Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Business of Brewing


I'm late. I had every intention of getting this posted Friday. I actually started the article a few weeks ago. I was going to finish it up Thursday night, but as it turns out, something exciting happened in my imaginary Brewing life that made me work on a different blog post on Thursday night. It was Kind of a Big Deal for me.

So, I decided to post this a little later. We can call it a Beer Blogging Sunday instead. Hope the rest of beer blogging community understands and doesn't shun me for my late submission.

Here it is ... time for another month's "The Session" (aka Beer Blogging Friday).

This month's topic comes from Chuck at allbeers.

He is interested in reading about The Business of Brewing

He writes:
 "In this Session, I’d like to invite comments and observations from bloggers and others who have first-hand knowledge of the complexities and pitfalls of starting a commercial brewery. What were the prescient decisions that saved the day or the errors of omission or commission that caused an otherwise promising enterprise to careen tragically off the rails?"
Well, here at the SheppyBrew Brewery,  we have not "gone commercial", but we like to make believe that we are a real brewery, or someday could become one. So, I don't have the "first-hand knowledge" that Chuck is looking for, but for the purposes of this article I will pretend I know what I am talking about.

I mean, hell, I have a website and I have lots of beers. What else do I really need?

I even now have an award winning beer!

The truth is that people ask me all the time if I want to start my own professional brewery someday. My honest answer is "no, not really". I think this shocks some people. It shocks some people so much that they block from their memory what I actually said. I get the same question again multiple times for the same people. It is sort of amusing really.

Home-brewing is my hobby. It is fun for me, and I don't want to risk ruining it by making it work.


Well, there are the obviously answers.
  • It is hard physical long-hours type work to be a brewer. I have heard that professional brewing is more of a janitorial position than anything else. I don't mind cleaning a 6 gallon carboy. Cleaning a 7 barrel fermentor over and over is another story.
  • It is expensive to get started. It is extremely capital intensive with a high risk and really does not pay that well.
  • The hoops you have to jump through with the Local, State, Federal and Intergalactic Government agencies are ridiculous.
These are the obvious answers, but I think if you really love your job (as I would as a brewer), I would be able to get past all these sorts of things with a smile on my face.

It is the subtle "little" things that I think would drive me crazy. All these are true stories:

Brewery Names.
There is a somewhat famous situation with a Denver brewery in a conflict with a Boston area Home brew shop. This local brewery is truly local. As far as I know they don't even distribute out of their tap room, but even if they do, it does not go very far out of their neighborhood and no where close to Boston.

Lawyers have gotten involved. The local brewery has gotten a cease and desist. They have tried to figure out a cross-promotional marketing plan with the home-brew shop, but apparently the guy in Boston does not want to work with the local brewery. According to everything I have read, the only thing he wants is for our local brewery to change its name.

Not an easy (or inexpensive) proposition.

Some of our local breweries even banded together to do a fund-raising event to help with the little local brewery's legal fees.

When you are a small brewery, you really just want to make beer. You don't want to have to deal with this kind of thing. You really just want to get along, but some people just don't play nice.

Last I heard, our local brewery had finally given up "being the nice guy" and is now on the attack.

Why it had to come to this, I don't really know. It seems to me that two small businesses in completely different markets in what are actually different industries should be able to co-exist with similar names.

I would think that, but I'm not a trademark lawyer, and apparently I am wrong.

This mess is just a headache I don't want to have to deal with as a professional brewer.

Beer Names.
It isn't just that you have to be careful what you call your Brewery. There is an even bigger problem with naming your beers.

One day I was sitting at a local brewery after having bought home-brew ingredients next door. I was talking to one of the brewers and asked him about the name of a beer. It used to be called Seven Sea's Double IPA. This was a fantastic name. The brewery has a sea-faring type name, and all its beers follow a theme that falls in line with ships and sailing. In addition, they brewed (I think they still do) this beer with 7 "C" hops. In fact I have referred to it as 7 C's IPA before. Great name.

Unfortunately, the brewer told me, another brewery had already started using that name as their brewery name. My local brewery had apparently gotten a cease and desist letter from some lawyer for this other brewery.

The brewer was pissed about the whole thing. He went on and on how in the craft brewing industry other brewers had worked together, collaborated to make something work. He brought up Collaboration Not Litigation Ale and other examples of breweries working together.

Unfortunately, though, the other brewery was well within its rights to ask my local brewery to stop using the name. In fact, I have been told that in cases like this legally, you almost HAVE to defend your trademark or else you are telling the world that you don't actually want the rights to the name you've established.

I don't quite understand the whole legal standpoint. And in fact, don't want to. And that is sort of my point. There are more breweries doing business and in the planning stages today than in any other time in American history. With all the breweries and all the beers they create, cool original names are hard to come by. That headache is just one I don't want to deal with as a brewery owner.

And it seems you see stories like this are getting more and more common. Lots of times the breweries work it out like Avery did with Russian River, but I am seeing more and more examples where the breweries decided to fight about it.

Heck, at some point I fully expect to get a letter from some lawyer about some of my home-brew names. Not a big deal for my little home-brewery, but not a headache I want to deal with on a professional level.

Customer Complaints.
My wife and I were recently at another local brewery, and we got to talking with one of the owners. Not sure exactly how it came up, but he was telling us he was getting complaints about how far some of the patrons had to walk to get to his tasting room. People were telling him he had a parking problem.

This shocked me because, first of all, this place actually has more parking spaces right by it than any other small Denver-area brewery I have been to. Plus, this is in a smaller town that we actually like to walk around in anyway.

Apparently, this place just gets so busy (which is a good thing) that this parking lot gets full. Some people end up having to walk a few blocks. I can't imagine ever complaining to this establishment about lack of parking.

But that is my thing. Sometimes people just nag about the dumbest things. This owner was a little miffed about how angry some of the customers were, and I don't blame him.

I could go on and on about these petty little complaints that would drive me crazy as a brewery owner. "You don't have food". "You don't have the right kind of food". "You shouldn't allow children in your tasting room". "You should be more kid-friendly". "Why don't you serve Bud Light?"

These are all complaints I have heard about from little Denver-area breweries. These are just the ones that pop right to the top of my head.

I could go on and on.
I could actually give you tons of all these little headaches I have heard from local brewery owners. This blog is getting too long, though, and as I mentioned above, I am late getting it out anyway.

My point is that I think all these little headaches would add up to just make owning a brewery less about brewing beer and more about dealing with these little annoyances. And, at this point in my life I just don't want to have to deal with it.

So, you won't be seeing SheppyBrew Brewery going commercial anytime soon.


I have purposely not done so before finishing my own Session post, but take a look at the comments in Chuck's post to see what other bloggers have to say on this topic. Again, it is called The Business of Brewing.

Go Blackhawks!


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