Concept / Vision / Operations

Don't Say Pre-War Strength on Labels (and Other Fun Lessons)

January 03, 20246 min read
Best Coast Label

Fall 2023 was a busy time for me personally and the brewery. I spent a few weeks back in the States for work (i.e., for my day job) on the East Coast and a couple weeks outdoors on the West Coast. While it would be very “Lost Nomad” of me to write a comparison of East and West Coast beers, plenty of people on Instagram beat me to the punch. No, this is a collection of notes I made on that trip and what I’ve learned in the process of the brewery’s first contract brew coming up in January 2024.

But rest assured: I will put East and West Coast beers on tap, side-by-side, and let my Local Nomads share their comparisons.

Choosing Your First Contract Beer

Contract brewing is an arrangement between an established (and licensed) brewery and another brewer or wholesaler to brew a particular beer. In other words, give a recipe to a brewery and they make it for you. In my case, I’ve become a certified wholesaler of beer in Washington, D.C. That means I buy the beer I contracted with a brewery to produce so that I can in turn distribute it.

Core to the concept of Lost Nomad is comparing beer styles based on where they’re brewed around the world. In my nano brewery, I control tank time and can do interesting things like split batches across fermenters to create multiple styles from the same batch of wort. That allows the tap room to keep a variety of offerings for Local Nomads.

There are a lot of things about brewing at the nano (1 bbl and lower) scale that don’t scale up to 10 bbl and above. Complex recipes are an obvious example. Beer brewing is a notoriously low-margin business even when you run your own facility. With contract brewing there’s even less meat on the bone for reselling. Compounding that with the cost of tank time and something like a lager results in a break-even price point that even your diehard customers (and angel investors like your spouse) find untenable.

Unless it comes with a gold coin, you just can’t sell a lager for $80 per case.

We decided to kick off the first beer comparisons with IPAs, and this first batch will be a West Coast IPA–my personal favorite style. The first production run will be in January and the plan is to throw the 125 cases in climate controlled storage for self-distribution. Given the concept is to facilitate comparisons, after the next batch is produced I’ll repack the IPAs to create a 3x3 six pack with two different IPAs.

Bringing the Concept to Life

Given the concept of Lost Nomad centers around geography, what would be the most interesting comparison we could put together to showcase the brand identity? I wrote previously about capturing wild yeast here in West Africa and brewing with it. What does it take to get wild yeast into a production brewery?

A brewery won’t want your crazy wild yeast anywhere near their facility until you get it tested (I’m going to use Jasper Yeast in Virginia). I’ve used my untrained eye with a microscope and I think what I have is actually yeast–particularly since I’ve brewed with it a few times and it’s certainly producing alcohol as a byproduct of fermentation. (In the latest batch, I cranked up the fermentation temperature and it produced a very peppery taste, more so than the Saison yeasts I have onhand so I’ll likely use this as an African Farmhouse ale in the future).

More to come on this story once I get the yeast tested. Fingers crossed it isn’t soon the cause of the zombie apocalypse.

Fun with Labels

Folks with things like a law degree have already written smarter things about weird labeling requirements in the United States so I won’t pile on top. I will just say the fact that you can’t put “pre-war strength” specifically on beer labels give you a good indicator of the state of labeling regulation.

For my upcoming contract brew, I need 12 ounce can labels. So I decided to partner with CODO Design again–I’ve had great luck partnering with them and I can’t see ever taking my business elsewhere. Seriously: if you’re looking to rebrand or need to start defining your entire brand identity from scratch, stop reading this blog and send them an email.

I’m a firm believer that new breweries (and maybe even legacy breweries with a lot of SKUs?) should at least start with a template or modular design system. You’re likely running lean without in-house design resources, and it’s expensive to start from scratch for every new beer you want to package. Or just more pragmatically: you’ll burn yourself out worrying about the wrong details when you have a factory to operate.

Best Coast IPA

Best Coast West Coast IPA

CODO did an amazing job and we landed on something I can maintain more or less myself for the foreseeable future. A few notes during the design process that were interesting:

  • We decided not to place the “independent beer” logo on the label. I’ve been dubious of that logo for years given the fact that the goal post to honestly keep that label is…less than static. During design conversations, it sounds that logo is trending downwards for other breweries as well.
  • Never having released a physical product in retail before, I had zero idea where UPCs come from. It turns out there’s one nonprofit that generates these. The process to obtain and retain UPCs for products felt a little like using Godaddy in 2010. I did it, it wasn’t intuitive or painless in any way, and I felt like I was getting a little ripped off to boot. I needed a shower afterward.

What’s Next?

The first production (contract) brew for Lost Nomad Brewing Company is scheduled for January 23rd with the cans available in late February. I’ll send out a separate notice for folks local to DC who want to join an event to pick up the first batch of cans (spoiler: I’ll need help moving 125 cases so we can likely work out a trade).

The first operational 12 months for Lost Nomad Brewing Company has been a mix of excitement, head scratching challenges, and hard work (like all startups, no one else is going to do the work if you don’t). But most importantly, it’s been utterly satisfying as visitors to the tap room immediately resonate with the concept. I’m excited to expand what we’re building in 2024 both locally in West Africa and through contract brewing in the United States.

Keep an eye out for Lost Nomad at beer festivals in 2024!

Lessons Learned