Questions for Homebrewers from a College Student

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Daniel Murphy

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Hello everyone! My name is Daniel Murphy, and I'm a current college student. I'm a class called Technology Entrepreneurship, in which we're tasked with creating the barebones of an actual tech startup. I've always found the craft beer industry fascinating, more specifically I've always admired home brewer's the most. I've had several friends and peers attempt to become a part of the home brewing industry. Most of them ended up failing within the year, whether it was a lack of resources, time, money, etc. I'm interested in creating better market traction for smaller brewer's who are attempting to create a name for themselves within the space. I created an idea without ever initially talking with many home brewer's besides my friends. I figured I'd attempt to get involved in forum's and my local communities association to get advice from actual brewer's about their needs and wants.

My biggest question for you all is what do you find is consistently the biggest problem home brewer's face? Is it a lack of resources, time, or even knowledge? Do most home brewer's get involved in brewing in hopes that one day their product will hit shelves, or are most involved in brewing just for the simple love of the art? Do you find it hard to receive feedback on your brews? How do home brewer's typically evolve into more regional brewery's and establish a brand? Is it just by word of mouth or competitions? Do homebrewer's even actually want their product to turn into more of a regional brew, or would they rather it stay local and niche? I'm super interested in this topic as a whole. I'd also love to chat personally with people about their overall experience and what they've learned through their own home brewing experiences! Any information or advice would be great, and I'm always open to new ideas, thanks everybody!

(Also I posted this in other discussion page as well, as I wasn't quite sure where it best fit)
 

Dave Sarber

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Don't take me as speaking for everyone else.
I have no interest in competition, or going into business. I enjoy really good beer, and the challenge of brewing it. I brew my own, of styles I like, and share with friends, and share recipes on this forum. I am mostly interested in British and Belgian styles, superior examples being hard to find in my area, so brewing my own is the way to go. I am actually pretty finicky as far as taste goes, so I don't like bitter or sweet or sour beers. Even at crafty brewpubs, IPA's seem to be everybody's favorites, but to be honest, anything over 50 IBU's tastes like crap to me.
 

VirginiaHops1

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I personally have no interest in trying to open a brewery. I have a job that pays pretty well, and I like seeing my family a lot. Two things that would probably change dramatically if I opened a brewery. But it's a dream for a lot of people. I do think it's very interesting hearing about pro brewers experiences opening their breweries and trying to scale though, and the challenges in doing so.
 

NewJersey

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I daydream about opening a small brewpub and like to look at commercial setups for fun. Unless I hit the lottery I'm never putting my money on the line.
Homebrewing for me is a fun process, I like the beer, and for some reason love to always evolve the equipment and processes. I think if most of us were honest about it at least half the interest in home brewing is being able to tinker on something.
As far actually opening a brewery people just want to be successful in their own neck of the woods. Sometimes the hype builds up and eventually one must at least consider expanding. The question then is do you take on partners or loans, sell the brewery outright, or just continue in your own market. I THINK I would prefer to just operate in my area. You're more nimble that way and it's easier to cater to your local market. We all see how "behind" the times some of the big guys appear to be. (They're NOT imo, it's just much harder to put out beers that are going to appeal to the whole country)
 

Hoppy2bmerry

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Home brewing is a hobby, and some homebrewers who get consistent positive feedback may dream of opening their own brewery or actually succeed at opening. The caveat some do not realize is once this is your living, at least for some, the “fun” is gone. It becomes a job. Of course working at what one loves doesn’t always “feel” like work, but when you’ve opened a brewery and tasting room and you want your niche to be fine German style beers, but the market demand is for IPAs you need to brew some IPAs to keep your cash flowing in. As a homebrewer I can make, or attempt any beer I want even a horrible experimental beer because the only person I need to please is myself in the end.

As far as getting feedback, most people enjoy getting positive feedback. Negative feedback, if it is given in a constructive way, and leads to better tasting beer is valuable and competition judges for the most part aim to do that, but after a full day of adjudicating homebrew being constructive and encouraging become more difficult. I base that opinion on what I have observed stewarding competitions.
 

VirginiaHops1

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Of course working at what one loves doesn’t always “feel” like work
The problem is probably only about 20% of running a brewery is doing what you love(brewing), the other 80% is mundane or tedious tasks associated with running a business. Still worth it for a lot of people but there's a big difference between doing something as a hobby vs a for-profit enterprise.
 

brewdude88

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Not sure we're on the same page as the OP.

You do realize homebrewers cannot sell the beer we brew, right? We simply brew beer for us and our acquaintances to enjoy. No need to gain market traction to do that.

As far as what keeps us from going pro? There's no single answer, but my reasoning is not being sure I can deliver a better product than what is already being served in a saturated market.

There can't be many people these days that complain about a lack of breweries where they live, although maybe this belief comes from living in Colorado (More breweries than McDonald's and starbucks combined lol)

Government controls are also out of control. I can't even scratch the surface of red tape that starting and maintaining a brewery of any size takes.

On a side note, I think craft distilling might have some promise for a small startup, but it's a felony to learn and practice the craft at the Homebrew scale, so it carries more risk than just starting a business.
 
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Daniel Murphy

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Not sure we're on the same page as the OP.

You do realize homebrewers cannot sell the beer we brew, right? We simply brew beer for us and our acquaintances to enjoy. No need to gain market traction to do that.

As far as what keeps us from going pro? There's no single answer, but my reasoning is not being sure I can deliver a better product than what is already being served in a saturated market.

There can't be many people these days that complain about a lack of breweries where they live, although maybe this belief comes from living in Colorado (More breweries than McDonald's and starbucks combined lol)

Government controls are also out of control. I can't even scratch the surface of red tape that starting and maintaining a brewery of any size takes.

On a side note, I think craft distilling might have some promise for a small startup, but it's a felony to learn and practice the craft at the Homebrew scale, so it carries more risk than just starting a business.
This was great feedback! I wasn't aware of all the rules and regulations immediately surrounding home brewing and the selling of it. My initial idea wasn't so much focused on helping the upscale of a home brewer to a full brewery. Instead it revolved around the idea of local competitions for brews and those that gained enough traction would be sold at that brewery for a designated amount of time. Seeing a lot of replies people wouldn't necessarily want to scale up, but I was thinking people might want to gain some money off of their side passion if they can. After reading your reply though, that may not even be possible given strict rules for the industry.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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Instead it revolved around the idea of local competitions for brews and those that gained enough traction would be sold at that brewery for a designated amount of time.
Local (to me) craft breweries have done something similar from time to time: host a home brewing competition where the winner(s) get to brew their beer on the pilot system.

https://www.samueladams.com/longshot may be of interest.
 

brewdude88

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I hate to play devil's advocate, and I love the concept, but serving a homebrew beer (even for free) in a competition to attempt to win the opportunity to profit from said beer is awfully thin ice where local and federal law is concerned. We cannot serve beer for any type of personal gain, unless we want to run the risk of the opportunity to learn the craft of toilet hooch in the big house lol.

That being said, I would love to see a way for homebrewers to test there product/ make a little money in a controlled market. Something like a coop or "farmers market", where the operator maintains a license to oversee the sale, safety and collection of applicable taxes of homemade products. Of course, this would take an upheaval of federal and state laws that would be blocked with millions of dollars from "big beer" lobbyists.
 

TallDan

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I hate to play devil's advocate, and I love the concept, but serving a homebrew beer (even for free) in a competition to attempt to win the opportunity to profit from said beer is awfully thin ice where local and federal law is concerned. We cannot serve beer for any type of personal gain, unless we want to run the risk of the opportunity to learn the craft of toilet hooch in the big house lol.

That being said, I would love to see a way for homebrewers to test there product/ make a little money in a controlled market. Something like a coop or "farmers market", where the operator maintains a license to oversee the sale, safety and collection of applicable taxes of homemade products. Of course, this would take an upheaval of federal and state laws that would be blocked with millions of dollars from "big beer" lobbyists.
It's legal to win prizes in homebrew competitions. Seems like it would be perfectly legal to run a homebrew competition where the Best Of Show prize is an opportunity to work as a paid brewer (or brewing "consultant") for a day to brew your recipe at a commercial brewery. The batch brewed at the commercial brewery can be legally sold. (See also: Pro-Am brewing)

That said, good beer recipes and ideas aren't hard to come by. The commercial brewery doesn't gain much here other than maybe a little positive exposure to homebrewers. Margains for breweries are also very thin, paying the homebrewer any significant amount of money is not going to be viable for the brewery.
 

AZCoolerBrewer

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I daydreamed about starting a brewery until I read “A Good Hobby Mashed” by Chris Burcher. It is clear that homebrewing and brewing in a brewery are two completely different animals. It’s way more fun for me to enjoy brewing as a hobby. It is my belief that any job that is also a hobby makes for a ton of competition in folks who want to be rockstars.
 

grampamark

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I was a DIYer and hobbyist woodworker. A friend asked me to help him with some remodeling on his house. Somebody else saw my work and asked if I could remodel their kitchen. That was about a dozen years ago. Now, my winter side gig is home repair and remodeling (I’m a grain farmer IRL, but that’s seasonal. I can take on one project a year in the winter). So, what once was a hobby is now a job. When you have to do something you enjoy it isn’t as much fun as when you want to do something you enjoy. Besides, I’m pushing 70. Commercial brewing, even on a relatively small scale, is a lot more like work than cabinetmaking. :cool:
 

Dave Sarber

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I was a DIYer and hobbyist woodworker. A friend asked me to help him with some remodeling on his house. Somebody else saw my work and asked if I could remodel their kitchen. That was about a dozen years ago. Now, my winter side gig is home repair and remodeling (I’m a grain farmer IRL, but that’s seasonal. I can take on one project a year in the winter). So, what once was a hobby is now a job. When you have to do something you enjoy it isn’t as much fun as when you want to do something you enjoy. Besides, I’m pushing 70. Commercial brewing, even on a relatively small scale, is a lot more like work than cabinetmaking. :cool:
Ditto. When the neighbors saw what I was doing to my house, they approached my wife (I'm totally deaf), and asked her if I'd like to fix their roof. Since I was just talking to my wife, the answer was fairly colorful, but I told her to pass on that I had too much work planned already.
It's true that when you have to do something that you enjoy, the enjoyment evaporates pretty quickly.
 

mongoose33

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I've actually gone past the "toy with it" thinking about going pro in some fashion. I've looked at a few locations where I might brew, have a local bar owner that wants to sell my beer, friends want to buy it and pay commerical prices.

Except for the one thing, it'd all work out swimmingly. What's the one thing? I'm not licensed to brew and sell my beer. It's not easy to get that license, and other than selling only on location with a taproom adjoining, there's a lot of upfront cost and waiting for the license.

My motivation is a combination of things. One is that I'd like to see if I could make beer that was good enough that a business would be viable. I'm not necessarily about the money--but rather, it's the challenge of doing it.

************

I'm not a big fan of the importance of competitions, for a few reasons. One is that I don't trust them. I've read of people submitting multiple entries of the same beer and having one do extremely well, and the other just panned by the judges. A second reason is that competitions seem to be about how accurately one can "hit" a style based on the style guidelines used. I really couldn't care less about that. A third reason is I've tried beers that won a local competition, and I can pick out either extract twang or some other off-flavor, and wonder if that's what people have come to believe is good.

Why? Some of this prejudice comes from a local "guru" who "judges" beers by comparing them to a style. That strikes me as the least satisfying way to evaluate a beer. I brew beer I want to drink, period. My beers are mostly loosely correlated with style, but hitting that style exactly? Well, maybe for some people that's their goal. My goal is to make excellent beer that I, and others, want to drink.

I have given up on asking him how the beer is--it's always a specific evaluation against some style guideline that exists, as near as I can tell, in his head. So if I ever get to the point of brewing in a commercial setting, I guarantee you my first criterion will be whether the beer is good, not how closely it matches what is ultimately an arbitrary style standard (they're ALL arbitrary, if you think about it).

I have some friends who drink my beer and they get free beer provided they offer me unbiased and unfiltered evaluation of that beer. Two standards they must meet: A) no mercy, and B) are there off-flavors in the beer?

**********

And then there's my ultimate criterion of quality. Ever see someone try a beer, offer up an opinion like "that's very interesting" and when your back is turned, they pour it out in a potted plant and then ask for what else there is? Well, my criterion is this: do they have a second one? There are actually legitimate reasons why someone might not have a second beer (don't like the style being the major one), but nobody has a second one except for one reason: they like it.

This is kind of rambling in a way--it's me trying to organize my thoughts about it--but it's also the way I look at this. I think there are brewers who are slaves to style, and there are brewers who are trying to make beer they want to drink. I get that early in a brewer's journey, trying to match a style may make sense, as they have no other way to judge their beer. But at some point, you've got to have people who want to drink it, starting with yourself.

**********

So if I were going to open a brewery, I'd brew what I'd want to drink, plus some other styles and perhaps variations that offered up a variety. I've been to three breweries where I thought the brewmaster was brewing for my taste, and even styles I'm normally not appreciative of were ones of which I'd have had a second pint--and maybe a third.

And I've been to local breweries where I can't figure out how they're still in business. Sometimes the offering is swill, sometimes off-flavors....sometimes all the beer has the same underlying taste, like they're using the same yeast for everything.

I'd use local friends to help decide exactly what the offerings would be, and create a local brewery that owed its list of offerings to locals.

Sadly, none of this is every likely to happen. More's the pity, but that's how it is.

Meanwhile, I brewed a Kolsch yesterday that I'm just dying to get done. I do one that is HUGE on flavor, but cut it back by 15 percent to see if can make a lawnmower beer that still has a ton of flavor. Twiddling my thumbs....... :)
 
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grampamark

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I'm not a big fan of the importance of competitions, for a few reasons. One is that I don't trust them. I've read of people submitting multiple entries of the same beer and having one do extremely well, and the other just panned by the judges. A second reason is that competitions seem to be about how accurately one can "hit" a style based on the style guidelines used. I really couldn't care less about that. A third reason is I've tried beers that won a local competition, and I can pick out either extract twang or some other off-flavor, and wonder if that's what people have come to believe is good.
I’m not interested in competitions, either. To me, brewing to style is to homebrewing what HOAs are to home ownership. If I want to paint may garage door Papa Smurf Blue, instead of the approved Bridle Path Tan, I’m not going to buy a house in an HOA. And, if I had a dollar for every “award winning beer” I’ve had at various brewpubs, that didn’t taste as good as my HB, I could pay for a year’s worth of hops and yeast.
 
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