How to start a microbrewery
If you’re passionate about craft ale and want to join the growing independent brewery community, a microbrewery offers a rewarding business opportunity
When starting a brewery, important things to consider are:
What skills do you need to run a microbrewery business and who is it suited to?
Britain’s appetite for craft beers and ales shows no sign of abating, and while alcohol consumption in Britain is the lowest so far this century, beer sales are actually increasing.
The UK’s ailing ale scene has been revived, with microbreweries firing up the fermenters across the country – as of October 2017 the number of UK craft breweries now sits at over 2,000; the largest number of breweries since the 1930s!
A new report from accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young has also indicated a rising trend in craft beer with the number of new breweries up by 18% in 2016; growth of 64% over the past five years.
Usually defined as an independent brewery that produces a very small amount of beer, microbreweries are characterised by a stronger focus on quality, flavour and technique; giving consumers something to be sipped and savoured, rather than the bland, mass-produced lager pumped out by the large corporate distilleries.
To many, opening and running a microbrewery seems like an idyllic lifestyle. Paddy Johnson, from a Berkshire-based microbrewery says that you have to have “a passion for doing this over and above economic sense,” warning that “the market is now massively oversubscribed. You do this not to make money, you do this because you cannot stop yourself.”
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But passion in itself doesn’t run a business; Johnson reminds us “you’ll be spending far more time selling beer than brewing it, so you need to go in with people that are business minded.”
It’s wise to appreciate that just because you love drinking beer doesn’t mean you’ll be an excellent home brewer. Many owners of microbreweries spend years learning and perfecting their craft before they think they’ve got a product good enough to sell.
You could throw caution to the wind and try to learn the time consuming and complex skill of brewing on your own, or you could take a short brewing course to learn the process from experts, and save yourself costly, early mistakes. If you have the time and inclination, you could even take a brewing degree at the International Centre for Brewing & Distilling at Scotland’s Heriot Watt University.
While there’s a tried and tested, centuries old method for brewing beer, once you’ve got the basics down you can start innovating with taste and flavours. The scope for experimenting with unusual ingredients has given rise to a vibrant and varied craft beer scene of quirky and interesting brews. And with so much competition around, creating a unique brand and product is key to success in this industry.
Despite the highly competitive market, there is also a strong sense of community amongst brewers, who are ready to share and support each other, as well as offer advice and guidance.
If you want to open a microbrewery you have to be patient, passionate and persistent. Brewing can be an enjoyable and rewarding process, but it is also time consuming, physical work that involves a lot of heavy lifting and cleaning. Johnson describes the typical brewer as someone who works “phenomenal hours, for very low rates of return […] but that’s what they want to do with their lives.”