16 Jul Lasting Decisions

When starting a business, you find yourself making more decisions than you ever thought necessary. These range from (relatively) trivial things like “What tee shirt brand will we use?” to life-altering things like “Where do we want to put the business?”. Behind the scenes of most of the day-to-day decisions lies a much larger one that can be easily overlooked:

“What type of company do we want to be?”


At Cerebral Brewing, we are keenly aware of the consequences of losing sight of our vision… and how easy it is to be led by your pocketbook.

We’ve been wrestling with a bear of a decision for the past few months, but we couldn’t be happier with where we ended up. We are extremely proud to say that we placed an order for a fully American-made brewhouse, fermenters, brite tanks, and just about everything else through the guys at Portland Kettle Works (PKW) just a few weeks ago. We could feed you lies and say that we never even looked at Chinese equipment but we won’t patronize you. When we were writing our business plan we priced out brewhouses and tanks from 8 different suppliers —  some American, some Chinese, and one Canadian. Portland Kettle Works was the pipe dream all along but reality began to set in as expenses started piling up. Over the course of a few weeks we had talked ourselves into the idea of purchasing the brewhouse through PKW and surrounding it with Chinese tanks with the logic that the tanks would be easier to replace. That way, when we started generating revenue we could swap them out for PKW tanks. At least that’s what we kept telling ourselves.

Portland Oregon

I won’t lie. The cost difference between Chinese and American equipment can be quite substantial… and as with any new business, it can be very easy to go over budget. We are looking at a total start-up cost in the mid six-figures with nearly every dollar accounted for in some fashion. I believe the term bootstrapped is a very appropriate way to describe us. Every expenditure requires that much more research when you’re not flush with cash, but we are far from the only brewery to have this problem. While having a budget is extremely important in starting (and maintaining) a successful business, you run into problems if it starts to become the first thing you look to when making a decision. We started to fall into this trap ourselves, but salvation was only 1,240 miles away (yes, I Googled that).

PKW Manifold

Things changed after a short trip to Portland. My wife and I were able to get into town a few days before friends to check out the Portland Kettle Works shop and talk to the guys behind it all. We knew their work was sound and their equipment was sexy even before visiting (we did our research) but our visit gave us a much better grasp on the decision we were about to make. We met with Thad (the owner), Joe (the salesman), and had brief interactions with the guys building the tanks (mostly them asking me to move out of the way of the forklift). Over a few beers we conversed with Thad and Joe about the brewing equipment industry as a whole and the trends that they’ve noticed over the past year, the recent rise in stainless steel pricing, and comparing/contrasting the Portland/Denver beer scenes (they’re not as different as you think).

We also talked about how far PKW has come since they began taking orders in 2011 and the troubles they’re facing at the moment. In a very logical sense, the business of making brewing equipment parallels the business of brewing. With the tremendous growth we’ve seen in the past few years, lead times on equipment manufacturing has increased exponentially. Thus, PKW is operating on the edge of not being able to meet demand. With a pilot brewery of their own in the works, dubbed ‘The Labrewatory’ (they’re hoping to be operational before the end of 2014), and an expansion on the horizon, it’s easy to see that these guys are committed to the growth and maturation of the industry.

PKW Customer Wall

Only 3 years old, PKW is still relatively new to the scene — especially compared to operations like JVNW, Inc.(33 years old) but they’re quickly making an impact. Companies like Cascade, Pipeworks, and Rogue (as well as Colorado breweries Manitou and Riff Raff) make for an impressive client list. We had the opportunity to share a few drinks with two other new clients that are on pace to open in the next few months — Drekker Brewing Company (Fargo, ND) and Main & Mill Brewing Co. (Festus, MO). We commiserated about the pains that precede opening day and shared in each other’s small victories over some great beer at Base Camp. It’s strangely invigorating to talk to someone going through the same trials and tribulations as you. Although I can’t prove it scientifically, I’m pretty sure beer helps as well.

The next morning we knew the right move. I started texting Chris and Dan (my business partners) and within a few minutes we were all on the same page. We realized there was no sense in meeting our goal to use American-made equipment halfway. We would go all-in with Portland Kettle Works… and in a unique way they are going all in with us. There’s a beautiful synergy that happens when two American small businesses work together towards a common goal — and that’s exactly what we’re about. With many more decisions to make as we move towards opening day (and beyond), this lesson will remain in our minds. There will always be a cheaper, faster, or easier way to move forward, but we will not be leading Cerebral Brewing down these roads.

PKW Welder

  • Jared ewy
    Posted at 16:21h, 16 July Reply

    Excellent write up and a most valuable tool to any business looking for a direction. I think the Internet has helped hone peoples’ BS detectors and they are more able to find genuine people running a business from the heart (or, more appropriately, as your name implies, the thinking parts) then one that’s cutting costs for a quick buck. Best of luck, and we’ll be on the lookout for some Cerebral kegs for our office kegerator.

  • Donald Put
    Posted at 02:13h, 04 September Reply

    For all the reasons you cited above, we decided to go with PKW from cover to cover for our new brewpub build. I, too, was just considering using them for the brew house and then buy fermenters and brite tanks made in China. After really thinking about it, spending time with Joe, and wanting to support another small business in the US, I’m happy to say that Idyllwild Brewpub just ordered a 5BBL steam-powered brew house, two 10BBL fermentors, two 5BBL fermenters, three 10BBL brite tanks, three 5BBL brite tanks, a glycol unit, a 2-stage wort chiller, and a malt mill/auger setup from PKW. We’re shooting for a late April/early May opening, and our equipment is scheduled to be delivered before the end of the year.

    • Sean Buchan
      Posted at 03:51h, 10 September Reply

      That’s awesome Donald. Best of luck with your opening, we’ll be following along!

  • Jon Jones
    Posted at 09:21h, 09 October Reply

    Sean you came into Ecliptic Brewing when you were out in Portland. I said I would be out in October and would look you up. Let me know if it is cool to come by and see the progress.

    • admin
      Posted at 03:48h, 28 October Reply

      Hey Jon, thanks for looking us up! I’d love to meet up with you for a beer, but we currently don’t have a space for you to check out. We have our lease signed but there is a lot of work to do before we have anything to show. Shoot me an email at sean@cerebralbrewing.com and we can chat more.

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