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.
Mellie Pullman, who was the first woman brewer at a brewery in Park City, Utah, broke ground again as the first female college professor to launch an online course on the business side of craft brewing. She’s seen here at Terminal Gravity in Enterprise. Pullman lives in Eastern Oregon. Photo courtesy of Mellie Pullman
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Mellie Pullman’s adventures with beer have come full circle. In 1986 she was the first woman brewer at Schirf Brewing in Park City, Utah. Today she is the first female college professor to launch an online certificate program focusing on the business side of craft brewing.
Pullman brought her homebrewing experiments, mechanical engineering degree, some experience at a construction company and a truckload of bravado to Park City while on a ski trip there in the ‘80s. When she noticed a business plan for a new brewery lying on a table at her friend’s condo, she had to read it. Instantly, she decided the job was tailor-made for her.
Soon she was the partner and brewer in charge of production, bottling, hiring and training. “We packaged Wasatch beer (Schirf Brewing) from the day we opened in the fall of 1986,” she said. “We had to ramp up big for the ski season.”
Pullman stayed for three years and Schirf doubled in size every year. Then she moved on to a startup brewpub chain in Arizona. Eventually she returned to Utah to round out her business education. She got her MBA and then her Ph.D., changing direction from brewing to teaching.
In 2005 she moved to Portland to teach at Portland State University’s School of Business Administration. She has concentrated on supply chain management courses, incorporating her extensive background in restaurant work and interest in food into her courses. While teaching and conducting numerous research projects, she became interested in online courses as a way to expand access for students. Several years ago, she floated the idea of a program that focused on the business of craft beverages. With the support of her dean, Pullman began developing the first ever online certificate program for craft brewing, which consists of four courses that take about five weeks each.
The first two courses are Basic Business for Craft Beverages and Craft Beverage Business Management. “It’s a condensed version of business school, focused on how to run a business,” Pullman said. Topics like schedules, cost of product, the most efficient way to market and accounting are covered.
Pullman learned about the ins and outs of online classes by creating them. She designed the curriculum. There are no books. “I took information from the supply chain management course and went out into the field and video recorded people on site. For example, we recorded how a company did labels.
“I have developed the entire content but collaborated with a marketing, finance, accounting and distribution person on their particular classes. I give them guidance and help shape the videos and curriculum. I am not the video star for those classes.
“We were on a shoestring budget. The first videos I shot on an iPhone.”
In an average week, students will watch three to four video lectures, complete several readings and an assignment as well as participate in a live session. At first, Pullman kept herself out of the spotlight, feeling that the experts were the best industry representatives. But in time, she became more comfortable sharing her expertise in front of the camera.
Many local breweries, distilleries and auxiliary businesses are participating in the program, including Cider Riot, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Great Western Malting, New Deal Distillery, Portland Kettle Works, Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider, Rose City Labels, Worthy Brewing Company and more.
“The demand for the program is high,” said Pullman. “We were totally oversubscribed within two weeks when we rolled the program out about three years ago.”
While she said the ideal number of students in a class is 50, the entry level classes are always around 60. The course was offered three times this year because the waiting list was so big. At least one-third of the students in the program are women.
The program is global with students from the U.S., Latin America, Europe and China. Originally, there were many people from the Northwest, but that market has become very saturated. Pullman is interested in doing more work internationally and has changed many of her spreadsheets into metric dimensions. “The broader our appeal, the better it is for PSU’s branding.”
Students can enter the program through any of the individual classes except for Craft Beverage Business Management, which requires the introductory course be taken first. Students must also then complete two of the three electives for the certificate. The program can be completed in 20 weeks. Some people use it to get a better job. One of her students was with Firestone Walker Brewing Company and he’s now the craft beer guy at AB InBev.
In addition to teaching, Pullman is involved with several grant projects focusing on sustainability. Recently, she and another instructor supervised three PSU students who entered an international sustainability competition. Each student invested more than 50 hours researching how to strategically sustain business investments for their chosen client, Hopworks Urban Brewery. They won the oikos Case Writing Competition, which supports the development and use of cases on sustainability, along with 5,000 Swiss francs (about $5,200 U.S. dollars). Pullman and her fellow social entrepreneur instructor are writing a teaching manual based on the project for other academic institutions.
Pullman works in Portland, but lives in Joseph on acreage with a giant vegetable garden and apple trees. “I am a skier and mountain person but prefer the rural emptiness of the Wallowas,”she said. At home in Eastern Oregon she is involved with an emerging craft malt team. And in her spare time this summer, she is completing a book on craft beverage business management with John Harris of Ecliptic Brewing that is expected to be available in August.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.