COVID-19 and the Future

How does this thing work? I write in this box I guess.

What a year right? I have a lot of crap in my head right now and I thought it might make sense to write it all out. Some of the people that read this blog know me in real life but most of you do not. So I should probably start back a ways and get everyone all caught up.

A few years ago, while this blog was a going concern, I decided it was time to try again at this whole craft beer thing. My contract brewery in the DC area, Handsome Beer Company, was closed and it was time to be optimistic again. I meditated, researched, and wrote so much about beer and the brewing industry. I learned from my mistakes and put together a team of people I trusted to get the new project across the finish line. We would have meetings and work on menus, business concepts, planning, started raising money…then some stuff started to happen.

The plan for the new project, Patent Brewing Company and Laboratory, was to build two businesses at the same time. One would be a point of service brewery, basically a 5 bbl system where 80% would be sold on site and to-go. The second business would be a yeast / beer laboratory. They would support each other while providing us with a solid identity within the industry that let the brand rest on the shoulders of my personal expertise. It was a plan, a good plan. Like all plans, there were issues but we kept going forward. Finding solutions to challenges was working, it felt like this was it.

I indulged in the fantasy that I could spend all my time at a yeast lab inside a brewery doing all the experiments I wanted to do. It is important to have goals and this vision is what kept me going.

Eventually, one of my partners hit a rough patch in their life. These things happen and we worked through it but this instability was the first big test of the partnership. Overall, it delayed our plans and derailed our fundraising putting us back probably 6 months from opening the brewery / bar portion. Also, one of the partners left the company at this time. This was also fine, we still had the plan, both businesses were making progress. The lab opened and moved forward but slower than we hoped. The plan was to open in early 2020 but due to the delays we pushed it to later in 2020….then 2020 happened.

For those of you that don’t know me, my real life day-to-day job is as a scientist and I work for the federal government. I review the performance for medical tests and write appropriate regulations to help ensure there are quality medical devices on the US market. In late February / early March, I was asked by the government if I would help with tests used to diagnose SARS-CoV-2 infections. Being an expert in diagnostic medical devices, being a microbiologist, being knowledgeable about laboratory operations and manufacturing of medical tests, it made perfect sense to me. Back in March, it felt scary but hopeful. This was an emergency but we can handle this. We will get some testing going, get a quarantine going, after a month or so the infections will be flat again and we can just repeat this a few times over the next year while vaccines or therapeutics are authorized by the government.

My first day working on COVID-19 was March 9, 2020. At the time there were less than 100 confirmed infections in the US.

It was immediately obvious that this was not going to take a month to solve. This was going to be a months long problem writing policy and then rewriting that policy all the time watching the numbers go up. Trying to get tests on the market as fast as possible, ensuring there was a supply chain to support a national testing program (that was never deployed). Lock downs stretched out indefinitely and I was working around the clock on COVID19 and dropped all activities related to business development. By summer, Patent was almost completely shut down. We worked with a few breweries on their yeast programs but so little beer was being made at the time, the lab business ground to a standstill. We stopped buy equipment, we just stopped. I didn’t have time, the money was drying up, we were off the map.

After several months of an impossible workload watching all I had planned dry up like a puddle of water on a hot sidewalk, I stopped trying to handle it. I got insomnia and started drinking a lot forgetting to eat. I stay up for 48 hours and skipped eating for the entire time. I would just sit at the computer on calls with CDC, NIH, FDA, whoever. It was all COVID all the time. There was no way I was going to make it to the end.

I continued to become more and more isolated from everyone, still in lock down. In the background to me counting the dead and injured and trying to keep the testing supplies flowing out to the public, the protests about police brutality and terror of the upcoming election were also happening. While a pandemic was killing hundreds of thousands of people the cities were literally burning. We live in Maryland but on the border with DC. My office at this point was in a building on Capitol Hill in DC. I didn’t go in often cause there was a pandemic but the DC metro area had it mostly under control in the fall. DC was covered in plywood, the election inserted a ton of chaos into the government. It was hard to understand what would happen.

In spite, business development still kept going (slowly), there was an unknown end to the hell I found myself in and an opportunity to get a small, cheap, space for the lab presented itself and we decided to move on it. As businesses started to open back up, our yeast services got going again. I was working all day and into the night on COVID and then doing yeast work in every spare minute I had.

We worked our way through a lease negotiation and got a space for the lab. YES!!!! Real progress. During build out of the space, another business partner left the company. This was in late September, or about. Time didn’t have much meaning to me at the time. I was so depressed and vaguely angry at the world and the future, I finally lost all my optimism about the future. I reached down and there was nothing left. Back to the beginning. The last several years was largely undone. Now COVID comes raging back, worst it has ever been.

I continued to set up the lab, continued to work around the clock on COVID, but was now literally alone. Prior to the shut down we were discussing a larger space with a company for the brewery / bar and when our real estate agent reached back out to ask what the plan was, I replied there was no plan and to not bother contacting me again about the brewery, I would reach out if there was ever a plan.

I would oscillate rapidly between thinking this was the exit plan and that this was a pipedream. I asked people to look over the business plan, several people quickly agreed to do this but I didn’t get feedback. People are busy, but this was something I really needed. When it didn’t materialize after several attempts, the fact that I couldn’t even pay for help was telling.

Yesterday, vaccinations for COVID19 began. It will take months before the general public can get a vaccine but finally, after 9 months of continuous piling on hell, there may be an end in sight. Well at least a tie with the disease. I don’t know what my future is. I think the idea of a brewery / bar might be a COVID casualty at this point but I’m not sure. I know I’m on my own but I’ve been alone before and survived. The lab is going to keep going forward and that might be where I land, a boutique lab.

My depression is not gone, not by a long shot. But I no longer fear it is going to keep getting worse. I’ve gotten myself to a place where I can be happy no matter the outcome of the bar but could welcome the challenge to make a bullet proof business plan where we have two independent revenue streams to prop up a collection of alcohol related businesses.

Objectively, I’ve been fortunate during this pandemic. I haven’t gotten sick yet. I’ve had family members get sick, coworkers die from the disease or suicide, since we didn’t open the bar winter of 2019/2020 I didn’t have to watch it go out of business under the weight of health ordinances. My profile was increased and my responsibilities grew. I know we saved thousands of lives and we made whole country safer. I can say that everything I did was ethical and improved people’s lives whether they agreed with it or not.

Ultimately, I think I should return to fundamentals. Get back to the person I was before the pandemic. Someone that had things to look forward to. Someone that believed that opportunity and forgiveness were things. That turning 40 was a call to action, not a reason to die. Someone who studied alcohol academically. Someone who wanted to know it all. There’s no room for laziness any longer. My job is clear, I won’t stop. Not again. But for now, COVID is still coming and it’s not going to stop. So I should get back to that for now.

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