The Session #75: The Business of Brewing

The SessionI am late with my Session post this month, not for any lack of interest in the topic but because I’ve been entirely too busy with other things (all related to beer fortunately!). This month the Session is being hosted by Chuck of allbrews, and he’s come up with a topic that is interesting but might have been a bit difficult to write about for the average beer blogger: The Business of Brewing.

Like sandlot baseball players or schoolyard basketball junkies, many amateur brewers, including some beer-brewing bloggers, harbor a secret dream: They aspire to some day “go pro.” They compare their beer with commercial brews poured in their local pubs and convince themselves that they’ve got the brewing chops it takes to play in the Bigs. Some of them even make it, fueling the dream that flutters in the hearts of many other home brewers yearning to see their beer bottles on the shelves at City Beer or their kegs poured from the taps at Toronado.

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. Making beer is the easy part, building a successful business is hard.

In this Session, I’d like to invite comments and observations from bloggers and others who have first-hand knowledge of the complexities and pitfalls of starting a commercial brewery. 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?

I’m sure we’ve all been there, those of us that homebrew—that “What if?” dream of brewing commercially, whether opening a brewpub or starting a small production brewery or even just getting a job with your local brewery to start somewhere. But for me it’s always been about the brewing aspect of such a venture—not the business end of things and I do think that if you’re ever contemplating trying to start a brewery, you should first work in a few to get a sense of that business side as well as the commercial brewing side.

I don’t have first-hand knowledge of starting a brewery, but I have watched a lot of new breweries get their start here in Central Oregon over the past few years and the one thing I do know is, it’s hard work and it will probably take longer than you anticipated. Maybe quite a bit longer.

The other piece of advice I could give in this area is, if you’re going to open a brewery you might as well do it in Central Oregon: beer is big business here and there are no signs of that slowing. We have 20 brewery operations, more on the way, and a very economically-friendly climate towards beer and brewing. If you can brew decent beer and have good business sense, you’d probably be successful here!