Do you have a passion for craft beer? Maybe you’ve even tried your hand at some home brewing. If you’re creative, know your beers, and are looking for a business opportunity, then starting your own brewery might be a great fit for your interests. While starting a brewery requires a significant investment of both time and money, a brewery can be a rewarding and successful business venture.
Breweries specialize in developing and brewing their own beers, alcoholic, and even non-alcoholic beverages. These facilities are equipped with a significant amount of equipment necessary to the brewing process, but many also offer brewery tours and encourage visitors. Some breweries feature kitchens and dine-in options complete with bars and entertainment, while others take a more private route, acting more as wholesalers. Breweries can vary greatly in size, specialty, and overall business design.
According to IBIS World, the craft beer industry experienced a 4.4% growth from 2015 to 2020. As of 2020, the industry was a $7.6 billion industry. That growth was spurred by increased demand for various beers as consumers grew to appreciate the attention to detail and craft that small-scale brewers offer. That interest is predicted to continue, though the industry is becoming saturated with craft brewers. Still, IBIS World expects that industry revenue will continue to rise from 2020 to 2025.
The Brewers Association reports that in 2019, overall beer volume sales in the United States were down by 2%, though craft beer sales grew by 4%, evidence of the growing preference for craft beers. In 2019, craft beers made up 13.6% of the United States beer production by volume. That same year, retail sales of craft beers reached $29.3 billion. As of 2019, 8,386 breweries were in operation, and 8,275 of those breweries were craft breweries. A total of 302 breweries opened in 2019.
Craft Brewing Business predicts that the brewery industry will see several trends in 2020 and beyond. One of those trends is the result of the increased competition in the industry because of the many new breweries that have opened in the past few years. With over 8,000 breweries in existence, competition on retail shelves is steep. Many breweries will likely focus heavily on branding and rebranding to stay relevant and competitive.
There’s a growing market for non-alcoholic beer, creating an opportunity that breweries can explore. The popularity of Dry January and the interest in dry seltzer may indicate that more adults are looking for lighter or non-alcoholic alternatives that they can enjoy. That focus on health is also reflected in the growing popularity of low-calorie and lite beers. Breweries are embracing this trend and are delivering quality products that deliver better taste than some of the lite options offered by big-name breweries.
Customers are increasingly seeking out breweries for the experience, rather than specifically drinking beer, and breweries need to focus on improving the experience they deliver. Everything from design to furniture to music and menus affects the customer experience. When done well, breweries can create a great experience and use that to build customer relationships and customer loyalty.
Broadly put, breweries market to beer enthusiasts. A brewery’s target market may be beer enthusiasts looking for the entertainment and education that a trip to a brewery provides. Breweries may also market to beer enthusiasts who don’t ever visit the brewery but who can still become loyal fans of the brand and product.
Breweries also market to retailers who will stock their products. The specific target retail market will depend on many factors, including the brewery’s products, price point, and ideal end customer.
Skills, experience, and education useful in running a brewery
You won’t necessarily need a business degree to start a brewery, but certain skills and experiences are helpful.
Previous brewing experience. Firsthand experience with brewing is really a must for anyone planning to start a brewery. Knowledge of the brewing process, its challenges, and the equipment and time required will prepare a business owner to build a successful business.
Intricate knowledge of beer. A brewery owner needs to be invested in and enthusiastic about the work. Comprehensive knowledge of beer and the beer industry will be an advantage for any brewery owner.
Familiarity with beer trends. Trends can change quickly, so brewery owners need to stay aware of the beer industry’s current and evolving trends. With this knowledge, a brewery owner can make wise product development choices.
Attention to detail. Details are so important when brewing beer. A brewery owner needs to have a focused, attentive nature from choosing the right equipment and ingredients to accurately describe the notes in each beer.
Customer service skills. A business owner with great customer service skills can help ensure that brewery visitors have a great experience, encouraging return visits and customer loyalty.
Management experience. Breweries require multiple staff, so a business owner who’s previously hired, trained, and managed staff will be at an advantage.
Finance knowledge and skills. Because breweries can be expensive to start, it may be necessary to secure investors or loans. Finance knowledge and an understanding of investment and loan practices may help a brewery owner to secure funding.
Amazon has several good books for starting a brewery, such as:
Small Brewery Finance: Accounting Principles and Planning for the Craft Brewery
How to Start a Microbrewery: Be Your Own Boss, Make Good Money, and Craft Beer That You and Others Love (free on Amazon Kindle Unlimited)
How To Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Great Beer Every Time
So You Want to Start a Brewery?: The Lagunitas Story
Startup costs for breweries can be substantial. 2nd Kitchen reports that many breweries cost between $500,000 and $1 million to start. Much of that cost is due to construction costs and equipment purchases. When starting a large brewery, it may be necessary to secure a large business loan or seek multiple investors who can assist with these startup costs.
Microbreweries or craft breweries are smaller, so while their startup costs are still substantial, they’re more affordable than a traditional brewery.
Common startup costs for a brewery include:
- Building construction or renovation costs can be significant due to plumbing and electrical needs, in addition to any aesthetics of the real estate.
- Brewing equipment, fermentation tanks, kettles, boilers, storage tanks, refrigeration equipment, bottling or canning lines, etc.
- Supplies, like kegs, bottles or cans, mugs, and glasses
- Inventory, including ingredients
- Furniture including chairs and counters
- Working capital for three to six months of cash to pay payroll, lease or rent, utilities, internet, etc.
Steps to Starting a Brewery
Step 1: Write your Business plan
After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a brewery business plan. Not only will a bank or potential investors require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.
Step 2: Name the Business
Finding the perfect name for a business can be challenging. Not only does the name have to resonate with your customers, but it also has to be available to use. Before launching your brewery, you may want to check into getting a trademark for your brand as you may end up selling across a wide area.
Related: Tips and ideas for naming a brewery
Step 3: Form a Business Entity
A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from, which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.
Related: Comparison of business entities
Step 4: Select your Location
While breweries don’t always require a prime, high-traffic location, it is usually important to be located close to densely populated areas or activities if you plan to have a tasting room.
According to Specific Mechanical, the space needed will vary on the amount of production. They recommend at least 300 to 500 square feet for a 3 to 5 barrel system and 550 to 1200 square feet for a 7, 10, or 15 barrel system.
Finding a space can be challenging since finding a facility with tall ceilings is necessary to get large tanks in the building. Additionally, the facility should have a loading dock as carrying hops, grains, and other supplies by hand will get tiring really quickly, and ventilation from the brew kettle is a must.
Related: Choosing a business location
Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
A brewery business owner will need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. These permits and licenses can vary based on the state and town where the brewery is located.
In addition to these standard business licenses and permits, brewery owners are required to hold additional industry-specific licenses. According to Craft Brewing Business, a business owner must:
- Obtain a federal brewer’s bond or brewer’s collateral bond, which guarantees a brewery will pay tax on the products sold. A federal brewer’s bond is required when applying for a Brewery Notice, and some states also require that a brewery have a local brewer’s bond to apply for licensure.
- Apply for Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Brewery’s Notice. This can take between six months and a year to obtain. To apply for the Brewery’s Notice, business owners must submit proof of their brewer’s bond, as well as information about the brewery’s packaging, labeling, and environmental impact.
- Apply for an alcoholic beverage permit or state liquor license from the state. Licenses are available for supplier, importer, wholesaler, and retailer brewery businesses. Each state has its own application requirements, which may require floor plans, statements of funding, a brewer’s bond, and more.
Because there are so many licenses required within this industry, it’s best to start planning well in advance of the brewery’s opening day so that you have plenty of time to obtain all of the necessary licenses.
In addition to brewery-specific licensing, there will also be local, state, and federal registrations such as a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number, Occupancy Permit, among others.
Step 6: Find Financing
Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a brewery is another due to the high costs. Funding to start a brewery business can be difficult due to start-up expenses. To get a small business loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able to invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.
The high cost of starting a brewery, Small Business Administration, or SBA loans is a popular option as this reduces the bank’s risk and collateral requirements.
Step 7: Open a Business Bank Account
Keeping your business and personal finances in separate business bank and credit card accounts makes it easier to track the business’s income and expenses.
Step 8: Figure out Distribution
Besides only selling out the front door of your brewery, you can also sell through distributors. Some states will allow self-distribution to retailers, restaurants, bars, and liquor stores. However, other states require the brewery to sell to distributors before their product can get on the state shelves.
Even if you can self-distribute, you will want to consider the time and effort it takes to do so.
Regardless of which way you go, be sure to understand your state’s rules thoroughly.
Step 9: Get your Marketing Plan in Place
Good marketing is essential to a brewery’s success, especially when developing a brand of beer that beer enthusiasts will recognize, connect with, and remember. Developing a website, logo, and initial branding can cost $5,000 or more, and that branding will also need to be applied to every new beer developed.
Marketing costs will depend on the type of activity performed, as well as its volume. Common marketing techniques for breweries include print advertising, online advertising, and social media marketing. Connecting with local tour guides and event managers is another valuable strategy that can help build brand awareness and secure valuable partnerships. Breweries may also choose to compete in local food and beer competitions to promote their beers.
Step 10: Get Insurance
A brewery needs several types of insurance for full coverage:
- General liability insurance protects the brewery if customers are ever hurt while on the business’ premises or from the business’ products. This type of policy helps to cover expenses like legal fees or medical bills.
- Commercial property insurance can cover the business’s cost of equipment and building if they are ever damaged or destroyed by an event like a fire.
- Commercial auto insurance covers any company-owned vehicles and protects the business against expenses if those vehicles are ever in an accident.
- Worker’s compensation insurance helps to cover expenses like legal and medical bills that can occur if an employee is ever injured while on the job.
Insurance policy cost can vary greatly depending on the value of a business’ equipment and building, the number of employees on staff, and the types and numbers of vehicles owned by the business. To get the most accurate idea of insurance policy costs, request quotes from multiple providers. When comparing the quotes, pay attention not only to differences in premiums but also to how the coverage limits, exclusions, and deductibles compare.
Step 11: Hire Employees
Most breweries will need to employ multiple staff. According to PayScale, the average salaries for these brewery positions are:
- Head brewer: $41,000
- Brewer: $35,000
- Regional sales manager: $60,000
- Marketing manager: $51,000
- Maintenance technician: $50,000
Depending on a brewery’s size, some or all of these staff may be necessary. In addition to budgeting for salaries, a brewery will also need to account for related expenses like paid time off, health insurance contributions, and workman’s comp insurance.
Related: Hiring your first employee
Step 12: Set up an Accounting System
Setting up an accounting system for your brewery is critical to the long-term success of your business.
Staying on top of taxes not only keeps the business out of trouble with the government, but the numbers can be used to track and monitor trends and cash flow in the business and maximize profits.
How much can you potentially make owning a brewery?
Brewery income can vary dramatically depending on factors like the brewery’s size, location, years in business, target audience, profit margins, and more. Whether a brewery sells mostly through its own taproom or wholesaling its beer to other retailers can also play a role in profits. To ensure that your brewery has the best chance of becoming profitable, it’s important to do thorough market research and identify a niche in the industry that your brewery can specialize in.
Things to consider before starting a brewery
The brewery industry is highly competitive, and in recent years many more new breweries have opened, adding to the competition. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room in the industry for your business, but it does highlight the importance of great branding, a focus on a niche, and identifying local and national demand. A detailed business plan and thorough market research can help develop a unique concept and position your brewery for success.
As you plan your brewery, think about the model that you want to follow. Breweries can act as wholesalers, but they can also be retail businesses themselves. Craft Brewing Business highlights that breweries selling through their own taprooms will provide higher profits than wholesaling beer to other retailers. Structuring your brewery to include a heavy focus on direct sales with qualities that encourage consumers to visit could potentially increase revenue, but only if that decision is right based on your location and the local market.