When brewers and brewery owners need a hand, they know that they can call on friends and colleagues within the industry with just about any request. Whether it’s advice on building out a new brewhouse, help with a vexing packaging problem, or just to borrow a few pounds of hops, there’s a prevailing “we’re all in it together” attitude of that’s long been a hallmark of craft.
But there are more operating breweries now than ever, and not everyone shares the same ideals and motivations. And in many growing markets, brewers don’t always know each other anymore, even by two or three degrees of separation.
This isn’t to claim that the “brotherhood of brewers,” as this informal network is often referred to, is defunct—far from it—but many brewers are becoming much more selective about to whom, and for what reasons, they choose to give of their time and resources. Friends are one thing, but it doesn’t make sense to always offer assistance to just anyone.
For example, when brewer Steve Luke left his position with Elysian Brewing to found Cloudburst Brewing in Seattle, he talked to as many brewer buddies as he could about things such as how to structure the company, operating agreements, licensing, inspections…you name it. Everyone was very forthcoming, he says, although Luke wonders if the reception would have been quite so welcoming if he didn’t have prior industry experience and local connections.
“As brotherly as it is, with a lot of new breweries opening up, there’s really kind of like an old guard and a new wave where not everyone is helpful,” Luke says. “Myself included. You can’t really help everybody who comes and asks you for advice.
“It’s a growth industry and people are starting to come in from the outside, just seeing it as another growth industry that they can try to make some money on,” he says. “That's a fairly big departure from when I first entered the industry. Their reasons for starting a brewery are very different from mine.”
Brewer Marty Mendiola cofounded Second Chance Beer Co. in San Diego last year after seventeen years brewing at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery’s La Jolla, California, location. He’s also a past president of the San Diego Brewers Guild and agrees that some brewers are playing their cards a bit closer to their chests these days.
“I remember back in the early 2000s, when San Diego was still kind of up and coming and everyone was swapping exact details like ‘how’d you get that coffee into that beer?’ or ‘how do you dry hop?’ ” Mendiola says. “I can see how some of those things are getting a little bit quieter now, which makes sense. You don’t want to spend all that time and trouble figuring something out and then explain to someone exactly how to do it.”
Still, like many veteran brewers, Mendiola is more than willing—excited, even—to share his expertise and passion for craft brewing with like-minded entrepreneurs. What gives him pause, however, is when advice seekers come to him with murky motivations or cloudy business plans.
“I’ve had a couple of people come in asking questions about opening a brewery, people I don’t really know, and I’ll ask ‘where are you brewing now?’ and they’re like, ‘oh no, I’m a homebrewer’ and yet they want to go pretty big right off the bat,” he says. “Then I’ll ask, ‘who’s going to brew? Are you going to hire a brewer?’ and they’ll say, ‘we’re still trying to decide that.’
“That kind of attitude seems strange to me,” Mendiola says. “That happened a lot in the late nineties, when people were just getting into it because they followed the money. I want to feel like they’re really wanting to make good beer and have a positive impact.”
Brewers and owners are acutely aware of the growing pains and uncertainty that comes with starting up any new business. They know that, more often than not, a new brewery’s success hinges on the quality of the beer and the sheer drive to serve the local community a great product. Why waste time on anything else?
“Before you’re open, I always joke that all you are is a T-shirt and sticker company,” says Jesse Brookstein, co-owner of Call to Arms Brewing Company, which opened in Denver a little more than a year ago.
Call to Arms recently held its third annual Peace & Assist event to raise funds and awareness around a local start-up brewery. It’s the exact opposite of what Brookstein and his two partners refer to as a “cease and desist” mentality.
“We pride ourselves on being able to help and our willingness to help,” Brookstein says. “Jon [Cross] and I both worked as managers at Avery and had the opportunity to bring a lot of folks into the industry—folks just like myself and my business partners who had only been homebrewers and wanted so badly to get that big break.
“This is why we’re here,” he says. “We love this industry.”
And when you’re that passionate about your craft, it’s hard for folks to miss.