During college, my mom constantly reminded me that I went to CU-Boulder “to major in history NOT in skiing and beer.” Turns out she was right to suggest I cut down on the skiing, but wrong about the beer; for here I sit, less then a decade later, about to follow my dreams and open a craft brewery.
I got my start in the craft beer industry with the gift of a homebrew kit, from my then girlfriend and now wife, Sheila. I quickly realized that my passion laid in craft beer and I spent the next 6 years working towards my dream of opening a brewery.
From an internship at the Brewers Association, to three years running a sales and logistics-consulting firm, Craft, Corner.Consulting, working in the industry gave me a valuable “MBA” in craft beer. I spent my free time learning about the history of craft beer, homebrewing, and reading every book I could get my hands on, while my day job consisted of teaching Southern wholesalers about craft beer while they taught me about crawfish, barbecue, and most importantly the craft beer distribution business and its countless loopholes, pitfalls and mind boggling legal oddities.
After a few great years in the South, I felt ready and took the leap—teaming up with Sheila and two of our friends, Carlin and Christian, to start an artisan brewery focusing on barrel-aged craft beers in Poncha Springs, Colorado. Beer gods be willing, our brewery Elevation Beer Co., will have its first 750ml bottles rolling out in May of 2012.
While we are opening a brewery in one of the most brewer friendly states in the country, the number of laws, regulations, and licensing can be overwhelming for a new brewery. While the drudgery of paperwork was luckily broken up by weekly “product” tastings, most of our first 6 months were spent meeting with lawyers, dealing with financing, and struggling to figure out why our local fire department wanted us to build a room strong enough to survive a nuclear attack just for our grain mill.
I have learned that it is completely possible to go from enjoying beer from great craft breweries to living the dream of owning your own, yet it is hard work and occasionally you feel like a circus act, juggling craft beer while riding your unicycle around roaring thirsty lions. Luckily it is well worth the effort to taste a finished product and know that it was you and your partners who made your dream a reality.
For those of you who are thinking of making a career out of craft beer, here are some pointers to get you started in the right direction:
Take the Leap!
Whether it is graduating from drinking a craft beer to drinking your own homebrew, or from being a beer geek to being a brewer, follow your dreams and take the leap.
As of November 2011, there were 855 breweries in planning according to the Brewers Association, so act fast and start working on your dream now.
Take a chance and ask a brewery for a job—get started doing what you love, and gain some valuable experience. Just remember that while the craft beer industry does have the best trade shows in the country, you’ll still be working very hard, and most likely for less than you made at your previous job.
Everything I did was made easier with the help of my partners and supporters. Whether it was my first homebrew batch with Sheila, learning under Julia Herz at the Brewers Association, starting a consulting business with the help of Trip Kloser and my father, or teaming up with friends for Elevation Beer Co., you will need partners to help keep you on track and push you in the right direction. From Stone Brewing Co.’s Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, to Brooklyn Brewery’s Steve Hindy and Tom Potter, working with your fiends and partners to realize your dreams has been the start to many famous craft breweries. Plus, nothing is better than sharing a pint of your own beer with those that helped you along the way. And, if you are lucky, you can persuade one of them to do all the paperwork.
Major in Craft Beer
If you want to work in the industry or start your own brewery, read every book you can. From the Brewers Association’s Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery to Garret Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table, reading beer books will help you learn about craft beer and the beer industry. Learn how to homebrew and start studying for beer certifications like the Cicerone® Certification Program and the Beer Judge Certification Program.
The More You Know
If you really want to make craft beer a career, never stop learning. Soak in the sudsy knowledge and get closer to making your dream a reality.
Helpful Websites and Books
Brewers Association’s Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery
The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver
Brewing Up a Business by Sam Calagione
Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher
Alexander “Xandy” Bustamante is the co-founder and national sales and distribution manager of Elevation Beer Co. in Poncha Springs, Colorado. He can be reached at Xandy@elevationbeerco.com.