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How to start a brewery

Planning to open your own business can be a stressful endeavor, no matter what the profession. Trying to open a brewery in San Diego where nearly 90 breweries/brewpubs are already producing beer is an even more daunting task. How will you stand out among the professionals who have been building the industry for decades? Will your business concept work? Can you even brew good beer?
Get past those questions, and an even more intimidating list of things that needs to occur before you even brew your first batch of beer awaits you. Location, permits, licenses, equipment, ingredients, sales….the list goes on. Take a look at just some of the things you need to prepare for to open your own San Diego brewery.

The Beer
Attempt to brew average beer in San Diego and you’ll stick out like Muggsy Bogues standing next to Manute Bol. Brewers who honed their skills at larger breweries often branch off and do their own thing, so competition is fierce. Dial in your recipes and create a top tier tasting room and praise is likely to follow. Have a place with plastic chairs and don’t have an IPA on your list and your brewery will likely fail. Experimenting with styles is great, but a focus on core beers and specialties is key in the local landscape.

Size Matters
The size of your brewery concept plays a crucial role in moving forward with your business plan. If you or your brewer have only been brewing a few years, opening a nanobrewery might be the way to go. Brewing on a smaller scale allows you to focus on recipes while dialing in your concept. Hess Brewing is a great example of a local success story of a nano. Be a gypsy brewer, using the equipment of established brewers and gain a cult following like Mikkeller. Avoid the costs associated with a physical brewery and be a contract brewer. Whatever path you choose, make sure it’s the best fit for you and your brewers capabilities.

One of the caveats to begin the process of opening your own brewery is that you have to have a lease/rental agreement on a physical location before you can even get some licenses and permits. Choose a location based on ease of access for customers, welcoming neighbors or other breweries and future expansion possibilities. Choosing a location hastily just to get the ball rolling could end up in unhappy neighbors, delays in permits and licenses because the building is not zoned correctly or capable of holding a brewery and huge amounts of revenue loss.

The Red Tape
The federal and local governments regulate just about everything that will go on within (and outside) of your brewery. If you intend to brew beer for sale you must have licenses from the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) and the United States Treasury department (TTB). You will be taxed, then taxed again. You will be looked over with a microscope and fine toothed comb. You will be scrutinized, lectured, perhaps even scolded. Then you will be able begin your business as a brewery. Then they will continue to monitor you, make sure you keep records of everything, then analyze your record keeping. In short, make friends with Big Brother.

Expect the unexpected
An untold truth is that running a brewery is 90% cleanup and 10% everything else. Not exactly the dream job home brewers are hoping it to be. Running a brewery turns out to be less about brewing (and drinking) beer and all about running a business. Kinda like the drummer being the backbone of the band, but the lead singer getting all the girls.
If you are not a clean freak and have a soft spot for sanitizing your surrounding environment, opening a brewery might be good for you. You will be surrounded by chemicals, ingredients and brewing waste and everything needs to be cleaned constantly to ensure contamination risk is at a minimum. Sure, you can hire someone to do the dirty work for you, but that costs money.
By the way, something on your brand new cold box just malfunctioned. You need to fix it asap, or all your beer will go bad. And the manufacturer of your cold box cannot make it out to repair it until next week. Your new job is handyman, not brewer, owner or even founder, whether you know the difference between vice grips and hose clamps or not.

So, here is a running list of the things you need to start checking off your list before (insert brewery name here) is up and running (abbreviated, of course). You'll notice most of them have little to do with beer or brewing:

• Location
• Staff
• Branding
• Licesing
• Beer styles
• Tasting room design
• Equipment
• Ingredients
• Regulations
• Distribution
• Recycling
• Waste
• Water
• Plumbing
• Price posting
• Label approval
• Area demographics
• Sales
• Record keeping
• Size
• Expansion
• Zoning
• Permits
• Construction
• Neighboring breweries
• Leasing vs. purchasing
• And on and on………

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