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An interview with Beaux Bowman of Black Raven Brewing

Mark Sugiyama of Eclectic Arts has contributed to the blog in the past and we are happy to have him back. Below is an except from his extensive interview with Beaux Bowman, the man behind the curtain at Black Raven Brewing. Founder, owner, builder of things, brewer of things, Beaux pretty much  does it all.

Black Raven Brewing gets its share of attention, and they deserve every bit of it, but Beaux remains something of an enigma, which is kind of strange because he is as affable and approachable as anyone you’ll ever meet. I’ve always felt like he is a little bit uncomfortable with Black Raven’s fame. Not uncomfortable with the popularity of the beer and the reputation of the brewery, but perhaps with the attention all of that brings. That, and I think he would rather hear people talking about his beer.

So without further delay, here is the Eclectic Arts interview with Beaux Bowman.

Mark: Well thanks for doing the interview.

Beaux: Sure.

Mark: It’s interesting when I was trying to do research on you, there’s not much out there on you is what I found out.  There’s something from a Georgia reporter back in 2008 I found and it was interesting as it pre-dated the opening of the brewery.

Beaux: That’s correct.

M: It was kind of talking about what this was going to become of this new brewery venture.

B: Right.

M: And then everything else was about when the brewery opened in 2009 or about the expansions, awards, but nothing really about you.  You guys have such a reputation around Washington now, it was like how come there’s nothing on Beaux?

So from a previous interview Dick Cantwell (Elysian) asked when’s the next time you and he are having a beer together? *laugh*

B: It’s been awhile. That’s the blessing and the curse if you will. Thankfully we’re both really busy, but at the same time, we’re both really busy. Sometimes the business of making beer and running a brewery can get in the way of stopping to share a pint. Especially so for us because we’re still so young. I’m very hands on so it is sometimes hard for me to break away.

M: Are you as hands on now as you were from the beginning?

B: Oh yeah, yeah.

M: How many days would you say?

B: Usually 6 days a week or 7.  Last year has been, with the previous expansion, pretty much 6 or 7 days a week straight through the year. It’s been challenging, but it had to happen. Going forward, my target is 5-6 days per week, hopefully more like 5.

M: It’s all for the business, the long run for sure.

B: Yeah, exactly. And also our general contractor John has been helping us build this place. From the beginning, he has helped us build this place. He has been doing all of our general work and then I do a lot of the process type projects. With the help of Terry from Georgetown Brewing, I spent most of my summer in 2013 sweating copper. Basically I lived on a scissor-lift for a few months.

I just like building things and working on projects. As much as I (mostly) enjoy it, it does takes me away from the things I really also need to be doing. You know those boring tasks like sitting in the office and working on the computer and all that kind of thing. I get computer crazy sometimes…the guys tell me, “You got those computer eyes again”. Sometimes I’ve just got to walk around the brewery and clean a keg or something, do something else to clear my head. I realized a while back that I can’t brew all the beer. It feels like I rarely brew anymore. Last year, I probably brewed less than a dozen times, myself. This next year I expect to be back in the boots a bit more.

M: Cause there’s so much other stuff that needs to be taken care of.

B: I’ve got really good brewers and cellar folks. I’m involved with all the batches, but I’m not physically mucking out the mash. Generally I’m not running the brew for the shift. I’m more of an overseer, if you will when it comes to that. Looking at all of our numbers, did we hit all our specs, how are the beers tracking, the profiles right, little internal changes…quizzing the guys, “hey what’s your numbers, tell me your numbers for the day”.

M: Is that something you wish you were doing and somebody else was doing like the computer work?

B: Kind of, yeah. There are definitely those days. It’s been a transition for me because I originally got into brewing because I didn’t want to sit at a desk. That’s a big portion of what I do now. I fly a desk, I kind of have to. That’s my role now.

The business is expanding and growing. We have 17 people right now on staff plus Kat and I, my other business partner. There’s a lot of stuff going on that has to be dealt with and decisions to be made that only we can deal with. She works full-time at Microsoft, so she’s only here some evenings and the weekends. Her role is pretty much office manager. So she’s doing a lot of the bookkeeping and keeps my spending in check. Administrative projects, that really helps because I can do it but it’s the same thing as computer eyes… I don’t really enjoy it that much. So I do very light parts of that, but she does more of the heavy lifting on that kind of thing, she’s better at it anyway.

M: How do you map things out like with the different beers you guys are brewing that the other guys are doing. Do you sit down like once a month and map it out like on a board what you’re supposed to be brewing, when it’s going to be in the tanks and that kind of thing.

B: It’s loosely mapped out monthly. We’re kind of fighting that growth battle because of production bottlenecks. We don’t have enough kegs so we can’t empty this tank and then there’s a tank dependency that you’ve got downstream to consider.

We’re given these production crunches a lot. We’re going to brew this beer today, but we don’t have enough kegs, this has to be delayed a day or this has to shift to next week. We can plan fairly well for what a month or two, but it’s pretty dynamic. It does change a lot and sometimes it can change day of at this point which is challenging. We are also revising and refining our lineup and annual release schedules. We’re working on making that better, but it’s also having the limitations of equipment or if something’s taking a little longer than it should, well we don’t want to rush it and push it. We want to wait for it, so you have a beer that takes an extra day to finish or needs another day of conditioning or needs another day of carbonation or settling or something, to be right, that can push the schedule or change the schedule as well. Right now the beer itself is kind of pushing us around, but we’re starting to push back.

There are a lot of things that have changed. We’ve been constantly expanding and growing ever since we opened, which is great, but it’s challenging. Our challenge is how do we keep growing, how do we keep doing this and making more and larger production without losing what this is. We do it, but it comes at a cost and the cost is charged to ourselves. It makes it a harder day, a harder week; more energy to get to the same result and that will get better. It’s starting to, especially now we’re getting more kegs and have more tanks. We’re just now starting to see the increased production capacity by moving things physically further apart so we’re not standing on each other.

We also added a production manager position. I don’t know if you know Tom Mace, he used to be at Redhook before coming here. He can oversee the production process, schedule and plan. He’s taken some of that off of my plate as we go forward. By not having my focus on hour-to-hour operations on the brewery floor, I can see the bigger picture and make the decisions I need to make. Before I didn’t have the time and things were just sometimes chaotic. Almost every day I’d go home going argh, I forgot to do this, I’ve got to do this tomorrow, I got to do this next week and things were just starting to slip through the cracks.

M: I think it’s interesting cause the average beer drinker that comes here or is a fan of Raven, they think that because you guys have built this reputation of growing and expanding you guys have this kind of swagger to you and at beer festivals you guys always have a line so they think you guys are on easy street now, money’s coming in right now, they’re just kicking back having beers in the back and they don’t actually realize it’s actually been tougher in some ways with the expansion and all the popularity that you have you try to maintain standards and also find the balance.

B: It is and I tell people this all the time if you’re on the outside looking in, we make it look really easy. We do make it look easy and it’s really hard. Then again, so are a lot of things. There’s a lot that goes into this… blood, sweat, tears and beer. Luckily everybody’s on the same page here. We have fun with it. It can be a little stressful sometimes, but for the most part it’s pretty good.

There’s a lot more to read. See the complete Eclectic Arts interview and keep reading