Starting a Brewery is Mostly Not About Beer

Work on Modern Times has finally gotten to the point where it makes sense for me to start offering regular progress updates. Now that I have a building, there’s more or less a defined series of steps between here and opening day. That is a good thing.

For those of you familiar with the “I’m-starting-a-brewery” genre of blogging (and I am über-familiar, having read countless such blog posts as I ramped up this project), it’s pretty well-tread ground. So I’m going to take a slightly different approach. Rather than just updating you on the minutae of construction and licensing schedules, I’m going to dive a bit more deeply into one aspect of the process each Monday.

Today’s theme is beer, or rather, the absence of it. One of the remarkable and frustrating things about starting a brewery is that, for the most part, there’s very little beer involved.

Most of the issues I work on would be the same whether I were starting a brewery or a cardboard box factory. The first stages, fundraising and entity formation, have almost nothing to do with beer. An LLC is an LLC regardless of what it does, and money is money regardless of what it’s used for. So that was a solid 6 months during which beer was almost exclusively the provenance of my email exchanges with Mike, in which we’d hash out the recipes for the test batches he’d be brewing. That occupied about 2% of my time.

Finding a building was similar. There are the specific and somewhat exotic logistical requirements for a brewing facility (clear height, utilities, etc.), but every factory has certain needs. There was the small consideration of the tasting room but—other than occasionally asking myself, “Would anyone in their right mind come to this place for a beer?”—it wasn’t the driving force behind the location search. Finding a suitable, affordable building was far too difficult to be picky about things like ambiance or architecture. (Alright, maybe I was a little picky.)

Ordering the brewing system was probably the most beer related thing I’ve done yet, both because of the self-evident fact that it’s what we’ll make the beer with, but also because the details of the brewing system are driven in large part by beer style choices. Critical issues like lauter tun diameter, platform design, tank mix, port location, and a million others are driven by the kinds of beers that will be made on the system. (That these decisions also have many tens of thousands of dollars in immediate consequences adds some, uh, gravity to the process.) (Terrible, terrible pun.)

I’ve almost finished hashing out these issues with the help of half a dozen very knowledgeable and skilled brewing folks, and while it’s been stressful (as everything is), it’s also been quite fascinating. The good news is that tanks are set to arrive in mid-February and the brewing system in early-to-mid March. How long it will take to get the doors open after that is anyone’s guess.

Construction is next on the horizon, and while it will occupy a huge amount of time and money, it will not be particularly beer-related. Sure, the building will need to house a brewing system, but most of the struggles will undoubtedly be related to things like building codes, which are mostly the same regardless of what a business does. For instance, whether I was starting a brewery or a trapeze academy, I would have to spend a great deal of time and at least $15,000 making my bathrooms handicapped accessible.

The reality is that I work on issues like recipe formulation and test batch brewing—the tasks about which I am most passionate and enthusiastic—as a break from my “real” work, i.e. the work of starting a factory.

If all of this makes me sound like a Debby downer, my point is just to warn others who might want to start their own brewery. If your goal is to immerse yourself in beer (non-literally), consider that I spent far, far more time thinking about beer as a homebrewer and beer trader. Opening a brewery to devote yourself to beer is like opening a hospital to devote yourself to surgery.

Mercifully, the closer Modern Times gets to actually existing, the more beer-related my work becomes. Running the brewery will, of course, include countless non-beer related issues too, but hopefully by that time I won’t still be the only employee.

Comments

Modern Times

Fri, 01/25/2013 - 02:58

Probably true! Thanks for the kind words of support, Chris. Getting started is a slog, but it's what I want to be doing. There's light at the end of the tunnel now, so I should be able to transition from "starting a brewery" to "running a brewery" pretty soon. Can't wait!

Why brewery st…

Sat, 12/22/2012 - 05:13

[...] More >> Modern Times Beer. [...]

Circling up th…

Sun, 12/23/2012 - 06:25

[...] How starting a brewery (and the mandatory “starting a brewery blog”) is rarely just abou... [...]

dontdrinkbeer

Tue, 12/04/2012 - 11:46

Let me know when you get things up and running, look forward to reviewing it.

Chris Gorman

Fri, 01/25/2013 - 02:30

I think its probably easier to start a brewery knowing nothing about beer and a lot about business, rather than the other way around! Whether your making beer, pharmaceuticals, or furniture, you can always find an expert and put him/her on staff. Having the guts to take the plunge from a business stand point is a much more rare quality. Hang in there, once you get through the start up issues that every manufacturing company faces, you will get to enjoy more of what you love. Good luck, keep blogging!

Nick Hernandez

Wed, 12/05/2012 - 07:06

Spot on article. Love the unique angle to the story. True that most of your time tied to beer is spent during the homebrewer/beer enthusiast stage. Building business presents so many other challenges - it isn't as simple as finding a place to brew and getting permits.

Best of luck on your journey. I look forward to hearing more about your process.

Perry Cameron

Tue, 12/18/2012 - 09:09

Great article, good luck and speed with the next set of steps. I look forward to reading about it.

Modern Times

Tue, 01/15/2013 - 05:43

I used many, many resources. I get this question so often that I'm looking into ways of answering it all at once. Stay tuned.

Jon P

Tue, 01/15/2013 - 06:56

Excellent post, my friend. As an avid homebrewer, the tantalizing attraction to starting a nano/microbrewery is getting stronger and stronger. What other resources have you found that have helped paved the road you're on now? (ie. brewery planning tools, financial planning considerations, licensing needs, etc...)

Thank you for the help & keep on blogging! Relax, have a beer.

JP

Jan

Mon, 01/28/2013 - 11:37

I like the article you've made, I myself is looking on putting up a small business that I would enjoy and can fully commit myself in managing it, since I enjoy drinking beer and the occasional experimenting with different flavors I thought about putting up a small micro brewery in my home country but I have little or no knowledge on how to start it up. I would really appreciate if you can give me useful information and checklist of what I need to know specially the price of equipment. Thanks and Hope you buss would be successful.

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