This week I was literally asked about going from bucket brewer to commercial brewing. The guy who reached out, had bought some brewing equipment and was asking how he’d be best off making the transition.
I have to say this isn’t an easy question to answer. Brewing beer commercially isn’t just brewing beer, you wear many hats.
- Logistics and scheduling production
- Raw material purchasing
- Packaging your beer
- Cleaning (brewing is 80% cleaning)
Honestly it goes on and on. For the guy who reached out to me; he’ll also be in charge of the business too. It’s a lot to take on.
Roles in a Brewery
In a brewery there are many roles which need to be filled, depending on the size of the facility. For instance, we have…
Production Team – take care of the brewing, cellaring and packaging of the beer.
Delivery – If you’re not a taproom, someone needs to get your beer to clients
Quality Assurance and Control – Taking samples throughout the brewing process, making sure it is within parameters.
Sales – There’s no point making beer, if you can’t sell it to anyone.
Accounting and Finance – You need to take care of the money and taxes
Government agency liaison – In most breweries, this is rolled into another job. In most parts of the world, beer production has some level regulation.
You’re making alcohol for consumption after all. You need to be in compliance or you’ll face heavy fines. This is an on-going role.
Marketing – These days as the market becomes saturated with breweries opening all the time, you need on point with your marketing.
There are other roles too, depending on brewery size, I’ve just listed the main ones. Being a commercial brewery means you have a lot to organize and be on top of.
So, how do you go from making beer in your garage to running a brewery which makes beer and sells it to the public? Well, there are a few routes, and one of the most common is to start with contract brewing.
Contract Brewing Route – Bucket Brewer to Commercial Brewing
Contract brewing is a popular way for a home brewer to make the transition to having their beer available commercially. In the link above I dive deeper into contract brewing however, here I’ll give you the quick lowdown here.
What is Contract Brewing
Essentially contract brewing is taking your beer recipe and brewing on someone else’s system (host brewery) as a “guest brewer”. Agreements and contracts will decide how involved the guest brewer is, in the production and packaging of the beer.
The reason it’s appeals to aspiring commercial brewery owners, is it cuts through a lot of the red tape needed to get your own facility up and running. The host brewery already has the right paperwork, to brew and package beer.
Depending on the agreement in place, the host brewer will take care of record keeping, labelling, getting the correct certificates and in some cases even take care of taxes. Furthermore, it cuts down the time it takes to get your beer to market, making it more hassle free too.
The Advantages of Contract Brewing – Bucket Brewer to Commercial Brewing
As we’ve already said, it allows a brewer to cut through a lot of red tape plus, their beer to market much quicker. Setting up a new brewery is a large capital investment.
The equipment to make beer isn’t cheap, you need a building and to pass local regulations…the costs soon mount up.
Granted, the costs of goods (your beer) are higher; as the host brewer needs to make a profit on the beer produced. Still, the price to market is cheaper than having your own brewery. Most of the costs are variable costs; as a guest brewer you have little in the way of overheads.
When you contract brew, you’re not paying the usual brewery costs such as rent, payroll and for the brewing equipment. It means you can spend additional capital on branding and marketing.
Contract brewing gives the budding brewery owner a chance to establish a brand, get feedback on their brews and identify their place in the market before committing to the huge capital expenditure of opening a brewery.
Learning the Ropes
Another advantage of contract brewing is you can elect to be more hands on during the brewing process. It’s offers you the chance to learn how to brew on a commercial scale by physically being on the brew deck.
Your negotiations and contract agreement would need to be set-up properly. However, the chance to brew beer to send to market AND learn the tricks of the trade is truly golden.
It would mean finding the right brewery to work with. Some breweries are more open than others to helping you learn “on the job”. However, over several brews you can get a good insight into how beer is produced on a commercial brewery.
Bucket Brewer to Commercial Brewing – Formal Training
One route to learning to brew on a commercial scale is getting a formal brewing education. The technical levels of courses available out there, vary greatly. There are even specific courses to teach people the ropes of becoming a “brewery owner”.
Most countries have courses at various levels, from beginner courses teaching you the basics of brewing, to in-depth diplomas which go heavily in the technical aspects.
It’s good to get some formal training, however it’s my personal opinion, you’re better off gaining practical knowledge and being hands on in a brewery. Which leads us on to the next section.
Gaining Real World Experience
As I said gaining practical experience in a brewery will stand you in good stead if you become a brewery owner. If you visit brewing forums; brewers will tell you nothing beats real world experience.
Understanding the brewing process and being able to physically brew as a brewery owner can get you out of a tight spot.
For example, even if you’re not planning to brew yourself, knowing how to brew can make sure production continues even if a key worker, like your head brewer leaves.
Having any form of downtime when running a brewery isn’t something you want. If it’s viable, doing a year in a brewery to learn from the inside will be an invaluable experience.
So, how do you get real world brewing experience? Well, let’s go through some pointers.
Making Contact – Bucket Brewer to Commercial Brewing
In the brewing industry, it’s usually not what you know, BUT who you know. For instance, if you go to a taproom and leave your resume at the bar without really introducing yourself, chances are, you’ll never hear back from them.
Similarly, cold emailing a brewery saying you’d like to work for them has a low chance of success. What’s more likely to work is to become a regular at the taproom.
Look you don’t have to a raging alcoholic. However, be seen and do your best to make a good impression. Plus, let people know you want to get into the brewing industry.
If you’re lucky a slot will open up and you’ll get the call from the brewery. Furthermore, the brewing industry is a small one. Brewers from different breweries do chat to one another.
For example, if I need of someone for my brew team, I might reach out to another brewery and ask if they know of anyone. If the brewery I contact vouches for you, you’ll move up the list.
But I Don’t Have Any Brewing Experience!
Hey not having any commercial brewing experience doesn’t have to be a barrier to entry. If you show you understand the type of work done in a brewery and can show you’ve actively tried to learn those skills it’ll be noticed.
Actions you can take are:
- Buying the MBAA Practical Handbook (or equivalent in your region)
- Going to local MBAA meetings
- Taking the IBD General Certificate exam
- Going to local college to learn practical stuff like how to fix pumps and motors
Knowledge is power, keep learning about brewing. There’s plenty of free information for people who want to learn about brewing, and now even a number of great podcasts (link to the Build Me A Brewery Podcast feed).
There are many ways to show a brewery you’re serious about a career in brewing. You don’t have to tell any potential employer you’re looking to start your own place later down the line.
Learning about health and safety is a big one for breweries. The best breweries make health and safety their #1 priority. So, if you know about OSHA (or health and safety like 5S) then it can make a brewery take notice without spending US30,000+ getting a brewing education.
When You Get a Brewing Position – Bucket Brewer to Commercial Brewing
Be HUMBLE and willing to learn, if you get a position on the brew crew without previous experience you’re likely starting at the bottom.
It’s not a bad thing, it’s how I started. I was an assistant brewer so, I cleaned kegs and tanks and worked on the bottling line. However, they slowly taught me how to brew.
The lower rung jobs in a brewery are 90% cleaning. A brewery is a machine, which is only as good as it’s weakest link. Even if you feel like you’re not doing much you’re still a vital cog.
Look, I’ve been brewing for 25 years and still get in to tanks or the brew kettle to clean them out, if needed. In a brewery you’re working in close quarters with other humans for many hours at time.
You need to be someone, who other people like to be around. Plus, being able to make amusing small talk will help your cause too. Yes, we all have our quirks; and to be fair it takes a special kind of person to get into the brewing industry.
It really isn’t as glamourous as most people think it is…plus it’s certainly not for the pay. So yeah, do your hard yards and then look to become a brewery owner…do it well and yes you can lead a comfortable life.
If you do work in a brewery, try and pick up as much knowledge as you can. If the brewery has a lab, learn as many of the processes they run as humanly possible.
Having good QC in your brewery helps it be successful more easily. We listed some of the roles in a brewery earlier. Try and learn as much as you can about the different departments. It’ll give you a better top/down view when you finally have your own brewery.
Bucket Brewer to Commercial Brewing – Conclusions
I’m seeing more and more people looking to get in to the brewing industry, without any previous commercial experience. As I say, there’s a lot to learn and many elements to running a brewery.
The more knowledge and real-world knowhow you can pick up before you start your venture the better off you’ll be. We just set out some of the ways you can gain the experience you need.
I can’t stress enough, knowing how to brew beer yourself, before opening a brewery is a good idea. Even, if you don’t plan to brew yourself (hire a head brewer), having the knowledge will mean the brewery can keep running in most eventualities.
Plus, you’ll have more realistic expectations and gain the respect of your brew crew more quickly. Furthermore, they’ll be more open on your thoughts on how to run a brewery too.
Need Some Advice on Setting Up a Brewery of Your Own?
My name is Neil, I’m a British brewer with 25 years of brewing experience. I’m now based in China and help people source brewing equipment. I can also offer assistance in other ways too.
- Help you put an equipment list together
- Work with you to make brewery layout more efficient
- Assist with recipe formulation
- Improve a brewery practices and processes
- And much more…
If you’d like to reach out to talk about a brewing project then please feel free to email me at:
Or you can scan one of the QR code below, add me directly to your preferred network and message me there.
Thanks for taking the time to read my article. I hope you found it useful. Again, feel free to get in touch if you have any feedback or follow-up questions.