What does it take to start a brewery? The capital requirements, regulations, labor issues, maintenance, and other factors are enough to send many people over the edge and I am often amazed at the number of individuals who persevere with their dream of owning a brewery in the face of so many obstacles. One man who knows these struggles as well as anyone is Tony Magee, the owner and founder of Lagunitas Brewing. Magee shares his story of inspiration in So You Want to Start a Brewery?- The Lagnunitas Story, a book about one man’s rise to craft brewery stardom.
Starting a brewery is a true test of one’s will and patience and Tony Magee cuts straight to the chase in this brewery biography. He talks about problems with funding. He discusses recipe formulation. He talks about the difficulties a brewery encounters when it grows too quickly. He also discusses the toll such a business can take on one’s personal relationships. There is so much that must be done and so many surprises along the way, one never really knows what to expect from one day to the next.
Funding is a major issue for any small business and Lagunitas had its share of capital needs at many stages. But money is only one piece of the puzzle, because even with sufficient access to capital, a young brewery still has countless other obstacles to overcome and hurdles to clear. Will your equipment hold up? What if a large batch of beer goes bad and has to be dumped? What if a government official comes after you for violating a regulation you didn’t know existed? All businesses have their issues, but there are even more potential problems when your business is adult beverages and Magee points out many instances where, due to capital problems, government regulations, taxes owed, or some other reason, Lagunitas found itself on the brink of extinction. But with grit and determination, Lagunitas managed to pull itself through and eventually grew to become one of the largest craft breweries in the land.
I’ve never owned a brewery, but I can still relate to some of the problems Magee faced as he attempted to work through so many problems and uncertainty. I understand fully what it is like to run a company from the financial side and know that the only money available for the week is the funds needed to cover the payroll. It’s like a person who lives check to check and is always worried about what problem might arise next. One small misstep and the entire world can come crumbling down. This is what Lagunitas faced each day and I admire what Magee and his team were able to accomplish. I think what I admire most of all is Magee’s commitment to the very end. Many people would have given up, liquidated, and sought out an easier, more predictable way to make a living but Magee held strong and persevered.
What I like best about So You Want to Start a Brewery is the personal stories. Ask anyone what they think is the greatest problem faced by any brewery startup and they will likely answer with one word: MONEY. Yes, it does help to have cash, but there are far, far more problems that even money cannot solve. Issues with trademark infringements, recipe mishaps, and other dilemmas were a regular part of life at Lagunitas and I enjoyed reading the often serious and sometimes amusing stories and how Magee was able to eventually overcome each problem, often ending up all the wiser at the end of the day.
Starting a brewery is a difficult undertaking. Lagunitas Brewing, as everyone knows, is now part of Heineken but the California startup brewery spent many years as an independent operation. Lagunitas has an interesting story to share and owner/founder Tony Magee lays it all on the line in So You Want to Start a Brewery. It’s a very good read and it belongs on the library shelf of any young brewery looking for inspiration and guidance.