer business. About 22 batches of beer brewed in the garage later, he finally hit on a recipe that Carmen enjoyed, and that started the Mustang story – officially going into business in July 2009. We used a Sam Adams business model – creating recipes on a small pilot system in OKC, and brewing the larger production brews on either a 15 bbl system in Oklahoma, or a 100 bbl system in Stevens Point, WI.
Mustang Brewing Company is coming back strong after last year’s tornado hit their facilities.
Kinnek: How did you get involved?
I was a long time and avid homebrewer of nearly 20 years, and Editor of the local homebrewing club newsletter. I responded to a request to join the Mustang monthly newsletter, and Tim got in touch with me when he realized he couldn’t be a one-man show. He needed a brewmaster, and knew that I had plenty of contacts in the brewing world. He asked me to provide some names, and resumes, and I asked if I could include my own resume – and he said “Well, certainly – you’re an award winning brewer, so put your resume in the stack.”. He reviewed resumes and told me that he would give me the recipe to Mustang Golden Ale, the beer that launched the company (at that time, being brewed on contract, out of state), and wanted me to brew the beer in Oklahoma, with local water, and that he would bring a taste testing panel to my house when the beer was ready. In early January 2010, Tim and Carmen brought in a blind taste testing panel, and 4 of the 5 panelists thought my beer was the original Mustang Golden Ale. Tim turned to Carmen and said, “I think we just found our new Brewmaster”.
Kinnek: What’s one piece of advice you wish you had gotten when you first started?
Get as many high dollar investors as possible – don’t go into the business under-capitalized, no matter what your business model calls for..
Kinnek: How did you finance your startup? What’s the best way for new brewers to get financing nowadays?
Several small investors came onboard to finance our early efforts, and are on the company rolls as investors to this day. There are a number of different ways to finance a new brewery now – Kickstarter efforts, businesses that specialize in brewery finance, Boston Beer Company has a financing program, as do a few others.
Kinnek: What’s one of the most overlooked aspects of starting a new brewery?
The logistics cost increases that came to light almost immediately. Trucking shipments of beer from our contracted facility in Stevens Point, WI rapidly escalated as fuel costs rose, and that really took its toll on the Company’s bottom line.
Kinnek: What was the hardest part of starting up your brewery?
Finding a good distributor and tackling the logistics issues of brewing our production beers at a remote location. More recently, it has been extremely difficult to transition from the remote brewing model to one where everything is done locally, with limited staff resources.
Kinnek: What equipment or supply would you recommend spending the most money on?
Brewhouse prep, including proper sloping of floors to drains, and then building a steam plant to power a steam fired brew system of at least 15 bbls. It’s a small expense to motorize the mash/lauter tun, and the benefit is exponential in return. Make sure you have an oversized Hot Liquor and Cold Liquor Tank – the HLT for double batching on brew day, and the CLT for lagers, if that beer style is in your wheelhouse.
Kinnek: What is the biggest hurdle you had to overcome to become a pro brewer?
Learning the many jobs and sub-jobs that come from being a small microbrewery; where there is normally one brewer on staff and a brewer’s assistant. That hurdle is immense, when the one brewer is the Brewmaster, Cellarmaster, Chemist, Water Profiler, Keg Washer, Packager, Forklift Operator, Grain, Hops, and Yeast Logistician, and Brewhouse Janitor, and any other job in the brewhouse organization..
Kinnek: What advice would you give homebrewers looking to scale up?
Gain experience at a local brewery, and discuss recipe development with the brewers on staff – things do not scale up in a linear fashion from homebrewer levels, no matter what brewing software you might be using.
Kinnek: Lastly, how would you define craft beer? Is it about the number of barrels produced, the quality of ingredients, or is it something else? What are some trends you are seeing in the craft brew world right now?
I think craft is in the process, not the number of barrels. Using all natural ingredients, rather than adjuncts to make up the grain bill has a lot to do with how I view craft. There are some styles of beer in American brewing history that use adjuncts, such as corn that grew naturally in the brewery’s region, and was a part of the style of beer brewed in that area and enjoyed by beer customers – a perfectly normal part of the craft brewing movement. When mega breweries use adjuncts, such as rice and corn as cheaper primary sugar sources, I tend to view that as a departure from the craft beer movement. Some trends that I am noticing in the craft brew world are, barrel aged brews, anything hoppy, and Belgian style beers...