New to the beer industry? We tapped experts in the craft beer community to weigh in on what they wish they knew before opening a brewery, and advice they have for newcomers.
What would you tell someone looking to open a brewery for the first time?
Brad Cooper, founder and head brewer at Steam Bell Beer Works in Midlothian, Virginia: “Spend time beforehand getting to know other people in the craft beer community. Spend time at local breweries and pick the brains of anyone working there, from the guy scrubbing the toilets to the owner of the business.”
Steve Seto, founder of HolyCraft Brewery in San Francisco: “Have a really solid plan and try to factor as many bumps in the road as possible. Things never go exactly how you plan them to but having a really solid plan and sticking to it helps when problems do arise. When we first started our company we had tons of issues relating to timing, equipment failure, and technology issues. This occasionally translated to issues with our client base. I can’t stress how important it is to be ready for anything and to be prepared for the worst. Business for us today is much smoother operationally and it makes all the difference in the world.”
Scott Roth, president and founder of Three Notch’d Brewing Company: “The number one thing I recommend to anyone who is starting a business is to make sure that they have experience in the industry first. Getting behind a bar at a tap room, spending time shadowing a pro-brewer, meeting with an executive at a brewery to understand the financials–the more hands-on experience you have as an owner, the quicker you can diagnose problems, gain the trust of your staff, and for those looking for capital a background in the space will be necessary to entice investors.”
What do you wish you knew before you opened your brewery?
Brad Cooper: “I wish I had gotten my own financial house in order. My previous career was in the mining industry and I knew I wanted to make the change. I was in the middle of getting some personal debt paid off while simultaneously planning to open a brewery. One day I was fired from my job (for bringing home brew to coworkers) and instead of seeking out another job, I chose to throw all of my efforts into opening a brewery. On several occasions during startup and opening I had to forego a salary to pay for something for the business and I began a game of ‘Which bill can I stretch out this month?’”
Steve Seto: “There are many things I wish I knew before HolyCraft started, but the biggest thing would be the cost of distribution and packaging. Distribution in the beer world is pretty complex and costly, as is packaging. Having an idea of all these separate costs from just the beer making and sales alone would have been far helpful. As HolyCraft grew we could no longer self-distribute out of the personal cars, as demand was too much. The cost of a distributor and their willingness to help also plays a big role in one’s consideration. Not always are the results positive, and knowing that would have helped us better to plan around these situations.”
We made a ton of mistakes early on that could have been avoided if I had known what I know now.
Dan Schwarz, co-founder and CEO of Lift Bridge Brewery, in Stillwater, Minnesota: “Make sure you have a solid business plan and good corporate documents. They are important to properly set in place and complete so everyone involved knows what the road map is and how you handle any disagreements should they arise.”
Scott Roth: “This may not apply to many others, but we began our own distribution company and I wish I had spent more time in that space before getting into that business. We have ultimately grown that company very nicely, but we made a ton of mistakes early on that could have been avoided if I had known what I know now.”