Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Where to Start When Starting Up A Brewery

In 2016, I was the lucky recipient of The Pink Boots Society’s scholarship to Oregon State University’s Craft Brewery Start Up Course — a course geared towards highlighting important factors to consider when planning a brewery.

While most people who are planning on starting a brewery are aware of the importance of making beer that people want to drink, all too often small details are overlooked and end up costing a small business more time and expense than necessary. OSU’s five-day course is geared towards drawing attention to these small details and providing solutions to problems that arose for professionals who have had success (or failures) in the industry.

I should probably point out at this point, that I wasn’t exactly new to brewing when I attended the course. I started working at my first brewery in 2008 and in 2009 I completed Brewlab’s Diploma of British Brewing Technology. Since then I have worked in multiple departments of breweries (usually as a brewer) in both Australia and Canada and over the years have learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Despite these lessons, I still found a course like OSU’s — which taught us how to set up a brewery in detail and what details not to over look in the setup process — invaluable. With so many tasks to be completed when planning a brewery, it can be extremely easy to overlook something.

With this in mind, I decided to write this article last week, when I heard that there are over 20 breweries in the planning process here in Newfoundland, the Province where I too am planning on starting a brewery. While I am excited that there will be more craft beer to access in a currently limited market, it does make me wonder: how many of these breweries are being started by people who actually know what they’re doing, or at least have made the effort to hire someone who does? 

I’m not trying to discourage anyone from following their dreams here, I’m just simply trying to point out that this industry isn’t for everyone. If you’re planning on doing it to get rich, do yourself a favour and contact your Provincial government to see what you’re going to be paying in taxes. Once you’ve picked yourself up off the floor, and you still want to start a brewery, I implore you to educate yourself. 

If you’re business minded (and you probably should be if you’re starting a business), the best advice I can give you is that the more research you do, the more money you’re likely to save yourself down the road. There are however a few more reasons you should apply yourself and here are my top three: 

1. Protecting the environment: Let’s be honest — making beer can produce a lot of waste and use a lot of resources. If waste is not handled correctly, it can cause environmental damage that may result in large fines and you’ll be destroying our beautiful planet. Failure to protect the environment makes your brand look bad and this will cost you in sales.
You’re going to have to do a bit of research on environmental concerns, long before you even choose your location. Septic tanks are a bad idea for breweries and the alternatives can be costly. This could make a lot of locations unsuitable. It’s unfortunate, but it’s realistic. Your water sources also need to be considered. Sure, your location may have great water for making beer, but will there be enough of a supply for you and the people surrounding you for many years to come?

2. Protecting your employees: As a result of having many friends in the brewing industry, this is a subject very dear to my heart. Over the years, I’ve heard of quite a few nasty accidents in breweries, some resulting in deaths. I’ve witnessed a couple of bad accidents and have missed work as a direct result of a workplace accident. My accident, like so many, could have been prevented by proper planning and execution of building a cellar. Unfortunately in my case, shortcuts were made and I ended up with a back injury from a fall. The sad thing is, I’ve lost count of how many brewers I’ve met with back conditions now.
I understand building a brewery is costly —VERY costly — so is an injured employee who you will be liable for.
Are you and your employees well trained? Is everyone aware of the dangers of working in a factory? Handling chemicals? Working with pressure? Working with hot liquor and surfaces? Working with CO2? Carbon monoxide? Confined spaces? Machinery lock outs? Forklifts? I could go on, but if any of this is new to you, you need to get yourself up to speed. People’s safety is reliant on it.

3. Protecting the craft beer industry; Craft breweries around the the world have been dedicating their time and money to producing quality products, which are drawing consumers over from domestic beers made by large breweries with big marketing budgets.
Not many craft breweries have the luxury of big marketing budgets and as a result it is extremely important for their product to do the talking.
Consumers unfamiliar with the craft beer market may very well lump all craft beers into one category — so if they continually encounter poorly produced beers, they may very well start to avoid craft beers all together, making it hard for the craft brewing industry to gain market share.
While you might be able to sell poorly produced beer at the start, the novelty will fade and repeat customers will be scarce. Don’t expect your beer to sell well simply because it’s made locally.

There’s clearly a lot to research and develop when starting any business, but I feel like all too often this R&D is not sufficiently carried out for small brewery start-ups. There’s a lot more to this process than I have outlined in this article, but it’s a place to start and if you’re still not put deterred, do yourself a favour and get yourself some experience in the industry (no, home brewing doesn’t count) and invest in a brewing education.

For more information on courses go to:

Nardia McGrath
Nardia McGrath has been involved in the craft beer industry for close to 10 years. She received her Diploma of British Brewing Technology from Brewlab in 2009 and since then has worked in breweries both here in Canada and in Australia. She was an associate judge at the Australian International Beer Awards and is currently studying for the Beer Judging Certification Program (BJCP).
She is currently in the process of looking for investors for her own brewery, ‘Pig and Pepper’ in Newfoundland.