Focus, Manufacturing, and Small Business & Startups

‘Extra’ wort chiller spurs a hot new business

June 19, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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In 2004, Boyd Culver was trying to take his homebrewing to the next level.

He wanted to run his homebrew wort — pre-fermented beer — through a chiller to help improve the quality by increasing clarity and reducing the chance of off-flavors. Seeking a cheaper version than the wort chillers on the market, Culver went to his boss at the tool-and-die shop where he worked, Michigan Pattern Works, to obtain a 50-foot coil of copper tubing.

He chopped the tubing in half and coiled it into a 25-foot-long chiller for his beer. With an extra 25 feet of copper tubing, he decided to make a second chiller to sell on Craigslist. It sold within a day.

Culver had found a niche. He bought more tubing and started an store.

“They sold quickly, too, and I was shipping worldwide,” he said, explaining he didn’t have any competitors at the time.

Before long, Culver was putting in 60 hours a week to keep up with orders.

He used his experience of machine building to build a machine that would crank out a consistent product. Before long he was shipping out approximately 30 chillers a month.

Eventually, Culver approached Siciliano’s Market, a specialty store at 2840 Lake Michigan Drive NW that carries homebrew supplies, to carry his line of wort chillers. They accepted a few on consignment, and those too flew off the shelves.

“At that point, we were motoring forward,” Culver said. “We established a few more local customers.”

With a solid customer base, Culver secured shelf space at Bell’s General Store in Kalamazoo, part of Bell’s Brewery. With such a major customer under his belt, Culver made a trip to Nashville and set up a deal with Rebel Brewer, at the time one of the largest homebrew retailers in the nation.

After seven years of earning supplemental income from his line of wort chillers, Culver left his now one-day-a-week tool-and-die job and went full time with his business in October 2012. He also brought on a partner, Chris Musil, and gave the business a name: Coldbreak Brewing Equipment.

The company quickly expanded its product line to include other chillers, mash paddles and home-brewing equipment. In 2013, Coldbreak began producing tap boxes — also called jockey boxes — for professional breweries to use at beer festivals and events. “Those are going like crazy,” Culver said.

He said the company also is beginning to work with area breweries such as Rockford Brewing Co., Elk Brewing Co. and Gravel Bottom Brewery to make extract brewing kits for homebrewers.

Without debt, limited overhead, three employees and an efficient production line, Coldbreak is now a full-time career for Culver. Starting in 2004 allowed him to beat the beer craze — an industry that has grown exponentially in the decade since, largely on the backs of homebrewers.

He now ships out a few hundred chillers a month to more than 100 wholesale customers nationwide. Culver said his most consistent form of marketing is “old-school snail mail,” but he also advertises in homebrew publications.

“I never expected it to be anything more than a supplemental income,” he said. “I got in the mix at the right time.”

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