Admit it. You dream of becoming a probrewer. Not long after your first brew day with your first shitty Mr. Beer kit, you were hooked. Not long after that first homebrew session you began to daydream about the possibility of going pro and brewing full time. You don’t really know anything about what it takes to go from homebrewer to probrewer, but who cares. It’s just a random passing thought as you huddle around your propane burner, almost willing your wort into a rolling boil. However, for a select few of you, it’s more than just a daydream. You’re actively planning on quitting your day job and putting your money where your mouth is.
I reached out to the Reddit community and asked if any brewers in potentia would mind filling out a brief survey. The response was much better than I expected and the comments, I believe, were incredibly revealing about the type of person takes the leap to becoming a Master Brewer. I was less interested in the nuts and bolts of their plan than I was about their motivations and backgrounds. Here are the broad strokes.
What is your professional background?
Naturally, this one was all over the board. There did seem to be a few more engineers in the crowd though, with five out of the 12 respondents having a background in some sort of engineering. To me, this makes a bit of sense, and I base this on nothing more than my opinion and the engineers that I know. Brewing is a technical process and requires a keen eye, scientific mind, and attention to detail. There are plenty of careers that require those skills, but engineers seem to always have them in spades.
The remaining respondents had a mixed bag of careers and vocations, ranging from military, to accounting, to bartender, to even a chemist who specialized in brewing science. I’m not sure what the common thread there is when it comes to work experience and wannabe brewers, or even if there is one. My gut tells me that the one thing everyone of them has though is work ethic. You can’t be a slouch and be a professional brewer. It’s hard, dirty, manual work, and anyone who isn’t up for it will be weeded out damn quick.
How long have you been planning to go pro as a brewer?
Again, across the board on this one. From as little as 3 months, to as long as 8 years. I’ll admit it’s rattled around in my brain on the high side of this range. The question I neglected to ask is the one I’m willing to bet has a strong correlation to the answers given. “How long have you been homebrewing?” Practically every homebrewer I know didn’t make it more than a few brew days in before they started day dreaming about what it might be like to do this as a living.
Is there anything holding you back from tacking the next step?
There are clearly two major factors at play when it comes to making to leap from homebrewer to pro brewer. Know how, and cold, hard cash. Money is easy enough to understand. Anyone who does a quick Google search learns very quickly that opening a brewery costs. A lot. Few have the kind of start up capital needed to open the doors and purchase equipment on their own, so they have to seek funds elsewhere. Which quickly leads into the next hurdle. How? No one just lends you money without a plan these days, so you quickly dive into a business plan. Many respondents said they were working on or had finished their business plans. So, depending on how in depth they went, they should at least be starting to educate themselves on the theoretical bits about how to operate a brewery. However, a business plan doesn’t mean you know how to actually do anything, one respondent said, echoing a sentiment shared by Matt Cutter of Upslope Brewing Co.
At any point, have you had a “reality check?”
The majority of the panel stated that they considered it a reality check when they realized that they would have to leave a financially stable and lucrative career for on that would likely be neither. It can be tough to leave behind a steady paycheck and stable hours for such large unknowns. The hours are typically long, hard, and while it may pay the bills, being a brewer is rarely the path to riches. The fear of failure and lack of knowledge were also high on several’s list of reasons for not quite taking the next step. You can definitely argue that this is true of any business and carry the exact same risks of failure and crippling debt.
Do you intend to become a brewer full time, or will you keep your day job until it becomes profitable?
All in baby! Most believed that to be successful, opening the doors of a brewery would require 100% of their focus. A couple stated practical reasons for wanting to keep their day jobs, but that they would abandon their careers at the first possible moment. It makes all the sense in the world, too. Splitting your focus splits your results, and running a successful brewery is no part time venture. I’ve spoken to brewer after brewer, and 50-80 work weeks seem to very common. Punching a time clock and working 9-5 is exceedingly rare in start ups.
How supportive have others been of your decision?
Brewers in potentia seem to have a strong support network. 100% said that everyone around the encouraged them to move forward and follow their dream. The only time that this was not quite the case, was when that person was directly affected by the brewers money situation. Significant others and spouses, while encouraging, were a bit more practical about their support than others that had no skin in the game. Supporting a wife and children on a brewer’s paycheck, plus the long hours required could put a strain on any relationship, not matter how enthusiastic they might be.
Do you feel that the craft beer market is over saturated or could become so before you open your doors?
The consensus is yes. With just over 4,500 breweries operating in the US, it’s getting harder and harder to stand out. Whether it be wishful thinking or blind hope, many think that there is room for a few more. Their brewery being one of the few. It also seems to depend on location. There are still plenty of regions in the country that are under served. Many states still have antiquated laws that prevent new breweries from being able to open their doors in meaningful numbers. This is changing though, and in some places very quickly. It won’t be long before nearly every where you go in the country, you can enjoy a delicious, locally brewed craft beer.
How do you intend to stand out?
The theoretical brewmasters have a lot of big ideas when it comes to branding. Focusing heavily on one offs and seasonals, simple beers, quality, to none of my fucking business! A few kept it close to the chest, but everyone agreed that the focus should be on the beer, first and foremost. It falls apart after that though. There were as many ideas on how to stand out as there were respondents. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and each brewery and brewmaster has something unique to offer. Which is good, because they also agreed that simply making good, even great beer wasn’t enough these days. Breweries have to offer the complete experience.
When I first sent out my survey, I was really interested to see what all the wannabe brewery owners were going to say. Their responses ranged from the expected to the surprising and gave a neat little slice into the type of person that would do something so crazy as open a brewery. What about you? Ever dream of just saying “oh, fuck it all!” and running off to make beer all day? Yes? Well what’s stopping you?