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Old 09-17-2009, 06:29 PM   #1
Feb 2008
Healdsburg, CA
Posts: 380
Liked 29 Times on 9 Posts

Well, I've been a licensed nanobrewery for about a year and a half now and it occurred to me the other day that I've learned a few things that might of interest to other folks. So off the top of my head, here goes...

1. Go bigger. Unless you've got way way too much spare time get at least a 1 bbl brewhouse. If you don't need a ladder, the brew house should be bigger. Having built your own rig helps when things inevitably go wrong, and is an advantage.

2. Fermentor size matters. This is your chokepoint for production. You'll need as many gallons as you can effectively temperature control.

3. Love your yeast. Effective yeast harvesting is a must (and easier with larger batches and regular brewing). And you'll get way more than you need. I get around 2 gallons of settled slurry from a batch. Washing every once in a while is good too and its a good idea to learn how to chemically/acid cleanse slurry too. I'm now using a 5g ale pail to harvest yeast and hold starters. Learn everything you can about yeast. Super important.

4. Its not as hard as everyone who gives you unsolicited opinions will try and lead you to believe. The legal stuff is manageable. Really. Production just takes more time, more (bigger) gear and a dedication to regular production. Calendaring really helps.

5. Learn everything you can about fermenting. Yeast nutrients. Temperature is critical. Pitching rates. Sanitation. Everything. Adding hops to beer in a 90 minute boil is fun, but then there's two weeks that need as much attention to avoid having to dump what could be $400-500 worth of beer down the drain.

6. Its a business, it needs to act and look like one. Learn accounting and do it yourself so you personally understand what's financially happening with your brewery. This pays off in spades. Among other benefits, you can get a tax deduction for your office, back yard (if you host a party), utilities, garage, etc. Beyond this, all your gear is deductible and depreciable, expenses for "professional development" ie. beer = "style samples and comparative tasting" expense, beer festival tickets = "market research", dinner and a beer at a bar you sell your beer to then becomes "travel and entertainment: meals" expense. Seriously.

7. Talk to everyone in the brewing business that you can. Pro brewers are (with extremely few exceptions) really really happy to help. For most of them, you're doing the "pure" version of professional brewing and not having to deal with health plans, payroll and insurance, etc. and they throw a lot of love. Vinnie from Russian River recently told me "We've all been there." Be respectful, don't name your stuff similar to anyone elses (in the area or out of it). Chances are good that you'll be able to piggy back their grain shipments and end up paying $0.72 a pound for malt and delivery will cost around $2.00 for a 55 bag, and picking up their overstock hops is a possibility too. Speaking of hops, hops in 11 lb bags from distributors are about $14/lb now and less at the end of the year when people are blowing out last year's crop.

8. Confidence. There's a reluctance to step out and take nanobrew to a bar and try and sell your beer-child. Its a personal thing that most people, outside artists and creative professionals, don't have a lot of experience with (myself included) and the prospect of rejection can cause you to undersell your self and your beer. Trust in your brew - it tastes better than 99% of what's out there. If it didn't we would be homebrewing.

9. Sales. This is the new part. Figure on spending at least as much time marketing and selling your beer as you do making it. Start local, find a publican with some love for the local and use that for momentum. I was "underground" for over a year selling to chefs, caterers and other folks which helped create a buzz and gave me time to get my act together (and recipes, my IPA is the 9th variation of the original recipe) before going and getting some bars to give me a tap. Personally meet the managers and bartenders and be available by cell. Tell the story of your beer and why you're doing this and offer to answer any questions. Make it clear that you may not be able to make enough beer to keep their pipeline full and tell them they need a plan B for the tap if you run out of inventory. Make this clear at the start to avoid problems down the road. Worst thing you can do is be spotty with delivering product.

10. Sanke kegs are a must. Buy used ones, and take the valve apart and clean them and put them back together. Repeat. This is like training to field strip and clean your M-16. Once you get used to them, they're way better than corneys (in my opinion) and no bars are going to pour from corneys.

11. Charge more money per keg. You are limited production, hand crafted artisan brewery. Charge for it. Find the distributor's price for the most expensive similar sized keg in your area and add $10.00.

12. Naturally carbonate in the kegs. Helps with keeping the beer fresh, it a good story and point of differentiation and easer than than force carbing in bulk and transferring under counter pressure. Also forces you to delay release of the beer and gives it some conditioning time so you're not releasing green beer.

13. Love. There's a ton of love out there for nanobrew. I just went to my first beer fest after being "underground" for the last year and a half. We had a line 6-8 people deep for the duration of the event. We got a shout out from the band. TONS of "hell yeah" comments about garage brewing. Can't say enough about the reception we got. Makes toiling in my garage alone at 1am for two years putting this together all worthwhile.

That's about all I can think of for now. Finally - if you're thinking about making the transition, its very doable and there's a lot of love for it these days. I mostly started because I could take the baby monitor to the garage and tinker around while my daughter slept and then it sort went haywire (well, it was that or World of Warcraft as a hobby, and you can't drink World of Warcraft) Go for it. Gotta run.


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Old 09-17-2009, 06:36 PM   #2
springer's Avatar
Feb 2008
Wappingers falls NY
Posts: 4,743
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great read Gordie. This should end the debate on if its possible for a homebrewer to go commercial thanks
'The taxpayer: That's someone who works for the federal government but doesn't have to take the civil service examination.'- Ronald Reagan

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Old 09-17-2009, 06:37 PM   #3
Feb 2008
Healdsburg, CA
Posts: 380
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Most importantly - the beer has to taste good. Sweat the details. If your beer isn't tasty, nothing else matters.

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Old 09-17-2009, 06:40 PM   #4
Dec 2007
Buffalo, NY
Posts: 1,828
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Awesome post.

Sounds like you are living my dream. I can't stand my career anymore, if I had even close to the start-up cash I would go for it in a second. We have only one real brewery here in Buffalo, and a couple of brewpubs. Their beers are good, but just that. Everytime someone tries one of my beers and says "Dude, you should sell this", I get this twinge, like I'm missing the boat. Oh, well, I can dream.
"This song goes out to me because I'm so f*ckin' cool!"~John Reis

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Old 09-17-2009, 06:51 PM   #5
conpewter's Avatar
Nov 2007
East Dundee, Illinois
Posts: 5,109
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Hey Gordie! Good read. Do you think you could do some section on the legalities of this sort of venture? I always figured you'd need to have a commercial facility to sell your beer to anyone, health inspections etc. Thanks!
"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." - V

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Old 09-17-2009, 06:56 PM   #6
olllllo's Avatar
Apr 2006
Phoenix, Arizona
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Thanks for giving back.
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Rob - Phoenix Ambassador to Milwaukee
Where did your avatar go?
Ginger Beer for Moscow Mules Bacon Vodka

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Old 09-17-2009, 06:58 PM   #7
Apr 2009
Seattle, WA
Posts: 114

Great post, thanks.
I'd be interested in more details on bullet 9 - Sales. You started out selling to chefs and caterers. Kegs, not bottles I assume? What chefs would want to put a no-name brand of beer in their restaurant? That seems like the biggest challenge to me.

Are you selling in a small to medium sized town or a large city? Large city would be much harder to get a foothold in it seems like.

I like your comments about tax deductions in bullet 6. That made me think... how much beer do you need to sell to be considered a business for tax purposes? I am not a CPA or tax planner and probably none of us are qualified to answer this for sure, but if I sold say one case of my homebrew to friends every few months or so, and set up a legal business entity (it's pretty easy to register an LLC), would that qualify me to deduct equipment investment expenses?

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Old 09-17-2009, 07:08 PM   #8
Kwanesum Chinook Illahee
ShortSnoutBrewing's Avatar
Oct 2007
Portland, OR
Posts: 3,213
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Thanks a ton Gordie. I'm reading Sam C's "Brewing Up a Business" right now and you bring up similar points. The dream is still alive...

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Old 09-17-2009, 07:13 PM   #9
JohnnyO's Avatar
Dec 2008
Hamden, CT
Posts: 8,997
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Hey Gordie,

Thanks for the post. I am still a total noob when it comes to homebrewing (let alone nanobrewing). But it's nice to see that if I continue with this (most likely), and improve my craft and further develop my skills (hopefully optimistic), this could be a feasible thing.

I've been following you on twitter for the past, say, two months, and that alone has been very interesting and helpful.

Congratulations on your successes and best of luck to more of the same.
Fermenting: Bohemian Pilsner, Rare Vos clone
Drinking: German Pils, IPA
On Deck: TBD

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Old 09-17-2009, 07:27 PM   #10
Apr 2009
Long Beach, CA
Posts: 257
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Great post!
Now I won't be able to get through the rest of the day without daydreaming about opening a brewery in the back of my families winery.

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