Brewstillery: Ranger Creek

Dear Client:

Based in San Antonio, Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling is, as far as the proprietors know, the only bourbon “brewstillery” anywhere. Other breweries might use their wort to make whiskey, but making bourbon along with beer has stipulations that make sharing operations harder.
The Texas-branded bourbon won’t get to market until the fall, but their Mesquite Smoked Porter, Oatmeal Pale Ale and Belgian “La Bestia” have surpassed predictions at (almost) all accounts since the OPA hit its first on-premise account Nov. 22. Here, majestically bearded head brewer Rob Landerman, shares notes and scribbles on pioneering the market. You, my friends, are a fly on the wall.
ON BOURBON AND BEER PRODUCTON SYNERGIES. “To make bourbon by law, it has to be this specific thing, and we don’t use those ingredients in our beer. We don’t share mash. The bourbon is its own thing. We share equipment, but we don’t use any corn in our beer, we don’t use any rye … and the bourbon uses a bit of rye and six-row barley (the beer uses two-row) for enzymes. So we’ll probably do that when [we make whiskey]. With whiskey we’ll do a wash from our mashes. “Wash” is a distillery term for wort.
ON SPECIAL CHALLENGES OF A BREWSTILLERY. “It’s hard enough to run a brewery or a distillery, but running both at the same time, you’re using twice as much energy and ingredients, so [keeping] inventory of two things. And with the distillery, if [TJ Miller, co-owner/distiller] is doing a mash, then I can’t. So sharing equipment and scheduling time is a bit difficult. And right now, the question is, where do you put the money? In the brewery side, since that’s what we’re already selling, or the distillery side, to get a better profit later?
ON FEDERAL AND STATE SPECIFIC BREWSTILLERY HOOPS. “They didn’t have a problem with us getting an alternating premise license, which allows us to operate a brewery and distillery on the same site with the same equipment. But the law says, when you package your beer, you have to have the name of your bottler on the label. So for us that was what our license was under – Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling. But they argued you can’t have mention of distilled products on a beer label and can’t have mention of beer on a spirits label. So even though we’re supposed to by law print the name of the permit holder where it was packaged, we had to get a DBA with Ranger Creek Brewery and Ranger Creek Distillery.
ON THEIR EVENTUAL DISTRIBUTION GOALS. “Eventually we plan on growing nationwide; but for the first 3 -5 years, it’ll probably easily just be Texas. We’re two employees strong right now. Two people can only do so much work. We can’t grow that that much. We have the ability to produce but not [self] deliver morebeer.
ON GETTING FLACK THAT ‘BOURBON CAN ONLY BE MADE IN KY.’ “So legally, Kentucky bourbon is only made in Kentucky, but [there’s] no legality that bourbon can’t be made anywhere else. It has to be at least 50 percent corn in a new oak barrel and no stronger than 120 barrel proof. But we follow all those rules, so our product is called bourbon.
ON BLOWING AWAY ORIGINAL SALES PROJECTIONS. “We had planned to do $10,000 in sales by the third month; we did like $12,000 in the first month. Then it slowed down quite a bit. Initially it was just excitement, people jazzed about a new thing. But when we came out in market it was right before Thanksgiving, then Christmas and New Year, and then you have people back in school. But in the bar industry, January and February are the slowest months of the year. … So for all of January, I think the plan was to sell $10,000 and we sold $7,000; so they want us to do $14,000 in February to make up for that. As of yesterday (Feb. 14) we’d sold just about $8,000. So we’re adding accounts all the time now.
“Once we release our bourbon the game will change entirely. Because we’ll have product on the market that’s unique to Texas and the brewing industry, and the ability to age beer in our own barrels. We can start making other spirits to age in our bourbon barrels, so that makes us unique; sister spirits will include mesquite smoked whiskey. And then we can age the porter in those barrels and do like a double smoke. No one else has the ability to do that.
ON NEW BREWS AND BOTTLES FOR 2011. “Our upcoming seasonal will be a Texas farmouse ale called Texas Farmhouse. It’s a saison I’m brewing with lemon verbena and sage that I grew in my home. So it’ll be Texas grown herbs that’ll add some citrus and peppery notes to it.
“It’ll be 2012 at least before we release bottles. La Bestia is in bottles on the market right now; we sold 15 cases in a week! If there’s enough demand and we get enough revenue by mid-year, we could get a small bottling line that would do large format bottles, the small two-head fillers that can do 22 oz. and 750, and releasing the porter and maybe pale ale in bombers in large format. Also the plan for the winter seasonal is to do this limited edition high gravity beer that would be vintage dated every year in bottles only.
“As for the bourbon, we’re hoping between August and October, but it depends on the weather. So we have stuff aging now but October is the deadline. But if October comes and it’s not where we want it, we’ll let it keep goin’.”
Thanks for your time.

BEER BRIEFS:
PRIVATE LABEL SOURCER G.K. Skaggs will start importing Phillipino beer from San Miguel Corporation, including San Miguel Pilsen, Light, Redhorse and Cerveza Negra. G.K.’s portfolio represents a global footprint with European, Latin American, and Asian brands, including Spain’s Alhambra and the U.K.’s Lancaster Ales.
MICHIGAN’S EXPLOSIVE CRAFT GROWTH is covered in this by-the-numbers story from mlive.com. Fun facts include: State brewery expansions and hirings total $70 million; Michigan’s roster of breweries totals 80 and ranks fifth nationally; and craft beer accounts for 4% of total beer consumption in the state (2% of it from Michigan).
COLORADO RESTAURANTS’ FIGHT TO LEGALIZE LOW ALC BEER SALES has won — round one. The bill that would legalize restaurant sales of low alcoholbeer passed Colorado’s Senate’s Local Government and Energy Committee and will move onto the full Senate, according to NACS Online. C-store-minded opponents argue the change of law unfair, as convenience stores aren’t allowed to serve full-strength beer.
THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION RELEASED DRINKING FIGURES for the U.S. and rest of the world, reported by Mail Online. Interesting observations from the 2000 – 2005 period include the average American male drinker’s 1,000 pint-a-year habit vs. a woman’s at 42 glasses. Our nation is also among the top for abstinence, reportedly at 35%.
YOU MAY BE INTERESTED IN THE TOP SUPERMARKET CHAIN for customer satisfaction: For the 17th consecutive year, Southeastern-based Publix is the highest-ranking supermarket for customer satisfaction, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, achieving a score of 84 points.
AN ALARMING RULING OUT OF NEBRASKA: A judge in Lincoln has ruled that malt beverages flavored with distilled spirits should be taxed at the higher hard liquor rate (includes all malternatives). Local Ventura County Star reports that the difference between the beer and hard liquor rates is more than $3 a gallon. That will effectively kill the FMB/PAB business in Nebraska.
Sergio Barrios from Mark Anthony Group says The Liquor Commission may appeal the decision and discussions have already reached the states attorney general. He says an organization called Project Extra Mile has been pushing to make the drinks illegal and “finally found a judge that would listen to them.”

COORS LOSING SMALL BREWER TAX BATTLE. Chief United States Magistrate Judge Justo Arenas is against Coors’ attempt to eliminate the lower tax rate of small brewers under Puerto Rico law, “finding there was no facial or intentional discrimination” in the case of Coors Brewing Co. v. Méndez-Torres. Coors had until last week to file objections with the Magistrate. The case has implications on overall state alcohol tax rates and small brewers’ tax rates, plus Commerce Clause issues. The opinion can be found here.
Until tomorrow, Harry

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-Pablo Picasso

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