Christian DeBenedetti on Opening a Brewery

christian debenedettiThinking of opening your own brewery? It’s a dream finally coming to life for beer writer and author Christian DeBenedetti. Named one of our 2015 Imbibe 75 People to Watch, DeBenedetti has been hard at work on his upcoming brewery project, Wolves & People. Having spent months transforming an old barn on his family’s hazelnut farm into a brewery, we asked DeBenedetti what lessons he’s learned that might be helpful to anyone else following the same path.

It’s Slow Going. “Working with tight budgets and a small crew, things necessarily take longer. Having work done? It’s the old adage: fast, cheap, and high-quality—pick two. You don’t get all three. And those all-important federal permits? Plan six months out—or more.”

It’s Crazy Expensive. “A salesman sauntered in with a toothpick in his craw and more attitude than tact. Then he volunteered a quote for a washing machine-sized piece of gear… a Lamborghini washing machine ($85,000). Meeting immediately adjourned. Still, invest in quality gear, or you’ll spend all your time wishing you had.”

Know The Code. “Before you so much as lift a hammer, go to your county and city land use planners’ offices. The days of “winging it” during construction are gone. Inspectors can reverse months of “progress” because you failed to check building codes or pull a $80 permit. Do it right the first time.”

Good Tradespeople Will Make or Break You. “Finding affordable, reliable electricians, excavators, concrete installers and carpenters is difficult. When you find one, shower them with appreciation, not demands (and try not to expand or alter work orders mid-job). He or she might come back when your cellar is 1′ deep in floodwater.”

Your Amazing Plan Sucks (Sometimes). “That flowery-sounding business plan is just that: a plan. Change is constant; pressure to open, not to mention brew to high levels is, too. To get through it all, sometimes you’ve got to “kill your darlings”—a phrase from the writing life—in order to progress. And sometimes you have to think bigger.”

You Can Do It. “Opening a brewery is complicated and costly. Fellow brewers are your best bet for info. Quotes and expertise via equipment makers is free (on the first visit). Once you have the info (and permits), you can achieve the impossible. We built our own concrete floor drains. Insane? Absolutely. We cut and moved over 20 tons of concrete hand by hand, then sourced and set 57′ of high-tensile concrete trench drain with steel grates, passed the plumbing inspection—and saved over $20,000.”