You are a homebrewer who is considering turning professional. After all, who wouldn’t want to run their own brewery? What does it take to turn a hobby, albeit the best and most fun one of all, into a career? In my experience, there are three major considerations to discern before taking the leap: brewing, business, and “the rest.” Full disclosure – I am a homebrewer and lawyer. I have been homebrewing since 1994, and I regularly work professionally within the brewing industry*.
Brewing has grown exponentially over the last decade or so. As of 2021, there are over 9,200 breweries in the United States. Give or take a couple dozen, that number has doubled since 2015. Are there room for more? Perhaps, depending on where you are located and whether the market is saturated. But what does this really mean? We are getting spoiled. Without naming names, the prevalence of more traditional, albeit lower- quality, beers is diminishing, and consumers have access to some really incredible beer, and lots of it. Trust me on this one, as where I am located in Colorado, you can’t hardly throw a rock without hitting a great brewery. Please don’t throw rocks, however. That said, do I have my favorites? Heck, yeah. Hit me up if you are ever in the Denver area and we’ll snag a beer and talk all things fermented malt beverage. But what does this mean if you are really considering turning from a homebrewer into a professional? Competition! There are lots of great breweries and lots of great beer, so you need to PRACTICE and get good at what you are making. Learn from what is out there, what styles seem to be most prevalent in your area, and brew, brew, brew! Doing so will encourage consumers to visit your establishment, try your beer and more importantly, keep coming back.
If you make good beer, you also have to run a good business. The allure of running a brewery might seem appealing, but it takes a lot of work. There are governmental requirements – federal, state and local. Talk to the owners and brewers, many times the same people, at your favorite establishments. Ask questions, and then surround yourself with people who can help. While no means an exhaustive list, in my experience, there are a few key points to consider when seeking either knowledge on your own or seeking help from family, friends and professionals:
Setting up a business. This requires a lot of planning (and money), including what type of business (LP, LLC and many more), and why a particular one might suit you depending on your initial plan as well as inevitable growth in the future. Write up your business plan in as much detail as you can. This will include where you want to be located, how big you’d like to make your brewery, both in terms of system size but also square footage, and how much money/investment it will require. Are there local concerns or zoning issues? Will there be enough power, water and waste disposal facilities? There are some fabulous online resources for business planning, most of which ask these important questions. There are also professionals available to assist – seek help! Whatever you think starting the business will cost, plan for it to cost more AND take more time.
Trademarks. What’s in a name? Not only should you consider working with legal counsel on securing a name for a brewery, but you also need to understand why this is important. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has many rules and filing for a trademark can be tough to navigate. In my experience, working with a professional on this point is critical to ensure you can BRAND and PROTECT both your brewery and potentially some successful product lines. Trademarks aren’t the only intellectual property you may want to protect, either. A lawyer can also counsel you on possible use of copyrights and trade secret programs to further secure your future.
Regulations. As noted above, there are federal requirements through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), state requirements (which vary state-to- state, distribution between states (don’t get me started – that’s a whole topic in and of itself), and local concerns that should also be well understood before you dive into this adventure. Brewing is a regulated industry, so partnering with a legal professional to understand what must be done up front, ongoing and when things change down the road is very important. There are permits and licenses required in order to brew, get recipe and formula approval, labeling and more. There are also significant tax implications as well as import and export regulations. It can be daunting, but it is not impossible.
In my experience, the most successful breweries not only make great beer, but they employ the best people and have the best vibe. Be a place that not only you and your friends want to be at, but also consider other demographics, families and travelers from outside your region or state. Are you considering a theme? Be careful and tread lightly on those nuances, as you want to be a place where customers feel welcome. Television, music (live or recorded), and food decisions all carry additional requirements, legal risks and planning. Above all, don’t get discouraged and consider taking the plunge. Will there be unknowns and setbacks? Probably. Yes. Gut check time – if you are passionate and surround yourself with the right people, what’s stopping you? I’m always looking for a great brewery to patronize either locally or when I travel. Let me know where you are, and I’ll try to stop by!
Want to learn More! about opening a brewery? Check out our video, The Process of Opening a Brewery with Side Gate Brewery below.
(*) Garrett Dean is a licensed lawyer in Colorado with Armstrong Teasdale LLP. As part of his legal practice, he works with breweries of all sizes, as well as suppliers and manufacturers in the industry, counseling them on trademark registrations, contracts (distribution, leases, employee confidentiality agreements, and the like), business formation, capital investment, and more. In his experience, there are certain items, both legal and business, that set apart successful businesses from those who merely survive (or worse). Please note that the information provided in this article does not constitute legal advice, nor does it substitute for legal advice. Information may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. Readers should contact their lawyer to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. No reader should act on this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
All contents copyright 2023 by MoreFlavor Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this document or the related files may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means (electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Sign up to receive exclusive deals, tips and tricks, special coupons and much more ...