Last fall we sat down with Matt Humbard, one of the co-owners and co-founders of Patent Beer, which hopes to open in Prince Georges County later in 2019. In that interview we discussed Patent’s unusual business model: they will be buying wort from other breweries and then fermenting and hopping and blending on-site. That location is still to be determined, but there’s another interesting aspect to this business: Patent Labs. Humbard explains in a lightly edited interview below.
How did you get started with yeast collection?
I’ve been gathering yeasts and bacteria for years. I’m not as prolific as some people I know but I have a few hundred isolated yeasts and bacteria. I’ve been working with those strains all the way back when Handsome was a business, but we could never use them there. It occurred to me at some point that these microorganisms were pretty unique and not many people had experience working with them or a way to easily get them. So I decided to ask if people wanted to share or trade or just buy them. There was some interest, or at least curiosity so I started down that path.
Basically, the original concept for Patent Brewing Company comes from the combination of my experience as a professional scientist and a brewer/beer enthusiast. I wanted to design a place where people could experience beer they wouldn’t find at a large regional brewery or even a small brewpub that needs established beer styles or recognizable beers to appeal to a wide clientele. I wanted something different but there’s a lot of risk in that.
Putting together the business plan for Patent, I realized that there were more breweries than ever, but less quality control being done at those breweries. There is an opportunity for someone with a scientific background in the disciplines most useful to the brewing industry (chemistry and microbiology) to make themselves available to the market, make money, make beer, and help other breweries be the best they can be.
All of this appealed to me. Once we [Krissi Humbard and Matt Geist] started pricing it out and writing; it became obvious this was a sustainable business model and that this is the direction we want to go.
So basically, Patent is two businesses. We are a scientific consultant for the brewing and alcohol industry, and a tap room. The taproom will be a place people (the public or the beverage industry) can go to talk with the staff, sample beers made with exotic yeasts or organisms, get some IPA to go or enjoy a Pilsner. You’ll also be able to get information about the science and history of beer as we will host educational seminars and events about how to do QC in small breweries, the sources of our yeasts, and the inspiration for our beers.
For example, Patent currently maintains 25 different Kveik yeast blends from Norway, Lithuania, and western Russia. It is our goal to not only provide these cultures for those who want them, but also use Patent’s taproom as a sort of showroom where you can go and try a beer made with those yeasts made in a similar fashion to the traditional brewing. Same with the berliner weiss strains obtained in Europe last year, all isolated from bottles decades old. Yeasts and fermentation techniques nearly lost, now revived.
Patent Brewing has a slogan “Something new, something different, something good”, that is our ethos summarized in a market positioning statement. Our corporate philosophy embodies new, different and good in our products and approach to making and marketing beer. But Patent Laboratory has the slogan “make better beer, make beer better” because we feel that all small breweries want to focus on quality but don’t always know how. We can do that for those breweries. We can provide that expertise and help them improve their product and grow their brand.
Over the course of the next year, we will roll out other analytical services that include water analysis and other measurements on beverages that may include alcohol determinations or other meaningful measurements.
We’ve already worked with two local breweries to provide saison and Kveik yeasts that aren’t commercially available anywhere else. We are in our “pilot” stage where we are working the kinks out of what would make the most sense and what breweries can really use and can’t get elsewhere
I talked to Mark Burke, co-owner and co-founder of Streetcar 82, one of the breweries working with Patent Labs, via email. He wrote:
“Streetcar 82 Brewing Co switched to Patent’s yeast services because the quality of what they provide is much better than what we get from the bigger yeast companies such as White Labs and Imperial. We’ve noticed that the quality of the yeast has already made a major impact on the flavor profile of our beers. We’re also able to discuss more in-depth with Patent in terms of what we want from our beer and can choose the types of yeast that will best complement the profile that we’re going for. The biggest advantage in this area is that their program will allow us to be more flexible with what we can offer while at the same time increasing the quality of what we can offer in the ways that the commercial yeast companies cannot. We will also implement a QA/QC program with Patent as they have more of a lab set up than we do. This will really allow us to drill down on the quality of our beer. We are also proud to support a local business. They’re a great business and a great neighbor as well. We look forward to mutual growth.”
But back to Humbard, Any concern that you’ll be in some sense helping your local competitors in the market?
We are the only business I know of that strengthens the “competition” before entering the market. But to answer the question, no. I think craft beer or independent beer whatever we are calling it now is a brand unto itself. And the Mid-Atlantic beer scene, while good, could be a lot better. I think by helping breweries close the gap in knowledge and improve their process and product, that makes the whole scene stronger.
It also makes breweries grateful and want to pay it forward in my experience. Streetcar put Patent in the menu description of their beer. Wet City put Patent in their social media. We can strengthen and deepen the community or collaboration in the independent breweries through this effort.