A year ago, we published “Take the Hill;” a look at 2015 and our expectations for 2016. With 2016 now behind us, it’s time to update you on our progress and upcoming strategy for 2017:
As 2016 began, we anticipated an increase in our production capacity with the addition of new tanks and kegs (which are now at over 400 and counting). We installed the tanks (with the help of our neighbors at New Hampshire Hydraulics) in mid-February, and immediately increased our production to fulfill demand.
In the fall, we secured long-awaited hops contracts, allowing us to increase production of “Victory nor Defeat” and add it to our distributed offerings; a beer which spent 15 months pouring solely in our Ale Room due to raw material limitations (and no, we never considered “replacing” any of the hops in order to make/sell more earlier).
In 2015, we were proud to announce that we moved every ounce produced; not one keg lasted long enough in our inventory to reach expiration. We’re unable to say the same for 2016: Out of nearly 2500 kegs produced, we had to let 8 go; a sell-through of rate of 99.7%.
We’ll have to improve our inventory management in 2017...
Chris came on board in February 2016 from our neighbors down the road at Anheuser-Busch. He quickly became a tremendous battle-buddy to Jake, and asset to the company.
These guys ran nearly 1,200 individual deliveries to over different 100 New Hampshire restaurants this year, moving over 1700 kegs (or over 15,000 gallons) in the process. While many are rotating lines (where brands on draft switch up often), we maintain ~60 permanent draft lines - the vast majority of them running The Smoked IPA: “Burn the Ships.”
On the sales end, we found we no longer need to “cold call” restaurants. Throughout the year, new opportunities came from simply answering the phone; incoming requests. We have you all to thank for this, since it is you who has continually asked for our products when it isn’t available, and continually ordered it when it is.
You guys are awesome; keep up the effort.
At the end of August, we also added Quart Cans of Burn The Ships and Victory Nor Defeat to our distro network in limited quantities to only 10 specialty craft beer stores (after 2 years of endless requests from retailers). As a result, monthly distro sales increased ~20% once we added the retail channel; a solid increase despite the small quantity of Quarts produced. This, however, is a good indicator of the potential retail has for us in 2017. More to follow.
Overall, the distro end of our company grew 50% in 2016. High five.
Our on-site bar continues to serve as the center of the movement; you all know it well. Overall, the Ale Room saw 30% growth in 2016, pouring over 12,000 gallons of beer into flights, pints, growlers & our latest offering - the Quart Cans.
We debuted the Quarts at our 2-year anniversary party in June 2016. Since that time, we sold nearly 6,000 of them in the Ale Room alone. Add in the 7,000+ growler fills we did in 2016, and beer to-go accounts for most of the volume we poured through our in-house draft lines.
While the Ale Room moves only ~1/3rd of our total production volume, the venue still accounts for most of our sales. We really have all of you to thank for this, and cannot express how much it means to us. We truly appreciate all of your continued support, one pint at a time.
While growth in 2016 was exponential, it is something which needs to be managed closely or it can easily run out of control. We’re big on doing the very best job we can, and this means we have to be relentless with our efficiency at every level.
“Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.”
After analyzing this past year, we believe maximizing these efficiencies is where the most opportunity lies for growth in the year ahead.
While 2016 was the year of "Taking the Hill," 2017 will be the year of "Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast."
I’ve carried this phrase with me since my time in the military. The challenge of training soldiers in the art of combat is managing each individual’s subconscious need to execute as quickly as possible.
I recognize this sounds counter-intuitive; in war, time is of the essence, so one would expect soldiers to execute their jobs with a greater amount of speed than the enemy. Yet, speed doesn’t come from training to be speedy. Attempting to execute as quickly as possible simply leads to mistakes, since the mind is trying to handle each task one at a time. The second order effect of which is they aren’t focused on their job, but each detail inherent to their job.
“You must be slow in deliberation and swift in execution”
Details get missed, corners get cut, mistakes are made. The result is actually more time & effort to finish the job because it wasn’t done right the first time.
I’ve come to believe speed comes from the disciplined & deliberate repetition of tasks until they become habits. Habits then shape the subconscious to execute without having to think through each task, allowing us to focus on the job. Thus, speed of execution comes naturally.
I repeated the mantra of “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” often as a platoon leader. Let me share a story which serves as a good example:
To train on entering and clearing buildings, we would simply go out into the west Texas desert and mark off imaginary hallways, rooms and doorways with white tape. Teams would then practice moving and clearing the imaginary building as a team. No ammo, no enemy.
For hours at a time, we repeatedly executed the “simple” task of moving a fire team through a building as a single unit - with full equipment, battle load and rifle. Not fun. It requires four people moving together without hesitation, while simultaneously maintaining their sector of security. One person misses their assignment, the team is immediately at risk.
Many soldiers feel the adrenaline and hustle, only to leave teammates behind; or get antsy and enter a room prematurely. There’s a lot of running into one another; even tripping over one another. I'll tell you, cleaning an M4 after dropping it in the sand will ruin your evening.
“Quit rushing to failure, this isn’t Call of f*cking Duty. Act like a professional. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”
Note: I'm paraphrasing, but it's pretty close.
Before long, any four of our soldiers could navigate a building as easily as one strolls to the bathroom during a break...all while maintaining 360-degree security and clearing potential threats, despite not knowing the building’s interior layout. We then stepped up to section clearing (2 teams working together...without shooting one another), then full platoon clearing. Once ready, we booked range days in the shoot houses - buildings designed with bullet-absorbent walls and targets we could engage.
My point: By the time we added ammunition and targets to the mix, the men didn’t have to think about where their teammates were, how to safely clear around corners, what to do when low on ammo, etc. The details happened seamlessly, without error, and much faster than when hurrying through imaginary hallways in the desert.
The details were now habit, and they could focus the entirety of their minds on their job: clearing the building.
“Maneuvering with an army is most advantageous; with an undisciplined multitude, most dangerous.”
Here’s how we’re applying this mindset to our 2017 strategy:
Efficiency of production is an area we are constantly analyzing. Our self-built 10-BBL brewing system isn’t the sexiest or easiest to brew on at large scale. However, with nearly 3 years under our belt brewing in this process, we’ve identified ways to cut down on brewing time and increase batch efficiencies. So much so, we can produce 50% more in 2017 without any additional equipment, which will allow us to focus on expanding in other cool ways.
We’ve also added production to AbleOPS - the system facilitating our operations we debuted last year to simplify the complexities of running our own distribution. Since we already track consumption trends, we’re able to leverage this into predicting our production rhythm. AbleOPS lets us know what the breakdown in keg sizes should be on kegging day, ensuring inventory is at the right level. Too little, and draft lines start running dry. Too much, and beer could expire before it’s consumed.
Remember the eight kegs mentioned above which we had to let go in 2016? The cause was basing our production schedule off the current inventory. Yes, a 99.7% sell-through rate is still very strong, but as we grow and scale, we recognize these small discrepancies can easily become large - or out of control - before we realize it. It’s important we identify and address them immediately before they become problems.
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
This is one area of our company which requires little improvement. The model has not changed: product delivered when needed on-demand (we have a 24-hour guarantee on our main brands, and have yet to breach it).
Rather than employ a dedicated salesperson, we’ve developed a culture where we are all salespeople, and found that culture has permeated into our customer base...meaning all of you. This has allowed the company to grow organically.
The #1 reason most restaurants decide to add a particular brand to their draft lineup is simple: customers ask for it. And you all ask a lot.
It means a great deal to get your endorsement; we won't let you down.
The bar is also experiencing organic growth at a rapid pace. More often we are experiencing long lines and large crowds. It’s easy to become rushed when this small room becomes packed.
We never intended this venue to grow into - in essence - it’s own company, so we all simply shared it as a joint responsibility in order to grant customers access those experienced in the brewery’s operation (rather than just part-time bartenders).
As we enter 2017, the Ale Room needs a dedicated manager to help facilitate its growth; a role Heather has agreed to take on full-time.
We will all continue to serve as your bartenders, since it is critical to maintain customer’s access to our subject matter experts across all 3 operations we maintain (Brewing, Distro & Ale Room).
For 2017, we’re slowing down from the chaos of rapid growth in favor of establishing a smooth rhythm for the future. We aren’t worried about growing as big as we can, as fast as we can. There are no plans to build new facilities, scale production capacity, or expand into other states. For Able Ebenezer, the world ends at the New Hampshire border.
Our focus is on you, the people of the “Live Free or Die” state. With your continued support, we can reach our goal of becoming a genuine Craft Beer of New Hampshire. Together, we can do it.
Thank you all for your continued support of the movement. It’s going to be one hell of a year. Cheers!