Brewing up a business can unlock a new career

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Forty years ago in the U.K., the term “microbrewery” emerged to describe new small-batch operations independent of the large brewers and pub chains that dominated the market. Much as many of these relatively tiny beer, ale and stout producers now do today, the first successful one, Litchborough Brewery, provided a path to economic independence for its founder.

Bill Urquhart started the operation in Litchborough, England, in 1974, after his employer, Phipps Northampton shut down. Urquhart was the brewer for Phipps, and after it closed he decided not only to start his own microbrewery, but to provide training to a new generation devoted to the craft. His is considered the first successful small-batch brewery. Many more would follow, promising a similar degree of independence to their intrepid founders.

“If the job was going into a brewery and executing somebody else’s creative vision, it wouldn’t be as appealing,” Daniel Kleban, co-founder of the Maine Beer Co. in Freeport, said in an interview with Beer Advocate Magazine. Kleban, who didn’t respond to a message seeking comment, told the magazine that he valued the self-determination that founding his own brewery has afforded him.

Microbreweries tend to favor traditional cask ale, which is unfiltered and unpasteurized. They are limited, according to the Brewer’s Association, to producing 460,000 U.S. gallons a year. They often sell directly to consumers, though only on-site and not by mail.

By comparison, craft beer breweries generally are more limited in their beer-making methods, but can pump out up to 2 million gallons of the suds annually. One of the most well-known and successful craft breweries in America is the Hub’s own Boston Brewing Co., the maker of Samuel Adams.

The origins of craft beer in the U.S. as it’s known today can be traced back to Fritz Maytag, a Stanford University graduate who revived San Francisco’s failing Anchor Brewing Co. in 1965. The microbrewing boom can be credited to President Jimmy Carter, who signed a 1979 law that legalized home brewing. While that law didn’t permit sales by homebrewers, almost 90 percent of early craft brewers began by mixing up beer in the basement, according to a report in The Atlantic magazine citing Charlie Papazian, the founder of the Association of Brewers and a precursor group, the American Homebrewers Association in Boulder, Colorado.

But home brewing couldn’t have produced the robust American craft beer industry without the legalization of brewpubs in several states in the 1980’s. According to Portland Monthly magazine, starting in Oregon in 1985, the various founders of Widmer Brothers Brewing, BridgePort Brewing and Portland Brewing came together to get brewpubs legalized. Brewpubs are, as they sound, a combination of breweries and pubs, where the house beers and ales are served alongside food and other fare.

Although popular in places like the U.K., such establishments were outlawed in the U.S. In 1985 the Oregon House of Representatives passed the Brewpub Bill, but it stalled in the state Senate as beer wholesalers fought it out of concern that brewpubs would threaten their business. Fortunately for the brewers, their allies in the legislature managed to add the language allowing brewpubs to a measure that would permit bed-and-breakfast inns to hold licenses to serve liquor. In other states, particularly in the South, the law has been slower to change, making success even harder for small breweries.

In Colorado, ex-geologist John Hickenlooper learned that setting up a brewpub would require a change in the law. He managed to get that done and create Wynkoop Brewery before launching a political career that took him first to the Denver mayor’s office and later the governorship.

Today, craft brewing is more popular than ever. In Massachusetts alone there are 84 breweries across the state generating about $1.4 billion in economic activity annually, according to the Brewers Association.

But joining the club isn’t easy. The process to open a brewery usually takes months or years, from establishing a brewing team to setting up the works and signing up a wholesaler. The most time-consuming and difficult part of the process is often finding a location.

Laws and zoning ordinances vary from town to town and city to city, and in popular places like Kendall and Central Squares in Cambridge, it can be a struggle to find a building that is both brewery-friendly and available. For Lamplighter Brewing, which plans to open in June at 284 Broadway, it has been a more than two-year effort. The company’s goal isn’t just to make beer, either. Co-founder Cayla Marvil, writing on Lamplighter’s blog, said they also “want to provide a community space.”

On Lamplighter’s website, the founders document the travails of getting their project off the table and into a building. Among other things, they ran into an issue of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which because of the size of the project requires wheelchair access for all its public spaces. One section of the old structure they’ve been renovating has a raised concrete floor, and the cost of making it accessible put the section out of reach. But they got a state variance, so the project has moved forward.

Meanwhile, after receiving a brewing permit from the federal government, they had to get a “farmer brewer” license from the state, and then send a copy of that plus a 400-page application to the city for a pouring permit. After getting the city on board, they had to go back to the state for a pouring license.

Even before all that, they waded through months of legal work to set up their company, obtain trademarks and find a location. They found their place, a former car repair shop, but then had to spend months convincing the city to change the zoning on the building to permit it to be a brewpub.

Attempts to contact Marvil by email and in person for comment were unsuccessful.

In Shrewsbury, Deja Brew puts s different wrinkle on the brewing business. It provides customers with the opportunity to brew their own beer on the premises using ingredients, equipment and recipes provided by Deja Brew.

Owner Ray Schavone began as a home brewer, and decided to set up an operation that would give customers the chance to mix up their own creations in an environment that would educate and support them. Getting started wasn’t easy, though.

“The state was difficult,” Schavone said Friday in an interview. “They simply didn’t want to get me approved we had to jump through a few hoops.”

“First you get your federal license and we did, then we went back to the state to move forward and they said ‘nah, we don’t want to do this,’” Schavone said.

So he reached out to local government officials in the Worcester suburb and eventually got the permits he needed. Reflecting on his experience, Schavone offered some financial advice for anyone looking to start their own business: “Make sure you have enough operating capital until you reach profitability.”