Before I dive into deeper thoughts I wish, on behalf of all K4, to convey deep thanks and gratitude to everyone who has supported Karben4. It has been one heck of a wild ride, and it simply would not have happened without the support of friends, families, neighbors, and the community at large. We are beyond proud to be a part of the incredible tapestry of the great state of Wisconsin, and especially the Greater Madison Area. Thank you all!! It has been a pleasure to serve you, and we look forward to serving you for years to come! I need to say a special thank you to my wife, my brother’s wife, and the better halves and families of our team members…breweries are hungry, demanding organisms built around a live process. An easy, straight-forward day can morph into a beast with a simple hiccup in the packaging machinery or leaky gasket. Patience and understanding from those at home is the ONLY way we stay on track. To those beautiful souls at home, from the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU! After the families of our team members I would like to thank the team members themselves. I never want to miss an opportunity to shine the light on our talented and dedicated team and the effort and commitment they put forth. I am honored to work with such individuals. Next, a special thanks to my parents. First for believing in the dream of a brewery, then providing endless support and reality checks (depending on the need), and during the past year they worked way too many hours (for retired folks) doing whatever needed to be done. I got to spend a lot of time working side-by-side with my Dad this past year, and I will cherish that privilege forever more. Thanks, Pops. Last, I wish to thank my brother, Zak, for everything he has sacrificed for, and demanded of, this company…and for not punching out my lights the million billion times I deserved it.
For most people each January brings a feeling of a fresh start. At K4 our grand opening took place in mid-January 2013 (soft opening December 28, 2012), so this heady feeling is always accompanied by extra nostalgia and perspective as we celebrate the close of another year in business and engage the future. What a crazy rollercoaster this past year has been. I don’t have to explain that to you, dear Reader. What I can speak about is how K4 reacted. To do that I need to share that my brother (Zak) and I have always shared the trait of a belly full of fire. The entire family does, but Zak and I work with each other so I am going to focus there. Enough times the fire is just heartburn. The rest of the time it is the need to fight for what we believe in…sometimes it’s both. The overarching theme is to always go down swinging; to die on our feet over living on our knees. That doesn’t mean running headlong into walls at full speed. Rather, the focus on is being principled as well as fluid. The key is to practice the abilities of gaining perspective at a lightning pace and pivoting. Combine that with heaps of preparation (aka make your own luck) and you are good to go.
Jocko Willink (Author, entrepreneur, and former Navy SEAL), through his writings, speeches, podcasts, etc. taught us something as effective and important as it is simple: whatever happens, make sure the first thing you do is say, “Good”. Take a deep breath, reassess, realign, and return to the fight. Further, by saying “Good” out loud you physically rewire your brain and physiology to arrest the flight or fight response and retask your resources toward moving forward. In any situation the only thing you have total control over is how you respond to whatever is thrown at you. It is in your power to redefine the challenge or failure as opportunity. Roadblocks become pivot points. Walls that require scaling are simply opportunities to test your strength. Extra long detours are a chance to test your resolve. Amazing things can happen when you truthfully assess how much you get in your own way. Learn to “embrace the suck” because personal growth can only occur at the edges. Instead of praying to catch a glimpse of the lighthouse in the storm, become the lighthouse for others. It’s not just benevolence- you need a lighthouse, too, as you can’t stabilize others if you are not stable. The timeline for reaching stability, especially in fluid situations, is drastically shortened by creating it over crying for it. Assess, define, create, implement, evaluate, pivot where needed, repeat. Whenever you need help sorting things between the buckets of “inconvenience” and “real problem”, simply take a trip to the cancer ward at the UW Children’s Hospital and explain your frustrations to a patient’s family. It is crucial at this point, dear Reader, that you understand that I am saying all this to myself as much to you. I am deeply flawed. The only thing I am a master of is standing in my own way. But sharing the ideals aides in recommitting to them. So thanks for playing along while I bring it back to the tale at hand.
How did these lessons help K4 navigate 2020? When the situation traded inconvenient for spooky we said “Good” a lot, and laid the cornerstone for our lighthouse by proclaiming, “The world didn’t end, the rules just changed. Time to pivot”. Our goal was to grab as many people as we could and run toward the fire to break on through, for cowering in place would spell certain disaster. We simplified our menu and pivoted our entire taproom and kitchen service to curbside pickup. Along with manufacturing a small amount of sanitizer, we bought in what wholesale sanitizer supplies we could source to be ready to aid other businesses and organizations in their safety plans. We kept our team at full strength as long as possible. When we had to let people go we restructured, and when the time came we rebuilt in a more efficient and stable way. We learned how to do variety packs at scale. We reached out to all the breweries that do more taproom business than wholesale and offered to package their beer stuck in kegs to keep them moving forward. We said yes whenever a fellow brewer needed supplies. Zak’s idea, we set up mobile taprooms to give people a safe way to shop, support their local businesses and charities, and simply get out of the house. I believe we set the standard for executing this business model. I say that purely out of pride in Zak’s leadership and organizational skills, as well as the incredible effort of our team members and volunteers. We were not sure what was going to happen, and the response we have received is fantastic. It is something we hope to continue, morphing to match the changing world. Speaking of morphing, whilst the taproom was shut down we conducted an interior decorating refresh and reorganization to handle the return of on-site customers. In late Spring the entire patio was power washed, then the pergola and furniture were restained and resealed. We then spent the summer discussing the plan for when the warm weather would run out. We physically expanded the patio through extensive landscaping: removing berms, rerouting drainage, pouring concrete patio sections and walking paths, and laying yards and yards of crushed granite. We also had to install new electrical runs to service the 7 patio igloos we ordered for the winter. We built insulated platforms for the igloos where necessary. We furnished the igloos, only to have the most expensive patio set stolen 36 hours later in the dead of night. Damn…..I mean, Good- an opportunity to mix and match the furniture in what turned out to be a better setup. We lit the space with beautiful lights strung from poles anchored in repurposed beer kegs. We bought an LP fire pit, and plan to get at least one more. When the warm weather returns there will be one heck of a beer garden, especially with a designated spot for food trucks to set up shop. To top it off, we had the great fortune to add several new members to the K4 family, including our Taproom Manager, Katie Herrera. She has an extensive vitae in the craft brewing world, and has had quite an impact so far. We can’t wait to share what is in store for 2021 and beyond.
To kick off 2021 we are going to have an excellent anniversary week filled with excellent beers. Keep tuned to our media streams for details. The thing I am most excited for is the release of our new annual anniversary project, a barrel-aged barley wine we named Priest Prophet & King. The first batch was brewed in September 2019, and racked into a unique assortment of barrels: port wine, bourbon, rum, rye whiskey, a maple syrup barrel that was formerly a bourbon barrel, and even a bourbon barrel that a local coffee roaster aged coffee beans in. Though we knew it was going to be incredible, we were not sure exactly what to do with it. It hit us that it should be the first edition of an anniversary beer. Each year the very first batch of beer brewed on our system will be the barley wine (batch #2 is being racked into barrels next week). We will procure another unique selection of barrels for the b-wine to sleep in. Then release the very limited quantity the following January during anniversary week on draft and in cans. We will be keeping small portions in our cellar for future vertical tastings, special occasions, and even starting a solera system for a small fraction of the barley wine. Very exciting!
2020 was a year for beer. Beer to grieve what was lost and celebrate what there is to be grateful for. Beer to remember that you only get one shot at each day- so make it count. 2021 will be a year for beer, no doubt. Jocko says, “If you can say the word “good,” then guess what? It means you’re still alive. It means you’re still breathing. And if you’re still breathing, that means you’ve still got some fight left in you.” I’m certain each and every year will be a year for beer for its own unique reasons. To that I raise my beer in cheers to all of you and say, “Good.”