07 Jan 2010

Re: Starting Small – The Nanobrewery Concept.


Erik Lars Myers of Top Fermented wrote up an article about the concept of starting incredibly small brewery (between 10-75 gallons for most “nanobreweries”) while maintaining a full-time job. A quote from his article:

“From what it looks like, you homebrew, and then you drop the thousands upon thousands of dollars you need for the necessary permits and licenses to sell your product, and then for some bizarre reason you keep your day job.

See? It is crazy. Totally batshit insane.”

The answer in Hess Brewing Company’s case is that there are two of us. While we do have the same name, Michael–which makes things a bit confusing–there are in fact two of us working on this nanobrewery concept.

First is Michael Hess, owner, brewmaster and vaunted leader – the guy who was first crazy enough to say “go for it”. Mike is the one with the real “paying job”, now running two businesses at once! who foots the bill around here. Mike has been busy handcrafting ales and lagers for 15 years now, much to the delight of his friends, and soon, if all goes as planned, all of you!

I, Michael Skubic, will be the guy going around to bars and restaurants attempting to sell our handcrafted ales. For now, I work in the brewery full-time, drafting blueprints, Charlie work, getting all the TTB/ABC/DEH paperwork ready for signature, painting, carpentry… More importantly for our readers and followers, I’m the guy updating the blog/twitter/facebook. I am just “crazy” enough to go along for the ride. Crazy like a fox. Also, does guano make you go insane? I always wondered where that saying came from.

“What do you think? Starting that small is an undeniably cool (and even romantic) concept, but I wonder at how sustainable the businesses are. It’s great to see that some of the ones listed in the link above are making a step up in growth, but how many will successfully make that step, and how many will make that step at all? Are these merely extended hobbyists or is this a viable entrance strategy to the craft beer industry?”

From the nanobreweries (and former nanos) I have seen it can be an extended hobby or a viable entrance strategy. Breweries like Two Beers and Schooner Exact have started on 1 barrel systems and have grown into 7-10 barrel systems in a matter of months, while others like Healdsburg and Steffan’s Aldergrove have stayed at 10 gallons to 31 gallon systems for a couple of years now.

How are we going to grow? That remains to be seen. For now we are just about through all of Tax and Trade Bureau licensing, we just have the interview tomorrow morning. After that we just need to show our TTB approval to the Alcoholic Beverage Control and we will be a legal brewery! All we have after that is the Dept. of Health. Wish us luck!

8 Responses to Re: Starting Small – The Nanobrewery Concept.
  1. Hey Michael –

    Thanks for posting this. I’m not in any way trying to slight what you’re doing so much as I am trying to understand it, and this definitely helps.

    I still think you’re crazy, but whoever said crazy was a bad thing? You’re starting a business, you have to be crazy otherwise it’ll never work.

    Between your post and the awesome information that Kevin from Healdsburg Beer Co posted, I think I am getting a much better idea of what’s going on than any MSN article will ever impart upon me.

    On your end, this is a full-time thing, which in my mind, I think it has to be for at least someone involved if they have growth in mind.

    Anyway, I find you guys and Kevin at Healdsburg and all of the other nanos that I’ve been reading about over the past few weeks while trying to wrap my mind around the concept to be incredibly inspiring, even if totally batshit insane. :)

    Good luck with the TTB and getting everything off the ground. I sincerely hope you guys do well. I’d love to sit down and have a beer with you sometime, especially if it’s one of yours.

    Erik @ Top Fermented

  2. Hey Michael,
    Your abitions are truly inspiring! If you don’t mind me asking how much did you or will you in total spend on fees and licesening to become a legal brewery in the san diego area?

  3. The cost of all the permits is about $2,000+

  4. How about the cost with the zoning dept in your city?
    Looking into doing what you’ve done – and was told that with my city, at a minimum I need a “conditional use permit” that will cost $3,000. Just for that permit.
    What sort of zoning challenges did you face?

  5. Our location was already zoned for breweries. There are about 5 breweries along this stretch of road already: Ballast Point, AleSmith, Hess, Airdale, La Jolla Brewhouse, Rock Bottom La Jolla…

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  7. I have to agree with erik’s comment. You really have to have a radical mindset so that things will work out for your business, whatever it is. Well, not too radical, I guess. I’m actually starting a business myself, but not the brewery type. I’m starting it with my friends, and they let me handle the accounting. I can still help them out because the accounting will be easy with the help of software like Peachtree Quantum. I’ll be getting the latest version, Peachtree Quantum 2011, just so that I can maximize all of the features.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing about the nanobrewery thing! Thanks to erik for the awesome comment, too!

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