The Thirsty Beagle: Catching up with Vanessa House

Friday, October 14, 2016

Catching up with Vanessa House

Congrats on making it to Friday beer fans! 

Today, I'm bringing you an interview with Andrew Carrales, head of sales and marketing for Vanessa House Beer Co.

Following a whirlwind last couple weeks, with launch events in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, I asked Carrales to reflect on how things are going for the new beer company.

The Thirsty Beagle: Now that you've had a minute to sit back and reflect on your opening events and introduction to the consumer market, how do you assess how everything went?

Andrew Carrales: We have been out at various events, for a little over a year now, telling our story and sampling out the beer we hoped to produce. We made a lot of new friends/fans along the way. To see people we’ve connected with, like Steven and Maggie at our Slaughter’s Hall party and David and Jenny at our Roosevelt’s party in Tulsa, was amazing. Those are people we didn’t know a year ago. We had hoped to create those types of connections, but to actually see people choose to come hang out with us was a very humbling feeling. At both those events the beer moved very well. Slaughter’s Hall was particularly amazing, moving 15 cases in under an hour. We have also been hearing very positive things from liquor stores as well. We know many have put in multiple orders already. So overall we feel that things have gone great so far. We still have plenty to learn, for sure, and it seems like we are learning something new every day. We really cannot thank the craft beer community enough. The consumers, the homebrew clubs, our great local breweries, everyone really, have all been very supportive.

TTB: You guys brewed your first batch at O'Fallon -- do the plans call for that relationship to continue, and if so, what's the next thing you're looking to brew?

AC: Yes, O’Fallon has been great to work with and we are still working on our “forever home,” so to speak. We really can’t say enough good things about them and about how much they have helped us through the process. We are targeting our next beer release to be in January, which will be the 5th Keg Milk Brown. It is the first beer our brewer, Evan Smith, came up with. It is a beer that started as a brown, but with the addition of lactose and light and dark candi sugar, became its own thing. It is a very smooth, sweet, and complex beer that comes in at about 8% ABV. We take this beer everywhere we can, and it always gets a rave reviews. We played around with releasing it first, but with it being a bigger, dark beer we saved it for the colder months. We are really excited to get the beer out. We call it the 5th keg, because we literally lost a whole keg of it. Classic Vanessa House. It was back in the early days when we didn’t really label things well. We could only find 4 kegs (none of which contained the brown we so craved) and there was some debate between the VHBC crew on whether we owned 4 or 5 kegs. Depending on who you ask, it either got dumped down the drain or the 5th keg disappeared somewhere into the mystic, never to be drank from again.

TTB: Are you guys eventually eyeing your own Oklahoma City brewing facility?

AC: Yes, that is our end goal for sure. Do you know someone with a building with super low rent? Oklahoma is a crazy state to start in brewery in right now. We have been in the planning mode for seems like 4 or 5 years, where the last 2 years has been us really making tangible progress toward our opening. Early on, we were constantly changing up our business model. We started thinking we would just buy a place, build our production brewery, and go to work. We realized pretty quick with our access to funds that was not feasible. We played around with taproom models, but at that time it would have to be 3.2. We just didn’t see a 3.2 taproom model working in the long run. With the uncertainty in our laws, we decided the best way to move forward was to contract. Now that we have some more clarity on what we can and can’t do, we are actively looking for a spot and hope to nail something down sooner rather than later.

TTB: I'm sure you're following the potential changes in our state's alcohol laws. Are you guys taking somewhat of a wait-and- see approach on your future growth/plans depending on how things shake out?

AC: We have been kind of playing the “wait and see” game as we figured out how to open. Now, with 424 in effect, we know we can have a taproom, and that in and of itself is huge for us. So right now we have more clarity on what we are going to do, even with the things still left to be decided in November. One thing that I think will help us in the long run with all the legal uncertainties is the O’Fallon relationship. We can open a small taproom brewery, and still have larger production coming out of O’Fallon. Ultimately we’d like to have our own production facility, so I’m not sure that is where it will be in the long run, but that is an option that I think is a benefit to us. Also, it gives us a reason to take a beer trip to St. Louis every once in a while. They have this really cool brewery up there, maybe you have heard of Budweiser? Amongst others like Side Project, Perennial, and 4 Hands.

TTB: With the law changes, a lot of people are planning or thinking about starting up breweries. What advice do you have for those who are just starting to get into the game?

AC: Do your research, be patient, and don’t get discouraged! This is a very complex industry. Like I mentioned earlier, we are still figuring things out, and that is with years of planning. Talk to breweries, sign up with the Brewers Association (you gain access to a ton of great info), meet as many people in the industry as you can, and ask questions. I think the biggest thing is fighting through all the setbacks. Once you really get into the process of opening you will have more 90 degree turns than you can count. There were so many times I was SURE we were going to be brewing in the next month but then something changed or something didn’t get done in time. Those type of things can get you down, but just remember they happen to every other brewery as well. Also be willing and ready to accept negative feedback. When you are out talking to people you will get the truth, and that’s not always going to be positive (and that’s OK). Knowing what to take seriously and what to dismiss is important. Hearing those things, the unexpected delays, and just things not happening how you want can be very discouraging. We are still very new and have not hit the point that more establish brewers would tell you “makes it all worth it,” but man we wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I will say that just seeing our beer on tap and on the shelves is pretty awesome though, and that does make it seem like it has been worth it so far.

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