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The Opportunity

 

There is a point in every homebrewer’s life, no matter how humble their brewing résumé, where they dream about going pro. Eventually, we all think about scrapping our current profession to work as a brewer or to open a brewery. For most it remains just a dream, but quite a few hardy (or foolhardy) souls do take the step, make the plunge, jump off that cliff.

Like everyone else, I entertained that dream myself, but I never thought I’d make it a reality. I’m too careful. I don’t like big risks and I actually preferred the financial security of my soul-crushing job in software engineering. Plus, I had plenty of opportunities to exercise my beer geekiness by writing for BYO, writing books, and hosting shows on the Brewing Network. When people would ask, “Why don’t you start your own brewery?” I would reply with, “I don’t want to ruin a great hobby by turning it into hard work.” That is a very real reason not to go pro, as being a successful professional brewer requires a great deal of hard work, but I’ve never been afraid of that. Software taught me that I can handle 100+ hour work weeks, but software also made me very wary of underfunded start-ups. The reality is that the amount of capital it takes to open a regional-sized brewery and to fund operations until the business can sustain itself is substantial. I didn’t want to mortgage my kids future.

So why am I taking the leap now? Why open a brewery if it is such a financial dice roll and such a torturous effort? Opportunity. If someone offered to lease you a brewery for a reasonable sum each month you’d be crazy not to take it, right? And that is what came to pass with my friend JJ Phair of the EJ Phair Brewery in Concord, California. Phair is building a new brewery in Pittsburg, California with a 30 barrel brew plant in an 11,000 square foot building. Like most new breweries, this one is more capacity than he will need for the next few years. When I asked if he was interested in leasing me his unused space and time to use the brew plant (an arrangement the TTB calls an Alternating Proprietorship) he kindly agreed.

While many homebrewers have heard of contract brewing (an arrangement where a brewery agrees to brew your beer for a fee) few have heard of an alternating proprietorship. The problem with contract brewing is that in most cases you have very limited control over the process. As long as the beer brewed is close enough to what you ordered, you have to take what they give you. If you dream of going pro because you love the process of brewing, then contract brewing isn’t going to cut it.

However, the great thing about an alternating proprietorship is that you are your own independent brewery, with full control of your process and your product. You must get your own federal and state licensing, brew the beer, package and ship it, and do everything for yourself. You are just leasing the brew plant instead of having to come up with the capital it takes to purchase it. Think of it as similar to leasing a car versus buying a car. Compare that to contract brewing, which is like taking a taxi. As long as the taxi gets you close to your destination, you have to pay. You don’t have control over the driver or the car.

Of course, when working as an alternating proprietorship you still need capital for fermentors, kegs, malt, hops, and everything else, but that big expense of getting the brew plant up and running is gone. It is a huge savings and a great way to get started. It is a great opportunity and one that I couldn’t pass up.

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