Is it feasible to start a brewery?
April 24, 2010 11:05 AM   Subscribe

My family has an old family farm out in Hannibal, Missouri (Birthplace of Mark Twain™) that I've been told I could use for future business ventures. Is it a good idea to turn it into a brewery?

I've been into homebrewing and just recently went all-grain. My friends have been enjoying the beer I've been making. I really love it, and would love if I could apply the knowledge from it towards a career.

My family owns a farm out in Missouri in a somewhat touristy area (because Mark Twain was born there and based Tom Sawyer's town off of the area), and my mom and relatives have suggested I start farming there, or convert it into a kitschy farm stand, or something else profitable. This was while I was depressed and having trouble in school (because of no motivation; I'm normally an honor student). Considering how much I enjoy brewing, and how the recent trend in the brewing industry is to use GYO (grow your own) hops, I was thinking it might be cool to open up a brewery on the land.

How hard would it be to break into the brewing business, considering that I already have some land? How much capital will I need to start a brewery that's large enough to sustain itself? What should I study in college to get prepared for running that sort of business? What will I need to know? Is it particularly hard to open a brewery in MO? Do they have a good beer scene? Or would I be better suited to looking for a job at a brewery?

This is all very up in the air right now. I'm a college student who's been struggling with the low drive and apathy of depression, but I figure if I have something to dream towards, I might get motivated to make some grades. I'm particularly thinking that if this is a good idea, I might try for Rutger's Food Science program.
posted by mccarty.tim to Work & Money (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love beer, brewing and breweries, but don't know anything about the financial side. I can tell you that Rutgers Food Science Program is a good one. I've been working with them for almost 20 years in a professional capacity. The state if the art is probably the Siebel Institute in Chicago, though. Why not talk to the folks at River Horse or Triumph and see if you can intern or something?
posted by fixedgear at 11:35 AM on April 24, 2010


How much capital will I need to start a brewery that's large enough to sustain itself?

WSJ: $450-500k

Generally the land isn't the expensive part of running a brewery, it is the capital equipment. Growing your own hops and starting a brewery seems like a very risky venture.
posted by geoff. at 11:43 AM on April 24, 2010


Land is one of your smallest costs in this venture. More significant things include beer brewing and bottling equipment, marketing, and distribution. The last can be a larger expense for businesses in small cities since it can cost more to get a trucks to and from your brewery.

But it would be a hell of a thing to do! Good luck with it!
posted by Ookseer at 11:49 AM on April 24, 2010


>> ... considering that I already have some land?

Do you? JMHO, but I wouldn't even consider spending money on improvements without a clear title. Family permission to use the land is way too revocable.
posted by Bruce H. at 11:50 AM on April 24, 2010


Sounds like an awesome idea to me.

It will take some initial capital to set up the brewery, but there are also other opportunities for the farm. Your university classes could help, but I don't think you need a food service degree.

Just take some business classes and get to work.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:51 AM on April 24, 2010


Having met a lot of folks in the industry, a brewing/distilling degree isn't really a bad idea. I feel like if I was going to go that route I'd get it once I decided to start doing it to serve more than me and my friends only because while messing around with methods and ingredients for smaller batches on your own is cool, once you're trying to do that on a larger scale and selling to the public we're talking about a lot of details that can go awry. But do follow it up with some experience working with breweries, because every story I've heard of craft breweries trying to strike it out on their own, it really takes a village to raise a proper beer. A) You obviously want some real world experience, but B) the craft beer world feels like a huge extended family at times. More or less building up a basic network of people you've worked with, know or respect will add to your efforts. For example, it's not uncommon for a smaller guy asking a larger brand to allow him to brew his stuff using a small section of their brewery, collaborations aren't unheard of (people keeping in touch, discussing techniques or ingredients).

If you plan on going back to Missouri to do this, maybe settle in St. Louis for a bit? It's not just Anheuser-Busch out there, there's craft folks like Schlafly and Morgan Street Brewery. See if you can start working with those guys. Try out several places in fact. Obvs, you don't have to go out to Missouri from the get go to do it, but the point being that the craft brew guys I know are a community of their own of sorts. Also if you want to start up your company there, it seems like it'd be a good idea to get the lay of the land to do business in the area. St. Louis is a little different I guess since it's home playing field for huge brands, but it's interesting how the smaller guys do it too. Start looking at events/conventions held by the Brewers Association. Go hang out and talk to some people working in the business. Maybe bring some stuff you've brewed and let people have a taste at conventions. Many of them are friendly and love to geek out about what they're doing (I still have a picture of a huge full back tattoo the brewer at Morgan Street had of some archaic brewers' logo/legend). Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery is an awesome guy to talk to, and while Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head might get mobbed like a rock star at events, he'll shake your hand and will explain things to you enthusiastically and can talk your ear off about how some of his beers came to be.
posted by kkokkodalk at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I did work in a brewery briefly and know the owners a little. But don't know a ton about this.

BUT

In general, my advice, for anything creative, is 100% do not go to school because it will put you into debt before day 1 of having a business.

If you wanted to do this, you need to go work for the very best brewer that will take you. You'll probably be shoveling out the mash tank or whatever, the scut work, which is what you need to do.

In a school, they don't have a bottom line, don't need to make a profit, etc...if you go work for someone who's making money, you are going to be learning a lot more.
posted by sully75 at 1:12 PM on April 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also I think making a realistic business plan and figuring out where the money is going to come from might be step #1.
posted by sully75 at 1:13 PM on April 24, 2010


Thanks for the tips everyone! I'm still not sure if this is just a pie-in-the-sky dream, or if I can make it happen, but it's good to know some facts! Thanks for the advice, encouragement, and real-world issues!

I will definitely look into interning with a brewery, and work on getting my grades back up for food science/business courses.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:45 PM on April 24, 2010


This is a tangent, but you could always grow grapes for some of Missouri's great wineries.
posted by Ostara at 5:02 PM on April 24, 2010


Oh, and this hops grower in Nebraska is having a one-day hops-growing workshop for only $25/person. Might be kind of fun to pick their brains.
posted by Ostara at 5:41 PM on April 24, 2010


Thanks for the suggestion, Ostara, but I'm in NJ (I know, it's confusing, the land's in Missouri). I have been considering growing hops, though. My homebrew supply shop guy is really big on hops gardening, so I should probably chat with him a bit about hops agriculture next time I stop by.

BTW, I just found out you can't put real fruit in beer in Missouri. You have to use extracts. That's kind of sad. I know that between the paperwork and licensing fees, that'd be the least of my worries.

Maybe I'd be smartest to consider starting out with a hop farm and tourist-friendly brewpub, since it's easier in most states to get a license to sell beer made on premise at a restaurant. Do they have the same failure rates as most restaurants, though? I'm just throwing stuff out there; I haven't really looked into it.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:40 AM on April 25, 2010


PS: I'm also going to ask the NJ-area breweries if they have any advice and/or internships. Thanks for the suggestion! Even if I decide to not go through with this, I think the experience will be fun, and it'll look good on resumes.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:41 AM on April 25, 2010


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