Starting A Brewery Part-Time – An Overview and Tips
I get asked by potential owners if starting a brewery part-time is possible? These people are generally looking at the hyper local model with a brewhouse at 500 liters (4.2 US beer barrels) or less.
Opening a brewery is a costly business and some people want to keep working in their daily job for some time, until the brewery is able to support them. It goes without saying, you work load is going to be huge.
Running a brewery means you’ll wear many hats and with small breweries, the responsibility usually falls to the owner. You will be:
- Administrator dealing with the paperwork
- Brewer, cellar man and dispense person
- Manager of staff – if you have servers, they’ll need direction and a schedule.
- Maintenance person – stuff will break in a brewery having electrical, plumbing and DIY knowhow is useful
- Logistics person – ordering raw materials and monthly brew schedule
Yes, some maintenance issues will require a tradesman to fix, but the more you know how to fix minor issues yourself, the better off you’ll be. In my 25 years in brewing, I’ve picked up a lot of tips and tricks to keep a brewery operational along the way.
If you add food into the mix, then you become a restaurant which sells beer made in-house. With these smaller breweries the food options are usually super simple. We will discuss this in more detail later.
People Do Start Breweries Part Time – Find and Chat with Them
I was speaking with a potential client this week who is planning the part time route. He understood he’d have to take some time off at the start of his venture to get the brewery operational.
Once the brewery was up and running then yes, it would be a part time gig whilst still working his daily job. He’d spoken to others who did the same as he’d planned. The feedback was, it’s doable.
So, let’s look at some of the factors involved…
You going to need to have some staff, you can’t do everything. I know small brewing operations where one spouse is front of house while the partner is back of house (brewing and kitchen). If you bring someone in from the outside the right choice is critical.
There are going to be times when you will rely on them to critically think on behalf of your business. You want to have confidence in anyone you choose. They also need to believe in the concept as well.
Time Management – Starting A Brewery Part-Time
This is an obvious place to start. You have to be disciplined with your time. The chances you’re going to have to wake up earlier and go to bed later.
If your beer needs to be dry-hopped on a particular day, then it can happen in the evening after you’ve finished the day job and the bar is open. Or you might do it before you start your shift at work.
If you need raw materials, delivery times need to be correctly schedules so there’s someone there to sign for and put it away. If you’ve a family, you need to be clear at the start, there’s less time you’ll be able to spend with them.
Planning and having a proper schedule for the brewery is key. Plus, prioritizing what are the most important tasks then making sure they are taken care of first. Will help you stay on top of brewery operations.
Write out a “success plan”, it’s a document where you write your goals and expectations for the brewery. Write out how many hours you plan to work on the business. You can’t just say you’re going to try hard; you need to DO IT!
List out milestones for the brewery and what you plan to achieve. Also, reason what you plan to sacrifice for the brewery, and what type of return you expect to receive.
In the first year it might be worth writing out monthly goals and as well longer yearly targets. It may sound harsh; but set out how what you think it’s going to take, write it down and then double it.
Family and Friends – Starting A Brewery Part-Time
As I’ve already said a part-time business can put a strain on you and your family. Family wants to be kept in the loop, know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how it will affect yours and their lives.
When you find yourself working into the night and at weekend it can hurt relationships with a spouse or child if they aren’t fully onboard or aware of the challenges ahead.
One way to alleviate some of these issues, is to involve your family in the process. They can actually help with making your plan a reality and for the brewery to become successful.
Support can be in many forms, from sharing and bouncing off ideas about initial plans to helping at the coal face when the building is being prepared for installation and furnishing.
An Accountability Partner
As we said before when running a brewery, it can be taxing. You might already be tired from your day job and know there’s stuff needed done at the brewery. You’ll have days when you’ll be lacking motivation and those tasks feel like a millstone round your neck.
One way to combat this is having an “accountability partner”, this person can be a paid coach, a friend or spouse. Yeah, you may be starting your venture so, you can “be your own boss”, but having someone to report to, helps get work done.
This partner needs to be solid and someone you respect. It needs someone you can bounce ideas off and have regular conversations with. Importantly this person needs to have business acumen you trust.
There are going to be some serious conversation and times when you’ll get feedback you don’t like. The right person will be able to find holes in your plan but also help keep you motivated and on track.
You’re Not Going to Always Get It Right First Time – Starting A Brewery Part-Time
You need to embrace your failures; they are going to be several as you start a business from the ground-up. When getting my brewing consulting business up and running I made mistakes.
For myself to learn effective, clear and direct communication with multiple people across a project took time to understand. I’ve not mastered it yet, but the from feedback from clients over time, I know I’ve become much better at it.
It’s why I started using images a lot more in communication. As often I’m working with different native languages on a project. Having images make communication easier and more effective. To use an old cliché, a picture speaks a 1,000-words.
When starting a brewery, you can often learn more from your failures as you do from your success. Failure is not only an option, it’s entrepreneurship and on-the-job training.
I’ve a saying in brewing…
“Make a mistake once, it’s a learning experience, make it twice you’re an idiot, make it three times and you’re an asshole” …even I’ve found myself an asshole in my 25-year career, but I try to keep it to a minimum.
Tips from the Brew-Deck to Make Your Life Easier
I’m going to switch tack here, and go into some ideas on how to make your part-time brewery time management easier. There are also some tips to keep costs down too, as with any new business lowering you running capital expenditure is always good.
Plan A Monthly Schedule – Starting A Brewery Part-Time
At the start, if you’re on the smaller scale, you might not need a brewing software to run operations in the brewhouse. Excel can be your friend, I’ve a sheet I’ve created and tweaked over the years which I use on projects I run, or consult on.
I like to have a quick snap shot of beer inventory, typical weekly sales and upcoming brewing schedule in one document. Excel makes this much easier as you plug-in your numbers and then the right formulas do the heavy lifting.
A good spread sheet will tell you how many weeks stock of each beer you have according to sales. It’ll make planning the upcoming monthly brewing schedule easier plus, assists with raw materials inventory too.
On the smaller scale and getting up to speed I’d always recommend using dry yeast. You’ve a lot to take on-board without worrying about yeast health and inventory. You can make award winning beer with dry yeast.
Now if you’ve plugged in all the numbers to your monthly plan. You can schedule brews to re-pitch yeast. The beer you made to use a blonde ale can be used to make an IPA for instance. If you plan to re-pitch dry yeast it’s best to use wort aeration on the way to the FV too.
Dry yeast is expensive so, if it can be re-used, it’s a nice saving. In general, I don’t re-use dry yeast more than 4 generations. They say you can go as high as 10 re-uses, but I find consistency issues after too many re-pitches.
Cost Breakdowns – Starting A Brewery Part-Time
You need to understand the raw material costs of every beer you plan to brew. Several high hopped IPAs might seem a good idea, but a lager which will be in your top three sellers, needs to be cheap to brew material wise.
A fortune doesn’t have to spent to make a good pilsner; it’s about getting your technique right (which will take few turns). Cascade is generally a cheaper hop and works well for aroma in a lager in my opinion.
Breaking down the costs for each brew might lead you into choosing a different core range. High volume, cheaper to make beers can be the engine to profitability. They generally are some of the less labor-intensive beers to make as well.
Wheat beers are generally cheap to make, have a quick to turn around and easy enough to brew. Get some double some sized FV’s, throw wheats in there and they can really help with profitability if they prove popular.
It’s a light beer and with the addition of some orange peel or coriander seeds it can be an approachable beer for some of your less “crafty” clientele.
Get a Keg Washer – Starting A Brewery Part-Time
If you’re budget is tight and you’re starting with a lean equipment set-up, keep a keg a semi-automatic keg washer on the list. They can save you a lot of time. They work by pressing a button and then going through a cycle until kegs are clean ready to take off the machine.
It means you can clean kegs while your brew or are say doing some cellaring. The first cycle or two; make sure the keg cleaner is working as programmed. But once you’re happy, let it work and do other things.
If you’ve the budget, having some automation on your brewing system can be a time saver. Your time in the brewery is precious so, some higher up font costs will pay for themselves over time.
The right automation can make the brewery a manageable one-man operation and cut out the need to hire an assistant. Automation can be anything from programmable step mashing to setting the temperature of your wort on collection to FV.
Serving Food – Starting A Brewery Part-Time
One caveat; what you can provide in the way of food options maybe restricted by your plans and local regulations. Feedback from people who have gone this route is “keep it simple”. Workarounds I’ve seen are:
Just doing one type of dish – There’s an establishment called Hop Project in Shanghai, who only served different forms of grilled cheese sandwiches.
Partner-up – Have a partner who takes care of the food and runs it almost as a separate business.
Food trucks – Pretty self-explanatory.
Take-away food – Allow people to have take-away delivered.
Prepared foods – Only serve pre-made dishes like cold cut platters, which can be provided by a third-party.
Having food options really helps a brewery. People are likely to stay longer and drink more. It’s more profitable if you’re providing the food yourself, as a nice margin can be made on food offerings.
Starting A Brewery Part-Time – Conclusions
As I said people have successfully started a brewery part-time but it’s a lot of work. Therefore, you need to be properly prepared and understand you’re not going to have a lot (if any) free time.
It would make sense to build some down/family and/or friend time into your schedule to keep you sane. Everybody needs a break from time to time, we aren’t machines…being a martyr is going to guarantee success.
Starting a brewery is hard, let alone doing it part time. But with the right goals, support and work ethic it’s possible. Your lean team needs to be tight, plans properly scheduled and communicated too.
If you plan to open a brewery part-time then you have my respect. If you’d like to share your plans or reach out to like-minded people then we have our own Build Me A Brewery Facebook group.
We have people from all walks of life in the group; from commercial brewers to people also planning their own breweries. It’s free to join and they’re a friendly bunch.
I hope you found this article on starting a brewery part-time useful. If you’ve any feedback or follow-up questions, please feel free to comment or send me a message.