A Short History of RPAB
Rocky Point Artisan Brewers is located in Rocky Point, NY only blocks from the beach. We incorporated in 2008 shortly after we secured their brewing location. We spent a few months renovating the brewing space -- a detached garage and purchased our brewing system, a 50 gallon Blichmann system. We've spent the next few years slowly acquiring equipment (fermenters, kegs, pumps, etc.) and developing our brewing process and recipes. In the summer of 2010 we applied for our Federal Brewer's Notice.
Mike addresses the envelope which carried the RPAB paperwork to Washington D.C.
Getting the Brewer's Notice took a little longer than a year and we are still not sure why it took so long. In January of 2012 we applied for a New York State Brewer's License which we received six months later (more or less on schedule). Now that we have all the legal requirements in place, we our selling kegs of RPAB beers as close to home as possible.
Rocky Point Artisan Brewers started as a homebrewing partnership between Mike Voigt and Donavan Hall in 2006. Mike Voigt began homebrewing in 1994. Donavan Hall began homebrewing in 1997.
The inspiration (if you can call it that) for starting a nanobrewery came from two directions. Mike Voigt felt that the beer he was brewing was better than most commercial beers, so he didn't feel like a homebrewer anymore. Since he was brewing better beer than was commercially available, then he thought it would be a good idea to take the necessary steps to give the public access to the best possible beer. Being an avid homebrewer and beer writer, I (Donavan) believed that E.F. Schumacher was right when he said, "Small is Beautiful." So when Mike Voigt approached me about the possibility of starting a nanobrewery, I said, "Heck, yeah!" In 2009, Yuri Janssen, a relatively new homebrewer and fellow Rocky Point resident, joined our operation.
Most breweries pick names like X Brewing Company. While that's fine, we thought that it wasn't so much the brewery that was important, but it was the brewers. We always thought of ourselves as Artisan Brewers since the word "homebrewer" and "homebrew" had acquired a slightly negative connotation over the years. The word "craft" is overused and is close to being a tired modifier of the monosyllabic word that stands for our favorite beverage. So "artisan" seemed like a good term to substitute for craft. Of course the grammarians might complain and say it should be Rocky Point Artisanal Brewers, since artisanal is the appropriate adjective form, but we think artisan works not as a modifier of the word brewers, but as a co-noun.
The money. Well, we aren't rich, so we decided to grow slowly. Here's how we did it. I asked how much each of us typically spent on the purchase of commercial beer each month. Two, maybe three hundred dollars a month, said Mike. Yeah, me too, I said. So I made the radical suggestion, what if we only drink our own beer and put the savings into the RPAB bank account. Then we can buy brewing equipment with the money we save. Cool!
Early on, we were looking for ways to involve the community in our brewery. we were members of local CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). I asked, Why don't we try to run our brewery like a CSA? We'll call it a CSB! Well, the state of New York doesn't recognize CSBs, but we want RPAB to be the community beer. We insist that our beer must be affordable. One way to keep prices down is by offering beer shares to people in the community. The details of how this will work and how the state of New York will view it are unknown. We're still working on this plan. In the meantime we will make our beer available through the usual channels: fine craft beer bars and beer stores.
We have long been involved in the homebrew clubs on Long Island. Together with Rich Thatcher, we started the Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts (LIBME) which is now an AHA recognized homebrew club with well over 500 members. LIBME is one of three active homebrew clubs on Long Island, but it's now the largest and most active.
When we stared RPAB, we began experimenting with different strains of yeast. We discovered that a particular strain of lager yeast consistently produced fantastic beers. So we built a walk-in fermentation room and two (now four) large conical fermenters. We concentrated on lager production and now have a standard repertoire of a half dozen lager beers: two types of Pilsner, a Helles, a Vienna, a Munich, a Doppelbock, and a Schwartzbier. Each summer we brew as much Hefeweizen as possible (ideal for consumption at the beach, only two blocks away from the brewery). We have brewed other ales, mainly English-style bitters and ESBs for cask conditioning, since we have an English ale yeast that is very reliable. During the cooler months we brew a Bitter, a Pale Ale, and a Porter (all for cask conditioning). We also love Belgian-style beers, but have yet to develop any particular beer for eventual commercial production. Currently, we are experimenting with five different strains of Belgian yeast to determine which works best in our brewery.
What we brew is guided mostly by our taste preference, but mostly by what actually works in the brewery.
The biggest hurdles that face RPAB at the moment are associated with production. Given the limited quantity that the brewers can produce, the number of regular "accounts" that can be supplied will have to be small. For small breweries, initially, demand out-paces the ability to supply. Brewers often scramble to meet the demand by expanding production. This can lead to mixed results. Staying small will probably be the biggest challenge.
Advice to other prospective nanobrewers: Don't go too fast. Look for ways of starting cheaply. The powers that be expect you to do without revenue for almost a full year, so make sure you can pay the rent on your brewery all that time.