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In the business of brewing, it takes more than a bag of hops, a few barrels and a tasty signature beer to make it.
It also requires some entrepreneurial spirit, a bit of industry acumen and a whole lot of capital.
Several craft brew insiders handed down that recipe for success yesterday during an informal conference at UNC-Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).
The discussion paralleled talks locally about the growing trade, as City of Wilmington officials continue their consideration of zoning amendments aimed at including breweries.
Three featured panelists at CIE’s talk–a brewery owner, an investor and an attorney–shared their experiences and advice to aspiring beer makers.
The overall message–a well-crafted artisan ale isn’t enough to turn a profit.
“It is fun and it is sexy, but it is a business, make no mistake about it,” Dino Radosta, owner of White Street Brewing Co. in Wake Forest, said.
A self-described “serial entrepreneur,” Radosta started up White Street without prior brewing experience.
“What I couldn’t count on was that I couldn’t control it. It grew more than I could have anticipated,” he told the audience.
That’s good news, of course. But not if you’re ill-equipped or under-prepared to meet demand, Radosta noted.
“Challenge number one was just making enough beer,” he said. “However much money you think you are going to need, it’s not enough.”
When Radosta opened up shop in 2012, it was with 1,000 barrels. That output lasted him 30 days. He’s now at a capacity of 3,000 barrels, but is opening a 56,000 square foot production warehouse that will start with 12,000 barrels but can expand to 60,000.
Recognizing your building space–and its potential or and limitations–and planning ahead are essential, Radosta said. But, he added, so is knowing your customers.
Radosta said there are basically three kinds of beer drinkers–the uneducated drinkers who don’t understand or care much about the craft, the beer nerds who seek out artisanal creations and the “lawnmower drinkers,” who fall somewhere between the two.
“You need to understand the market you’re going after,” Radosta said. “You have to remember that you are making beer in $100 chunks and getting it back in $4 drinks. If you think, ‘I make great beer and that is going to make a successful brewery,’ you have to think of it this way–that’s just your ticket in the door.”
Recognizing that brewers are, indeed, artists–and making a few ribs about beards and tattoos–Derek Allen, an attorney with Ward and Smith’s Asheville office, said they often can benefit from outside assistance, such as legal advice.
Ward and Smith represents many of the big-name breweries, including Sierra Nevada, and smaller-scale outfits in the western portion of the state.
“Craft brewers are pirates. They’re cowboys. They hate rules. They just like making beer,” Allen said.
That passion alone isn’t enough, angel investor David Gardner reiterated. Among other ventures, Gardner has invested in two North Carolina breweries–Lonerider out of Raleigh and Fortnight, which opened in Cary in February.
“One way for you to learn how to hate your hobby is to turn it into a business,” Gardner said. “Make sure this is what you want. Make sure you are an entrepreneur. And make sure you have the production muscle.”
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.