update 3.16

so i lied about trying to update the blog more. i know that there are many out there who read this with interests in starting a brewery and/or interested about our equipment. so i probably should try to add more posts.

it has now been a year since we first opened our doors to the public. first batch brewed was on 2.12.12 but the first day of sale (which we also use as our anniversary date) was 3.9.12. Much has happened over the year. Perhaps I can find time at some point to reflect on different aspects of our first year...

this merely serves as a quick update to make sure the blog is up to date. photos will be added soon...

-- in June 2012 we added 2 x 30 bbl fermenters and a 30bbl brite tank

-- in Oct 2012 we leased the adjoining unit.

-- in Jan 2013 we purchased a bottle filler.

-- in Jan 2013 we decided it was time to give up self-distribution. so we signed with Incline Beverages for the SoCal region.

-- last month we started putting beer into oak barrels.

more tanks!

Last week we received our new fermentation and brite tanks from PBST (Pacific Brewery System Technologies). We ordered them just a few weeks ago so we are happy with the quick turn around time. The tanks are 30-barrel tanks which are doubled the size of our initial (15 bbl) fermentation and brite tanks. This will close to tripling our production.

It took just a couple of hours for my uncle and I to unload the three tanks from the 45-foot long sea container. Then we stood them up outside... removed the frames... then with the help from a couple of friends the tanks were moved inside. They are now mounted and anchored in place, and they will be soon be installed and ready for use.

Here are some photos.



We have been open for about 3.5 months now. One interesting issue that has come up often is how people refer to us as MonkFISH Brewing. Hmmm... We did not name the brewery after a fish. Here is a bit about why we named it Monkish (Monk-ish).

Hopefully you know what "a monk-" is. And "-ish" is a common suffix denoting that something has qualities or charateristics similar to a noun – in this case being "monk". So the brewery is interested in having qualities similar to monks. But not just any monk. We are giving a hat tip to the monks throughout Belgian beer history who have brewed beer in and sold it through a monastery. Any google search on Benedectine – in particular, Trappist – monks reveals a rich story of monks selling wonderful beers as an act of worship to God and as forms of financial sustenance and charity. More importantly, these monks made renown beers that have inspired the direction of Monkish Brewing Co.

My wife (Adriana) and I (Henry) embrace the Christian tradition and have been involved in and worked at churches and non-profit organizations. I also have a doctorate in Theology (New Testament studies) and have taught the subject at various universities and seminaries.

So since we love Belgian beers – including monastic ones – and with our faith association, we decided to name the brewery in the same vein as the rich brewing traditions of monks in Belgium.

BUT... we are not Belgian... we are not monks... we are not merely copying well-known monastic beers... we are not limited to the same ingredients as such beers... Hence, we are just MONK-ISH.

We are who we are.


we're in business...

sorry again for the silence, but it has been a very, very, very busy few months trying to get things ready to 1) start production, and 2) opening the tasting room.

we brewed our first batch on Feb. 12. and since then have brewed a total of 5 batches. batch #1 has been kegged and we have started to sell to accounts.

having batch #1 kegged we frantically opened the tasting room last week. thanks to everyone who stopped by to support us! stay tuned for an official grand opening....

eventually we will have consistent hours, but in the meantime, check out the "TASTING ROOM" page for a current schedule of hours. or follow us on TWITTER and FACEBOOK for updates.

See you at the tasting room soon!

(click here for directions)

quick update: malt mill and auger

we are still moving along in getting the place ready for brewing beer and having people in the tasting room. we are optimistic that we will brew our first batch next month (Janurary 2012).

these past few days I have set up the malt mill in its place. (not the most ideal place, but it works.) The mill crushes the malt which allows the extraction of sugar from the barley.

I also installed the auger system which uses a screw auger in a PVC tube to move the crushed grains to the grist case -- which is a holding tank on top of the mash tun vessel.

until the next update ... happy new year!

the malt mill. looks like it is from World War II. At the bottom is the "boot" of the screw auger.

auger system.view over the grist case and motor for the auger.



our kegs

today we received our kegs. given our budget, we opted for kegs that are 1) used and 2) plastic. Plastic Kegs of America makes high-quality plastic kegs that are safe for the beer and are comparable in features of stainless steel kegs. these plastic kegs are a fraction of the price of stainless steel kegs – the latter of which are very difficult to purchase used these days. we bought these kegs from Iron Fist Brewing Co. in San Diego and they were used only a few times. we now own 160 of 1/6 barrel (about 5 gallons) sized kegs and 16 of 1/2 barrel (15.5 gallons) sized kegs.

One major benefit of using plastic kegs is their light weight. In fact, the kids helped unload and restack several pallets of them. Here is a 2 year old carrying a 1/6 bbl keg...


the brewing area

having shown pics of the tasting room, it's time to move into the brewing area for an update. below are photos of how the room is coming along. there are some more things that need to be completed before everything is installed and ready to go. it has been a bit slower to get things going than ancipated. but it is what it is...

introducing the 15 barrel (465 gallon) system (from left to right): 15 bbl brite/bottling tank, three 15 bbl fermenters, 17 bbl mash tun with a grist case above, 15 bbl kettle/whirlpool, and 3 bbl glycol reservoir tank.

view from my new fave toy in the brewery -- the scissor lift

brewing platform with a control panel in between the tanks.

st francis of assisi in place to keep an eye on the gauges of the mash tun.

the tasting room

a key element of our business plan and model has been to have a tasting room where people can stop by to purchase and sample beers produced on-site. we received a conditional use permit from the city for such a use. we requested to have open hours to the public on Thursday and Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons/early evenings. we have been working on this room and always had a particular vision for it. but given our ever-decresing limited budget, we had to find that balance bewtween affordability and a particular aesthetic. below are pictures of what the room currently looks like.

btw, we could be open to the public now, but first we need to brew the necessary beer to sell -- in other words we need to have beer for you to taste in our "tasting" room :)

we have in our plans to cut out and place an 8ft x 4ft window on the wall looking into the brewing area (red rectangle). my home kegerator is substitute-dispensing for a larger/longer kegerator in the near future.these beams were what we found under the ugly drop-down ceilings. we cleaned them up, installed dimmered warehouse pendant lights and exposed AC vents.

a church pew we purchased from a lovely family in the San Francisco area. this pew was built for a church (Mission Park Congregational Church) in SF in 1909 using local wood. what makes it even more special is that the sides of the pew have our logo carved on them!

don't know much about this chair that we bought at a flea market except that it's pretty darn cool looking. view from the restroom vestibule.view from the front door

oak countertop tables with industrial stools (and a couple of old random kids stools).painted steel doors with our new ADA-complaint restroom signs. we are pretty excited about the signs :)

update 12/7 (continued). more photos.

here are some more photos of our recent progress...

two sea containers worth of equipment came in. adriana and i tried to do it ourselves, but we called in for some help from family/friends. the warehouse full of tanks. that's the monkish forklift. TIP: rather than hiring riggers, just ask your mother and father-in-law to help you stand the first tank. btw, our forklift had no brakes :)tanks mounted (wasnt that easy to do) and now moved in placed and anchored down.recent photo of the tasting room. air condition vents were installed this past weekend.

update 12/7

we are still here...

it has been a while since my last post. as you can imagine things have been very hectic. at some point, we decided to do much of the work ourselves -- given our very limited budget. we do have all of the necessary permits and licenses. so now we need the equipment up and running to start production.

our schedule: we are hoping to brew our first batch by the end of month/year...

well...we pinky promise to be more diligent in updating you on our progress.

here are some photos showing our construction progress since my last post on 8/30 (!).

underground plumbing for the drains in the brewhouse area

trench drain and piping. that's a 6inch diameter pvc schedule 80 (!). bit of an overkill.

pouring of concrete

pouring of concrete. sloped floors!

our tasting room. cleaned the existing beams and added new warehouse pendant lights

construction update 8/30

a quick update:

yesterday we passed inspections for rough plumbing and electrical. the concrete slab is now being prepped.

today we dug outside for the main sewer line for a connection from our trench drain and other drains in the new brewing area. well ... while digging for the sewer line three things were broken: 1) a water line, 2) a gas line, and 3) my sanity. i'll leave it to you to imagine the fun that it caused for us and the other tenants.

what a day...

we got our abc license

Today in the mail I received our Type 23 license (Small Beer Manufacturer) from CA ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control). Now we await the federal license from the TTB.

My ABC experience entailed 1) submit the application in person, 2) place the notice on the window for 30 days, and 3) wait. I barely heard from the ABC agent. The only time she called was to say that she finally looked at the application and that the legal department needs to see if there will be any operating conditions placed on us. I heard nothing back until receiving the license today in the mail.

construction begins. first days.

It has been awhile since i have given a notable update. well things have progressed.

Since last week: choose a contractor. pulled the permit. began contruction.

The job is pretty straight forward (in theory) at this point:

  • Remove approx 1100 sq ft portion of an existing concrete slab to pour a new reinforced slab for the heavy brewing equipment, and to install a trench drain with other plumbing. 
  • Reconfigure the restrooms (in the future tasting room) so they will up to ADA (disability) compliance codes. When I leased the space I thought they were ADA compliant. But they were a bit short for the new codes. Oh well... We are laying out the restrooms in a better design.

Here are some pictures of the progress:

View of the warehouse from the rolling garage door. The exposed wall will be covered.

Demolition. The door is a side door leaving the warehouse to the parking lot. Concrete removed.

The first-floor office which will be the future tasting room. The restrooms will be reconfigured. The door to the left leads into the warehouse space.The restrooms after demo. The floor will need to be saw cut to redo the plumbing.Removing the office-looking, drop-down ceiling for anticipation of the design of the tasting room.

governor jerry brown signs ab1014

Great news today!

A couple of weeks ago, California Senate bill AB1014 passed unanimously through the State Senate floor. This bill calls for the exemption of brewery tasting rooms from Health Dept regulations -- a privilege which winery tasting rooms enjoy.

Usually it would be signed into law by the governor around January 1 of the following year. However, today the bill was signed by the Governor. Tom McCormick, Executive Director of the California Small Brewers Assoc., sent an email to CSBA members notifying of the great news.

So it looks like it paid off not to go through LA County Health Dept plan checking was a good move –– since it saves me over $10k to be compliant to its regulations. Unless the Health Dept will allow us to open the tasting room before Jan 1, the aim is to open the tasting room the first week of January!

Save up your pennies and we will see you at the tasting room!

ttb phone interview

This morning I had my phone interview with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regarding our Brewer's Notice permit application. In an email with the friendly and helpful agent, I was told that the phone interview would take 45-90 minutes, but my interview lasted only 20 mins. For the most part the fairly simple interview is an opportunity for them to get more details about the brewery and notify us of some further details.

Hess Brewing Co.'s blog offers a helpful list of questions that were asked.

Now the application will go through his rounds of signature for final approval. Looks like I am on track with the TTB.

brewing equipment. china.

Yesterday we returned from a week-long trip to Shanghai, China to inspect our brewing equipment.

We purchased our 15bbl brewing system from Frank Ma of Pacific Brewery System Technologies (PBST). Frank's company is located here in Southern California but he manufactures equipment from his factory in China. As a result his prices are very competitive. And it is because of his prices that our business venture could be possible – otherwise I would only have been able to purchase an undersized brewing system. (The used brewing equipment market has dried up in this booming season of the craft brewing industry.)

Frank invited us over to inspect the equipment, and he hosted and treated us to worthwhile experience in China. Besides looking over the equipment we were able to do some sightseeing.

The equipment looks good and I was able to request some modifications.

Hopefully the equipment will be ready to be shipped in a couple of weeks from China.

update on acronyms: csba, ba, fda, ttb

On learning the acronyms of the brewery-startup world:

// CSBA = California Small Brewers Association

now a member of CSBA

// BA = Brewers Association

finally registered to be a member of the BA

// FDA = Food and Drug Administration

registered the brewery with the FDA

// TTB = Alchohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

still working on the TTB application

bill ab1014. brewery tasting rooms

There is a bill supported by Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher making its way through the State Assembly. It is Bill AB1014, which seeks to exempt brewery tasting rooms from Health Department regulations, which could costs breweries tens of thousands of dollars to do so. This would allow breweries to enjoy a condition which winery tastings rooms have.

So far the bill has passed Appropriations and the Assembly Floor. Its next stop is the Senate Floor before being signed into effect by the Governor at the beginning of next year.

The approval of this bill looks very promising. You can see its voting record here.

So what? I will have a tasting room and in Los Angeles County (not the case with all counties in California) I would need to comply with the regulations of the retail division of the Health Department (wholesale division no longer regulates breweries in LA County). In effect I would need to meet the regulations and codes for a retail bar. If I choose not to open a tasting room now and hold off for the bill to pass and take effect next year, I can save $$$$$, which is important for my tight budget.

So I will need to decide at some point soon, whether I will pay $$$$$ to get the tasting room up and going now, or wait until next year, or figure out another option.

Leave a comment if you would like more info about this bill and how you can support it.


For our tasting room, we would prefer payments to be cash only but we know that would not be the best atmosphere for customers -- especially since I myself am one who rarely carries cash on hand. So we looked into different options and settled with Square.

With Square You get a FREE credit card swiper that plugs into an iPhone or iPad. There are no monthly fees and now no fee per transaction -- just a 2.75% per swipe on the amount charged. So for the initial phase this seems like a good move for us.

update: BOE and plan check.

Last week, I received in the mail a packet from the California Board of Equalization (BOE) for an excise tax permit. They received my information from my ABC application for a Type 23 alcohol license. I need to complete this simple form and mail it in and also apply for a seller's permit (something I tried to do earlier with no success). Once the BOE receives both, they will check this off with the ABC for my license.

Today, I was notified by the architect that the corrections for the plan check came in and things are looking good. We were able to work with the city planning dept to have the plans submitted concurrently with the CUP paperwork so we didn't need to wait for the CUP to be approved first before submitting for a plan check.

*Note: Some might be wondering why I didn't go with the plan check for the brewery first and then the CUP for the tasting room -- which should save some time by being able to open sooner than later with the associated delays in the CUP process. For me it was important to have a tasting room; I did not want to be locked into a place where I was not able to have a tasting room. So I worked with my broker and the owner to come with a good scenario where I could get out of the lease if the CUP did not go through.