Monday, July 15, 2013

First Run New Line: Successful Failure

Last Friday we got our new canning line up and running for the first time. The feeling of seeing that thing go was pretty cool. It was up there as one of the best moments we've had. I was watching it, wondering how we'd gotten to this point where we have this monstrosity (relative to us) of a canning line running hard cider in our fermentation/production facility.

That lasted for about 30 seconds, at which point I realized how far we were from smooth sailing. It was a total disaster. We started tinkering at 7AM, and got her running at about noon. Around 2 or 3, Tyler had to go to the Drink Craft Beer Summerfest*, leaving just me and Matt. Cut to 930, we were canning at the same rate as our manual line because we had to hit the emergency stop button every 10 seconds or so. I won't go through the list of issues, but it was a disaster. We were covered in cider, tired, angry, and probably wasted 400 cans of cider with bad fills, seams, gaping holes, and a gaggle of other problems.

We've been tinkering again all day today, and I'm optimistic that this afternoon we'll crank out a decent number of cans. It's more of a prayer than an expectation, but our fingers are crossed.

Also, if people don't know who Matt is, he's the third owner now. He also went to Bates College, he's my brother (Ross), he's an old-timer, 27, and in danger of screwing up our health insurance situation, and he likes to drink tepid water, which I find bizarre, and quite disturbing.

*side note: attend a DCB festival, next one's in the fall. Absolutely worth the price of admission, you won't regret it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

No Cans? The Reason Why

No, we're not done with cans, or packaging, or anything like that. But if you've gone to your favorite liquor store, convenience store, restauraunt, or you're the proproetor at the aforementioned establishment, you might have recently come accross the three dreaded letters: OOS. Out of stock.

As many of you know, we've been canning up to this point in time with our manual canning system. Without going into more detail than people care to know, we got a new canning line, it didn't work, and we now have a NEW, new canning line. This one is good, although we've been struggling to get every last detail correct. There's a lot of moving parts, and the slightest imperfection can cause the whole thing to fail.

At least 5 times today we've be "all set, run it" thinking it's definitely going to run, only to hit some minor snag. Currently, we're so close I can taste it (I can also literally taste it because I'm drenched in cider). Tyler is on our millionth Home Depot run of the week getting what is hopefully the final nuts, bolts, and washers to get our fill height sensors in so you don't crack a can and get snubbed with a partial fill.

So if you go to the store, and you're looking for some of the good stuff, and they don't have it, or you're ordering for the store, and our distributor is giving you that dreaded OOS, we're sorry, but this was necessary if we want to fill all of our normal orders going forward. At some point we had to bite the bullet, get rid of the manual, and step up to a big boy machine. As the business savants we are, it seemed that dead-middle of summer, peak booze season, was a good time to make the change. Was is the best move? No. Was is utterly necessary? No. Couldn't we have kept going on the manual a little longer. YES, stop nagging me, that thing sucked.

So to all of those effected by this Downeast OOS of '13, I'd like to defer to former BP CEO Tony Hayward: We're Sorry

(seriously though, this is eating at all of us, it's torture)

 PS - double sorry to LD. I don't have a clue as to the validity of that satire, the weirdness just makes me laugh.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Quick reflection on resumes that we've come to realize in the last week or so. As I wrote earlier, we're looking to replace our intern Max with a new, fully complementary team of super-interns. We've been collecting applications for a few days now, and have subsequently received a bunch of resumes. We're looking for college-aged kids mostly, but a most of them don't have jack squat to put on a resume. I don't have jack-squat to put on a resume. And just like them, I wrote a page of garbage and hoped to get called in for an interview. You can go through it one by one and laugh at every item:

GPA:  Okay indicator I guess, but my grades were pretty lackluster. A lot of people just don't have the right motivation yet.

Honors: Another "can't hurt" thing, but who knows what qualifies as "Deans list" at WIT? I could look it up I guess, but here I am, not doing that.

Skills: According to my old resume, I had Excel skills. Never used Excel in my life.

Experience: You're in college! Over 90% of these people are experienced with absolutely nothing. Summer internship filing paperwork, YMCA lifegaurd, and well rounded on the beer pong table. If I redid my resume, I would write, "read about all my summer jobs, but you and I both know I don't have a lick of experience, I'm 19 and have been a full time student since I wet the bed."

Other work: If experience was thin at best, "other work" is a full blown joke. I'm pretty sure my resume said I enjoy golf, skiing, and reading. You're 19! It was illegal for you to work 4 years ago without a certificate. You were playing wiffle ball and crushing slip and slides when you weren't on the clock at school playing dodgeball and reading awesome fiction books as actual work.

Obviously everyone looking at resumes is different, but I don't think you can learn too much about a college kid from reading these things. It's kind of ridiculous that this is the first point of filtration; this useless page of self-created fluff.

Friday, May 24, 2013

New Intern

Today was intern Max's last day on the job. Now that he's graduated from college, and knows all his book learnins, he don't need us no more. Wait a second, didn't we have two interns? What the hell ever happened to Harrison? Huh... Oh well. These guys are tough to keep track of.'s time to find a new intern!!

Here's the deal: I don't get paid. Tyler doesn't get paid. Matt doesn't get paid. So if you're looking to make it rain this summer, VIP room, bottle service, stacks on stacks on stacks, might I guide you here. For those that are still interested, we laud you for your commitment to endless pb&j sandwiches, pants with crotch holes, and inconsistent internet connections (ballin!). Obviously we'd reimburse you for gas, food, and plenty of cider.

The ideal candidate for this position is a college student who could get some sort of course credit. This doesn't really have anything to do with a preference for college students, it just makes us feel better that you're getting compensated in some way. While we're uncompensated as well, we're supposedly working to build value in our equity. You won't have any of that sweet, sweet equity though. Bummer.

If you aren't in a position to receive any course credit, don't worry about it, just make sure you know what you're getting into. We're not actively looking to hire anyone full time right now, although if you add necessary value to our company, we'll certainly consider it. We can guarantee this:

  • If you're a student, you'll learn a lot more about what real life work is, especially if you're some liberal arts philosophy major
  • If you're into cider-making (or brewing) you'll learn about a lot of the processing, engineering, and general manufacturing that goes on behind the scenes
  • If you are competent, we'll do everything we can to help you if/when it comes time to leave us (i.e. recommendations, whatever) for a paid job.
We're looking for at least one intern, but if you have a specific skill, and want to be very part time, that's fine too. I was just about to list a few things that you should be good at, but then I realized I always used to laugh at job postings that had things like "must be organized, good problem solver, multitasking, etc". Has anybody in the history of mankind ever been about to apply for a job and then seen one of those generic "skills" and been like, "oh snap, my multi-tasking skills are lackluster, I guess this isn't for me"? No. No they have not. When I used to apply for jobs, was I an advanced Excel user? If by "advanced" you mean "never used it in my life", which is precisely what I took them to mean, then yes, I was fully advanced. Instead of baiting you to lie, I'll just list some stuff that we need to get done, and you can tell me if you can do 1 or more of these things:

  • Tastings/Events: Tastings and events can be had all over the place, any time. This job would require you to schedule tastings at liquor stores/bars, or scout out brewfests. You typically have a booth set up and give people samples while educating them about our product. This requires good people skills, and will often result in free beer/cider. The work is often evenings and weekends, but if you have a trusty friend, they're actually pretty fun gigs.
  • Social Media/PR: This is something we get approached about quite often. Everyone wants to be the marketing/PR person. Probably because it takes literally zero effort and ability to do this at an average level. We're not looking for average. We can do average. If we were to let someone come in for this kind of work, you'd have to be exceptional, and be able to explain why you're exceptional.
  • Art/Design: We already have a graphic designer who does most of our major work. We're looking for the smaller things we use on a day to day basis, like educational material to take to events, sales sheet, banner/poster stuff, etc. Basically little items that we might need here and there. This would be a good gig for an art student, or maybe a new designer who doodles a lot, and those doodles would now be out and about for people to see.
  • Engineering/Tinkering: This would most likely be for a engineering student, as actual engineers typically don't work for free. If you're a student looking for experience or some course credit, this might be for you. This is also a position where we could actually pay you depending on how valuable you are. Right now we have an engineering friend helping us build a can depalletizer, which is something we need, and typically costs upwards of $20k. If you can help us save a bunch of money on something (cough, keg filler cleaner, cough), we'll make it worth your while.
So there you have it. We don't care if you're a master of one, none, or a jack of all trades, let us know if you're interested in helping out. Feel free to pass this info on to friends or anyone who might be interested. Again, these positions would be mostly UNPAID internships. We probably won't be doing any real hiring until late summer/fall, but if you want to get involved now, we'd love to have you.

PS - If you feel you have some additional skill to add that we didn't mention, feel free to pitch it, and tell us why we need it. Off the top of my head, I can think of this guy. We put on our shorts like such clowns compared to him, and don't even get me started on our colored block skills. Putrid.

PPS - Forgot to add: email if interested. Doesn't have to be a resume, but tell up about yourself, what you've done, and what you think you can do.

PPPS - The following is in response to the first comment on this blog post. I figured I should make it more public to explain what I mean when referencing marketing/PR:

I'm sorry you feel this way. While my language might make use of some hyperbole (by "literally zero effort" I probably mean "without excessive effort" and by "average" I probably mean "mediocre") but I stand by my statements otherwise. Our social/pr work is maybe an hour a day max, and is comprised of stuff like the blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and now a little Vine. It's also sort of fun work (compared to say, cleaning kegs or running cash-low projections on excel). I would say we do a mediocre job with our social media stuff. It's acceptable. It's this 5-7 hours/week of relatively non intensive/painful/exhausting work that I'm calling "zero effort", but might be accurately described as "relatively little effort". I'm not saying marketing/pr is easy, especially when considering situational aspects. For example, right now we're in a red hot market. Demand is very high, while competition is somewhat scarce. We barely keep up with supplying our wholesalers. Our operations side is a lot more important at this point in time than marketing. If we don't do any social media, we're still going to sell cider, albeit with crappier branding. If we don't do any packaging, we sell no cider, make no money, can't pay our bills, and go home. If we were in an overcrowded market trying to do the same thing as a million other companies, and having trouble moving our product, then yes, NOW marketing/pr becomes a much more valuable aspect of the business, and much harder as well. Like a milk company trying to gain market share from the thousand other identical milk companies. That's hard to do.

As it is, I think most people get the idea of who and what we are by our limited PR. We're a couple of kids making some hard cider that we think tastes great. We don't have to put spins and angles on anything, nor do we have to be clever. We'll leave that to the unnamed large cider companies of the world who are trying to convince the consumer they're "small batch, local, and craft". Authenticity is cake when you're telling the truth.

The "dirty" work is the valuable work right now. There's a reason we get an email every couple weeks with someone looking to do our pr/marketing, and we've gotten 0 emails with someone looking to get nasty, clean kegs, sweat it out with caustic+steam, scrubbing the tanks, and manning 10 hour shifts on the canning line. The person looking to do the latter is 1000% more likely to get a job than the former. "Ease" and "effort" are relative. If you've spent an hour cleaning kegs vs an hour blogging, you'll know what I'm talking about.

If you disagree with what I've said, or want to talk further, I'd be glad to hear you out. After all I've said, I don't fully know anything about anything. I just have loud, sometimes obnoxious opinions. If you prove me wrong then I'll have learned something today, and I'll be grateful for that opportunity. My cell is 978-436-3545, and as people who know me will tell you, I love debating stuff. Let's get it on!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Case of the Mondays

Just had the most rugged morning. As you might know, we recently set up a new canning line. It's not really up and running yet, but we put our old manual filler next to the conveyor on the new line leading into the seamer. So we're filling manually, then one person is placing caps, the cans go through the new auto seamer, get rinsed, and pile up on the collection table. We've done about 4 pallets total (360 cases, or 8,640 cans). Somewhere near the end, we noticed some of the seals were bad. We then had to go through almost every can, about 6,000 total, and squeeze them to see if they were one of the 50 that had bad seals.

This means we took every 4 pack out of the case, squeezed all 4 cans, removed any that were soft (bad seal) and repacked them into a new case, and re-stacked the pallet. Most of this was done in the cooler. Not how we're looking to start the week.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bona fide!

We got a text the other day from a good friend who we went to college with. He had been fishing in "the middle of nowhere" Maine, and stumbled upon this beauty:
Now, let me say that the first thing that comes to mind is don't be an asshole and litter. No matter how refined your cider pallet is, or how beautiful that trash might be, you're not above recycling. Don't dump crap all over the woods, that's not a cool thing to do.

Aside from a deep lack of judgement, how crazy is that!? We don't exactly do Bud/Coors volume. What are the odds that our buddy up in the woods in Maine just stumbles upon this? Probably about the same as the odds of Lloyd Christmas ending up with Mary Swanson.

Anyway, I can only assume that Stefan took that can, crushed it, put it in his fishing fanny pack, brought it to a redemption center, collected his 5 cents, and donated it to the environmental charity of his choice. And for that assumed outcome, we thank you Stefan. You're a solid guy.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Canning Line Transition

Tyler took this picture today and I think it's pretty cool. And, I've never really gone through the canning process so as we're (hopefully) embarking on a new canning line, I might as well reflect on one of the last times we'll use our first-born:

What's shown on the table makes up about one row of a pallet (seen in the background). The total height of each pallet we make is 9 rows.
(I'm about to go really in depth in our canning process. Some might appreciate it, others, not so much)
Each one of the cans is manually dunked in a bucket of sanitizing solution and hand/placed up a fill/co2 extension. A button is pressed to begin a process of co2 purge, followed by a fill, which takes about 12 seconds. It's then removed back down the extension, pulled out, and set on a table.

The next person in line takes a lid out of a small sanitizer-filled bin. The lid is placed on the top of the can, and set onto a piston. You then press a button with your other hand, and the piston raises the can into a fast-spinning chuck, pressing the lid down, and spinning. Two air-powered pieces then move in independently and seam the lid to the edge of the can. The piston lowers, and you take the can off (about 10 fall-offs per session dent cans, our friends like that). You then dunk the can in clean water and set it on a steel "drying" table. They can't be too wet or they'll soak the case pack, and fall apart within the pallet.

The third person has the easiest job. Their main function is to take the cans on the table (we don't usually let them accumulate like the pic, but Matt was talking to the electrician), shake any excess water off, put them into the case which you just folded up, put a "keep refrigerated" sticker (new) on, snap on the 4-pack holders, slap on the expiration with a gun, and stack the case on the pallet. Their secondary job is to de-palletize the huge stacks of cans we get. That involves a huge plastic bag and a ladder.  All the while they keep the canners stocked with supplies like cans, lids, water, sanitizer, massage for back knots, whatever. You don't really get to rest much, but it's slower paced than the mad rush of canning. We rotate after each row, which is about a 25 minute session.

A whole pallet takes about 4 hours if worked straight. And when I say straight, I mean the third, "packaging" person will take the last few cans out of the can bag, put them in the sanitizer bucket, and replace it with a new bag so the canning people don't skip a beat. As you can tell, we want to minimize time spent canning, it's not the most fun part of the job. In a given day, we'll do between 1.3 and 2.5 pallets per session, so with the 2 hours for set-up, clean-up, and screw up, we're typically at it for 6-12 hours.

Our distributors then come pick these pallets up, along with pallets of kegs, take them to their warehouse, then they're off to the store/bar. Our highest volume distributor goes through almost 130 cases/week nowadays. We currently have 5 active distributors. Needless to say we're REALLY, REALLY, REALLY anticipating the new canning line getting up and running. You can only put so many hours on what's essentially an assembly line without getting antsy for change. Our electritian is coming tomorrow to hopefully power us up, and if everything goes perfectly (odds approx 0.012%), tomorrow could be our last super-manual canning session.

To celebrate (although we'd be doing it anyways), we'll be slow-cooking some meats in the smoker all day, so hopefully we'll cap everything off with some smoked ribs, chicken, or brisket marinated/basted in some Cran.

We'll try to take pictures along the way, but there's only so many times you can instagram a 12 head seaming mechanism before it becomes an unhealthy obsession. To many, I'm sure that number hovers around 0. It definitely get our juices flowing though. Getting the first can off an automated line has been something of a white whale since Downeast's inception. I'll be satisfying beyond the obvious ease of packaging.