(Rochester, NY) – A veteran member of Beer Advocate and RateBeer is co-founding Three Heads Brewing.
3HB launches this month in Rochester, New York. WHAM 13 reports that distribution begins in the next couple weeks. At the helm are Dan Nothnagle, Todd Dirrigl and Geoff Hale. The trio will open up with four beers in its arsenal, each on draft and in 22 oz. bottles: Blimey English-Style Pale Ale, The Kind IPA, Skunk Black IPA and Java Sutra Coffee Porter.
Nothnagle, the brewery’s president, has been a member of the online beer community for nearly a decade and I was able to catch up with him to learn more about the project:
1) You go by JahNoth on Beer Advocate and RateBeer. You’ve been a member of Beer Advocate since April, 2002. How did you first get into beer and how have these two sites helped you along the way?
Myself and my friends are beergeeks through and through. I have been on ratebeer since 2001 and it has helped my love of beer greatly! I have been a very active trader and, to be honest, have attempted to try all the great beers of America. If you notice from my ratings, I am not one that has just been in search of rating numbers; rather, to find the best examples of beers that myself and friends enjoy. My cellar today brims with exploits. It is great beers like Sculpin IPA that beer rating sites have pushed us towards and helped us set the bar with our own beers.
2) At what point did you become serious about going pro?
About 2.5 years ago we decided that we wanted to open a brewery. At that time I conceived the name and some of the direction we would head in. Rochester, NY has a long brewing history but sadly no breweries willing to boldly go where American Craft Breweries are going. We felt there was room for such a vision in not only this market but Western New York. The original concept was to get some money together and hire a brewer, and, in the meantime, start homebrewing and learn how to actually make beer. And, as the story goes, we got pretty good real fast. A few months in we entered a homebrewing contest with beers that I thought we decent and medaled in 4 out of 5 entries. We have since gone on to win lots of medals in the few contests we have entered, including best of show in the largest contest in NY. Many of these recipes are what we will be brewing. However, we do not homebrew to win awards or to try to pigeonhole our beer in specific styles, rather, we are merely trying to make great beers – beers that make beer enthusiasts and novices say “wow, that is the best beer I have ever tried.”
So it is our recipes that have been scaled upward and currently being brewed.
3) You guys come from a homebrewing background and have won numerous regional medals (based on a quick scan of your website). Surly Brewing’s Omar Ansari recently joked, “If you got three guys that homebrew and think they can open a brewery, good f&%^$# luck,” alluding to the need for a professional brewer. You guys are going with Custom Brewcrafters’ Head Brewer, Bruce Lish, to contract brew your beers over at CB. A) Will any of you guys be hands-on in this process and learning the ropes and B) do you plan to hire a brewer down the road if you get your own brewing space?
A lot of the answers to this question can be found above, but in many ways Omar is correct. We decided that the best route for us to go is to contract brew at this time. Everyone at Custom Brewcrafters has been extremely helpful in the process. Bruce Lish is an amazing brewer and, yes, the home brewer does need some assistance taking the 6 gallon batch to 20 barrels. But the percentages of malts, mash temperatures, hop additions, etc. are all consistent with what we have been doing. Building a brewery from scratch is both time-consuming and very expensive. It is certainly something we will look into in the future, but right now this relationship makes a lot of sense. We feel that we can easily brew between 100-200 barrels a month to start and expect to do so.
As far as hands on, our participation in the actual brewing process will be minimal. We have made hundreds of batches of beer and have complete faith that Bruce and Jason Fox, Brewmaster, will execute our requests extraordinarily well. Or concern will be on sales, hauling bombers and delivering kegs, not to mention the accounting, billing and other paperwork. We are paying them to make our beer for us. To us, this makes a lot of sense.
4) Will it just be kegs to start out?
We have an initial batch of three beers in kegs – The Kind IPA, Skunk Black IPA and Blimey ESB. Our fourth beer, Java Sutra will be brewed in a few weeks, along with 20 barrel batches of the aforementioned three brands. These will be both bottled in 22 oz and kegged. We are about to sign a deal with a distributor that will handle all of our bottle distribution, but kegs outside of the immediate Rochester area. This will allow us to not only focus on our local market, but quickly expand throughout New York.
5) Were there mistakes made or hurdles encountered during this process that you’re willing to share and that aspiring brewers can learn from?
Todd and I attended the How to Start Your Own Brewery course at Siebel Institute about a year ago which I would highly recommend. We learned from Ray Daniels, John Mallett from Bells, Greg Koch and others – the experience was amazing. So far I can say that the paperwork does take awhile to go through the government channels so be patient and plan ahead. Technically, we are distributors. Finding the right space, getting the paperwork, all the legal stuff, accountants, cash, etc. has literally taken us about a year to do.
In closing, all I can say is we are attempting to bring great craft beer to Rochester, NY. While craft beer is growing exponentially in America, we are hopeful that people will embrace a great local product. We plan to interact with our accounts and the consumers of our beers and want everyone to know who we are and what we are about. We want them to be proud of the beer made right here in their hometown!