When thoughts of many Americans turn to beer on these warm summer days, they're sometimes thinking of brewing their very own.
The microbrewery, which produces and distributes 15,000 barrels of beer or less annually, and the pub-brewery, which sells only on its own premises, are hot entrepreneurial ventures. Many are mom-and-pop style operations started up by folks who leave the rat race to try to turn a profit in a field that interests them.
"The drinking public is more willing to try something new, with an emphasis on locally-made, homemade or natural-style products," said Jeff Mendel, associate director of the 1,000-member
Institute for Brewing Studies in Boulder, Colo.
"By starting locally with a small quantity of a fresh product that has no preservatives and rarely has been pasteurized, the microbrewery can take aim at a small market and benefit from having little in shipping or selling costs."
There are 327 microbreweries in the United States, compared to 50 five years ago and 15 a decade ago. They produce better than 450,000 barrels of beer each year. Their number is growing at a rate of three each month. They have grabbed about 4 percent of the higher-priced beer market, cutting mostly into sales of imported brews.
"Even the largest brewers are offering many different beers targeted for specific markets," said Alan Dikty, managing director of the Brewers Research & Development Co., Wilmette, Ill. "Small-scale brewers can find a place with beers designed to appeal to different people, styles and moods, a situation which didn't exist a few years ago."
The adventuresome are seeking out ales, wheat beers, porters and stouts. Small brewers that have grown in size and reputation include Anchor Porter in San Francisco; Pete's Wicked Ale in Palo Alto, Calif.; Berghoff Beer in Monroe, Wis.; Samuel Adams Boston Lager in Pittsburgh, Pa.; and New Amsterdam in Utica, N.Y. There are many others.
"Most microbreweries can't fill the demand for product, and I predict their number will grow to 3,000 in another 15 years," said Bill Owens, publisher of American Brewer magazine and owner of Buffalo Bill Brewery, a pub-brewery in Hayward, Calif.
Microbreweries succeed by knowing local markets and offering a product with local character. The same goes for pub-breweries, legal in 29 states and the city of Baltimore. Some microbreweries are less than 1,000 square feet in size and run by one person, while others are more than 10,000 square feet with 15 employees. A lot of pub-breweries are converted restaurants.
To get started, you need the sort of equipment most people associate with moonshiners or Prohibition. These include items such as a kettle; a mashtun, which holds the barley and water together; a heat exchanger; and fermentation tanks.
If you scrounged up dated English tanks and equipment, you and your partners could get started for $80,000, according to Owens, but it would hardly be a showplace operation. Many have been started with $100,000 up front, while larger operations require several hundred thousand dollars.
For start-up information, you can subscribe to the quarterly American Brewer magazine, P.O. Box 510, Hayward, Calif. 94541, for $17.50 a year. You'll receive listings of the hop growers, equipment manufacturers, consultants and others to assist you. In addition, a complete spread sheet and business plan for opening your own microbrewery or pub-brewery is available for $550.
Another industry publication is a bimonthly magazine, The New Brewer, P.O. Box 287, Boulder, Colo. 80306, $55 annually. The 281-page Brewer Resource Directory, available from the same company for $60, includes contacts, equipment sources, state laws and taxes.