This is a series of articles about opening a small brewery in Hyattsville, a stone’s throw from DC. If you’d like me to answer a specific question about opening a small brewery, tweet @JonCetrano or shoot me an email at email@example.com, and I’ll do my best to write about it.
People ask me, “Jon, what is it like opening a brewery?” In my mind’s eye, I always flash back to a particular moment in April 2017. I’m standing in the middle of the cavernous Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) exhibit floor. There was an embarrassment of amazing beer riches there. There were 22 beer tents on the exhibit floor alone, and each tent had at least 12 different beers. Cool beer gadgets to the left, shiny stainless steel to the right, a tricycle towing a kegerator with flashing lights and a stereo system around the corner, and hop samples being passed out like candy by literal Germans in lederhosen. I should have been agog.
Instead, I was THISCLOSE to punching my partner, Sam, in the face because he wanted the loud crowler machine, and I wanted the quiet one. Neither of us would relent or, even consider, each other’s point of view in that moment.
The ridiculousness of the moment aside, this is the reality of opening a brewery. Opening a business of any sort takes passion and vision. You’re stepping out of the comfortable 9-5 workday with benefits and predictability, and you’re trading it for the exact opposite. When you’re opening a business with two partners, you’re also dealing with their struggle, the unpredictability of it all, as well as the discomfort of operating out of your comfort zone. That mix can and often does create conflict.
Conflict is an opportunity for growth. Take that loud crowler machine that Sam so desperately wanted. His argument was that the sound of the crowler machine would generate interest, ”What’s that sound?” and then that interest in turn would generate sales: “Oh, cool, my own can of beer! I want one!” As much as it pains me to admit it, that is an entirely reasonable proposition. That’s Sam’s background in sales coming through. That is also a shift in thinking for me, I don’t immediately think of things in terms of producing sales. I like canning efficiency and peace and quiet with my beer.
The brewery space itself is small, so the first priority in our conceptual design was the placement of the equipment. We needed to maximize space for both production and seating. With those restrictions in place, our views on the layout aligned pretty well. 1200 square feet of space does not leave us much creativity with brewing equipment placement, so there was not much conflict there. Our headbutting then primarily became about the creative design of our space. We often had arguments/discussions about what types of lights/finishes we’d use and what the bar would look like. To allow us to navigate those discussions, we turned to **cough** Pinterest **cough, cough.** Cupcake recipes and makeup tips notwithstanding, it actually is a great way to visually show what we thought might work, critique, conceptualize design ideas in our space, and come to a consensus. Showing a picture of an idea is much easier than saying something like, “How about this, a whiskey barrel—but cut in half, and made into a table!” Which, by the way, was an idea of mine that got shot down immediately.
Throughout the various conflicts, AKA moments of growth, we’ve had in opening this business, we have experienced many shifts in thinking and preconceived notions. We figure out new ways of communicating with each other and our idiosyncrasies. We work hard to remain flexible, but we get pissed at each other every so often. I’m happy to report that no fisticuffs were exchanged at the CBC or since then, but we still haven’t bought the damn crowler machine.