Thursday, May 24, 2012

Living the Dream - The Mischief Brewery

I am in crazy admiration of my friend April - not just because she's a generally all-around awesome person, but also because she's doing the thing I think more of us should do - living the dream.

Check out the blog of The Mischief Brewing Company here.
Or, more specifically, she and her husband, Brandon, are trying to jack in the 9 to 5 and start their own business, doing what they love.

And what April loves (and what makes me so excited about her and Brandon's project) is beer. Delicious, artisan-crafted American beer (which, I have argued, is beats British beer hands down.)

April agreed to answer a few questions about The Mischief Brewing Company she and her husband are trying to start - and what inspired her and Brandon to take such a risky, but rewarding plunge.

Please give it a read - and donate to their Kickstarter fund to help them get some Mischief brewing.

First thing's first - Who the heck are you, April? Describe yourself!

I’m just a girl. A loud, sarcastic, overly self critical wife and mother of three who loves reading and movies and sparkly things. And I love beer. It’s a fairly new love for me, but I it’s a love that runs deep. And I love sharing that with other women, because women typically don’t like beer. If I can help one of my friends find a beer she loves, I consider that a successful makeover.

What were you doing before you decided to launch Mischief Brewery?

Working for The Man. We’re still working for The Man. But there aren’t many people working for The Man who love what they do. Brandon works in graphic design and I have a job a trained monkey could do.

What inspired you to suddenly take action?

We’ve toyed with the idea and talked about it for years. And then one day Brandon just said “Why are we talking about this and not doing it?” So I said “Let’s do it.” We want to be the kind of people who take action. We want our kids to be those people too. We just needed to be an example. Let’s grab life by the balls and go for it.

When did the idea of starting a brewery first occur to you?

Brandon started homebrewing about 5 years ago and that kind of planted a seed in him. Brandon is a major researcher. He never does anything half-assed without making an effort to educate himself fully on his pursuit. He just kept reading everything he could about making beer. He was so passionate about it. Not just the brewing process, but the whole culture of beer. He was instrumental in getting his friends to appreciate beer. And one day he said he would love to do this for a living. To make beer and share it with people.

What had stopped you from doing this before?

Wow. What stops anyone from pursuing anything? Money, time, fear. All of those. I mean it sounds like a CRAZY idea. “We’re going to start a brewery.” It’s not a typical business venture.

What helped you decide to do it now?

We’ve had a lot of circumstances in the past two years that have just pointed us in this direction. We finally just thought “We need to go for it. There’s never going to be a perfect time. There’s never going to be the perfect amount of money. We just need to take a risk and do it.”

Was deciding to do this scary? How did you overcome that?

It was VERY scary. It still is a little bit. We’re putting everything we have on the line. It’s a gamble. But we believe the odds are in our favor and we are very confident we will be successful. We’re not going into this with big dreams of getting rich and being the new Stone or Dogfish Head. We just want to make a quality product that people can enjoy in a comfortable environment. We want to share our passion with our community.

What is your vision for Mischief Brewing?

We want to create a gathering place for the community, very much like the pubs of England. We want it to be a place people stop on their way home from work to share a pint with their neighbors or bring their families for a bite to eat. We want a place that serves amazing beer, good food and fun people.

What sort of beers will you offer?

IPA’s are so huge right now. Brandon really wants to do a double IPA that will take your breath away. We also have an amazing and award winning Scottish red. We’re both huge fans of Belgian styles as well as traditional English bitters. We have some big ideas for some barrel aged later on down the line and Brandon would love to experiment with sour beers, but those scare the hell out of me.

Where did you learn to make beer?

Homebrewing is such a great way to experiment with recipes and learn the importance of sanitization. But to expand that knowledge, Brandon went to the Seibel Institute to learn more about the sciency stuff. Brandon has a lot of friends in this industry, so he’s been really lucky to train with some great brewers to get more experience brewing commercially. When he’s not brewing, he’s reading about brewing. Constantly expanding his knowledge so he can brew amazing beers.

What made you think of using Kickstarter as a funding project?

I am SO GLAD you asked this question because I don’t think we have addressed this enough. In this economy, banks are just not too keen on lending money to anyone in a “restaurant” type business.
Besides that, Brandon and I have been busting our asses for the past four years to eliminate our debt. The thought of starting all over again with a huge debt and new business was totally overwhelming. We are very hesitant to take on a partner because we don’t want to give up ownership. We’ve already spent so much of our own money and so much time developing this plan and setting up this business, we’re so protective of it. It’s like a baby.
We just don’t want to raise it with someone else now. When we started pursuing other options for funding, we read an article about Kickstarter. It took us a year to pull the trigger on it. At first it seemed a little strange to ask other people to just hand over money to help you start a business.
We didn’t want it to seem like we were panhandling. But we had several friends and family members offer to help, we thought Kickstarter offered a convenient platform where people could make donations in one location.
One of the most rewarding aspects of Kickstarter is watching a community pull together to make this happen. It has been a shocking, humbling and beautiful experience. But by no means has it been easy. It’s not like we are just sitting back watching the money roll in. We are working hard for it. We’re out their promoting this business, passing out flyers, talking to other businesses about what we will bring to the community. We still have full time day jobs, so it’s been exhausting. But it’s all for the greater good. And thank God almighty, it’s such a fun industry so we’ve been having a good time.

How successful has it been?

Well, to be totally honest, we weren’t really sure what to expect. I think we thought it would be easier than it has been? I don’t know. We’re both worriers by nature, so it’s been kind of stressful. It was slow going in the beginning, but every day we’ve been getting more contributions. And if people aren’t contributing, they’re retweeting or posting support on Facebook or offering to come help us paint and do construction on the location. We’re getting some attention from our local media and we’ve been invited to speak at some events for brewers. So regardless of the money, it’s been successful in getting our name out there. I am still 100% confident we will meet our $30,000 goal. Because I believe in this. I believe in us.

How have you planned for obstacles? What sort of obstacles do you think you’ll face?

Of course we have planned for obstacles. I don’t think you can create a successful business plan without thinking about what happens if everything doesn’t go according to planned. We’re following a plan that relies heavily on finding used equipment. That hasn’t been easy to find. But we just keep getting out there and making contacts and talking to people who know people who know people. And slowly but surely, we’re piecing it together. It’s not pretty, but it’s functional and that’s all that matters.

How have your family reacted to the Mischief Brewing Project?

This has probably been one of our biggest obstacles. Our families love us and care about us. They probably have more invested emotionally than other people do. So naturally there have been concerns that we could be getting ourselves into a situation where we could lose everything. We get that. We do. But it doesn’t make it less painful when the people you love most are not as supportive as you want or need them to be. We’re not going into this with our eyes closed. We have been researching and learning and studying and planning for years. We really believe this is our destiny. I know that sounds crazy, but there’s really no other way to say it. This is what we are meant to do. And we will succeed. But in order to succeed, we have to take risks.

Are you scared of failure? What are you scared of the most?

Of course we are! We’re afraid of letting people down, we’re afraid of letting ourselves down. But we’ve got so much invested in this already, failure isn’t really an option. We will find a way to make this happen. I think we’re also afraid that it won’t happen as quickly as we want it to.

Are you ready for success? What legacy do you want Mischief to leave behind?

Are we ready for success? That’s a really good question. I don’t know how to answer that. I mean we are hoping for success. We are envisioning success. But what is the measure of success? If we can just get this place opened and running smoothly and be able to pay our bills, I will consider that success. But the craft beer industry is BOOMING. I don’t see how we won’t succeed. We will be the only craft brewery on our side of town. I’m honestly worried we are going to outgrow our location faster than we can afford to expand.

A couple of weeks ago we attended the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego and we had the opportunity to tour a lot of big name breweries, like Stone and Lost Abbey. These breweries are huge. Enormous. Especially Stone. Rows upon rows upon rows of stainless steel. They have a 120 barrel system. We’re starting off with a 7 barrel. We would be able to fit our entire brew area in a 10x10 square. The thought of growing to be as big as Stone or even Lost Abbey with these gigantic warehouses is overwhelming. I don’t know if we would even want that. But who knows. 
And there we were, hobnobbing with these rock star beer guys. People we have looked up to and idolized for years, like Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head and Greg Koch from Stone and Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River. It was surreal. I’m looking forward to hopefully not being starstruck by these people some day.

As for our legacy, we just want to be known for pushing the envelope. We’re already doing that by being the first independently owned craft brewery on our side of town. Brandon was born and raised in Peoria Arizona, it’s so important for him to bring this passion to this city. Local boy does good or whatever. We want to challenge what people think they already know about beer, and we want them to expect more for themselves. We just want to be known for putting an outstanding product out there and for making a contribution to our community.

What advice do you have for other people dreaming of doing something like this?

Quit dreaming, quit wishing. Just do it. Quit putting it off. Take the jump. Go for it. Study. Learn everything you can learn about whatever it is you want to do it. The more educated you are, the more you will believe you can make it happen. If you believe in yourself, other people will believe in you too.