Monday, February 15, 2016

Kickfurther Merchant of the Week: Brewjacket

This week's Kickfurther Merchant of the Week is Brewjacket, and visiting with us is founder, Aaron Walls. Their product is the BrewJacket Immersion, the world’s first all-in-one fermentation temperature control system for homebrewers of beer. Immersion is a powerful solid state cooler and temperature controller that gives you the ability to make the best homebrew lagers and ales you have ever created, without sacrificing space to a refrigerator.
Q:  I saw on Kickfurther that you started homebrewing back in 2005 as an undergraduate.  What was it about homebrewing that caught your interest?

Aaron WallsA:  In 2005 I was fortunate to participate in a study abroad program in Spain. After the program ended I traveled Europe for 2 months discovered a jaw dropping variety of beer that varied immensely in every country I traveled to. When I returned home to Georgia, there was no beer with personality. Until 2004, any beer above 6.0% ABV was prohibited, and even in 2005,  the supply of good beer was still very low. The only way to enjoy high quality craft beer was to brew it yourself. This has thankfully changed in recent years and craft beer availability in Georgia is finally widespread.

Q:  The Brewjacket looks like a really cool product.  I'm sure for people who homebrew on a regular basis it is a worthwhile investment.  Do I need to spend that much money if I want to try out homebrewing to see if I enjoy doing it and like the final product?  If I want to give home brewing a try; what do I need to buy and about what will my first batch cost me (assuming it is my only batch)?  What will I need to buy for my second batch?

A:  To begin brewing, you just need a kit that will set you back around $75. However, to make consistent, high quality beer, we recommend purchasing a BrewJacket Immersion. If it’s your first batch and you want to just experiment with brewing and aren’t ready to purchase a BrewJacket Immersion, the thing to remember is that the yeast is the thing that can make or break your homebrew.

Q:  The yeast?

A:  You can easily control everything in the beer brewing process with just your kitchen stove and your brew kit, except the yeast fermentation temperature.  If yeast temperatures are just 2º or 3º F above  optimum, they can produce a host of byproducts that can make your beer taste pretty bad and certainly won’t win you any brewing competitions! Confounding this, yeast produces 5-10º F of heat within the fermenter, so the yeast themselves can drive the temperature of the fermentation well above your ambient temperature and break your beer if you don’t remove the heat. Before BrewJacket Immersion, homebrewers bought second refrigerators that were used exclusively to hold 5 gallon buckets of fermenting beer. Immersion allows you to replace the refrigerator with a 5” thermoelectric cube.  

BrewJacket Immersion
Q:  So what is involved in homebrewing?

A:  Beer brewing consists of two fundamentally distinct phases: the hot and the cold. The hot side encompasses water, malted barley, and hops, all of which you can do on your kitchen stove. The cold side is all about the yeast, which requires temperature control or refrigeration.

For the hot side, you just need a pot large enough to hold 3 gallons of water, a small bag to hold hops and grains (less than $1 at your local home brew supply shop), and ingredients for a batch of beer. Most recipes make 5 gallons of finished beer and will cost between $25 and $40 depending on the style of beer you are brewing. Many brew shops sell pre-packaged recipe kits that are fantastic for beginner brewers.

The cold side requires a fermenter ($15), bottling bucket ($15), some tubing ($5), bottle caps ($2), a bottle capping tool ($10), bottles ($20 – or just save your used, non-twist off bottles), sanitizer ($8), and a bottling wand ($8). Your local brew shop will also sell kits that include all this plus some extra goodies for between $59 and $79.

Once you have all your equipment, each subsequent batch will only cost you the amount for raw ingredients plus some bottle caps, so between $27 and $42 for 2 cases of home brewed craft beer ($0.52 to $0.81 per beer)

The hot side is generally straight forward. You place all of your ingredients into a pot and boil for 60 minutes adding hops as you go. When your beer is done, you have wort, or non-fermented beer. You cool this down and pitch yeast into a sanitized fermenter. This is where most homebrewing goes awry. The two biggest mistakes beginner brewers make is improper sanitation (allowing bacteria to grow instead of yeast) and/or improper yeast temperatures, both of which can spoil your hours of work and almost $40 spent on ingredients. BrewJacket Immersion controls the fermenting beer’s temperature, giving yeast the perfect environment for creating world class craft beer, and does so without putting a large refrigerator in your living room. If your fermenter is too hot or too cold, off flavors form that can ruin your batch.

Q:  Definitely sounds more complicated than making Kool Aid. I know people can get passionate about the flavor of craft beer.  Are your co-founders beer makers or beer drinkers?

A:  They began BrewJacket as beer drinkers but have brewed many times with me.

Q: .So, tell me about the Brewjacket, the story of its conception and birth if you would.

A:  After graduating from UGA in 2006, I moved to Atlanta where I worked as an economist for a research firm. I began brewing every weekend with a group of friends and we continually struggled with fermentation temperature in our small apartments in hot Atlanta. In the summer, our beers had significant ester profiles that caused many to be undrinkable and I began searching for solutions to lower the temperature of the fermenter without using a second refrigerator in my 600 square foot apartment.

I am a long time computer nerd and knew of a technology called thermoelectrics that is used to rapidly remove heat from computer processors allowing them to reach higher speeds. I began experimenting with these chips as a way to cool beer, but my limited engineering experience held the project back.

In August 2012, I began an MBA program at Cornell University and while there that I met my two partners Matt and Evgeniy, both incredibly talented engineers, and they wanted to give a beer cooling device a shot. We began developing prototypes and formed BrewJacket in 2013. By that fall, we had progressed enough to be accepted into eLab, Cornell’s accelerator program and we launched a Kickstarter for BrewJacket Immersion in 2014 that raised $108,000 in pre-sales.

After graduating, we moved the company to Boulder, CO where we finished fulfilling our Kickstarter orders and began routine production of the product. We’re now eight months into production, and sales are very strong.

Q:  So what are your plans for the future? 

A:  We’ve discovered a large hole in the home brewing market with the BrewJacket Immersion and we’re actively working on improvements to the product as well as additional products in varying homebrew segments. The majority of the product requests we receive from current and interested BrewJacket Immersion customers is for different fermenter types and capacities. Immersion functions like a miniature refrigerator, and like a refrigerator, it must be insulated for the contents to remain cold. As such, all BrewJacket Immersion devices include an insulated jacket specifically designed for homebrew fermenters. In fact, we recently released two new jackets that expand the number of compatible fermenters from 8 to well north of 20

Q:  If readers are unfamiliar with Kickfurther, it is an investment platform that crowdfunds inventory purchases for businesses.  Instead of loaning money to companies, Kickfurther, as agent for its investors, purchases the inventory from businesses like Brewjacket and then gives it back to them to sell on consignment.  As the product sells, investors' money is returned to them, plus a specified rater of return.  How did you first hear about Kickfurther, and why did you decide to use them?

A:  One of the benefits of relocating  to a tech startup hot spot like Boulder, CO is access to its vast community of entrepreneurs working on interesting projects. One of these entrepreneurs turned out to be Sean De Clercq, whose company, Kickfurther, came out of the Boomtown accelerator just one block from the BrewJacket office.

As a newly graduated accelerator company ourselves, we were working to expand our production capabilities. To do so we needed cash, and without taking on early investors, cash is extremely difficult for new hardware startups like BrewJacket to come by. Our sales fund our operations, but we still need to purchase raw materials to fund those sales, so our cash will always be 3 to 6 months behind our revenues. Kickfurther’s model of connecting a range of investors to small businesses on a crowdfunded basis is brilliant, and solves quite possibly the biggest problem in hardware startups today.

Q:  You have one payment left on this Kickfurther offer.  Can we expect to see more?  Why or why not?

A:  We just made our final payment on our first Kickfurther offer. We’ve had a wonderful experience with Kickfurther and we plan on launching a new offer within the next month or two. We are completing a cost engineering update to the BrewJacket Immersion that will allow us to reduce its raw material cost and assembly complexity. This will allow us to produce Immersion in higher volumes with higher yields with lower costs. We will be coming back to the Kickfurther community to help fund inventory with these improvements.

Q:  Hopefully, I'll be one of your backers when that happens.  Would you recommend Kickfurther to other businesses?  Why or why not?

A:  Absolutely. As a hardware startup, we have first hand experience with the significant disadvantages new hardware companies are dealt in the world. Not only do we share the same disadvantages as software startups such as burn rates for engineering and web hosting, but hardware startups also have to deal with the physical cost of prototyping, extended prototype production time, inability to update hardware in the wild (unless it’s wifi connected), massive production lead times, supply chain issues, large equipment purchases, raw material purchases, the list goes on and on.

For our launch product we weren’t ready to raise angel capital and our market size was too small for venture capital, which that left us with bootstraping the business. We paid our founders in equity and paid the small monthly fee for web hosting out of our shallow pockets to grow the company. However, once we added raw material purchases for production and setup costs like plastic injection molding, our cash requirements jumped well north of six-figures. Confounding the situation is the fact that like most hardware startups, were too new to raise capital from a traditional bank. This is precisely where Kickfurther comes in.

Q:  Have you tried Kickfurther from the investor side?  Why or why not?  Would you recommend that your friends or family invest via Kickfurther?

A:  I have not given my personal financial restrictions with the company still in fledgling form, but it is something that I would be interested in later on.

Q:  Anything else you'd like to talk about or tell us?

A:  We will be launching a Kickstarter campaign very soon for our next generation BrewJacket  Immersion Pro which adds the ability to heat on top of it's ability to cool.

Q:  Kickstarter or Kickfurther?

A:  Kickstarter.  We'll be doing another Kickfurther offer soon too.  You can participate in the Kickstarter campaign starting February 16 at 7:00 a.m. MST by clicking here. 

Well, Aaron, thanks for joining us.  I wasn't expecting quite the lesson in homebrewing, but it sounds like an interesting hobby, especially if you like different types of beer.  If you are interested in buying a Brewjacket Immersion, you can find them on Amazon:  BrewJacket Immersion - Mini Homebrew Temperature Control System.  You can learn even more about homebrewing on Brewjacket's website, which even includes a blog and a message board where you can interact with other home brewers.  If you'd like to invest and help companies like Brewjacket finance inventory, use this link and you will get $5.00 toward your first $20.00 investment.  If you have a company that wants to finance inventory via Kickfuther, use this link and I get a commission (bloggers got to eat too).  
Disease Called Debt

1 comment:

  1. Sounds interesting, I will point this out to my home brewing friends (brewing is very 2016 as it seems).