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Going Pro... Is a good recipe enough?

by Thomas C. Kolakowski

Every home brewer has probably fantasized at times whether his beer has what it takes to become the next Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada. But is having a good recipe enough? Just because my local home brewers club rates my beer highly does that mean I can actually make some money off of it? And how does one go about taking that big leap from home brewer to commercial brewer? What follows should give some insight into getting started as a professional brewer.

The first question that has to be asked is which path to take, becoming a contract brewer or opening a brew pub. Each method has it's strengths and weaknesses, so one should make their choice wisely. The first method, contract brewing, is by far the least expensive. In contract brewing you contract with a large brewery that will brew the beer to your specifications. You create the recipe and they brew it for you. The major advantage of using a contract brewer is that they have the expertise that will ensure a quality product that is consistent with each batch produced. In researching this article I spoke to representatives of F.X. Matt Brewing Company of Utica, NY as to how they handle contract beers. F.X. Matt contract brews such beers as Brooklyn Lager, Dock Street, New Amsterdam and Harpoon Ale.

From the information F.X. Matt provided, a new contract brewer will have to order approximately 6,500 cases of beer with each order. Based on an average price per case of $10, we are talking about a price of around $65,000 per batch produced. They go on to recommend that producing six batches per year, raising the annual cost for production to around $390,000 a year. Before the first batch of beer is produced there are several start-up expenses that must be incurred. First, you need to have labels and six packs designed for your beer, the up-front art charges will be around $10,000. Additionally, the brewery will need you to prepay for the packaging materials for the first 10-15,000 cases, coming in around $25,000. All totaled, your first batch of beer should run you somewhere between $75,000 to $90,000. This amount could be higher depending on the style of beer produced and any special ingredients you may require.

So... now you are about $80,000 poorer, but have 6,500 cases of your new beer sitting on the brewery's loading dock. Here's where your real problems begin. You have beer, but as of yet, nowhere to sell it! A successful contract brewer has to be a good salesman, even more so than a good brewer. I remember spending a day with Sal Pennacchio of Old World Brewing (makers of New York Harbor Ale and Porter), in which hours were spent trying to arrange transportation for his beer from the brewery (in Stevens Point, WI) to the various distributors he services. There is a lot of work involved with making your new beer a success. You will have to travel from beer show to beer show... host beer tastings... etc. By attending these beer shows you hope to generate new customers, but you wind-up giving away many beers in the process! If your beer starts showing promise you may be able to hook-up with other small breweries to help you distribute your beer. In New York City, Brooklyn Brewing acts as distributor for many regional MicroBrews. Unless these established brewery/distributors feel they can sell your beer to the bars and distributors they deal with, you will most likely be on your own.

The second brewing option is opening a brew-pub. The main advantage of being a brew-pub is that you don't need to market the beer, since the beer is sold in-house. Since you only need to produce as much beer as you need for your customers you can better control how much beer you brew with each batch. You will first need to find a location for you pub. The site must be properly zoned to allow on-site brewing and also be located where the beer will sell... if the location chosen is not right for a brew pub you may be doomed no matter how good you beer is! Additionally, the site will have to be large enough to house all the brewing equipment needed (brew kettle, fermentor, conditioning tank, etc.). The expenses are high. You will need to purchase or lease the pub and buy all the brewing equipment and ingredients. One should expect to spend at least $50,000 on all the equipment you need, unless you either you buy used equipment or start with a 5-8 barrel system. On the positive side, it is easier to finance a brew pub than a contract operation. You can always get a mortgage on the pub and use the brewing equipment as collateral for a loan. With a contract operation you will need to have the cash up-front.

Many brew pubs, such as Park Slope in Brooklyn, can easily add the capacity necessary to supply their beers to other bars. An additional consideration is who is going to operate the brewing equipment. There is a big difference between brewing a 5-gallon batch of home-brew and producing 15 barrels of beer. Many brew pubs hire a professional brewer to get them started and train them to run the business themselves. This where many brew pubs fail. Often, once the Head Brewer leaves the quality drops. The Manhattan Brewery has opened and closed many times because of the poor quality of their beers. Once the brewery reaches the level of popularity where they can sell their product in bottles they usually contract their beer out to a brewery like F.X. Matt. Even big name micros like Samuel Adams would produce their keg beer at one site and contract out their bottled beer to another brewery.

This should give some basic insight into the problems with getting started as a commercial brewer. Good luck and good brewing!

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by Thomas C. Kolakowski


Every now and again you find yourself lucky enough to find a bar/restaurant that has the perfect combination of good food, good beer and atmosphere. Rolf's (381 3rd Avenue at 22nd Street) is just such a place. This is an extremely comfortable restaurant where you can sit and leisurely enjoy a good meal, easily forgetting the hustle and bustle of the big city... at least for a little while. With excellent service and a rather unique menu (in a city where the unique often becomes common-place) you will find yourself coming back again and again.

The Holiday season is the perfect time of year to visit, as the entire establishment is transformed into a Christmas paradise, reminiscent of something out of a Fairy Tale set in Germany's "Black Forest". As soon as you walk through the doors you find yourself transported back in time to a restaurant celebrating a traditional 19th century Christmas. There are two beautiful Christmas trees at the front of the Bar, all decked out in what appears to be antique decorations. Pine branch garlands are draped down from the ceiling beams with lights, strings of beads, toys and nut-crackers of yesteryear... a sight so beautiful mere words do not do them justice!

The entire restaurant is done is dark wood that is old and in places worn with age. This gives character to the place. It has the feel of a restaurant that has been around for a century or more even though it has only been open for 37 years. Along one wall are a number of booths with a row of tables nearby. The back of the restaurant has a number of larger tables available for groups. The restaurant is a bit small so it is does get rather cozy. The furniture appears to have an antique quality, with richly carved tall backed chairs rather than the small plain chairs most establishments use. There is a several truly antique pieces of furniture to be found, including a gorgeous enamelled wood-burning stoves bearing a traditional German scene and a fully functional street lamp (the type that used to grace many a store front in the last century) is near the bar, which is itself a work of art. It is has beautiful carved features including animal heads and other details. The hinges on the cabinet doors look to be hand made, as are the nails used to fasten them. There is even a old clock, like a miniature Grandfather clock set into one of the bar's shelves. The entire restaurant is adorned with old paintings and artifacts which further accent the 19th century mood.

The food is as beautifully prepared as the decor. As the name implies Rolf's is a traditional German Restaurant, where you can choose from a wide selection of German dishes... some well known, others unpronounceable by this writer. Appetizers range in price from $3-6. And Entrees can run anywhere from $12.95 to $16.95. There are daily specials that include some combinations of their usual entrees, with prices ranging from $15.95 to $21.95. For those on a budget there are sandwiches that average around $8. Their Weisswursts and Bratwursts are a pure delight, unlike many store bought wursts that don't live up to their name! All their wursts are served with a boiled potato (with gravy) and German style sauerkraut. The portions are quite large, so bring an appetite! Due to the small size of the restaurant it's advisable to make a reservation for dinner or if you intend to go with a group.

While dining, be sure to quench your thirst with a nice .5L glass of beer. While they only have three taps the selection includes two brands you don't often find... Bitburger Pils and Kulmbacher Dunkel. The Bitburger makes an excellent companion to a plate of wurst. Rounding off the taps is Dinkelacker, a standard at most German bars. Their bottle selection is equally small, consisting mainly of Spaten Lager, a Dark Weiss and a Hefeweiss. For those not inclined to drink German Beer they have a fully stocked bar, as well as bottled Bud. A .5L glass of beer will run you $5. Rolf's is definitely not the place to go if you require a large beer selection. Their limited size has caused them to choose a few good beers that accentuate their German fare, rather than offer a huge supply of unrelated beers.

So if you ever get a craving for excellent German food in a setting that reminds you of days gone by, head over to Rolf's... you won't be disappointed!

	Rolf's Bar & Restaurant
	281 3rd Avenue
	Phone: (212) 473-8718 or 477-4750
	Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner


Last modified: 04/15/07