Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Nemesis Brewing: A Work in Progress

When Nick Kallman and Michael Zaremba became friends in their early 20s, they had no plans to go into business together. They weren’t even brewing beer at the time, Michael having never done it and Nick having stored his brewing equipment away long before. Their love of beer, however, sparked each of them to take it up.

They started with extract batches, the common way for people to break into homebrewing. Extract brewing means the brewer uses a malt extract rather than grains, cutting down on the brewtime and equipment needed. Quickly they moved on to all grain brewing and their own recipes.

The boys with their homemade wort chillers.

Michael says “I was looking for a creative outlet and hobby, and I always enjoyed beer. I thought it’d be fun to make my own and see how terrible it’d be, fully assuming that I wouldn’t be good at it, which is why I actually used Nick’s equipment for like the first year or so. I didn’t want to commit to buying my own and hating doing it.”

So they brewed. They brewed a lot, and they helped one another out. Whether brewing together or apart, they brewed as often as they could depending on how many bottles they had around to fill up. All of their friends, this writer included, drank a lot of beers.

Some of these beers were really bad. Especially at the beginning, there were a lot of watered down mistakes or slightly off flavor notes that, over time, were worked out. As they got better at the process of brewing, their beers got better. They moved on from bottling to kegging, and each built their own kitchen kegerator. Every step of the process was DIY: in addition to the kegerators, they built fermentation chambers, wort chillers, and mash tuns, among other things. Each new creation brought them closer to the idea of turning this hobby commercial.

The dream, of course, was to have a brewery featuring their recipes as brewed by them. The issue: “Money,” says Michael. “Money, money, money, money.” He elaborates, saying “I’m fairly confident that if we had the money, I would drop everything to do it right now. Other impediments would be land issues, licensing issues, and all this other stuff. Lots of legal fun things and I’m sure it wouldn’t go through. But the main problem is money... to an extent that we did not foresee when we shockingly, drunkenly, talked about this idea. Also, in comparison to a lot of other business like this where you can start from nothing, like if you want to say... bake cakes or something, you can start with something really small to try and get funds. With this, you really can’t because it’s alcohol. So it’s really hard to just build a name like that.”

An abandoned brewery name. This logo was made by our brilliant and talented friend Holly Gordon.

So the dream was postponed, and the boys changed tacts... a number of times. Michael explains; “it was originally a brewery, and then we said no. Then we went to the brew pub, and then to the community brewing place, like a brew-on-premises idea, like a brewery where there are small setups and you can just brew your own stuff there. This has taken on many incarnations, basically.” Nick explains a few more, saying “we knew we wanted to do something with beer. We enjoy beer, we enjoy the friendship that it brought it between us. Definitely something we bonded over. We always floated around ideas of what we could do with it, what can we do to keep doing this rather than it being a hobby. We had ideas of a brew truck, similar to like a food truck, but there’s no way you’re serving beer out of a truck in Massachusetts. We had a homebrew supply store idea, but we’d still be putting up just as much money as we would for a small brewery.”

That last sentence is really the biggest issue: no matter what, these business ideas require money they don’t have, which requires bank loans they can’t get. So what are a pair of brewers to do? Well, they’re not entirely sure yet.

There are many options. A good bunch of people are brewing craft beer, as we all know. What some are doing is brewing a sort of specialty craft beer that is only available directly from the brewers or local stores, who are frequently working out of their own homes, garages, or rented warehouse space. While these nanobreweries are ill-defined, they are producing decidedly less than a microbrewery (your average local beer pub) which brews less than 15,000 barrels of beer each year. In other words, these are small breweries. It seems the most likely scenario for Nick and Michael.

“That’s probably what we’re going to end up doing, something that’s super small, super quality... very Etsy-like, homemade, quality stuff that’s got a lot of hands on involvement,” Nick says. He’s referring to this idea of a nanobrewery, popular these days if one wants to continue brewing, but is talented enough, as these two are, to want to turn a (very small) profit. Nick sells to a friend now and again for his own consumption at home, and the two worked together to brew a couple kegs for another friend’s wedding rehearsal dinner, their gift to the couple. Last October, Michael’s Scotch Ale took fourth place at the Beer Nut Homebrewing Contest.

While they’re still far from where they ultimately want to be, they’re on their way. The money will continue standing in their way (as Nick explains it, it’s like “trying to buy a house but you’re buying a mansion when you live in a cardboard box”), but they each have good day jobs and free weekends to brew to their hearts’ content. While you won’t be seeing Nemesis on the shelves any time soon, bump into Nick or Michael at a Cambridge bar and you just might be able to find a way to try it for yourself.

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