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Want to open a new brewery? You'll need more than just money

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Posted at 9:05 AM, Nov 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-13 09:05:57-05

When plans for a new brewery are announced, local beer enthusiasts often immediately start clamoring for an opening date.

Increasingly, people involved in new breweries are leaving timeframes vague -- and with good reason, according to some people who have recently gone through the process. Opening a new brewery involves more than just financing, although that does help. There are many other areas where obstacles can occur, such as construction, equipment and the administrative side of the business.

“A family friend who is in construction told me to always add 30 days and 30 percent (cost) to the original estimate,” said Evan Rouse, head brewer and co-founder of Braxton Brewing in Covington.

Braxton initially planned to open in the fourth quarter of 2014; instead the brewery opened March 27, 2015.

“There were a lot of surprises,” Rouse said. “The smart way is don’t put yourself in a corner, especially if you just started or haven’t started construction. You always think you’re going in with a plan, but that goes out the window pretty quickly.”

Braxton opened in a historical building that had served many purposes over the years. During the construction process, the team faced plenty of surprises, such as when crews found a second 4-inch pad of concrete beneath the first one where the brewing equipment sits.

Rouse said the discovery delayed work for a couple days, requiring him to bring a demolition crew back in after they already had done the job once.

“You could never walk into a building and say, ‘This is a double-poured concrete building,’” he said.

Braxton’s construction faced another delay when the team had to move utilities during construction of a ramp in the back of the building; again, it was a problem that couldn’t be foreseen.

Many local would-be breweries face the additional challenge of opening inside existing structures, which poses other hurdles during the construction process. Jim Goodman, co-founder of Municipal Brew Works, which opened in June in Hamilton, knows this firsthand.

“The unique challenge that we faced was with the build-out. It was a challenge due to moving into a section of a building that had been dormant for over 20 years and originally built in the 1930s,” Goodman said. “Basically, the entire infrastructure of building systems needed to be reconstructed -- HVAC, electric, plumbing, etc. There were constant meetings between our architect, Community Design Alliance, and our general contractor, Gridstone Construction.”

A backlog on equipment also can force breweries to postpone openings. Rouse said Braxton’s grain mill arrived two weeks after the rest of the equipment, delaying the brewing of beer. Municipal also faced a wait for equipment, said Goodman.

“One of the most common things I've heard from other brewers that was also applicable to us was the lead time for the equipment,” said Goodman. “The demand for equipment is so high due to the explosion of the craft beer industry it's creating a waiting list at the manufacturer level.

“When we contacted Crawford Brewing Equipment to place our order, I think there were five other breweries ahead of us waiting on their equipment.”

Darkness Brewing in Bellevue, which held its grand opening July 23, delayed its opening more than once. The brewery’s owners offered another caveat: Make sure paperwork is correct when applying for licensing.

“We had some clerical errors that took two months to resolve,” said Darkness co-founder Ron Sanders. “Had we found the flaw in our paperwork in November, we might have been open in January.”

As with many new breweries, Sanders and partner Eric Bosler did the majority of the work themselves, including building tables and filing for permits.

“The biggest portion of everything was paperwork, and that’s backed up because with all the breweries opening, they’re really busy right now,” Sanders said, referring to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). TTB permits peaked at 178.46 days from submission to acceptance in April 2016 – around the time Darkness was undergoing the process. The process has shortened by more than 30 days, according to more recent numbers.

Darkness’ repeatedly postponed opening led to some less-than-positive feedback, Sanders said.

“I was outside up on a ladder the first time I realized we were making people mad,” he said. “A little old woman was walking down the street, saw our sign, and said, ‘Coming soon, my ass.’ I loved it – we deserved it.”