Edmar’s Top 13 Tips For Opening A Brewery

Ed Marszewski ( Edmar) is the Publisher and Editor of Mash Tun Journal. He is also the co-founder and owner of Marz Community Brewing Co. based out of Chicago.  (Photo credit: Edmar – Tony Magee & Eric Olson hanging at Marz.) In the past few years I have incubated and launched  a brewery in Chicago with a group of friends and members of my family.  It has been an amazing journey. These are  a few tips I scribbled down for people interested in getting into the biz. These  insights were inspired by the horrors of opening a business in Illinois, but I think some of these tips will help you wherever you decide to make your liquid dreams come true. 1. Just brew it! No matter what you do: make beer! Test your recipes, tweak them, tweak them again and then again. Join a co-op or home brew club. Meet other brewers. Ask them for advice, criticism and “pro” tips. Listen. Maybe your coconut ghost chill porter really isn’t that great. Add some lacto? Hmmmm. 2. Find some money. Well obviously you need money, but how much money is dependent on the size of your brewhouse, tank farm, chillers, boiler (if needed), bottling or canning lines you will need to buy and/or build. If you start as a nano- or pico- brewery you can probably find enough cash to start your project. If you are a welder or super smart guy, you can build your own system and save a lot of money. If you have investors or happen to be a trustafarian, well, cool. But you still need to think about how much money you will have to spend and just get on with designing a system that can help you reach your goals. 3. Make that business plan. If you can secure funding, you then need to make a business plan. If you don’t know how to do that, you better learn how to do it or find someone to help you.  Some questions to answer when making your plan: Are you going to start off contract brewing? Are you going to wait for your system to be installed before you brew? Do you need to make accurate forecasts to find investors? Do you know which retailers might buy your beer? Do you know how to price your beer? Are you self-distributing or do you want to sign up with a distributor? Do you know how many employees you will need to make your beer? If you can’t answer these questions right now then you better do some research. Just know your business plan is a living document that will always evolve and change. And don’t worry about this fact. Roll with it. 4. Look for buildings. This sucks. Looking for fantasy facilities when you don’t even have any money or a solid business plan is pretty futile. But you must look. You must determine what size place you want to open and where it will be located and how much it will cost before you can begin even making a plan. It will drive you crazy. You will meet awful landlords and building owners and skeezy real estate people. They will try to squeeze as much money as they can out of you. You also have to convince the owner of the building to give you a conditional lease based on whether or not you get your licensing approval. Which means they have to wait 6-12 months for your sorry ass to get your shit together with your brewers notice and licenses from the state and still hold onto the property for you should you even get to that point.  Not many property owners will do that.  Also make sure you find a space that is zoned for manufacturing and make sure the local politicians or officials will allow you to open up a tasting room. Do not believe them when they say they can change the zoning for you. Make sure its zoned for that type of activity from the get go. You must serve beer on premise if you want to survive and grow your business. 5. Decide on a brewing system. Visit every brewery around you and see what system they are brewing on. Get the specifications of their systems.  Ask questions about the durability of their gear.  If you’re lucky maybe you can volunteer at a local brewery and learn how they work on their system. If you have time and tuition waivers, learn how to brew at the Siebel Institute or a university that offers a degree in brewing. The formal education will help you make better decisions on choosing a system to brew on and make you a better brewer. 5. Can you make great beer (or at least good beer)? If you can’t make beer that is as good or better than the ones being poured at your favorite watering hole then really sit back and think hard. Maybe you shouldn’t do it. Don’t open a brewery. We don’t need mediocre beer. You will be one of those guys ruining it for the entire category. But if you believe you have the gumption to make great beer then revisit Tip #1. 6. How much money can you bleed? You will spend at least one year spending tons of money without a prospect of earning a single dime. The start up burn rate is scary but it is what it is. If you can’t stomach or afford to lose all that money then you might want to consider NOT opening a brewery. Breweries (like all small businesses) are riskier investments than dot com stocks in 1999. 7. The TTB is your friend. Government bureaucracy = bad. And the forms that need to be filled out to get your Brewers Notice might as well have been written by Kafka’s boss. But do not be afraid. Call the TTB. Ask them questions. They are really nice. Or if you’re lucky, someone you know…

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