I’ve quit my day job to become a glasswasher. Our micropub has been open a month, during which time we’ve had hundreds of customers through the door…each of them needing a clean glass of course. Cue hours stood at the sink manning the Spulboy and drying glasses by the dozen with yards and yards of blue roll. When we make our first million, I’ll invest in a proper glasswasher.
After we’ve made our next million, we just might dig a hole for a cellar. At the moment we have room for four firkins and one pin on cask cradles which keep them at a tilt atop our bar and a sturdy set of shelves. It means everything is on view including the cooling coils, which attracts quite a few comments (‘a little Heath Robinson’ is one remark which caught my eye in a recent TripAdvisor review).
We initially thought we’d use a set of chilling units left behind in the premises by the previous tenant who had plans for a wine bar. The units looked a bit knackered and we had no idea if they worked, but with electricians, plumbers, joiners and plasterers on the premises we had no time to test them out.
Not long after setting up our Twitter account we heard from a local brewery called Outstanding who offered to set up a cooling system for us…if we’d use it for one of their keg products. We asked if they could incorporate our real ale into the system and they agreed, but we still hesitated. Did we want to sell a chilled keg product? Would it attract the wrong crowd and ruin the atmosphere for other customers? In the end we opted for their Continental-style pilsner: a proper, crisp lager that actually tastes of something.
It was all very last minute and the team at Outstanding had other (far larger) projects demanding their attention, but a couple of days before our planned opening date we took delivery of a compressor and supervised the assembly of cooling coils linked to probes for us to drop down through the shive of each cask.
We had a slight panic when our order for cooling probes went astray for a couple of days, but these too arrived in the nick of time. We didn’t have our shive extractor yet, but Outstanding’s Alex had a huge screwdriver which did the trick (although the wooden shive in one cask eventually required a power drill). For the first few days I judged the temperature simply by feeling the underside of the casks and tasting the beer. Too warm? Twist open the lever atop the coil to allow chilled water into the probe. Too cold? Stop the flow. In either event, the line to the pilsner font is unaffected. I’ve since bought aquarium thermometers which I fix to the casks using sticky tape so I can try to keep the casks between 12-14C.
The four dusty chilling units were long gone, sold to a home brewer on ebay, but we did have some teething problems with the chilling unit. It failed to keep adequately chilled on our second weekend when the ambient temperature was high and the pilsner flowing. At 5C the pilsner was fobbing and impossible to serve. After a quick overnight trip to the manufacturers courtesy of Outstanding it started to chill again, but by the next morning the pilsner had frozen from being too cold! One more adjustment and the chiller is now keeping to the correct temperature range, plus we were given a free keg of pilsner for our troubles. The keg lasted about two days (we’re going through 3 or 4 a week).
Here’s a typical week. We’re closed Monday, so that’s my day to run errands, do some shopping and place our orders for the week ahead. We don’t open until 5 on a Tuesday but I’m usually at the premises well before lunchtime to prepare for the day. As well as ales on tap we have bottles in the fridge and off-licence shelves as well which need stocked up. We have a menu listing our ales, cider, wine, whisky, soft drinks and nibbles which change daily so fresh copies need to be run off. Ales that have been resting need vented and chiller probes inserted after being sanitised.
We open at 2 Wednesday-Sunday. We might try opening at noon to see if there’s any lunchtime trade, but most days after getting here at 10am I’m still rushing around at 1 to get things ready for 2pm. Around 4 the after-work regulars start dropping in, plus people on their way for a meal. Midweeks have been variable. Sometimes it goes dead quiet after 7, other midweek nights we’re nearly full until last orders. Midweek we’ll have 2 or 3 ales on tap, always of contrasting styles, although the dark ones sell more slowly than the pale ales.
Most deliveries come through on Wednesday and Thursday. We have space under the stairs for about 8 or 9 firkins. Some empties sit in the street window for decoration while others are lined up against the wall to hide holes in the floorboards; the rest go upstairs. We have 4 ales on for Friday and Saturday because the most popular ones (usually the IPAs) go in about six hours. You can’t see the floor on those nights for all the customers and even after a month there are still lots of new faces coming through the door, many of whom we’re pleased to see coming back later with their friends and family.
Sunday is my favourite day of the week. We have steady custom, starting with families and dog walkers. We’re often full most of the day but everyone has a seat. Friends gather to sit for awhile with a drink or three, so it’s far more relaxing than Friday and Saturday nights. A good time for me to start on my orders, or do a blog update perhaps!
Not long after opening each day I send out on an update listing what’s on tap to our Facebook followers (nearly 750 of them, the last time I checked). This is set up to be ‘echoed’ automatically by our Twitter account (another 250+ followers). We get customers commenting that they follow us this way and that it brings them out for the night.
Thanks to our customers we empty 6-7 firkins a week, plus go through ample amounts of wine, whisky and prosecco. Here we were thinking that we’d mainly be serving men wanting a pint, but we see lots of ladies come through the doors, either with their husbands or on a night out with their girlfriends. Most of them want wine, fizz, cider…or a half of pilsner.
We do get the occasional blank looks from people who don’t understand why we don’t do Guinness or ‘proper lager like Fosters’. Many of them latch onto the pilsner font because it’s the one thing that looks vaguely familiar. We’re only a couple doors down from a Wetherspoons and we’ve seen several people turn on their heels to head that direction, but most people are willing to give us a try. Even if we don’t do mojitos (we have however started to do mulled cider which is going down a treat).
Now that we’ve been open a month we have time to think about special events. Our most recent theme night was a brewster evening (Mallinsons, Prospect and Wilson Potter all being local female brewers). This next weekend we’ll have a Thanksgiving theme (Mayflower Stout, Milestone New World and Blackedge American will be on tap). There’s the town’s Christmas market coming up, where we’ll be selling boxed ales and gift vouchers. We’ve got two potential meet-the-brewer nights in the pipeline, plus we’ve had a request to book the venue for a 30th birthday party in January.
We’ve been far, far busier than we ever imagined. We very nearly ran dry our first weekend and even after doubling up our orders struggled to keep up with demand on our second weekend. We’ve also nearly run out of change on a couple of occasions too (more information on financials will come in a future post).
So yes, I may have quit the 9 to 5 in favour of the 8 til midnight, but it’s true what they say: as long as you’re doing something you enjoy it doesn’t feel like work.