By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It used to be that you just had to make good beer, but in today’s competitive industry good beer isn’t even a starting point. That’s why, in 2013, Oregon State University’s Professional and Continuing Education program (PACE) began offering their Craft Brewery Startup Workshop as a way to give fledgling brewers a boot camp-style overview of all the essentials of launching a brewery.
“There is so much more to the craft brewery business,” says Emily Henry, PACE program manager. “Our workshop covers all of those topics and ties together the business and production sides of the industry in a compact format.”
This year’s workshop was held in Eugene Feb. 25 through March 1, with the first three days at Lane Community College’s Center for Meeting and Learning, and the last two days at Ninkasi Brewing. Twenty people from Oregon and at least nine other states — including one student based in Central Asia’s Kazakhstan — came to learn from experts who had experience in everything brewing. Topics ranged from licensing and following regulations to ingredient and equipment sourcing as well as building a company culture.
“I attended the workshop to gain a three-dimensional insight into what it takes to operate, run and keep a brewery running successfully,” says Laura Dunn, who along with her fiance co-owns startup G Town Brewery in Greenville, Texas. “I am at the beginning stages of my brewery setup and wanted to gain as much knowledge as possible to know what I'm getting myself into!”
The first portion of the workshop highlighted the business and entrepreneurial aspects of planning and starting a craft brewing enterprise, including brewery case studies, with the goal of preparing students to draft or enhance their business plan. During the second portion, Ninkasi founders and key personnel offered their insights, along with stories of the good, the bad and the ugly of Ninkasi’s 10 years in the business. The course finished up with interactive sessions and a panel discussion. Course instructors were also available to review student business plans.
“You learn about ingredients, talk to real brewers. This is a good crash course for exposure to all those key areas,” says Ninkasi CFO Nigel Francisco, one of this year’s instructors. “It’s hands-on. They see the equipment, talk to the people who brew the beer and source the ingredients. They hear about our pitfalls and successes, and then can apply them to their own business.”
PACE and Ninkasi have collaborated on the workshop for four years. Henry credits the partnership’s success, in part, with Ninkasi’s willingness to pull back the curtain and give an in-depth look at the logistics of running a brewery, with sessions led by their CFO, COO, co-founder and Technical R&D and Quality team.
“Ninkasi has had tremendous growth over the last 10 years while also maintaining their core values and ethics as a business,” says Henry. “They stay true to themselves, both in their business and in their beer, and it is amazing for our upcoming craft brewery owners to see this success and the thoughtful management that is behind it.”
The workshop allows prospective brewers to “hear the challenges and opportunities in the industry as we see it in our position,” says Francisco. He credits co-founder Jamie Floyd’s background in brewing as helping Ninkasi weather startup challenges and growing pains, which may have been harder had there not been someone who was familiar with the ups and downs of the industry. “You have to think about strategy, legality, regulation, work force, how to run a brewery or pub,” says Francisco. “You might make a great beer, but when you take that next step you have to be able to make it all fit together.”
For Francisco, he knew that giving brewers insight into the financials would be a needed perspective. “You can’t grow 100 percent year-over-year for 10 years, so how do you plan for that?” he asks. “What’s a sustainable growth percentage, and what does that mean to you? Do you want to be small, big, boutique, have more locations? Pick what you want and match your strategy to the brewery you want to be.”
After all, sometimes people get into brewing simply because they want to make beer — but there is a world of difference between brewing beer and running a brewery. Many of this year’s students found the workshop eye-opening in regards to the business side of running a production brewery or brewpub.
“I gained the confidence to push forward with my business with more knowledge and expert advice,” says Texas startup co-owner Dunn. “Everything from legal information to how to design my brewhouse. I learned things I didn't even think of, such as having a ‘concept’ and the strategic planning to help organize and prepare my brewery.”
Perhaps even more important is understanding that while there are others in the industry who are willing to help, your operation ultimately is your operation — from compliance and sanitation to payroll and personnel. “Nobody is going to do these things for you,” says Francisco. “The buck stops with you.”
That’s one of the many things Laura Dunn is taking back to Texas. “It was brilliant and I would recommend anyone who is thinking of starting their own brewery business to take this course,” she says. “I came out feeling much more prepared.”
Other OSU PACE Beer and Cider Workshops:
Beer Quality and Analysis Series May 15 through June 19, online, June 19-23, Corvallis
Craft Cidery Startup Workshop June 11-15, Portland
Cider and Perry Production July 17-21, Corvallis
Origins of Beer Flavors and Styles — Check website for next year’s dates.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.