Speaking to Mike Hess recently, he revealed that while he "brewed almost every drop of the beer" his first year in business, by the time Mike Hess Brewing turned five this July, he'd gotten too busy overseeing the daily operations and growth of his business to take an active role making the beer that bears his name. While he still finds time to work on new recipes, he says, "One thing that folks who own a brewery will learn: if you start a brewery you won't have time for brewing."
"That's a common misconception," says Curtis Chism, "Most people think that Oh you just brew and that's it. But no, there's a lot of other [stuff] going on." Curtis runs the business side of Council Brewing, while his wife Liz handles the brewing — a split of duties that still sees both of them working 90-hour weeks to keep up with the demands of their tasting room and growing distribution.
7705 Convoy Court, Kearny Mesa
Part of this is due to the new space they expanded to in May. Located just across a parking lot from their Kearny Mesa brewhouse and tasting room, the expansion allows them to increase production of their popular Beatitude Tart Saison, which they started bottling last September. They ferment the bottle-conditioned farmhouse ale with saccharomyces, brettanomyces, and lactobacillus, and in the new space they add fruit to produce a long list of variations, including blueberry, raspberry, passionfruit, mango, and pineapple.
When I spoke to them in July, both Chisms were hard at work on the bottling line with two assistant brewers, Liz hand-labeling bottles because their labeling machine was on the fritz. "We've been selling a lot of bottles through the tasting room since last year," Curtis says, "But this is the first time we're distributing outside of the tasting room." The first wave of local shops offering Beatitude bottles include South Bay Liquor, Olive Tree Market, and both Bottlecraft locations.
Despite the expansion, all of their beer flows out of their original three-barrel system, two or three batches every single day. "If you're not using your brewhouse you're not making money," Liz says. "We realized that it's cheaper for us to add labor, on such a small scale, than it is to go and upgrade to a bigger system."
When I ask why their expansion didn't include a larger brewing system, Curtis says, "It'd be nice, but this got us going…hopefully will fund the next round for us. Because we're trying to do it with as little debt as possible." He says they plan to move to a 10- or 30-barrel brewing system in a couple of years, once they can afford the massive investment.
"We're talking millions," Liz says.
In the meantime, the Chisms are putting in hard work to grow their business the old-fashioned way. "We'll just add labor and keep that brew system moving," Curtis concludes, "produce more beer that way for now."