I was in awe the first time I climbed into the turret of the M1 Abrams tank.
It’s an incredible machine, with capabilities you have to experience to really appreciate what a marvel it is. Powered by a 1500 horsepower turbine engine, the 72 ton behemoth can move at 50 MPH (60+ MPH if you know how to disable the governor). The turret is equipped with a fire control computer which uses a gyroscope, crosswind sensors and a rangefinder to balance & precisely aim the main gun, allowing it to hit targets with ease at 4000 meters. Handling it feels more like a videogame than real life.
Yet, the amount of preparation required to make the Abrams work properly is immense.
We were introduced to the M1 early on in training at the US Army’s Armored Cavalry school at Fort Knox, KY. While excited to mount up and get rolling, I quickly discovered we would instead spend weeks in the maintenance bays learning every aspect of the vehicle from top to bottom before rolling it anywhere. I’ll tell you first hand, the preventative maintenance workload is intense. The lesson: as mounted combat units, we are responsible for knowing and maintaining our horses.
Relentlessness about every detail led to repetition; repetition built trust among our crew. Slowly, we were becoming a singular unit; as if each of us was a vital organ of the M1. Hours everyday were dedicated to crew drills and rehearsals; sometimes in the simulator, but often simply in the maintenance bay with 4 folding chairs, practicing fire commands.
Fire commands coordinate the 4 individual crew members who are all performing 4 different tasks, which need to be done in unison, otherwise the Abrams is reduced to a 72 ton paperweight.
Tank Commander: “Gunner, sabot, tank”
Gunner: “Identified, range one six hundred”
TC: “Driver, move out”
Gunner: “On the way!”
“On the Way:” the moment of execution; when all the effort put into maintenance and preparation is complete and the Abrams’ very existence now has meaning (you know, more than a paperweight).
That time is upon us now: In 2018, we pull the trigger - “On the Way!”
This past year, our goal was to increase efficiency while simultaneously upping output to maximum capacity. We achieved this milestone as summer kicked off. For the latter part of the year, our fermenters were empty for only a couple hours each time they were turned over.
Most of the increase in production was dedicated to our new canning operation, which fired up in June.
The addition of our canning line is the largest commitment we’ve made to date, but the investment has been more than worthwhile. Since debuting “Victory nor Defeat” in 16-oz cans, we have fought to keep up with the pace at which they are moving.
Many have asked why we are only canning “Victory nor Defeat.” The answer three fold:
Starting up a canning operation not only requires the equipment, but also the cans, of which the minimum order for printed cans is ~75,000. This presents space constraints.
The mantra in 2017 was “Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast.” With that in mind, we knew we were venturing into unknown territory (the very competitive beer retail space) and wanted to remain deliberate in taking on the new rhythm. With every ounce of “Burn the Ships” produced going to draft lines across our area of operations, VnD was in a better position to establish a foothold on retail shelves, which we could leverage in the future (once we proved we could hang in the game).
With “Burn the Ships” production volume completely dedicated to draft lines, canning the brand would require us to reallocate inventory away from restaurants, effectively decreasing our draft footprint (which is a no-go).
Overall, our brewhouse increased production by nearly 30% in 2017, with “Burn the Ships” & “Victory nor Defeat” accounting for over 70% of total volume produced, which still wasn’t enough to meet demand. A good problem, but one we are going at head on in 2018.
With the canning line in place, and a rhythm that is both efficient and consistent, we’re ready to increase our production capacity without much operational resistance.
In December, we committed to the purchase of a new custom brewhouse, as well as a new line of fermentation and conditioning tanks. This equipment doubles our potential output, allowing us to expand our offering, most notably the addition of “Burn the Ships” in 16-oz cans (debuting Friday); the first trigger pull of 2018.
While availability of these cans will be limited in the near-term (similar to VnD), we’ll be moving to a new production rhythm before winter is behind us, giving our Distro and Ale Room teams more inventory to run with.
Even if inventories run low at all this year, we’ll be able to confidently say there is more “on the way.”
Our Distro Team kicked ass in 2017.
While it wasn’t a major goal to grow our distribution footprint, we did grow in terms of volume moved within our current footprint. As such, we brought on Jim back in February to assist with the cause. He did not disappoint, quickly becoming a valued asset within our daily operations (despite his excessive sarcasm...).
Together with Chris & Jake, the Distro Team ran nearly 1600 individual deliveries, moving over 18,000 gallons of beer to local restaurants & retailers; a ~20% increase in volume and 34% increase in sales over 2016.
These guys also took on our transition into the retail space with the VnD 16-oz cans, which entered our Distro network in July. As stated above, we’ve struggled to keep up with the pace at which the cans are moving at the ~25 retailers we distribute them to, mostly because these retailers are far exceeding our projections; many moving several cases every week.
With our deliberate posture in 2017, we spent a good amount of time collecting feedback and numbers from our partners, finding VnD 4-packs quickly became a top-seller.
One retailer found they were the 5th best selling item in the history of their store after only 4 months on the shelves.
Another stated our 4-packs were the 3rd best selling item of the holiday season, behind Sam Adams kegs and craft beer advent calendars.
Several more had VnD at or near the top of their sales charts in 2017.
Keep in mind, we didn’t debut these cans until this past July. In the 6 months since, we have built a good understanding of the demand, and are adjusting in 2018 to begin closing the gap for those who want increased access to our products.
With the imminent production increase on the horizon, Distro will begin expanding our geographic footprint. At this time, we hold a strong presence within the greater Manchester-Nashua region in both restaurants and retail, but maintain a mere foothold in the Seacoast and Monadnock regions.
These areas are the focus for growth in 2018.
The Distro team will begin identifying potential partners in each this month; an effort which will require your continued input & support: we love proving our value to establishments you believe would be a great asset to our team in greater Keene, Portsmouth, and in-between. After all, you guys have always been our best sales people.
At this time, we have no plans of expanding into other states; for us, the world still ends at the Live Free or Die border. One bite at a time.
To assist with the increased workload, we pulled the trigger on adding another teammate - Max Nagel - who has spent the past several months as our apprentice. Since he’s already familiar with our operations and rhythm, so he’ll be up to speed quickly.
Beyond that, our QRF (quick reaction force) distribution model will not change.
We will continue tracking consumption trends to ensure we’re meeting our partner’s needs when they need to be met, and still guarantee re-up deliveries within 24hrs - if not same day - with product which has never been allowed above 38-degrees F.
The moment beer is needed, consider Able Distro “on the way!”
The headquarters of the movement here at the brewery grew as well in 2017. We poured 22% more volume at the bar compared to 2016 (over 14,000 gallons), with beer-to-go accounting for most of the volume (over 5,000 growlers and 7,000 Quart cans). This amounts to ~39% of our total production volume.
Growler and Quart fills did decrease slightly since the debut of the VnD 4-packs, but this is something we accounted for (and banked on) since we knew those who typically purchased Victory would now do so via 4-packs (more efficient; better quality). All things considered (Quarts, growlers & cans), beer-to-go sales still increased 12% over 2016.
We set out in 2017 to keep the Ale Room the way it is - a simple bar for those who live and work within our community. I believe we succeeded, with our summer BBQ parties (Anniversary Party, Thunder Road Car Show, Party for Independence!, Summer Sizzler, etc.) Monday night performances & Tuesday night trivia (hosted by our loveable Distro Manager, Chris). These new events come about because we’ve always thought of our bar as the fun side of our operations and thus, we like to get creative with how we run it.
Expect us to have more fun with it in 2018.
I don’t have another “on the way” one-liner for the Ale Room...oh well.
After a year of preparing for this moment, we’re ready to get “On the Way!” in 2018 (nailed it).
As always, we give you our deepest gratitude for your continued support of this movement; couldn’t ask for better crewmates.
It’s go time; let’s have some fun. Cheers.