How to start... a brewery
There's been a craft beer revolution abrew (sorry for the pun) in the UK for a while now, with a resurgence in micro-breweries, home-breweries, and everything beer. It's the perfect environment for those with a passion for creating unique beers - such as Datis Gol, the founder of Bucks Star, a solar-powered brewery producing beer handmade with the finest and freshest ingredients. Here's how Datis started a brewery.
Why did you decide to base Bucks Star where you did?
Milton Keynes is my hometown, which I returned to after spending five years studying, living and working in London. Milton Keynes also falls into the County of Buckinghamshire, which gave us the idea of calling the brewery Bucks Star. The brewery is based in Stonebridge, a newly developed area in Milton Keynes with picturesque surroundings and a thriving business community. Leasing a building where you are able to obtain the necessary licences and permits is essential, especially somewhere that where the public can easily access.
What made you decide to start your business?
Throughout my late teens, and growing up, I was inspired by Sir Richard Branson and the impact he had made and continues to make within the business community. He inspired me to want to become a businessman. This explains the essence of why I eventually started my business. It was my curiosity for learning about and understanding the differences between lager and real beers that put me onto the path of eventually opening up my own brewery. Many of the happy memories we create in our lives are usually centered around beer. If we could continue making happy memories - but with beer which is hand-made, using quality ingredients - why not?
Do you need any qualifications, experience or licensing to run a brewery? How do you get them?
Qualifications and experience always help, especially good financial management and some understanding of customer relations. Luckily, I have a long list of qualifications and have had plenty of experience, though I'm continuing to learn every day! Breweries also have to register with the local water authority as well as HM Revenue and Customs, so regular payments have to be made to them, in addition to the other expenses of operating the business.
What sort of specialist equipment do you use, and how much is it?
A brewery consists of two parts: the brew house where all the brewing is done, and the fermentation area where the beer is stored and matured. Then there is the bottling/canning operation, together with labeling, packaging and logistics which also increase costs. Considering all the different aspects of the business, you can easily find yourself spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to get a small quality setup together.
What natural skills do you need to be good in your industry?
Attention to detail, business acumen and the will to create an exceptionally good product, no matter what it costs. A big revolution in small breweries has been taking place, so the competition is fierce. There are many new micro-breweries opening up across the country, so you need to make sure you're offering something unique and better. It's also important to study the subject with key training providers such as Brewlabs in Sunderland and the Institute of Brewers and Distillers in London. For those who wish to really delve into the chemistry of brewing, you can spend up to four years studying it at the Heriot-Watt University in Scotland.
What market research did you do?
I spent a considerable amount of time visiting breweries, bars and pubs to understand more about the consumer and their preferences. The majority of drinkers are still developing their understanding of what artisan beer is, and the shift from lager to real beers is continuing to grow. This is demonstrated by the huge increase in craft brewers and beers. Consumers are becoming more health-conscious and concerned by the impact caused by, and the quality of, mass-produced goods. As a result, we've developed our product with those concerns in mind and built a strategy that focuses on the environment, health and the community. Covering the roof of our brewery with solar panels is our attempt at becoming carbon neutral and aligns with our environmental policy. Creating a beer free from isinglass (fish bladder used to clear out the yeast from the beer) and using organic malt (free from pesticides) aligns with our attitude towards health. And doing business with a view to creating jobs and attracting investment contributes to our idea of community. Obviously, beer is the product we make and is the most important part of our business, so we advertise the benefit of cask artisan real ale generally, but also the added benefit of not using isinglass.
Do you work from home or use other premises?
I first started from home, not commercially, but to learn about the brewing process. I started giving out samples to friends and family to see what feedback they would give. After two years, I was ready to sign a lease on a commercial building where I continued to research for more than a year before then engaging with consultants to provide a full brewery installation.
What was your approximate budget?
Given the length of time I dedicated to researching, branding and training before officially opening the business, its fair to say that one would need to raise a minimum of £350,000 to get to this stage - although one can easily exceed this given the expensive nature of the equipment that one may end up purchasing.
How did you market your business pre-launch?
Our marketing pre-launch consisted of social media ads, some coverage by the local media and networking with people from the local community. Had we been better prepared, we would have properly utilized crowdfunding to gain more exposure and raise more funds.
How did you launch?
We invited potential customers, our local Milton Keynes CAMRA branch (CAMRA being an acronym for the Campaign for Real Ale), and the local media.
What were those first few weeks like?
The first few weeks are difficult, but the first few months are even tougher. You have to spend a lot of energy and resources to get the product out there so that the local community become familiar with it. However understanding the logistics of the business is also a priority, defining the process to ensure a consistent standard and quality product. You may find that spending continues as you continue to develop the product, and source the best ingredients.
Any tips to someone else that wants to start this business?
Do your research properly, don't rush and always consider the end user; how do you get your product or service to them, without compromising on quality, whilst making the business viable and earning a living? Putting a business together is half the challenge - making it work is the other half of the challenge, and possibly the more difficult part!