In case you’ve missed it there’s been a craft beer revolution taking place across the world. It seems like only yesterday when thoughts of ale enthusiasts would conjure up images of bearded, pot-bellied men, musing over obscure pints at village fetes. Today, independent brewing is a growth industry, just as likely to be celebrated in the trendy bars of East London than around a maypole. It’s big business, attracting a more urban, rebellious entrepreneur. It’s no coincidence that Brewdog’s flagship ale is called “Punk” IPA. Beer has gone Indie, and young entrepreneurs are coming to realise that with enough dedication and sacrifice, it is possible to organise a piss up in a brewery… but just how easy is it?
The cliché says that Baby Boomers dreamt of leaving the rat-race to open up a coastal B&B, but it appears tired Millennials and Gen X-ers want nothing more than to tell their boss where to stick it and make beer instead. There is a romantic allure associated with brewing your own booze. Before you hand in your notice, it goes without saying that you should know the basics. Companies like Brewlab offer brewing courses where you’ll gain a thorough understanding off all aspects of the business. It may sound obvious, but you’ll also need a killer recipe. The road to beer nirvana will no doubt be paved with tireless home brewing experiments before you find the brews worth pinning your hopes on.
The next stage is funding your project. You may already have the capital yourself but many breweries are turning to crowdfunding in order to launch. You’ll need a passionate pitch, but fear not, many see making beer as a fully laudable enterprise and will be willing to part with their hard earned for even a microscopic share in what you’re doing. Like with all crowdfunding, remember the bargain you’re striking and be realistic about what you can offer your investors.
Premises are all important too. Chances are you’ll no longer be able to brew in the cupboard under the stairs. This is easier said than done in cities, where space is at a premium, but if you look closely many breweries have successfully used up urban space that would otherwise be a difficult sell. A good example of this are railway arches, which house the likes of Bethnal Green’s Redchurch Brewery. Planners may look upon you favourably if you wish to take up disused space as successful breweries can also help revitalise communities and out-of-fashion enterprise zones.
Once everything is set up you’ll encounter one of the big unforeseen challenges that brewers face- the unglamorous task of cleaning and sterilising equipment! Unlike other aspects of the setting yourself up, there’s no short cutting on this. As with the rest of the food and beverage industry, you’ll be subject to strict guidelines, and besides, poisoning your customers is bad for business.
You can’t judge a book by its cover, but with a snappy name and design, your beer stands more of a chance against its competitors. Take a look at the great graphic designs on any can from Beavertown and be dazzled by its distinctive blend of sci-fi meets Mexican Day Of The Dead. Gone are the days when just calling your beer “mild” or IPA cut the mustard. Be prepared to sweat over christening your brew. You’ll have to be a poet. Weird Beard’s Mariana Trench not only hints at the beer’s hidden depths, but is also tremendously fun to wrap your tongue around after a couple of pints.
The poetry doesn’t stop there. Every time I swig a bottle of Lagunitas IPA, I’m struck by superb copy on the label:
“Thanks for choosing to spend the next few minutes with this special homicidally hoppy ale. Savour the moment as the raging hop character engages the imperial qualities of the malt foundation in mortal combat on the battlefield of your palette.”
…if that doesn’t make your inner Don Draper tingle then nothing will.
Once you’ve made it to the product stage there is no chance to rest on your laurels, but then comes the moment when you need to bottle your beer, something that you may want to outsource to a specialist bottling company. Cans are more environmentally friendly and are starting to be adopted by more brewers. Some enterprising US businesses have launched their own mobile canning operations to make the process less painful for all concerned.
The next stage is what it’s all about- getting your beer to happy drinkers all across the land. Ambition is a good thing, but most startup brewers start small and put down roots in the local communities first. In the age of globalisation, many drinkers prefer to buy locally and support the David down the road, rather than the dominant Goliath pubcos. It’s great if you can get your beer sold in local pubs, supermarkets and off-licences, but a few microbreweries have opened up their own tap rooms. These are small modest bars on the premises where customers can sample all your wares, as well as indulge their inner beer nerd by seeing your works in operation.
As a brewer you’re going to have to wear many hats. Chances are you’re going to have dabble in bar management, sales, savvy marketing and merchandising to boot. Luckily, most fledgling breweries are labours of love, with friends and family joining in and offering valuable support. The business offers a wild, but rewarding ride. If this blog has burst your brewing bubble, then never mind – thanks to the many UK microbreweries already in the marketplace there’s still plenty of fun to be had at the other side of the bar. Cheers!
All ‘Opinion’ pieces are the opinions of the author, not Quick Formations.