Author Topic: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?  (Read 2762 times)

Offline nateo

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How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« on: February 03, 2012, 05:49:18 PM »
This sounds like a stupid question, but I'm serious. Specifically, what sorts of skills and knowledge do you need to be a brewer?

My father-in-law wants to buy a brewpub (5-10bbl) in the next couple of years and wants me and my wife to run it. As far as the business end of it goes, he's good at that sort of stuff. He used to own/run a bar, among other things. My wife used to work as a sous-chef, so she can run a kitchen. Being into brewing, he wants me to run the brewery.

Is it realistic for me to gain the knowledge to run a pro brewing system in that time? I've been on the probrewer forums and have seen how many brewers are looking for work. Would it be wiser to hire a brewer?

I've read through a lot of threads on here and elsewhere about running a brewpub, and it seems like the brewing part is the least important part, with the restaurant and the "business" part of it being where most people struggle. 

I don't really have time to do an internship anywhere, and there isn't really anywhere close to me where I could. I've seen things like the Siebel institute online courses, but I'm leery of that. They seem to be just like the culinary institute, and I've worked with some graduates from culinary school that couldn't even dice an onion properly.

I've got a good handle on science and a bachelors, and I think I can learn things pretty easily. We're currently running a retail store / campground together, so I'm used to running a business and the whole "always on-the-clock, married to your job, crazy long hours" thing.

Any advice on how/where to get the skills I'll need? I've been reading some technical brewing books, but anything else?
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Offline a10t2

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2012, 05:59:37 PM »
I'll go out on a limb here and say that it's almost impossible to run a brewhouse without prior experience. The actual brewing is more or less identical to home brewing, of course, but the equipment and most of the non-brewing tasks don't really translate. On top of which, you don't really know if you'll even like the job at this point.

My advice would be to hire a brewer to open the place and brew for the first few months on a contract basis, with you as assistant brewer. That will get you up to speed and also give you an idea of whether or not you even want the job.

In the meantime, start thinking of your home brewing as if you have a production schedule to maintain. Keep a budget. Manage your supply chain - no trips to the LHBS the day before you brew. Start refining a dozen recipes at most. Pare your yeast strains down to three or four and learn to manipulate them as best you can. Keep a calendar and make sure that when you rack out of a fermenter there's a brew session scheduled to fill it. The non-brewing aspects of operating a brewery are the hard parts.
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Offline Thirsty_Monk

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2012, 06:43:27 PM »
From my experience brewing is the easy part.
We as a homebrewers know the mechanics of brewing.

Where the challenge is is the size of brewing equipment.
Thing like that you can not put 15 feet of 1.5" brewing hose in sanatizing bucket.
Shake your fermenter with sanitiser to sanitise it...
Mill 400 lb of grain a pop.

You will go thru "holy crap it is large" stage.
Then you get used to the size of vessels, amount of grain and you will get more comfortable.

Each brewing equipment has to be learned and that takes time.
Practise make perfect.

I agree that you have to work on schedule.
Once you build expectation you have to meet that expectation.
If you do not you will be in trouble.
People will stop coming to your place.

I run production brewery.
I have done it.
I did not have prior experience.
I produce about the same amount of beer as small brewpub.

Think about it long and hard.
Brewpub is VERY expensive proposition.
In general you make about 11% of sales from your beers.
Rest is the food.

Good Luck.
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Offline speed

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2012, 07:59:33 PM »
and may i add, you better have damn good food or they won't come back even if the beer is good.

Offline beersk

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2012, 08:57:23 AM »
and may i add, you better have damn good food or they won't come back even if the beer is good.
I don't think that's true at all, not everyone goes out to eat AND drink.  Some people just want to stop somewhere after work for a couple beers and head home for dinner.
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Offline denny

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2012, 09:14:02 AM »
and may i add, you better have damn good food or they won't come back even if the beer is good.
I don't think that's true at all, not everyone goes out to eat AND drink.  Some people just want to stop somewhere after work for a couple beers and head home for dinner.

Based on my own actions and what I've seen and heard from others, I think you're underestimating the importance of food.  Most people who go to a brewpub, including myself, won't go back if the food isn't top notch.  Sure you get some who go there only to drink, but most of the $$ is made from the food, not the beer.  As much of a beer geek as i am, I won't be there just for the beer.  There are too many other choices, at least around here.
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Offline majorvices

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2012, 09:19:58 AM »
I'm not sure about all, but in many instances food is really the driving force of a brewpub. The beer is more a novelty. I'm sure you can make it work if you have a business model where the food is secondary, but it is a lot of money to open a kitchen and hrie a wait staff only to have the food suck and no one come.
Keith Y.
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Offline narvin

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2012, 09:21:01 AM »
You'll figure it out.  Someone is buying you a brewery.  Go for it!

Just make sure you're ready for a LOT of work.
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Offline tschmidlin

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #8 on: February 08, 2012, 10:33:50 AM »
There is a brewery near me with a "tasting room" that is as nice as any brewpub I've been to.  Their food consists of pretzels, but you are welcome to bring your own food and there is a pizza place nearby that delivers to the brewery all of the time (and has theme pizzas to go with beers - they have a great relationship).  The brewery is always packed, and will give you plates/napkins/utensils if you need them.

Just like you don't want to serve crappy beer, don't serve crappy food.  If you can't do it right, save the money on the kitchen and just let people bring their own food.
Tom Schmidlin

Offline hopfenundmalz

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #9 on: February 08, 2012, 10:47:28 AM »
There is a production lager brewery in Ann Arbor that has a tasting room, but no food.  They have great beer and are usually packed.  You can bring in, call for pizza, or whatever.  It is not uncommon to see a food cart parked near the entrance.  If there are a number of food carts in the area of the brewery, you could even have them have a rotation set up, so the food varies.
Jeff Rankert
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Offline anthony

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #10 on: February 08, 2012, 10:54:51 AM »
When I was visiting my folks in Colorado around the holidays, there were quite a few breweries that had tasting rooms with no food of their own but allowed you to bring in food. They were all pretty popular (Oskar Blues, Left Hand, Odells, Grimm Brothers, etc.)

Oskar Blues seems to keep a food truck specializing in BBQ parked outside their new production brewery in Longmont.. I didn't try any but it looked pretty nice.

I absolutely agree with the other posters, if you can't or don't want to do food, you shouldn't do a brewpub.

Offline jeffy

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #11 on: February 08, 2012, 11:41:03 AM »
Here in Tampa we seem to be having a food truck fad.  Cigar City calls on one every Friday afternoon to park outside the entrance to the no-food served tasting room.  It's actually pretty cool.
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Offline hopfenundmalz

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #12 on: February 08, 2012, 12:14:32 PM »
We visited a brewery in Indianapolis right before Thanksgiving,  Flat 12.  Pretty good beer, nice area to drink. They had a pizza cart outside then. Now they have teamed up with the artisan meat producer that is across the steet.  We might have to visit Flat 12 next time we go to see family.

If you have something similar nearby making good cured and smoked meats, it would be a good match.

http://flat12.me/blog/
« Last Edit: February 08, 2012, 12:16:14 PM by hopfenundmalz »
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Offline euge

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #13 on: February 08, 2012, 12:31:38 PM »
I've been fantasizing a bit too. ;)

If I were to do it- the choice would be for a production brewery. A tasting room? Yes. But all I'd want to do is concentrate on the beer. That's it. Have bread- pretzels are a good idea and/or peanuts in the shell to soak up some of the alcohol. No messing with any other than the beer, the packaging, selling and distribution.

And if someone, say a relative wants to open a food truck/cart outside that would be just fine. Doing bbq sandwiches like chopped beef and brisket or smoked chicken.

But also, I've been thinking a small-scale artisan distillery would be more profitable. That's where I'm leaning to. But nuff said about that! 8)
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman

Offline Slowbrew

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Re: How hard is it to be a pro brewer?
« Reply #14 on: February 08, 2012, 12:47:49 PM »
I've been fantasizing a bit too. ;)

If I were to do it- the choice would be for a production brewery. A tasting room? Yes. But all I'd want to do is concentrate on the beer. That's it. Have bread- pretzels are a good idea and/or peanuts in the shell to soak up some of the alcohol. No messing with any other than the beer, the packaging, selling and distribution.

And if someone, say a relative wants to open a food truck/cart outside that would be just fine. Doing bbq sandwiches like chopped beef and brisket or smoked chicken.

But also, I've been thinking a small-scale artisan distillery would be more profitable. That's where I'm leaning to. But nuff said about that! 8)

It's like you read my mind.

My wife and I are managing a couple of concession stands at the men and women's home games for a certain university here in Des Moines this season.  It's a fund raiser for our kid's high school band.  That's all the closer I ever want to get to food service management.

I've been thinking a decent sized production brewery or a small batch distillery would be the way to go. 

I'm only half joking when I tell my friends and family that Iowa is going to be the largest producer of distilled spirits anywhere in the world in about 10 years.  You can't spit without hitting an ethanol production facility in this state right now.  Once the government stops propping up 10% ethanol in gasoline the whole market will collapse.  There should be quite a few high volume, food grade, production facilities available on the cheap.  Stop adding gasoline to the alcohol and start aging it in barrels and you're all set.   Should be easy, right?  8)

Paul
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