It’s no secret that America loves our craft beer. While major corporations such as Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors obviously dominate national beer sales, craft beer sales have increasingly been pushing their way into the action.
The overall beer market in the U.S. generated $101.5 billion in sales in 2014, with $19.6 billion coming from craft beer, an overall increase in 22%, according to the Brewers Association. While traditional craft beer titans such as Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada routinely round out the top of the list, smaller craft breweries are beginning to pop up everywhere. Since 2009, the number of breweries in the U.S. has doubled and in 2012, small and independent craft brewers contributed $33.9 billion to the U.S. economy.
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Naturally, you want your up-and-coming brewery to get in on the action. But how? Like any small business, starting a brewery takes a significant amount of time and planning before you actually get to see your ideas come to fruition. So before taking the next steps in getting your brewery off the ground, here are five things all aspiring brewers should think about:
- Have a plan: Obviously, any business is going to need a traditional business plan, but you also need to go beyond that and as an independent brewery, there are a variety of ways to go. For instance, how big do you want to be? Do you want to strictly be a brewery and nothing else, or do you want to offer brewery tours and include a restaurant? Do you want to market yourself and have merchandise such as t-shirts and hats? These are all questions that must be answered during the planning phase of your brewery.
- Distribution: Distribution is perhaps the most important factor to consider when planning your brewery. Some states allow self-distribution, and this is normally the best option for young, independent breweries that are just starting out. However, as your brewery begins to grow you will most likely have to transfer distribution duties to an actual distributor because it will reach a point where logistically you will simply not be able to handle it yourself.
- Ethos and philosophy: Microbreweries are known for having distinct and pleasurable cultures, and this unique attribute is one of the things that appeals to customers. If you look at the microbrewery landscape, some of the biggest players are known for their inimitable style and approach to craft beer. For instance, it’s hard to truly distinguish between Bud Light and Coors Light—all of those brands tend to blend together. But with microbrews, you really can point out specific differences when comparing Sam Adams to Sierra Nevada, or Stone to Dogfish Head. It’s important for you to decide what type of personality you want your brewery to have before starting out.
- Working capital: Like any small business, financing is going to play a major role in the beginning phases of your brewery. One thing you obviously need to think about it: Where is the financing going to come from? The most common routes young breweries take for financing are self-funding, investors, bank loan or alternative financing. Pick whatever option works best for you, and make sure you are allocating the money in the right places and being as resourceful as possible.