The Brewer’s Journey: from home brewing to commercial success

The Virtual Brewers Conference took place online April 21-23. Stout Tanks and Kettles in Oregon presented ‘The Brewer’s Journey: Timeline for the aspiring brewer‘ and kindly made it available for free replay.

Although the content was aimed at craft beer brewers, it’s equally applicable to kombucha brewers.

Host Scott McCormick based his content on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey that begins with a call to the adventure (of brewing) and obstacles to overcome. Campbell has described the journey as follows:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Campbell, Joseph (1949). The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1st ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 23

Kombucha brewers who succeed in their journey will bestow ‘booch as well as boons!

Scott showed how the Brewer’s Journey is a Hero’s Journey – the steps each person takes in opening a brewery differ in small details, but at a high level the process is the same. He gave an overview of the process needed to go from home brewing enthusiast to a commercial brewery owner. If you’re early in the stages of starting up, or not sure how to start, this presentation will help you succeed.

Source: Stout Tanks

The brewer’s journey starts with a homebrewer figuring out ‘why’ they wish to start a brewery. New brewers should find a mentor with experience starting a brewery to sit down and share the details of their journey.

In the spirit of symbiosis, you will find mentors if you join Kombucha Brewers International as a Brewery-in-Process ($395/year). This lets you connect with other commercial kombucha brewers on an equal footing. Look for companies to contact in our Worldwide Directory, or read through the Profiles we’ve published for brewers who share your values. While not everyone will have the time or inclination to help, you might be surprised how open and helpful many established brewers are.

At this point you cross the threshold from the known to the unknown world. You’ll probably experience your first failures as well as some early success. Jarr Kombucha brewed ‘booch that was so tart they were given a negative review in Time Out. Kombuco Fizz had to pour hundreds of liters down the drain when they failed to scale up production.

The cast of characters a new company need includes a skilled brewer, a landlord, and someone to provide funding.

Business plans

The path to brewery ownership requires planning. You need to size the addressable market. Production planning can then determine how many barrels must be produced to meet the demands of the addressable market. If you are planning to open a brewpub then a food menu needs to be paired with kombucha flavors. Scott claims that business size is a lifestyle choice. A new business owner needs to cover all the bases, from payroll to farmers’ market scheduling. Brewing is just part of a very full schedule. How much of your life do you want to invest?

Sales and distribution

You need a way to get kombucha to the customer. Small taprooms can serve local customers where everything is sold across the bar at the highest profit margin. Otherwise, canning and bottling systems are needed. Distribution needs sorting.

Build-out

Once the lease is signed or building purchased, you’ll need to schedule the build-out of the brewery. The defining moment is brewing your first batch of kombucha as a commercial operation. Seeing customers enjoy the product is a rewarding moment. Giving back to the community and supporting other emerging brewers follows on from this.

A bigger pie

In most regions, kombucha remains an unknown beverage to the average consumer. There’s a huge upside to growing the market. Brewers who help each other to improve their craft and share ideas help to “build a bigger pie.” There’ll be more to go around doing this than fighting for the market share in a world where the popularity of the beverage continues to rise. It’s a journey where everyone can be a hero.

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