Saturday, September 19, 2020

Person of the Week

Alex Blank: Making Complex Beers Look Simple


Alex Blank and his partners—his wife Bridget Blank and company founder Brian Ewing—are giving new brewers a chance to reach wider markets through the Twelve Percent Beer Project. Photo by Elizabeth Reinhart/The Courier

Alex Blank and his partners—his wife Bridget Blank and company founder Brian Ewing—are giving new brewers a chance to reach wider markets through the Twelve Percent Beer Project. (Photo by Elizabeth Reinhart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

Alex Blank is one of the masterminds behind a unique business model—Twelve Percent Beer Project—with a brewery and tap room that opened in North Haven on July 1 of last year.

A Columbia University graduate who majored in sociology, Alex admits, “When I first got into the beer industry, I didn’t know how to make beer.”

But a keen business acumen, along with a drive to achieve, has led to his success.

“I learned by doing, making mistakes and figuring it out,” he says.

As general manager of operations in North Haven, his sense of gratification in what he and his partners, wife Bridget Blank and company founder Brian Ewing, have built, is readily apparent.

Originally seeking a location in New Haven, Alex says the facility at 341 State Street fit their criteria.

“We were looking for a place with high ceilings, ample parking and proper water,” said Alex. “We found all three here.”

The town made the process of locating Twelve Percent Beer Project to North Haven easy.

“We have found the town incredibly welcoming,” Alex says. “There is a lot of permitting that you have to do through the town, [it] could not have been better from a business standpoint.”

In addition, “we are seeing a lot of familiar faces from North Haven week after week, people are coming out to support us, which we appreciate,” he adds.

Originally simply an importer of beer, the three dubbed their initial endeavor 12 Percent Imports after the first beer they imported from Belgium, ‘t Gaverhopke, which had 12 percent alcohol content.

At its inception, the idea was basic and born from a passion for beer.

“We all met at our first job out of college, a private marketing company,” Alex says. “We all got really into beer together.”

A native of Denmark, Ewing started importing beer about 10 years ago. He would distribute them out of the back of his car.

“He was bringing in beer that you couldn’t get anywhere else,” Alex says. “There was immediate success, immediate demand…there were people from…Chicago [who] started to reach out for this beer. That demand got us to where we are today.”

Where they are today includes manufacturing about 250 cases of beer a day for their partner brands on equipment that can process 200 cans a minute.

Their new name, Twelve Percent Beer Project, is derived from an understanding of themselves as “no longer just an importing company…We needed to come up with a name that was a little more broad,” Alex says.

The team also wanted the name to reflect the collaborative nature of their relationship with brewers.

“We have over a dozen partner brands,” Alex says. “[It is] a curated list of people we’ve been working with for some time.”

It was the uniqueness of some of the ingredients used by their partner brands that was a defining factor in the team’s decision to start brewing their partner’s beers themselves.

“One of our brands…recently came up with a beer. It was a Dr. Pepper-inspired sour ale,” said Alex. “To make this beer, [it] requires some pretty crazy ingredients. Other facilities might look at these ingredients and say, ‘I don’t want to mess around with that stuff.’”

Alex’s ability to realize the untapped potential in uncommon ingredients, helps their partner brands “to unleash their full creativity,” he says.

The taproom’s menu reflects their artistry.

Black lettering on white placards hanging above about 20 draft lines offer more than a dozen choices in libation.

From pilsners, IPAs, and pale ales to an imperial stout that tastes like a “peanut butter oatmeal cookie,” Alex says “any day you come into the taproom the list is going to look different.”

Based on the ingenuity of his brewers, “it’s evolving rapidly,” he adds.

Another possibility unique to their mindset: barrel-aged beer.

“It’s like a laboratory for brewers, like a test kitchen…that’s a better word,”Alex says.

The brewers that work with Alex to make and sell their beer range from Connecticut-based operations to those in New York, Oklahoma, and even Sweden.

The common denominator among them all?

“They have a cool brand idea and they make really awesome beer,” said Alex.

While some run large brewing facilities, others are smaller, with “a brew system that can make 10 cases at a time,” says Alex.

By working with Twelve Percent Beer Project, these smaller brewers can increase their production without the business risks of owning their own equipment and facilities.

These risks and challenges are numerous, especially when dealing with the mechanical equipment involved in the production of beer.

Alex’s reliance on what he describes as “a great internal team,” is what has helped him thrive, especially in what can be a chaotic first few months for any start-up.

For Alex, his reward is in “making a product that I truly love…that we really love and are really proud of.”

Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email at .

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