Old thread but for what its worth I am in the process of helping open a small brewpub in just a month or so as the head brewer and as an investor. Its been quite a two year journey to get to this point. Just my observations to date:
1. Decide whether you want to be a brewpub or a brewery. There can be a big difference in business models and there can be significant differences in what you can do legally depending on what state you are in. I didn't appreciate enough the difference when we started this process. Some lessons learned apply to both types of licenses but many apply to one more than the other.
2. Understand the legal restrictions in your state and local area. Don't make any assumptions and hire a good attorney with local beer/alcohol experience. Many don't want the expense, but trust me you will save yourself time and money in the long run.
3. Join the Brewers Association (not the AHA) and join your state's brewing guild or association. Attend as many conferences and seminars as you can. Attending CBC in Nashville, taking advantage of BA online training and webinars, and regularly attending my state's guild conferences and training has been invaluable. Again don't shy away because of the expense; it will save you time and money in the long run. Industry/peer mentoring and assistance from local brewpubs and breweries is invaluable. Ditto for the Master Brewers Association. We made and changed decisions based on what we learned from these events and contacts.
4. In some ways coming up with the beer recipes and making the beer is the easy part. You need to spend as much, or more , time thinking about production management, business management, marketing, etc. as you do the beer. This is arguably the biggest difference between homebrewing and professional brewing.
5. Create something you can realistically manage from a knowledge and resource perspective. The initial vision we had was a 20-30 bbl brewpub in a 10k sq/ft space. No way we could raise that kind of capital and frankly outside our ability to manage at this point in time. We will be opening a 7bbl brewpub in about 2k sq/ft in a matter of weeks. It will be a challenge, but we have come a long, long way in the last two years. In another few years, maybe a 20-30 bbl system in 10K sq/ft space will be very realistic and achievable.
6. 18-24 months of planning/preparation or longer is quite the norm even after you really start to get after it. Licensing alone can take up to six months depending on your state. You will likely need to come out of pocket for rent/lease for most, or all, of that time due to licensing requirements. Again check your local state laws. You will need an address that meets state and local zoning requirements just to get your Federal TTB license, which is generally needed to then get your state license. Make sure you understand the licensing requirements. Also finding a space that makes business sense and meets state and local zoning requirements can take a while-6 months is not out of the realm of reality.
I'll update in a few months after we've opened!