How to open a craft brewery in B.C.

Maybe you’ve thought about opening your own craft brewery one day—everyone else seems to be doing it, after all. Here’s why you might want to think twice

July 6, 2016

By Jan Zeschky

Owning a craft beer operation might sound like a dream job, given that you get to make beer and make money at the same time. But the truth is a little more complicated than that.

This is B.C. we live in, and while it’s the most beautiful place on earth, it can also the most beautiful place on earth in which to have your dreams both crushed by bureaucracy and potentially end in bankruptcy. “There’s a huge amount of steps, a huge amount of outlay, a huge amount of headache and commitment involved,” says Ken Beattie of the B.C. Craft Brewers Guild.

Thankfully there are people out there to help, including Carlos Mendes, who practices beer law at Richards Buell Sutton. Here, he helps break down the six stages of setting up a brewery (grief not included).

1.) Develop an identity
This is the most enjoyable part. Decide which kind of beers you’re going to brew, develop your brand, and conceptualize your tasting room. Bonus: you get to enjoy “research” at nearby breweries.

2.) Business plan
Now it’s time to get serious. The business plan, submitted with your manufacturing licence application, should contain important details such as financial projections and the cost of equipment, Mendes says. An accountant can advise about appropriate capital structures and funding options.

3.) Find a space
Locking down a location that’s both suitable and affordable in Vancouver might be like trying to catch a unicorn, but you still need to have a space leased or secured before you can apply for your licence and an architect can draw up plans. When you’ve finally found your magical steed, order the brewhouse equipment immediately: many manufacturers have long waiting lists, so you’ll need to be patient. Now’s also a good time to start hunting for a brewer.

4.) Apply for licence and start build-out
Pray to the relevant deity (or, better yet, all of them) for prompt licence approval. “In the Lower Mainland, where the licensing agents are quite busy, it could take up to a year,” Mendes says. You’ll almost certainly be paying rent the entire time, so use it to make modifications to your space such as drainage and venting before installing the brewhouse.

5.) Permits, permits, permits
Once you get your approval in principle, brace yourself for a hurricane of bureaucracy. The City of Vancouver, Vancouver Coastal Health, Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, and the fire department all want to make sure your place is legit. Paperwork moves slowly; sometimes it gets lost. Smile and try not to maim anyone. If your temper starts to build, feel free to “test” some of your product.

6.) Opening day
Congratulations! Like parents celebrating a newborn child, now the real work begins. You get to find out if you have the business chops to keep your new baby alive. And like those new parents, don’t expect to sleep much over the first year or so.

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