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The Business of Brewing (The Session no.75)

The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community, started by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. On the first Friday of each month, beer bloggers write about a predetermined topic. Each month a different blog is chosen to host The Session, choose the topic, and post a roundup of all the responses received. For more info on The Session and the upcoming topics, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s archive page.
Logo of The Session, Beer Blogging Friday

This month’s Session is hosted by Chuck Lenatti of the blog Allbrews. His chosen topic: The Business of Brewing.

“Creating a commercial brewery consists of much more than making great beer, of course. It requires meticulous planning, careful study and a whole different set of skills from brewing beer. And even then, the best plan can still be torpedoed by unexpected obstacles.

What were the prescient decisions that saved the day or the errors of omission or commission that caused an otherwise promising enterprise to careen tragically off the rails?”

Banner image of Mountain Goat beer taps

I suspect several bloggers may balk at this topic. How are we supposed to blog about something we have no experience with? We’re just people in our underpants, sitting at some sort of electronic typing device, churning out words about our feelings to the mystical interwebnets!

At the other end of the spectrum, some may revel in the opportunity to dish out their strong, personal, completely unqualified tips and recommendations on how it should be done and why their way is best.

My head could easily fall into either basket, so I will try to avoid doing so.

Thankfully, this is I timely topic for me.

No, I’m not currently involved in any commercial brewery business or activity, nor do I have any related experience. I also have no immediate intentions to start a brewery.

However, over the past year I have reported on a number of new start-up breweries that have emerged around Melbourne. In fact, just this week I published an Australian Brews News article about the latest beer brand to hit local pubs and bottle shops – Killer Sprocket. The man behind this new commercial brewing company, local comedian Sean Ryan, has just done exactly what this topic of The Session points to. A fascinating guy with a fantastic emerging beer business story. Great beer too! Check out the full story at: “Gearing up the killer sprocket”

(or feel free to ignore my self pimping)

The pivotal ingredient that helped Sean take the leap from making homebrew to running a beer business was the simple advice that Nike has been giving us since 1998: just do it.

It’s a very common tale from many of the start-up breweries that I come across. People have an idea and a desire to build a brewery or create a beer business, but they find themselves stuck on how to take the first step…or thwarted by “what the hell is a stuck mash?!”

Then, along comes a pro brewer who has followed a similar path, maybe in the disguise of an old and wise school janitor, and they say… just get out there and make it happen; make it so; do it.

For Sean it was Trav Pain from Kooinda Brewery that offered the key words.

I’ve heard it myself, many times, from professional brewers, not from asking how to do it but from asking why they started their brewery and how it happened. So often they reply with, “we just did it” or they say it was the simple encouragement to give it a go from others who had done the same. It may seem like a lazy response, but the truth of the words is that anyone who really wants to do it, can do it. People love beer, it’s part of our culture. We want the product, it’s a dependable market. How you get your beer to that market is just a number of technicalities that will be sorted out once your on the road to starting a beer business.

In my experience, those who then do it, and take that next step, will succeed when they possess and embrace two essential elements of a successful (small and new) commercial brewery:

  1. passion for both beer and business
  2. industry and community engagement

To survive you will need to be determined and that requires a direct passion for both making and selling beer. (This assumes that you are a single entity. Maybe there are two or more people involved in the business, in which case that passion for beer and business may be separated between various people in the company. That’s all good, as long as the collective passion for both is there.) Even if you have a gold mine of money to resource you, a soulless beer and brewery will struggle to capture drinkers away from their favourite brands and characterful businesses.

A brewer talks to punters at a tasting event

Talk to your peers and your market

To succeed you will need support and perspective. That will only come from engagement with those in your relative beer and brewing industry, as well as with the community that surrounds it – your customers, clients and market. Talk to the brewers in your area, network yourself all over the place, join any industry groups that advocate for your type of business. It may seem to go against commercial sense and common practice, to work with your competition, but I have not witnessed an industry that uses such engagement, support and collaboration better than the craft beer and small brewing industry. With such a small share of the market, they all know that helping other like businesses is of great benefit to all players in the space. Best of all…when you find yourself in a jam (or should I say a stuck mash?), you will have an experienced support network to help guide you through.

Ultimately, even big businesses engage and work together through industry bodies. It’s generally on a more formal scale and their intentions may be for their evil benefit, but working with the competition is essential to grow, strengthen and advance any business.

And there is my advice, qualified by observation. Be passionate about it and be a part of the bigger picture.

Indeed, to start a commercial brewery there will be many steps to take, hurdles to jump, regulators to battle, tradies to overpay, suppliers to chase and hours to lose. I’ll leave the knowledge and advice of how to face those complexities and pitfalls to the professionals who have the experience and skills.

Oh, and if you do start a brewery, let me know…I’d love to hear and share your story (or maybe I’ll be looking for work…)

…which brings me back to the self pimping, like the little beer writing slut that I am. Here’s a few more articles I’ve pushed out in recent times on this topic, about how various Aussie brewers started their commercial brewing endeavours:

3 thoughts on “The Business of Brewing (The Session no.75)

  1. I concur with everything you say, especially this:
    “I have not witnessed an industry that uses such engagement, support and collaboration better than the craft beer and small brewing industry.”

    I know of few industries in which people are so willing to share their knowledge and expertise as brewing beer. The spirit of cooperation nurtured by home brewing seems to be part of the brewing DNA and carries over to commercial brewing.

  2. Pingback: MR | First Edition, May 2013 | Drunken Speculation

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