The Five Secrets to Opening a Successful Brewery

In which we pave the road to every beer lover’s dream job

By The Editors
April 7, 2016 9:00 am

If opening a brewpub sounds like the ideal gig, it is.

You’re crafting beer, there’s always a game on and people make you delicious food all day. It’s basically a clubhouse that makes a profit. Entrepreneur magazine recently wrote that “failure rates for new craft breweries are nearly zero.”

But that’s a vast oversimplification of a very complex process. Like any successful startup, opening a brewpub requires a knowledge and hard work.

If you’re passionate enough about craft beer and willing to put in the sweat equity, though, it’s a worthy endeavor. To help you get started, we spoke with Julian Wright, an award-winning restaurateur who recently opened Pedal Haus Brewery in Tempe, AZ.

You’ll need talented brewers (but so does everyone else)

With new breweries and brewpubs popping up by the day, the competition to find quality brewers is fierce. One of the first things Wright did during the inception stages of the project was to search for an experienced brewer. “I knew going into this project quality beer was going to be key, as obvious as it sounds,” he says. “I didn’t want an inexperienced brewer who was learning on the job or over-experimenting. I was fortunate to find Derek Osborne [and his 20 years of experience] as my master brewer.”

Scalability is paramount

Many brewpub owners dream of getting distribution for their craft beers. It’s a key step in getting the exposure your brews need to find a home in other bars and restaurants. If you haven’t planned for the demand and don’t have room for storage and new brewing equipment, the dream will die very quickly.

Your employees need to be passionate

Craft beer drinkers are aficionados. They’ll often want to know about the nuances of the brewing process, including specific ingredients. If your servers’ only response to a question about your pilsner is that it’s “the Bud Light of craft beers,” you won’t find purchase with critics or connoisseurs (cicerones, in beer-drinking parlance).

Don’t neglect the kitchen

Putting out a quality food product — as well as having an efficiently run kitchen — is just as important as the beer. If someone loves your brews but has a bad dining experience, they probably aren’t coming back. “Running a restaurant can be a real bitch, from controlling food and labor costs to putting out a consistently good product,” says Wright. “If you’re going to serve food, it needs as much attention as the brewing.”

Be ready for the unexpected (and the bureaucratic)

Permits and paperwork are going to take longer than expected, and unexpected costs will undoubtedly arise. For Pedal Haus, one of these unexpected obstacles was installing an unforeseen water purification system. “With water usage and the toxic chemicals used in the brewing process being a bigger concern these days, it’s important to talk with local municipalities to discuss these issues before getting married to a location,” says Wright. “We had to install significant waste water purification equipment as part of our building process.”

—Clint Corey

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