UPDATE: Scott has provided details regarding Blank Slate’s closure which is not the reason why I ‘thought’ he closed via my thoughts below. I’m going to leave what I wrote stand, more so to let people know that there is a lot more behind the brewing scene than many of us think and this can relate to many breweries and many people thinking about opening up their own breweries.
News, shock and speculation has been going around the internet the last few days regarding Cincinnati’s Blank Slate Brewing’s unexpected closing with zero information as to why. Blank Slate didn’t produce a lot of main-stream beers, which was one reason why people thought that they closed (not making money as not making the right beers). I disagree.
Jesse and I were just at Blank Slate earlier this year for the Annual Ohio Craft Brewers Association meeting. Everything looked rosy then. I was proud of Scott. The last time I saw him was four years ago in December of 2013. My family and I just took at trip down to Cincy to buy Scott’s glycol chiller that he was running a 7bbl fermentor on as he was upgrading. This chiller was the first major piece of equipment I purchased to provide cooling to my pilot-level homebrew system 1bbl fermentors. It was then that I was toying with the idea of starting a brewery but I still knew I had a lot of work to do to prove things on a ‘bigger’ scale.
When we visited Blank Slate several months ago he had a lot more fermentors, pallets of cans everywhere, A CANNING LINE and employees! His taproom was finally going which always helps the bottom line. He was even talking of putting in a kitchen (smart move!) I have followed his blog posts over the years and along with our initial discussions when I bought the chiller, this guy knew what he was doing. Sure, he didn’t make what the mass market may have wanted which ‘could’ have cooled his growth…but he was growing. And from his posts, he had too much demand for his product and had to pull out of certain markets to stay close to home. From our discussions, he knows math and does his research before purchasing capital equipment. He had a very cool solution to printed/sleeved cans (a dilemma when the minimum is a truckload per sku usually). The guy knew what he was doing.
I thought of Scott as my kindred spirit in Cincy. A chemist, no investors at the outset, a man that loves numbers, going in small comparably…something that he could handle himself until he figured it out and could delegate. That’s me.
But Scott, if memory serves me, has a wife and a kid. Nobody sees that. I believe his kid was pretty young at that time as his new brewery was gaining footing. Nobody is talking about this. My guess is that the brewery life took a toll on his personal life. I certainly don’t want you to read this and think that what I say is true…I’m just speculating more, I have no idea. But I have a unique vantage point. I’m going through this too. As we were growing in the winter of early 2015, my wife broke down to the tune of ‘you’re not home enough, I never see you.’ That’s when I knew I had to change my thinking and get more people on board. It’s super tough to move from “I only trust myself to do these things” to, “ok, I need to bring more people on to help.”
BREWERIES ARE CAPITAL INTENSIVE, MAN-HOUR INTENSIVE, ALWAYS BREAKING AND ENDLESS WORK. Yet a lot of men (and women) are flocking to start up a brewery. I don’t know….it’s something about making beer that negates all of the negatives of starting a brewery. It’s that fact that we’re thinking, “But we’re making fu*king beer, man!” that makes it all cool with us, psychologically. “Bring on insane amounts of work!” “Family, I will see you maybe in five years.” Most of us will never be a national brand, and we may never be a state-wide staple to stay relevant. But we jump into this anyways head-first, knowing (or actually not knowing) that if we don’t progress so far, we will be swimming upstream forever. Scott did it. I did it. Every other brewery has done it.
If I am correct in my assumptions, Scott’s decision, was personal. He chose to go back to his family which is something that becomes less-and-less every decade a choice among people. If his child is in it’s formative years, they need him. And if I am right with this, Scott has bigger balls than all of us in making this choice. It’s extremely humbling and possibly humiliating, to have to shutter what you have shed blood, sweat and tears for over five years in building. The fact that he didn’t sell it or transfer it to someone else? He’s emotional and at a breaking point. He just needs a simple out. No disrespect intended.
I applaud Scott’s decision to preserve his family unit…that takes the kind of balls that many of us don’t have.
If I am wrong on all this, I will amend this post. But I won’t take it down. I hope that people can read this and learn and possibly use this to help in their decisions. Brew’in Ain’t Easy. When I started our brewery, my kids were early teens…a good time as they were becoming independent BUT also a good time that they could actually be a part of it and help and really understand the importance of hard work and what we were trying to do…and using this ‘endeavor’ to also make them better adults. If mommy or I or both wasn’t around, it was ok. We also had family very close to help. If I failed, all we had to do was get them through High School for a few years and on their own. Younger children are a different story. Though who’s to say that if I was in the situation I was in when I decided to open a brewery and my kids were toddlers or in elementary school, that I would or wouldn’t do this?
All I’m saying is that this post was only intended to bring to light the personal side of running a brewery and ultimate decisions such as this don’t necessarily have to be based on the business’s economics – it can be personal. That’s my two cents, from both an industry insiders point of view and an outsiders point of view looking into Blank Slate. I can be totally wrong about this and the truth may or may not come out someday.
I wish you well Scott. Knowing you, whatever choice you made for whatever reason, was the right one. Your glycol unit powered my fermentors as a home brewer, then went on to control my fermentors when I opened. It currently runs the glycol system to my taps. Blank Slate will always be a part of us.