Going Pro

Anchor Brewing

Anchor Brewing in San Francisco

Many a homebrewer has the dream to go pro. Several have tried and a few have succeeded. What does it take? The Going Pro panel at the NHC was an interesting talk. It featured 4 pro brewers all of whom had opened their breweries within the last 5 years, Cyrena Nouzille (Ladyface Alehouse & Brasserie), Jeremy Raub (Eagle Rock Brewery), Mike Hess (Hess Brewing), Patrick Rue (The Bruery). The talk was structured as a Q&A session, but a few themes came out as the critical success factors in making it as a pro brewer.

The Business Plan We all know brewing is supposed to be about doing whatever you want whenever you want, right? Not if you want to actually make it as a pro brewer. In the end, you are a small business owner and a small business needs at least two items to be successful:

  1. A product people want
  2. Capital

Sadly, not in that order. So unless you have $500K – $1.5M burning a hole in your pocket, you have a bit of capital raising to do. The only way anyone but your crazy rich ant Gertrude is going to hand over that kind of dough is a reasonably thought out business plan. Now I won’t go into how to write one, however Jeremy from Eagle Rock was kind enough to go into it in detail.

To know your local bureaucrat, is to love them Gaining your TTB license and ABC approval is no cakewalk, but these days it’s not that bad. Getting your local municipality to allow you to open a godless brewhouse in their upstanding city is quite another. planing commissions, zoning ordinances, those grumpy people who protest everything – these are obstacles that few know how to navigate. But there’s always one or two folks, perhaps on the planing commission or a clerk at city hall who know it front to back. Work to find them. Bring in some bottles of your pilot batch. See if anyone is a homebrewer. This will make your life radically easier.

Consistency of product If you’re brews aren’t consistent, neither will be your customers. It’s critical to get your process down and understand that it will change radically when you scale up to your new 50 barrel brew system. You’ll need to spend time honing the process and eliminating variables to get your product consistent batch after batch

There’s many more little things too like branding, location, distribution channels, etc. but the session kept coming back again and again to the topics above. And it makes sense really. Business is business and each has its own little quirks. Brewing is no different, but in this economy, it’s probably a bit easier to get the ball rolling when you start thinking about the tax revenue such business generate. But every single panelist said the same thing, “be careful what you wish for, you may get it”.

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