Barley Mowat 

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Business of Craft Beer in BC

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I attended the BC Business of Craft Beer event yesterday (May 29th) and came away hopeful but not necessarily impressed. What made me hopeful was that this event even happened at all. That 250 people would give up both $75 and a mid-week afternoon to cram themselves into a downtown eastside bar on the off-hope of gleaning some sort of wisdom to help their craft beer business dreams is encouraging. Amazing, even.

Imagine traveling back in time to show your 1994 self cell phone photos of this event. Imagine what 1994 You would say? Well, I guess you’d probably say something like “Forsooth! What sort of foul devilry be in this magic box thoust hold?!” and then burn Future You as a witch. Or something like that. History isn’t my strong suit.

This despite the fact that I’ve watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, like, 50 times.

In any event, the knowledge of what happened yesterday would likely stun even someone in the beer business a mere 20 years ago. “Craft Beer is big enough to have a mini-conference in 2014?” That’s encouraging. The unimpressed part is the realization that we have a long way to go.

The event featured a keynote by Ninkasi’s Jamie Floyd and two panel sessions: one on marketing craft beer and one on opening a craft brewery (aside: this panel featured Parallel 49, Bomber and Red Truck, all three of which have cash streams from other existing businesses to draw upon. They were less opening a craft brewery so much as expanding an existing business into brewing. I would have liked to see at least one small independent on this panel like Powell Street or Dageraad, but both David and Ben were probably too busy actually brewing beer to attend). Emcee Joe Wiebe did a good job asking focused questions of each panel, but anyone seriously contemplating opening a brewery needed more detail. Much more. More than could be provided in the few hours we had.

The main benefit of the event was the networking, which was frantically conducted in fifteen minute “beer breaks” between talks. I finally felt justified for ordering business cards, as I burnt through a solid twenty.

When I ran out, I panicked and handed out my credit card by mistake. In any event, y’all should contract me. I’m a marketing genius. Also, can I have my VISA back?

What would I change for next year? Well, I’d have more of everything. Turn the event into an actual day long mini-conference. Have breakout sessions for brewers vs suppliers vs retailers vs media. A long event naturally gives way to longer breaks which means more networking. Have me give the keynote. Small changes like these will make the conference 10x better.

I don’t want to come across as criticizing BC Business for this year’s event. The changes above weren’t possible to do this year because the conference wasn’t big enough. This year’s nano-conference had to happen first in order to make next year’s mini-conference possible. In a few years we’ll fill the convention centre, but you don’t start off over on the waterfront.

Lastly, I’d like to congratulate the panelists on their delicate answer to the worst question of the day: “How big should my brewhouse be?” About half the crowd groaned at the idiocy of this query so, for the benefit of the other half, I’ll answer it in a much more direct fashion so everyone knows what the faux pas was.

Q: “How big should my brewhouse be?”
A: “You’re shitting me, right? ‘How big should my brewhouse be?’ How can you stand up in this room and ask that question? Sit the fuck down, and do us all a favour by not opening your brewery. You clearly have no idea what you’re doing. For the benefit of anyone else in this room who thinks brewing capacity is a number some guy on a stage can just dictate to you: you don’t pick a brewhouse size. You calculate it.

Figuring out how big your brewhouse needs to be is one of the last steps in spec’ing a brewery. First you need to answer questions like: “What market are you targeting? Who are your current and prospective competitors? Do you need to package? Where will you be distributed? Where are you sourcing your brewhouse and tanks? What are your material and utility costs? Bottle vs can? How much space are you leasing? What is your lease cost? How much tank space do you have? How many employees do you need to support all this? How much will you charge for your beer? How much beer do you project selling in year one? Two? Three? Five? How did you reach those numbers?”

Once you answer all those (and more), you’ll find that the answers tell you how big your brewhouse should be, not me. If instead you’re a home brewer and just loving the idea of playing around on the equipment the big boys use, and thus figure the first step to opening a brewery is buying a brewhouse… save yourself two years of your life and all of your loved ones’ money and keep your day job.”

Phew. That felt good. It really did. Go ahead, ask me another, I don’t mind.

Written by chuck

May 30th, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Beer and You,Breweries

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