In the article “A Glass of Handmade” published in the November 1987 issue of The Atlantic magazine, William Least Heat Moon along with a character called The Venerable explored the then early micro brewing scene in the USA. It’s one of the original sources of my interest in good beer, dense with keen observation and quotes from players now in their fourth decade past the interviews. One, Buffalo Bill’s Brewpub owner Bill Owens, was quite clear about his business model:
Owens brews six barrels every Monday, about three hundred barrels a year. “For a hundred and thirty dollars’ worth of ingredients I can make a twenty-five-hundred-dollar profit. A glass of lager – that’s all I brew now – costs seven cents. I sell it for a dollar and a half. Compare my profit on a bottle of commercial beer – forty cents.”
Making money. Along with brewing history, it’s one of the more interesting aspects of good beer but one rarely discussed these days by beer writers. In my conversations with small brewery owners, it’s something I often bring up much to their amusement. I remember the look on Ron‘s face a few years back when I started asking one upstate New York small brewery owner how much this bag of malt cost, how much he made of that keg. I don’t get it. I got answers. Yet no one seems to go there. You can think of as many reasons for that as I can but it’s annoying that such an obvious critical element of the trade is set aside or even hidden behind suggestions that there isn’t any money in making good beer.
For such a successful, now well established industry, well, that sure would be weird. I get it – and there are a couple of folk dabbling with macro-economic observations but getting particular brewers to unpack what they are up to, what the situation they are facing is more immediate. So, inspired by #FlagshipFebruary, I thought it would be good to explore my interest in the green, the black and the red and look to see who is out there doing the same thing. The balance scale and the small scale. Micro brewing micro-economics.
This month, I have a few interviews lined up and might see if anyone else is interested in having a look see wherever they are. #MoneyMakerMarch. Sure, it maybe started as a joke. But then it ended up making me think. And made me remember one of the things I was first interested in when it came to good beer, that seven cent per glass cost. Let’s see if anything comparable to that sort of gross revenue before taxes and other expenses is in anyway still possibly true. These days I take apart the price of multi-million dollar projects for a living. Let’s see if I can apply any of that experience to come up with anything unexpectedly interesting.