“There’s so many homebrewers that get pissed one night and say, ‘Let’s open our own brewery!’, like we did, and then a week later they start looking into it and they’re like, ‘Fuck me, this is a lot more complicated than we thought.’ So this is what this podcast will be."
Every craft brewery in Australia began with an idea, a dream, an initial conversation buzzing with excitement (and yes, usually buzzing with a few beers as well). And we often hear the stories of these moments.
But we hear far less about the research and the planning and the obstacles that come after that initial inspiration – and the breweries that don't make it through this stage. How many breweries never got off the ground because the people involved didn’t know what steps to take, or made mistakes that could’ve been avoided with a little guidance?
When Chris Hayton (second from right above) and his mates (with Chris above) hit that moment of wanting to start a brewery, Chris turned to the internet to start researching… and found there simply wasn’t enough information available on how to do it. Some brewers had shared their journey – most notably Black Hops, with their blog, their podcast Operation Brewery and the book that followed – but there still seemed to be a chasm between what information was readily available, and what he needed to know.
Chris figured the best way to get this information was to talk to the experts: brewery owners who have gone through the process, as well as equipment manufacturers, financiers, designers… anyone who had insight on the steps he’d need to take.
And since he'd noticed the lack of accessible information, and he was already picking the brains of all these people, he decided to meet a need and start a podcast to share the information far and wide.
With the podcast Build Me A Brewery launching this week, Mick Wust caught up with Chris to interview the interviewer.
What led to you wanting to start a brewery?
My wife bought me a typical Country Brewer home kit many years ago for my birthday: kit in a can. Then about two years ago I made the jump into all grain brewing, and a few mates of mine have been tasting and experimenting with different beers, and then we just thought: “Why not have a crack at trying to do it?”
We don’t know if it's going to be open in 12 months, might be two years, three years, might do the old gypsy contract brewing model to begin with, just to dip our toes in it and see where it goes.
So how did that lead to making a podcast?
Even though I listened to the Black Hops guys and learned a lot from [their podcast], there were still a lot of unanswered things for me, like the council process, and how to go and source equipment, and how do I get the capital to build.
I can't find anything out there about Australian markets in the detail that I'm going into. There's podcasts out there in the US that talk about it, but not about Australia. No one’s talking about all the nitty gritty stuff it takes to run a brewery.
So I wanted to do something a bit more in-depth, talk about all the different angles. [Black Hops] did some great content, but theirs is very much about their own brewery building journey, where this isn't about my brewery journey. There might be some snippets of it, but it will be very much an educational resource for people.
When anyone's starting out, they're going to go talk to their local breweries to figure out how to do it. So why not record it all and put it into a nice, easy, digestible hour episode, to share that with other aspiring brewery owners?
What does each episode cover?
Firstly, we start out by getting to know the brewer, or the guest. Then we move into a bit about the brewery or company that they represent, and getting to know their story and services they offer.
Then we move into more of the actual bread and butter of what the reason for the episode is. So if it’s with a brewery owner, it's about lessons learned, the dos and don’ts and mistakes made and what they’d do differently. If it’s for an equipment manufacturer or supplier, we talk about tips and advice on sourcing equipment, important considerations, and all that.
Then we move onto industry and insights: future of the craft beer industry, how they’re managing COVID, how it’s affected their business and industry.
And then we just finish off with closing thoughts and an opportunity to plug their stuff.
It’s a very casual and free-flowing conversation. Sometimes we mention one topic and we go deeper into that, or we pivot off it. Whatever’s in their head that might be worth knowing. But I've intentionally structured the series to have it like a journey for listeners.
You say you’ve structured the series… what does that look like? What episodes will you have?
The first six episodes are called "Meet The Brewer", and it’s giving people a nice healthy foundation of knowing what it means to open a brewery and run a brewery.
Then we move into more topic-specific [episodes]. I tried to think: if I’m starting out, what are some of the considerations?
I’ve got a couple of episodes dedicated to finance and capital raising. I’ve got a gentleman who’s going to come on and talk about liquor licensing, and the compliance side, because starting a brewery’s not just a backyard brewing operation. I’ve got Chris from East Coast Canning talking about packaging, and I’ve got a graphic designer talking about brand consistency and can designs… the whole shebang.
I’m also expected to sit down with Mayor Darcy Byrne from the Inner West Council, who's been involved in the big push for craft beer in the Inner West. He’s going to talk about what aspiring brewery owners can expect with dealing with council - what they should have organised before they actually engage with local council.
So it's not just about brewing good beer! It’s all the little not-so-sexy stuff.
What are some of the best things you’ve learned so far?
Probably the amount of planning that needs to go into it. You can't just open up a brewery overnight. If you've come up with an idea to start a brewery, at least expect another twelve months before you can open it. It’s not for the person who wants overnight success.
Money as well; it’s a very capital intense business to start. I didn’t know how much it was going to cost me to start a brewery, and I'm getting the idea now – it’s gonna cost a fuckin' lot! That’s probably my biggest concern at the moment – how am I going to fund this operation?
I'm really trying to get to the bottom of what mistakes people made [with their own breweries], what they would do differently next time if they were to start out with the knowledge they have. There’s a lot of little things that people wouldn’t consider, and I wouldn't have considered. Things like weight of your floor when you're building a brewhouse… [or] having high enough ceilings to get your fermenters in.
When I sat down with the Rocks Brewing guys, within two minutes they dropped like ten different gems of information of what they’d do differently! Just this speed dating sort of thing about how to run a brewery.
Has anyone said anything you really didn’t expect?
Pete from Wayward dropped a lot of realities on me about what it takes to be profitable in this industry. You’ve got to produce a lot of litres of beer to make a profit; the margins aren’t great, so your volume needs to be massive.
And dealing with local council. Never realised how much of a punish it would be. I’ve heard some real nightmare stories about how people start out. They might have gone through the development approval process, spent tens of thousands of dollars thinking that they were eventually going to be open, then been knocked back at the eleventh hour and having to start it all over again.
What are some of your stand out episodes?
Pete talked about the absolute minimums that people should consider when starting out, like brewhouse size, margins, litres per year, all these things that people wouldn’t know about.
Neal Cameron was another. He talked about the motivations behind someone wanting to build a brewery, and what they should be. He goes: “If someone just wants to start a brewery so they can say they own a brewery, it's probably not a right motivation to have.”
Who’s your dream guest?
I’ve actually been blown away by the guests I’ve been able to get in, like Neal Cameron. His name has come up on nearly every single episode – it was great to finally line up a time where i could sit down and meet with him.
Steve Henderson’s another, from Rockstar Brewer. I heard him on a few of the Black Hops podcasts and I’ve managed to line up a recording with him. He’s got some great insight and info to share about beer quality, and the lab side of things; he’s a big advocate for that.
I'd love to get big brewery owners like Stone & Wood on. Jamie Cook from Stone & Wood had a great episode with the Black Hops guys – probably the most formative episode of the Black Hops series for me. I took a lot away from him. So it’d be nice to have someone like that on.
Have you had any issues with people not wanting to share their challenges or mistakes, or letting you peek behind the curtain?
No, not really. A little bit of a personal question I bring up – and I always ask them if they're comfortable with it – is how much capital they used to fund the operation in the beginning. That can be sometimes too much of a personal question. But then there’s been some people that are completely honest about it. I just wanna give the listeners an idea of what they should be budgeting for.
What’s your measure of success? What would make you think, “I’ve done it! This is what I wanted to achieve.”
I think just being able to answer everyone else’s questions. I’m not trying to be the expert. [Listeners] are living vicariously through me to find out that information. As long as people can get something out of that, and use it towards them eventually opening their own brewery, and then getting feedback from them that: “Hey, your podcast helped me open my own brewery, thank you so much”… that would be a massive achievement.
I’ll be honest – I'd like to use this as a way to elevate our own exposure when we open our own brewery! But I think that's only ancillary to the main goal: to just produce good quality content about opening a brewery in Australia.
It’s been a really good interesting journey. It’s given me a lot of good contacts in the industry for me to tap into when I'm seriously sitting down in the planning phase and getting things going along.
You’ve got about twenty episodes mapped out. Is that all there will be, or do you have plans for more?
There might be more topics that come up that we need to dive into. I'm very interested in the gypsy contract brewing model, building a brand that way, rather than investing in a half a million dollar brewery then not having a brand. So maybe there might be a podcast after this that focuses on the gypsy journey, the contract brewing model, and talking to well-known gypsy brewers and contract brewers, and getting their tips and advice on how to start out and do it.
But we’ll just start with twenty episodes!