Going Pro: The Road from Homebrew To Craftbrew
As homebrewers, we all dream of taking that next step and sharing our creations with the world. I’ve never met a homebrewer that hasn’t at least thought of going pro, and most have already started planning, making awesome brewery logos and perfecting their recipes. But what does it really mean to take that next step? This week we’ll talk about some of the biggest hurdles of going pro, and hopefully better prepare you to make and sell your beer commercially!
The Business Thing
One thing that is surprisingly easy to forget is that going pro means being a business, and not everyone is suited to that. We see tons of breweries making incredible beer, then either getting bought up by a bigger brewery or going under all together, and while this may not be the reason, it’s a safe bet that it’s part of it.
First and foremost, and I’ll be saying this over and over in this article, do your due diligence! Look at your local market and the beer and breweries in it. Learn what it takes to run a business, and become VERY familiar with terms like overhead, cash flow, and bottom line! Your brewery’s success depends every bit as much on these things as much as the quality of your beer!
The next important part of business is having a business plan, and seeking the help of experienced entrepreneurs to help you pick it apart. There are tons of free programs available for guys and gals just like us to lean on the experience of successful businessmen and women, and learn from their experience in business.
What Does a Brewery Cost?
A lot, that’s what. All of that pretty stainless steel isn’t free, and starting a brewery from the ground up can be crazy expensive. First, what kind of brewery will you be? Brewery-Restaurant? Brewery-Distillery? Brewery-Music Venue? Brewery-Movie Theatre? There are tons of cool concepts already in place, and for every one I’m sure someone has a new and exciting idea on how their going to do it.
Next you have to decide how big, based on the aforementioned business plan. Will you be a small, local brewery with minimal distribution? Will you be a monster, distributing in every state and overseas, or somewhere in between based on what kind of brewery venue you decide to create?
Once you figure all this out, you’re ready to really get down to the nitty gritty of the finances, which raises the question of where said finances will come from. Are you searching for venture capitalist to invest in the business at the cost of a percentage of your company, or do you have tons of family money to throw at your new endeavor? This is another place that your business plan really comes into play. For investors, or even a bank loan, people giving you money are going to want to see how you’re going to spend their money, and more importantly, how their going to get their ROI, or Return on Investment, as well as how long it’s going to take and what kind of profit their going to get from it. These are things that need to be laid out, on paper, step by step, with contingencies for real life situations like a $2000 pump dying in the middle of a brew day and ruining another $4000 worth of beer, or push back and extra fees from city and county inspections.
City, County and Federal Considerations
Making beer is definitely a significant source of income for the government, especially with where and what we define craft beer as today. The craft beer movement has made American craft beer a huge industry, with more than 7,000 breweries in operation today. Every city and state has different requirements, not to mention federal requirements for labeling and distribution.
This means you have to play the game, and follow the guidelines in your area, or be shut down. You’ll have to figure out all of the requirements and keep officials and inspectors involved both during your build out as well as being compliant during normal brewing operations. Most cities, states and counties have officials that can help you during this process, as well as information online for all of your due diligence. The cost just for this part will be significant, so keep that in mind and plan everything out in as much detail as possible to avoid surprises.
The Differences of Brewing on a Large Scale Vs. a Homebrew Scale
So now you’re legal, official, have an operating budget and are ready to start brewing on your shiny new commercial brewing system. Now for that process part!
Brewing large scale has several distinct differences from brewing on your 5 or 15 gallon homebrew system. Your costs are higher because you’re using a lot more ingredients, and the whole process is a whole new concept. The science is the same, but everything is done in a different way. If you think about it, on your 5 gallon system, if you need to move a pot to make a transfer easier or more efficient, it’s no big deal. On a 1200 gallon system, it’s a different story.
First and foremost, the mill. Most commercial systems are using an auger to move grain from a floor mounted mill that you dump bags into, or from a silo of base grain. The grain is then augered directly into the mill, usually with a light water spray to keep dust down and help keep dough balls from forming.
Many commercial mash tuns also utilize mash rakes as opposed to a mash water recirculation method like we have on nicer homebrew setups, keeping all of the grain constantly mixed during the mash, and temperature control to ensure as exact a mash temp as possible. Generally, the temp control is digital, and depends on the type of heating that the brewery has built in, i.e. steam fired, gas fired, etc. The type of heat is going to play a huge part in your overhead, so choose wisely!
From here, a pump-controlled lauter is the name of the game for many commercial systems, and is generally sparge until either a specific pH or a specific volume, depending on the brewery and system. Again, this is all infinitely easier and more complicated at the same time because of the hands-off way that you have to brew comparatively bigger volumes. For most of us, our sparge is either a gravity fly sparge or a gravity or pump driven batch sparge.
Once you get to the boil, the process is still very similar, of course on a much bigger scale. It’s crazy to think that 15 to 20 pounds of hops could be your balanced bitter addition! If you think about it, commercial breweries like 10 Torr Distilling and Brewing and Lead Dog Brewing Company who are making killer pale ales, IPA’s and great hoppy types of beer are hopping in the 2 - 3 lbs of hops per barrel range to achieve that flavor. So in a 10 barrel batch, your whirlpool addition could be as big as 30 pounds of hops!
Packaging turns into a whole new animal as well. Think of bottling or kegging your 5 gallon homebrew batch. Transfer to the buckets, throw in some sugar, and you’re off to the races! Or even just pop the top of your keg and drain your beer in there, easy peazy. As a pro, you’ll be working with bright tanks to properly carbonate your beer, packaging lines to fill bottles and cans, and buying, cleaning and filling sanke kegs!
The most important parts of going pro, if I haven’t beaten this horse to death yet, are doing your research and putting it down on paper! The only way to be prepared for what the city and county will throw at you, as well as brewing process and recipe formulation, is lots and lots and lots of research. Even then, you’re still going to get a ton of surprises, and have a myriad of unknowns, but, in theory, you’ll be better prepared!
Thank you all for reading! Hopefully this helps you on your journey towards going pro! Check out our video on BrewChatter TV with 10 Torr Distilling and Brewing about their journey going pro, and their advice to all of us homebrewers who want make the jump! Don’t forget to connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to keep up with all of the fun! Please leave your comments below and keep the conversation going!!