Remain Calm: It’s Just Panic Brewing

I know it sometimes doesn’t appear this way, but I actually take my blog rather seriously.  I even try to conduct preliminary research to aid in question development and to ensure that I cover uncharted territory with regards to an interview.  When I first started researching Gary Gulley and his prospective brewery, Panic Brewing, I was at a complete loss for words and despite hours of work, could not come up with a single question to ask him.  It wasn’t that there was limited information out there on the interwebs, it was that there was too much!  Gulley has been meticulously documenting each and every minuscule step it takes to start a brewery, thus leaving very little for us bloggers to cover. What did he need me for?  I decided to take a less organized approach and met him at Map Room for a couple beers.  Maybe I would be able to garner some nuance that he neglected to mention on his own blog.

Gulley just came back from the Craft Beer Conference in San Diego (so jealous…) and was still on a high from that. While there, he was able to meet with suppliers and equipment manufacturers that will soon be providing products for his brewery. Gulley is “laser-focused on that damn canning line. The $70,000 canning line.” Whoa. That’s the cost of a house!  (Well, not in Chicago, but somewhere in America that is the cost of a house.)  While the upfront costs of canning are more expensive, it tends to be cheaper in the long run.  It better be; I can’t imagine spending $70,000 on a brand spanking new canning line and not getting any return on investment! The canning line is pretty much dictating all facets of the future brewery; including the square footage of the brewery itself (he needs “5000 square feet because of the God damn cans!”)  Apparently, when ordering cans, you have to order 10 pallets at a time which is about 82,000 cans.  This means you have to have the cash to lay out for it and they come already printed, so if you are launching two beers, you need 20 pallets of cans (that’s 160,000) that you have to buy. 

It will be paid off over the first year, though. Gulley has all of the financials worked out and while the initial costs of canning are extensive, you don’t have to buy labels because cans are already labeled, and you don’t have to pay someone/exert effort to physically label them because they are already labeled.  He will be going with 12 ounce cans (“I like a six pack”) utilizing the snap-top holders. “Have you ever noticed the price of a four-pack of 16 ounce cans? Because you’re getting less than a six pack of 12 ounce. You’re getting less beer but you tend to be paying more than a 6 pack. That kind of bugs me. I want to make sure people get value out of it,” said Gulley.

What is especially touching about Gulley and his brewery is the overall theme of not waiting for misfortune to strike before you follow your dreams.  Panic Brewing actually started as a series of tragic circumstances in Gulley’s life that occurred during the summer of 2011.  Specifically, Gulley lost his job just two weeks before his wife was scheduled to have surgery for her breast cancer. And yes, the company knew that his wife had cancer and the stress of that was affecting Gulley’s work output. As devastating as those two instances were, it reminded Gulley that life is short and he should follow his dreams.  He is now gainfully employed and his wife is about to celebrate her one year anniversary of being cancer free, but the panic-induced feelings from last summer remain and continue to motivate Gulley. As Gulley frequently states on his blog, “failure is not an option.” But he encourages each and every one of us to “just go for it now while we all still have our health and the health of our loved ones.”

With regards to beer, Gulley is not trying to change the world.  At least, not at first. He wants to start with accessible-yet-not-bland base beers and then will start branching out and brewing more experimental offerings. “Hopefully a beer like that will be my Spotted Cow which will allow me to have a base which can build into more interesting, complex beers.” While he does want a large barrel-aging sour program in the future, he is concentrating on very pale ales to start. He is not interested in doing a “hop bomb” as many other breweries are already doing them and doing them well.  Currently the market is iffy when it comes to hops which are putting a damper on recipe development.  The beer he brought me to try is a pale ale hopped with Citra, but he is having difficulty finding that hop variety now (thank you, Zombie Dust!) so version 2.0 may be slightly different.  I hope it isn’t much different; I really enjoyed the upfront, earthy hop aroma and refreshing flavor. Overall he really wants to showcase the beer’s ingredients; he wants to make a yeast-forward beer, a hop-forward one, a malt-forward one. “I would do a water-forward one, too, but Miller and Bud already do that,” quipped Gulley. 

While he does want to eventually expand into a sours/barrel-aging program in the future, he does not have much experience brewing those kinds of beers.  He is already planning and learning from other breweries’ sour programs, though, so he can ensure that there will not be cross contamination with his regular line-up of beers.  One of Gulley’s friends from brewing school recently accepted a position at Cascade Brewing in Oregon, a brewery famous for their extensive sour program.  Gulley is planning a trip out there so he can learn as much about the process in the least amount of time as possible.

Speaking of brewing school, Gulley attended the American Brewer’s Guild based out of Vermont.  While the other two brewing schools in the U.S. require extensive on-site training, ABG is mostly done via correspondence courses with DVDs and online exams. All students are required to spend one week on location at the Harpoon Brewery, as well as complete a five-week internship with a brewery of the student’s choosing. Gulley interned at Metropolitan Brewing here in Chicago and he cannot say enough nice things about his experience. Seriously, he started gushing. It was a little embarrassing. According to Gulley, it’s “how a brewery should be run,” emphasizing the high level of organization and cleanliness that Doug and Tracey Hurst maintain at all times in their Ravenswood Corridor brewery. “They deserve any success they get. I could not have found a better place to do an internship. [The Panic Brewing] retail store will proudly carry Metropolitan beers next to mine.”

I most likely have gotten some of the details of Panic Brewing wrong. Because Gulley keeps conducting more research and announcing changes on his blog! Well, I’m tired of editing this post so before you quote anything in this post as gospel, be sure to validate it on his site. Also, you can like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter to get the most up-to-date information.

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