It seems like new craft breweries are popping up all over the country every week. Visit any major city in America and you’re likely to find a booming craft beer industry. But, just because you make a delicious farm ale or New England IPA at home, doesn’t always mean that you should quit your IT job and invest in your life savings in a brewery.
Brewing is not for everyone. Just because you’ve seen headlines about breweries being sold for millions of dollars that doesn’t mean that you have what it takes. We asked some of the most well-respected brewers in the country to tell us the challenges you’ll face if you decide to take the leap and start your own craft brewery.
Owning your own business isn’t easy
“The thing that home-brewers often don’t see is the business side of things. You can make unbelievable beer and still fail as a brewery if you don’t have a good business plan. As the craft space becomes more congested this is becoming increasingly important. In that same vein, home-brewers should be aware this isn’t a cheap business to get into. You won’t want to limp in or else it’ll cost you somewhere else.” – New Belgium brewer Cody Reif
Multitasking is really tough
“It’s not easy, and it’s not all about brewing. With new breweries and styles popping up every day, I need to be six to twelve months ahead of the curve, simultaneously developing new recipes, beer names, ideas for events, creating a growth strategy for current and new markets, delivering the best customer service experience through our bartenders and sales staff, and ensuring we make the most consistent and delicious product through our brewing team. All of this while making sure the lights stay on and everyone is having fun.” – Second Self Beer Company co-founder Jason Santamaria
Customers will see through your gimmick
“Don’t do it as a gimmick. Customers will see through the gimmick; they are well versed in good beer and demand a genuine attempt. Second, know where you want to go with this venture. I believe that there’s two distinct segments developing within our industry: below 25,000 barrels per year from the local craft brewer who produces draft-only, and the above 25,000 barrels brewer, who packages and bottles their product. The first has a relatively bright future – sell your beer at your location(s) – beer pub or taproom – and some kegs into the local wholesale market. At this size, you can make a living, brew what you want and can operate under your terms. – Elysian Brewing’s co-founder & CEO Joe Bisacca
Get ready to give up everything else in your life
“You should understand the challenges that come with day to day brewery operations, and recognize how much the market is changing. Gone are the days of bootstrapping equipment together, finding a garage space to brew in, slapping a puny name on your IPA and having immediate success. Your brewery needs to come out of the gate with a polished image, a solid location, and great beer on day one. The hours are going to suck and you should already know that very few craft brewers ever make six figures. You’re going to need to love cleaning, paperwork, long days, hot working conditions, tackling challenges, cleaning, schmoozing, drinking beer late, waking up early, tasting beer early, brewing the same beer over and over again, and cleaning to be successful.” – Upslope Brewing’s Head Brewer Sam Scruby
What can go wrong will go wrong
“If you don’t connect with the world in a tangible way but rather in a theoretical way, brewing is not for you. Brewing really embodies the Robert Burns expression ‘the best laid plans of mice and men’ because things go wrong. Glycol chillers fail, ingredient containers are mislabeled, ferments can have minds of their own. But as a brewer you need to harness these events and learn from them. Maybe even incorporate them into your process. Racer 5, our flagship beer came about because of a screw up on a brew day and our reactions to that series of events. Also, at some point owning or managing a brewery becomes about more than the beer. Things like wastewater, personnel and utility pricing become important. If you view these as a hassle or as non-essential than look for another career path.” – Bear Republic Master Brewer Peter Kruger
It costs a ton of money to open a brewery
“Besides the basics of not having enough money or enough (or maybe even any) experience, there is so much more one needs to know to put together a good brewing operation. You need to know everything that you can possibly know about how to brew beer – this includes everything from raw materials to trouble shooting QC issues in the field. You have to consider shipping and distributor logistics. Does your brewery have a brewpub and the challenges that come with running a restaurant and a brewery? There are so many moving variables on top of the challenges of just running a business. Sometimes, these daunting tasks that it takes to open a brewery are too intimidating for some good brewers to make it happen. On the flip side, others don’t grasp these important essentials to make it happen in a good way.” – Schlafly Beer Founding Brewer Stephen Hale
Don’t like working 9-5? How about working all day every day?
“If you like long hours, endless cleaning, and complete focus on quality, then this is for you. There really is nothing better than having one of your own beers after a long day of work. Breweries are also fantastic conduits to their community, and it is very rewarding to see locals embrace your craft.
If any of the above isn’t your style, then you’re not going to like it (especially the cleaning).” – Coney Island Brewing Company Head Brewer Eric Hernandez
Your beer isn’t as good as you think it is
“I think the worst reason to start a brewery is because your friends tell you, ‘you make great beer.’ Your friends are fantastic people, that’s why they are your friends, but they aren’t always honest. If you get that feedback from them that’s a great start, but get your beer out there – whether it be homebrew competitions or forging relationships with quality breweries and getting their input. There is so much that goes on inside a brewery that isn’t related to making beer. If you are making great beer and love it more than anything, then I think getting into the industry is a fantastic idea. It will give you a huge understanding of what this business is all about and what it might take to start one.” – Devils Backbone brewer Josh French