Before starting Jubilee, I met with a lot of different brewery owners, brewmasters and marketing reps. They all had a different story of how they got to where they were, and each person’s opinion was understandably biased towards the way they went about building their company. I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned from my “research.” I am leaving off the common theme of “don’t get into the beer business to make money”, but please make note of that as well. Hope these help:
Blackstone Brewery (Nashville, TN)- owner Kent Taylor
1) Order the smallest quantity of packaging materials if you’re contract brewing unless you sign a long-term contract. Kent has a storage facility full of mother cartons and carriers leftover from his first attempt at contract brewing (the brewery sold, leaving him high and dry)
2) Don’t order your labels until AFTER the TTB has approved them
3) Don’t follow Sam Calgione’s method of starting with a SABCO system
Blue Mountain Brewery (Ashton, VA)- owner/brewer Taylor Smack
1) A tasting room is essential to most start-ups staying afloat. His tasting room (set against a beautiful mountain backdrop) generated a lot more money than he thought…money that was crucial in the first years.
2) Do a lot of research on your distributor. Visit bars, groceries and stores and ask people about them.
3) Don’t start with anything smaller than a 15bbl system if you’re distributing
Bluegrass Brewing Company (Louisville, KY)- owner Scott Rousell
1) Contract brew to start if you can
2) Expect $4-7 a case if you have your own brewery in profit
3) Contract brewing and a small brewpub is the ideal way to start
Georgetown Brewery (Seattle, WA)- owner Manny Chow
1) Know your market niche and don’t try to be everything to everyone (they do draft only)
2) If you have a partner, make sure you put job responsibilities and expectations in writing, ESPECIALLY if your partner is a friend
1) Raise enough money to have adequate working capital in your first year or two of operations
2) Understand your market niche and keep it in mind when you look to expand
1) Avoid contract brewing if possible b/c of quality and consistency concerns
2) Brew with at least a 10 bbl system
3) Get our personally and establish the first 50-60 accounts
4) Self-distribute if you can to save money and get to know the accounts
In the end, I decided that contract brewing made the most sense for me. My dream wasn’t to actually brew the beer myself, so I didn’t mind giving up that piece of the creative process. I also didn’t have a lot of funders lining up, nor did I want to open a restaurant. So for me, contract brewing was the perfect fit. I still think that the best way to start if you’re somewhat cash strapped is to open a 7 bbl brewpub/tasting room that does draft only while contracting bottles. That way you get the best of both worlds (cash from tasting room and exposure from bottles). But that’s just me.
Hopefully these were helpful tips to anyone out there considering starting your own brewery. Let me know what you think in the comments and let me know if there are topics we should consider writing. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.