I was reading this thread
about "nano brewing" the other day. Intrigued, I visited Two Beers Brewery's website
. The website was whimsical and fun, not to mention well-designed, which I can appreciate as a web geek.
I decided to send them a contact email to ask a few questions. Joel was immediately receptive to my questions, pleasant and willing to help. He even invited me over to pester him while he installs his new 7bbl brewhouse! Were I not a continent away I might take him up on it
I have his permission to post this interview as long as I link him back to it and include his website address
, both of which I'm happy to do.
Without further ado:
Q: What got you started in brewing?
Joel: I lived around the corner from a homebrew supply store (Bob's Homebrew in Seattle). After driving by it for a couple years I decided to stop in one day to check it out. I bought the starter kit for a couple hundred bucks, brewed a winter warmer and instantly fell in love with making beer.
Q: When did you start brewing for money?
J: I started brewing commercially February 2008.
Q: How big was your initial operation? E.g. how many gallons/kegs per month? Any employees/partners?
J: My first commercial system was a three tier system with three 20 gallon Polarware kettles -- basically a glorified homebrew system. I used the Blichmann Therminator to chill it and built temperature controlled rooms for my 4 27 gallon Blichmann Fermenators. All in all, I brewed four times a week and sold 4 kegs a week. I did this part time for the better part of a year, and there most certainly weren't ant employees or partners at that point -- I was happy if I broke even on expenses alone.
Q: How did you market your beer?
J: I have a lot of friends that are talented artists and so I had one design me a logo, another draw my labels, and another make my website (have you seen it, its incredible). Other than that it was me, some bottled samples, a flyer, and a conversation with a bar manager.
Q: Do you tailor the types of beer you make to the market?
J: Yes and No. I make beer I like to drink, I don't make beer I don't like to drink. However, when I release a beer to market I gather feedback and make subtle changes based upon the gluttony of feedback received.
Q: Did you need to have some "hook" to distinguish yourself from the rest of the market?
J: Good beer sells. So good beer is a necessity. After that, a hook is nice, but in the craft beer industry I have found (so far) that it isn't necessary. However, branding and telling a good story with your brewery is -- which in turn could become your hook.
Q: How was the reaction to your beer?
J: It varies, like any product, some people love it, some don't. But for the most part people have been impressed with how good my beer is for what system I was brewing on and for not having any official experience
Q: What kind of governmental red tape did you have to go through to be allowed to sell your beer? Permits? Licenses? Health inspections?
J: The TTB branch of the ATF is the federal branch that breweries deal with. On their website they have a whole packet of info on what is necessary to obtain a Brewers Notice -- plan to spend hours filling out all the paperwork. This process took me 6 months. On a state level, each state is different, but all states have a Liquor Board of some kind, and most are friendly (more breweries equals more excise taxes) so I would recommend calling them to find out how to get a Brewery license. Beyond that I organized as an LLC, and got my Federal ID number, and my Washington Business lIcense, and my City of Seattle License.
Q: How big has your operation grown? Over how long?
J: I am putting the finishing touches on my install of my 7 bbl system now. I have 3 7 bbl fermenters and a 30 bbl fermenter for my seasonal.
Q: Has this become your only job? If so, how long did it take until you could support yourself?
J: 15 months into selling beer and I still don't support myself. I have been living off of savings, kindness of others, and passion. But yes it is my only job -- currently about 60-70 hours per week. I hope to take my first salary by end of summer.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
J: I am also working on starting up a non-profit that works with recovering alcoholics and Two Beers Brewing Co. will be giving part of its time and money to helping re-integrate recovering alcoholics back into society in safe ways. I find that if I am to make alcohol then I need to address the "under-belly" of the product.
I also plan to continue to grow, the hope is that the 7 bbl only lasts a couple years and then onto a 15 bbl, etc...
Q: Do you still enjoy brewing now that it's a job?
J: It is much different than being a hobby, but i still do enjoy it. But I enjoy it on a different level. For one, brewing commercially you have to be repeatable and so I enjoy making sure that this happens through my systems I have in place for qualtiy control. Strangely, I enjoy that.
Q: Anything you'd do differently if you had to do it again?
J: Yes, I would start with more money, lots more money. When I began I had a figure I was shooting for to invest in my nano-brewery. I surpassed that number by three-fold. I would also find a good friend and someone you trust as a business partner to begin with -- its nice to share the brewing load -- especially when its a second job.
Q: Anything you'd tell homebrewers who are thinking about going pro?
J: Take your time. Don't rush into it. Spend more time than you ever thought possible crunching numbers, talking to bars, working on recipes, etc. Beer will still be sold in 6 months, so if you take 6 more months to accurate configure a business plan and your marketing materials you are better served than to rush beer to the market to make a few bucks. Also, get a local craft brewery in your corner. I have a local brewery that has helped me out immensely over the past 2 years. From cleaning kegs for me, to giving me feedback on my recipes, to asking questions of licensure, to talking sales strategy. Without these guys Two Beers Brewing Co. would be in a different place. Their kindness has saved me.