By Devin Carman
Edited by Kevin Wise
Rob Haag is the Production Manager of 12 Gates Brewing Company, located in Amherst. The purpose of my interview was to gain insight on what it takes to manage and run a production brewery and learn about 12 Gates’ distribution model.
I walked into the brewery and was greeted by six massive 60-barrel fermentors and a 30-barrel mashtun. Haag showed me around the brewery and we walked over to his office located just off of the production room and sat down for this interview.
Devin Carman (D.C.): Can you tell me about the background of 12 Gates and how you got involved?
Haag: It started with 2 majority owners who then brought on 6 other owners who contributed different levels of funds, formed an LLC and came up with 12 Gates. They wanted to be a “hop forward” brewery focusing on IPA’s. I came on originally for sales, as I have a diverse background in sales management, operations management and business sales. I also have about six years of home brewing experience and that allows me to wear three or four different hats. All this paved the way for me to transition over into the production and management side of operations.
D.C: How were the management roles determined?
Haag: One of the owners, Bill Campbell, is the Director of Operations as well as three managing partners who put together the team. They brought on the brewing staff and Bill remembered me because I interviewed with him when he was with New Buffalo. He brought me in for sales but after brewing test batches last spring for a month or two and with my different skills and experiences he thought I would fit well in either role and left the decision up to me! So June 1st of last year I got to decide if I wanted to be on the sales side or the production side. Having kids and a wife, a sales rep schedule was probably not the better of the two, but I also really wanted to be hands on and involved in the brewing side. Other than that, Kevin, the Tap Room Manager and one of the minority owners has over 20 years of experience as a restaurant manager, so his role was a perfect fit. So, I am the production Manager.
D.C: What are your day-to-day tasks?
Haag: Depending on the day there are probably about 20 different things I do. Generally it’s helping to manage the production schedule- what beer to make and when. There is a lot of collaboration between the brewing staff and myself. I also work with the distributor and send invoices for what beer is going to be picked up, schedule the pickups and even sit on the forklift myself and load the truck. I also put in the malt orders, pick up hops from our cold storage as well as work on the hop contracts for the next year. Its really different every day, no day is the same honestly. Other days, I’m managing sales results and planning out what beers to brew so the distributors don’t run out.
D.C: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
It’s more of an avalanche of tiny issues that piles up throughout the course of a day and we can only get four or five of them done.
D.C: Do you manage any of the marketing and how do you market 12 Gates?
Haag: The marketing is a collaboration between all the owners, myself and Josh Mullin our branding manager; everyone has a hand in the marketing side. We are heavy on all avenues of social media for marketing – newsletters, websites, blogs and e-mail blasts.
D.C: What percentage of your beer is sent our through the distributor and through the taproom?
Haag: It’s about a 80/20 mix: 80% to the distributor and 20% through the taproom. We are not a brewpub we are a production brewery with a microbrewery license. With the new laws put in place we can have a tap room and sell pints on premise as long as you have half a dozen hearty menu items, which we do. We have a nice varied menu of half a dozen sandwiches, pretzels and beer cheese, mustard and flat bread pizzas- good hearty food to go along with the great beer we make.
D.C: What distributors do you guys work with and how did you choose them?
Haag: The one we have for the local area is Try-It and they have turned into a great partner. We like the aggressiveness and the ideas that they’ve had as far as promoting local craft beer as equally as the other brands they carry. As our production ramps up and the local market is well saturated, we will start moving into Batavia, Rochester and across the state. After that it’s regional: Pennsylvania and Ohio a bunch of years from now.
D.C: What’s the projected time frame for distribution?
Haag: We were conservatively saying four to five years to move across the state but that has moved up to the next year or two. We may be in Albany in the next 18 months. I think a lot of that will come from canning.
Our West Coast IPA will be canned and coming out around July 1st for the rest of the summer and beyond, so you will see a lot of it!
D.C: What beer is your biggest seller in the taproom and through distribution?
Haag: Across the board its West Coast IPA. That citrus, fruity, tropical and in-your-face true-to-style IPA. We knew that was going to be our flagship beer and it’s happening just like we thought.
D.C: With such a high distribution model, how many barrels a year do you need to brew to break even or make profit?
Haag: The magic number for our facility is 6,000 barrels annually. We will probably do just under 3,000 this year but with the canning and the ramp up of production over the next year we will likely hit 6,000 in year two.
D.C: What would you say the key is to running a successful brewery of this model?
Haag: Good beer. We don’t have a huge restaurant making a ton of money with food margins.
In a production facility you have to make good beer- a consistent quality product everyday. That’s all you have, that’s the bread and butter of the whole business.
D.C: What is Buffalo still missing that would make the craft beer scene even bigger and better then what it is today?
Haag: We are filling a niche with our IPAs but there is room for more. Also a really legit Belgian Style brewery would fit nicely.
Buffalo has a young palate and the explosion that we have had the past few years is great. We could have another 20-40 local craft breweries and we could all be successful.
Think about Portland for example. There are at least 60 breweries in the metro area. We could do that here. There are a lot of untapped styles that will grow and mature the palates here. The sky is the limit.
D.C: Finally, what is your favorite part of your job?
Haag: Creating something. In the last years of my corporate gig, I felt like I wasn’t creating anything with my hands. I wasn’t contributing to happiness and making something that someone smiles about. I wanted my hands involved in making something great. This opportunity is the perfect fit for me; it’s the dream job.
This is an interview in a series of guest entries by students in the Practical Brewing class at Erie Community College. Students were asked to conduct an interview with a person of their choosing in the brewing industry.
Devin Carman has recently accepted a position as a brewer at Big Ditch Brewing Company following completion of her requirements for a state certification program in Brewing Sciences and Services at Erie Community College.