Start-up brewery: talking to other brewers

As a start-up brewery (brewery in planning is my actual designation according to the Brewers Association) it amazes me that there is so much cooperation between brewers in the area.  There is competition, of course, but there’s an understanding that what is good for one local craft beer brewery is good for another.

So upon making the decision to “go pro,” I started by visiting the local breweries with a different purpose.  Sure, I wanted to try the beers and maybe pick up a growler, but I wanted to see how the business worked.  And the best way to do that was to ask for the owner, head brewer or the one in charge.  And with two notable exceptions, each and every brewer or owner took the time to talk to me about what they’ve done, whey the did it and what they learned.  Most of those conversations were after I set up time with them to talk in private, of course, as opening hours are better spent pouring beers.

I was amazed at how many different approaches brewers took to determining if they were going into the business.  Some transferred from home brew shops.  Some were brewers in larger breweries who wanted to be on their own.  Most of them were home brewers.  Some were in legal, others in Corporate America.  One or two are BJCP judges, even after they’ve gone pro.  Many still have their “day job.”  But they all shared their passion for good beer.  They were all curious about beer, what they could do or where they could push the craft.

There was a lot of encouragement from the brewers I spoke with.  They told me about their philosophies, their fears and their goals (the ones who had these.  Some of them are just brewing whatever they want—the same way they approached their home-brew.

What I learned from talking with these guys and gals can be summed up in this way:

  1. Brew great beer.  5 years ago you could have opened up a brewery and people would com because it was unique.  that’s no longer the case since consumers are better educated.
  2. Be your brewery.  This was a constant theme when I was taking classes at Siebel.  Regardless if you use a name you like, the name of the township you’re in or anything else, allow people to know who you are.  Tell your story—share your passion—be your brewery.
  3. Be local.  Total beer sales is flat to declining.  Total Craft Beer is growing, but not at the rate that it was just a few years ago.  Opening now might be behind the curve—BUT—Local craft beer is skyrocketing.

And that’s what I hope Zed’s Beer will become.  A place where people will come to enjoy well made, local, approachable craft beer.