Writing a Business Plan for your Brewery

I suspect that if we didn't need to get a bank loan in place for our expansion, we'd have never written a business plan. When we started, we had very little idea of what it was for other than convincing a bank to give us money.

We started by buying one. Our first attempt was to purchase a plan. Seriously. We found a brewery in North Carolina that made their plan available as a template for $199. It seemed like a good, cheap solution and we figured that it would be helpful in getting scope around the task. What we found was unreal. It was super detailed and in ways that we didn't understand.

Our first attempt flopped. The result was a joke. We didn't understand what we were submitting and hardly understood how we were arriving at the numbers we were presenting. We blew through talks with six banks before scrapping it and starting over.

A friend of ours was our biggest help, and he didn't write it for us. I was on the phone with a good friend of ours. He's a business guy. MBA. A resume to knock your socks off. This dude is wicked smart. He casually made the comment, "I should totally start a pinball machine shop. Gimme thirty minutes and I'll have my business plan your way." Wait, what? Seriously!?! Okay. I knew this dude was smart, but you're telling me that you could knock out a legitimate business plan in thirty minutes? Folks, this sounded like a diet too good to be true. I pressed and he went off. His biggest point was that you're making an argument. You're answering the question, "why do you think this is gonna work?" What information does someone need to know about you, your business, market conditions, etc. to make the argument that you can make this work? Make the argument. And, do it yourself. You need to believe what you're putting down on paper. And if you need more information to make your argument, go ask someone how you should arrive at that information. 

Our second attempt killed it. We developed our plan, not in thirty minutes, but in a matter of two weeks. We wrote an outline and made a linear argument. We also ended up with a really awesome banker. Our seventh call. He asked the right questions and we iterated. And it grew. In fact, it's roughly six times it's original size. But we understand it. And now it's a tool. We can measure against it. We can make legitimate projections based on the trends we're measuring. 

If you need help, ask us. We'll gladly talk you through it in more details. But, we insist that you understand your business plan. And you'll hold onto it like a two-year-old holds onto his blanket. 

Getting Started

Okay. So, given this is our first post, it seems appropriate to quickly introduce ourselves and give you some idea as to why we’re blogging. Second part first. Breweries are not simple. 

Part of this is a journal. We want to remember where we came from and a blog seems like a good way to record it. 

Part of this is sharing. We can only scratch the surface telling you just how many other brewers have lent a hand or offered timely advice. We’ve tried to reciprocate with those we’ve met, but we also want to create a cohesive look at what it took to launch this thing. We want to see more breweries thrive. The saying goes, “a rising tide floats all boats.” There’s a ton of room in this pond, and honestly, if you’re making phenomenal craft beer, you’re our friend not our competition. 

Part of this is the fact that we’re a bunch of foodies and beer isn’t the extent of our interests. We intend to share here too. Recipes will make their way up here along with an implied invitation to shoot us your ideas if you’re making something great that we should know about. 

Okay… back to the first part. Who is Hemlock State?

There are three of us. Jerret. Michael. Mark. We were friends long before we did this. We all tinker with things, whether it’s cooking, cars, wood-working, philosophical thought or a long list of other interests that we couldn’t possibly satisfy in one lifetime, or apparently three.

By day, Jerret is/was a diabetes researcher for the University of Washington. I don’t know if we’re willing to concede that he’s the brains of the group, but damn… if this kid’s vocabulary is any indication, he’s smart. Wicked smart. In the brewery, he works with Michael on recipe development and he keeps our stuff clean. Like, clean on a level you can’t see. He understands cleanliness in terms the rest of us don’t care to, but when it comes to product consistency and quality, it matters. Oh, and when it comes to yeast… this dude can propagate a batch of yeast that would make you cry tears of joy. (At least it does for us.)

Michael is a project manager and a marketer by trade. Again, super applicable to the brewery. He’s the athlete that Jerret and I sometimes wish we were, but will never be. He cooks better than any of us. Mostly tacos. Lots of tacos and lots of hot sauces. I believe the last count I saw in the door of his fridge was 17. I shit you not. In the brewery, Michael tends to run the hot side (everything prior to hitting the fermenter). We’re all capable, but Michael excels. Michael is the organizer of the group. Everything has an SOP (standard operating procedure) or a best practice. And, though it drives Jerret and I nuts at times, when something does go wrong, Michael can walk through detailed logs and generally find the problem on paper before we ever could have otherwise. If the devil is in the details, Michael knows the devil very well. Or I guess we could just say he’s detailed.

I’m the third partner, Mark. I get to write my own introduction. I was the last partner in. Michael and Jerret were already brewing. I wanted to distill liquor. They settled me down and introduced me to brewing beer. Who knows what the future holds, but damn if if this isn’t working for me now. I’m the student of the group. I’m always digging into something to learn more. I have four college degrees and if my wife would let me, I’d probably pursue more. I’m an ordained pastor and a graphic designer by trade. I’m the business mind behind Hemlock State. I think in terms of context and in terms of where we’re going and then reverse engineer how to get there. Michael and Jerret would not still be talking to each other if I wasn’t involved. Seriously. I’m the diplomat and the communicator and the glue that holds the two of them together. And I’m writing most of this blog. So I take care of the little things like licensing, keeping us legal, writing business plans, understanding our financial picture and yeah, writing the blog.

So, thats us. We’re a pretty open book. If you have questions, reach out. We’ll take that call and talk your ear off until you have what you need.