A little over a year ago, I quit my job due to, shall we say, “irreconcilable differences” with management. Since then, I’ve been planning to start a brewery near where I live, here in the Monterey Peninsula area on California’s Central Coast. This is the first post in a 3-part series about why I want to start a brewery in the Monterey area. The first reason I want to start a brewery is because craft beer is really exciting right now.
[NOTE: One purpose behind this series is to help focus my vision about the brewery that I want to create. A few months ago, all of my partners left the project. Through that, I learned that a clear vision is crucially important to help ensure that my partners and I are trying to do the same thing.]
I lost my job
Timing is good for me because I’m in a transition after losing my job last year. I had a great job. My title was Air Quality Planner. I was working to keep the air clean, something that’s super important to me. I didn’t do much planning work; really I was a grant manager. I was giving away money for people to clean the air. I felt good about the work and it was kind of fun—who wouldn’t want to give away money! I was paid really well. I had great benefits, retirement, and 3 weeks of vacation a year. I worked there for 7 years. The first 4 years weren’t perfect, but they were good.
Then we got new management. In about one year, the entire top-level management was changed out, the agency was reorganized, and the morale dropped through the floor into the parking garage below. I was shocked when the doctor told me to take a month off work due to stress. He also put me on drugs. I’m not down with that. The month off hardly helped because I was ever worried about returning to work. When I went back, things hadn’t changed. Everybody always says a job isn’t worth your health. So I left.
A story sells
About a month later, I was in my friends Brian and Katie’s wedding. In the wedding and in attendance were 2 men from Ninkasi Brewing Company, very close friends of Brian. The guys from Ninkasi graciously shared some of their own beer at the rehearsal dinner reception. Not many people had heard of Ninkasi before. I think they hadn’t yet started distribution in California. I’m fairly new to beer, so my palate is still maturing and was much less refined a year ago. Even still, I tried a couple of their beers and liked them.
Like people, we shouldn’t buy beer by its label. It’s not good to judge someone by her looks, but you can learn a lot about someone by the clothes she chooses to wear, how she carries herself, her grooming and hygiene practices. Still, most of us probably do it more than we should. Anyway, I don’t like to admit that I buy beer by its label, but sometimes I do. I like that the Ninkasi logo and colors convey a refined, yet youthful sensibility.
Although the guys from Ninkasi are humble, I got to hear their success story over the course of the weekend. Since then, I’ve become a fan. It’s awesome how, since their fist year in 2006, when they produced just 3,000 barrels, they’ve grown into the top 30 craft breweries in the nation. Their story has really inspired me.
It’s a good time
I’m not gonna lie, I recognize there’s an opportunity. While researching for my business plan, I came across story after story of growth similar to Ninkasi’s. Hangar 24 is at 60,000 barrels per year after just 6 years. 3 Sheeps has doubled production in their second year. Discretion Brewing has expanded a few times in their first year. Joe Shelerud’s article featuring 61 brewers’ lessons from starting a brewery, highlights over and over that brewery owners didn’t anticipate growing so much. So many of them wish they had started bigger.
I’m not really into trendy trends—I’m usually the last one to know. But it’s neat seeing something I like gain in popularity. This great growth of craft beer means there’s a lot out there to discover, and I want to add to that.
Creativity is contagious
There are a number of factors driving craft beer’s outrageous growth. The local movement, the craft movement, a yearning for yesteryear, and demand for more variety are coming together in a big way for craft beer. Another reason is the vast creativity coming from craft brewers.
There are a ton of whacky beers out there, like Rogue’s chipotle ale and Wells’ banana bread beer. Cucumber beers seem to be on the rise. And probably every person in the western world has seen a pumpkin beer on the store shelf. It gets even freakier. I don’t want to even mention some of the beers that Jill Harness talks about in her list of 10 of the Weirdest Beers Ever Brewed.
Taxidermy aside, I might never try a mayonnaise and chocolate stout, or a pickles and pie kölsch. Probably many of the wacky beers out there today, won’t be around next year, or even next month. Many years of innovation were lost during prohibition and the subsequent oppression. But today’s craft brewers aren’t afraid to try something interesting. I like their gusto, and I’d like to be a part of it.
Competition? What competition?
Today’s brewers aren’t even afraid to try something interesting by collaborating with one of their “competitors.” Seeking advice for my business plan and even seeking investors, I am constantly asked about competition. Maybe I’m naïve, but one thing I like about the craft beer industry is the openness and cooperation. The old paradigm of business competition seems to be out the window. I’ve heard so many accounts of breweries sharing ideas, hops, and even staff! There is speculation about market saturation, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Until then, craft breweries will continue helping each other out.
I’ve never had much of a competitive mindset. There’s enough competition in this world. We need more cooperation, and that’s something I really like about the craft beer industry.
Oh heck, let’s be honest, I could go on and on about how this is such an exciting time for craft beer. What do you think makes this an exciting time for craft beer? Leave your comments below.
In part 2, I’ll explain that the second reason I want to start a brewery in Monterey is because this is where I am, in geography, in my life.