photo credit azcapitoltimes.com

Ever riff on some crazy idea with a friend or colleague, and it grows and seems so cool, and you do all the fun stuff in your extra moments, like think of a name for the company (which is somehow magically perfect), and have tag lines and imagery and marketing ideas, and then it starts to actually seem plausible, and you consider some more business-type things and may even have a semi-strategy? And then, POOF, you don’t do it. Even worse, later you see that someone else went and did it, and it’s awesome.

Well, some of the best seemingly dreamy concepts I’ve seen other people do were mine first. Honestly. Here are a few of them, just to prove it.

Owning a craft brewery
There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.             ~Robert Burns

Now, what guy working in the alcohol business wouldn’t want to own and operate his own brewery? Actually, what guy in the world wouldn’t want his own brewery?

The craft beer scene in Calgary exploded a few years ago when the rules changed to allow producers to make smaller volumes. Just before that change, two dudes and I talked about opening a brewery, but we weren’t certain that those rules would actually change. Moving ahead meant we would have been investing far more for a far bigger risk to meet the existing regulations.

We’d done quite a bit of legwork. We had a good name and concept for the company, the perfect name for one of our products (which will remain a secret for now because, well, you never know…), had scoped out locations, sourced and priced equipment, written a business plan and met with some potential brewmasters. We had both industry and capital connections. Seemed like an (almost) sure thing.

Then, we went ahead and didn’t do anything about it. I don’t know what our problem was. One guy moved to Victoria. I got cold feet: the risk scared me and I worried about jeopardizing my full-time job (silliness, in hindsight). The plan fizzled out. Within the year, the rules actually did change and in a short time, dozens of breweries were on the books and many are now flourishing. We’d have been in from the start.

Here’s a pint raised in admiration to those who went for it. I’m enjoying a lot of your beer these days.

Building a single malt whisky distillery
The best laid plans of mice and men
Often go askew.
                                                    ~Robert Burns

Long before the brewery possibility, I had an inspiration for an artisanal, locally-produced malt whisky distillery in Alberta. This was around 2009. I’d assessed the climate, found a potential water source and piece of land near Cochrane, and even learned there were peat bogs in Sundre. Peat bogs!!! And the barley? Hey. It’s the prairies. We sell it cheap to Scotland for them to turn around and sell back to us as expensive whisky. Why not skip the middleman? I also knew I’d have little trouble finding barrels.

So, I floated the idea by one of the world’s best-known and respected Scotch personalities. He very generously answered me with pages of advice in strategy, ideas for execution, and connections for design. He even offered to sell me some young whisky to bottle and offer as a separate label to generate cashflow while I waited for the early batches to age.

Then, once again, I froze. The magnitude of the endeavour scared the wits out of me. And, was it really what I wanted to do with the rest of my life? Less than a decade later, Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley got rolling along with a few others in Alberta and BC.

I raise a dram to those brave souls who forged ahead, and whose spirits I imbibe from time to time.

A world-famous film
Oh would some power the giftie gie us, To see ourselves as others see us. ~Robert Burns

Does anyone know that movie Somm? It’s about a group of candidates struggling through their preparations for the notoriously difficult Master Sommelier exams. A few years before that film came out, I was in the middle of that journey myself. At one point, I said to a few of my fellow candidates, “Geez. Someone should follow a bunch of us around with a camera and make a documentary about our lives. That would be nuts.”

Now bear in mind, I have zero connections in the film industry, no eye with a camera, no experience writing screenplays, and am not tech savvy. I thought it would be interesting, but really had no way of actually going about doing it (read: “excuses”)… unless I really, really wanted to and really believed in the idea.

A few years later—boom—Somm the movie came out. And no. None of those people stole my idea. It wasn’t even the guys I’d spoken with. They had the idea themselves, and also had the courage, connections, and tenacity to see it through. Which is probably also why some of them are now Master Sommeliers and I’m not.

So, here’s a stem of wine raised in admiration to those visionaries, but I offer it blind—that is, you have to taste it and tell me what it is.

For the next time
I’m in no place to give advice, as you can see. These themes are not new. Fear. Doubt. Courage. Conviction. Tenacity. Strategy. Trust. I’m keeping myself open to the next big idea. Or maybe it’s better to plug away at a thousand small ones. Hey—here’s one: how about a hiking pole that doubles as a bear spray dispenser? Hmmm… anyone know anyone…?

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