June 4, 2016

Craft brewing: A business with many parts

Robert Layman / Staff Photo

Robert Layman / Staff Photo Dale Patterson, left, owner of Hop’n Moose Brewing Company, and his brew assistant Colleen Landon work together to assemble tubing Wednesday. Patterson recently added more fermenters and is expanding the brewery’s cooling system to handle the load.

The number of breweries in Vermont has doubled over the last five years — with more people waiting to start their own craft-brewing operations.

However, starting and running a brewery involves a huge number of considerations, well ahead of raising that first glass.

Dale Patterson, owner of Hop’n Moose Brewing Company in Rutland, started his business in 2014, and pointed out that it involves many other things aside from just brewing. Along with managing payroll and all the typical parts of a business, there’s also maintaining the brewing equipment — and that involves a ton of cleaning.

“You’re a janitor 90 percent of the time and a brewer 10 percent of the time,” Patterson said.

The business, which has a bar and restaurant, has 20 employees — a mix of full-time and part-time workers. Patterson calls the restaurant “a full-time job in and of itself.”

He said it’s also important to know that Vermont’s fame as a craft-brewing destination brings a lot of visitors to local brewing establishments, but it also requires a lot of hard work to maintain a high-quality product that meets those expectations.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Patterson said.

He also pointed out “the sheer volume” of small expenses is something that may be a surprise to someone new to the business — such as tap handles that cost $25 apiece. And that’s just one example.

“They’re little things, but they add up,” Patterson said.

Drop-In Brewery in Middlebury started in 2012, with husband-and-wife duo Steve Parkes and Christine McKeever-Parkes, who are both veterans of the industry. For 18 years, they’ve operated the American Brewers Guild brewing school, and that’s based on the same property as the brewery. Parkes has been a brewer for 30 years, and has a degree in brewing.

As McKeever-Parkes noted, their planning process for the brewery included the unique consideration that their equipment would be used to teach aspiring brewers enrolled in their school. They have a diploma course for professional brewers.

With that background, McKeever-Parkes said, they knew the difficulties the process may bring, but didn’t take any part of it for granted.

“The key to opening any successful business is knowing what you’re doing, getting the education, and very careful planning,” she said. “We did all of that — we didn’t take this project lightly.”

When it comes to permitting, she added, “You take that one day at a time.”

McKeever-Parkes also pointed out the careful planning that should go into creating the product and making sure it’s of the highest quality possible.

“It’s a big responsibility, when people give you their hard-earned money for a product that you’re making,” she said.

Paul Hale, managing partner and head brewer at Queen City Brewery in Burlington, which opened in 2014, said it’s even more important these days to have a unique idea for what you plan to brew — given the growing craft-brewing market in Vermont.

Hale said Queen City Brewery makes “very traditional European styles which are not easy to find in the U.S.”

“I think you really do have to find a niche and really be true to that philosophy,” he said.

Hale said pointers on being successful in any business are relevant to this industry, starting with a good business plan that has projections for expenses, how much capital is needed to start the business, and other goals.

“The key is having a really detailed and realistic business plan,” Hale said.

Hale said he wrote his business plan four years ago, and he also spoke with other brewers to gain some advice — a step he also highly recommends to anyone who wants to start a brewery.

He said it’s usually “about a two-year project,” to take the brewery from a business plan to opening day. It took about two years to open Queen City Brewery, and Hale said that included building out the facility and ordering equipment.

When it comes to equipment, Hale recommended people “shop around,” noting that many options exist and many new manufacturers have recently entered the market.

Foam Brewers is one of the latest additions to the Vermont brewing market. This Burlington-based brewery opened on the city’s waterfront earlier this spring, with small-scale craft-beer production, a bar and light fare.

The three original founders are Todd Haire, Sam Keane and Robert Grim, and Dani Casey and Jon Farmer are also partners in the business.

Casey said all five brought brewing-industry experience to the new company, so the delays that come with permitting were expected.

“We’ve worked our way through all of it,” she said.

Casey said the business was fortunate to be able to open in a waterfront space — an aspect that definitely adds to the atmosphere and the brand.

“Being able to look out on the waterfront, that’s just the biggest perk,” she said.

Foam Brewers’ May 13 grand opening showed Vermonters are always up for a new-brew experience.

“We had a line out the door for four hours,” Casey said.

And there are still more people lining up to start breweries.

Melissa Corbin, executive director of the Vermont Brewers Association, said the number of breweries in Vermont has more than doubled in the last five years. At the start of this year, she said, the brewers association had 40 members.

“We currently have 42,  with an additional seven applications going to the board for approval next Tuesday,” Corbin said. “There are other breweries that are in the planning stage.”

In 2014, there were 1.6 millions visits to breweries in Vermont, and 1.2 million of those visits were by out-of-state customers, according to a 2014 study by the Vermont Brewers Association.

“We’re really driving a lot of tourism into our state,” Corbin said.

Wholesale sales from breweries themselves account for a $200 million business in Vermont, according to data from the Vermont Brewers Association. That number grows to $300 million if retail sales of craft beer in Vermont are included, according to National Brewers Association statistics.

Corbin said the Vermont brewery industry supports more than 1,500 jobs in Vermont, some of which are outside the industry itself, such as construction jobs during a brewery’s expansion project.

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