Batch Brewing Company Co-owner, Andrew Fineran, talks about the journey of starting a new brewery.
A few weeks ago, I talked about my concerns for the long term viability of the increasing number of craft breweries popping up in my home state of Tasmania. I was running the idea for my article by my friend, Andrew, one of the owners of Batch Brewwing Company, to see if he had any kind of insight to offer me. What started out as a few text messages, ended up being a full Q&A on starting up a new brewery, the good and the bad. It was a great chat, so I thought I would share it with you all as a bit of a follow up to last weeks post.
Batch Brewing is in Marrickville, in Sydney’s Inner west where the population is something like 5,000,000 people. Remember those calculations I did in my previous article on how the raw population numbers convert to craft beer drinkers? Well doing the numbers on this occasion gives a far more sustainable audience of 50,000, with maybe 10 breweries in the local area…I like those odds better. Add to that the fact that they have access to over 3 million visitors who spend close to 70 million nights in the Greater Sydney area each year, AND spent over $7 billion on their visit…that’s a lot more people needing their thirst quenched. Batch is now pouring in places like Bondi and Manly, tourism hot spots, so they get a little share of that action as well, which bodes well for their future.
Still, starting a new brewery hasn’t been without its stresses, there have been plenty for Andrew & Chris, but they have worked through their teething problems, stuck to their plan, and are starting to see the fruit of their labor…as you will see below.
BH: Starting a new brewery ain’t all beer ‘n’ skittles, is it?
AF: No it’s not! You really have to have a solid, well rounded plan of attack to get a brewery started. There is at least a years (for most 2-3 years) worth of planning that goes into starting a brewery before the dream becomes a reality. During that time you will face many challenges from funding to brewing and brand execution, to council issues, to licensing, to installation issues and timing, and so on.
BH: Yeah, I think you are right…what are the old 7P’s…Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance! So, what do you think is the greatest challenge you guys have faced?
AF: This is an interesting one for me….probably not starting the brewery, but learning to let go of certain things as the business progressed. You can’t always do everything and you have to learn to manage/trust others to do things for you. When it’s your baby, this is really hard to do!
BH: Sounds like you have started to let go a bit, by hiring other people to work in the business? Speaking of trying to do it all yourselves, did you every think it was going to beat you?
AF: To be honest, no I didn’t. I think Chris and I had a good plan of attack, and we worked together, driving each other to make it happen.
BH: You and Chris kind of have complimentary skills, don’t you. How important is it to have that Ying for your Yang?
AF: Extremely important! We both effectively have different skill sets and interests so it works really well and compliments our roles. To put it simply, I sort of work as the front of house (selling/marketing/distribution), and Chris works as the back of house (brewing, production, accounting, etc). We do cross over in our roles from time to time, but largely we have our streams that we work on and communicate with each on what’s happening and get feedback etc when needed to make sure we’re always aligned.
BH: What motivated you to take on the challenge? Did you ever have an epiphany moment and thought, shit yeah, I am gonna do this?
AF: Personally, I was sick of sitting at a desk and making up beer campaigns (I used to work for a big beer company). I was in Mountain Goat one night, and thought to myself…..this is what I need to be doing….brewing, selling, and marketing beer all in one. From that moment, I had to be a part of craft beer again (I once had been back in the U.S.).
BH: That’s fine for you, but you are a married man…how did you convince your wife that it was a good idea?
AF: Constant communication! I just kept telling her what Chris and I were planning so she knew we were well planned and weren’t just jumping into it and risking our livelihood. That made her feel more comfortable, but she was still nervous.
BH: Yeah no doubt, it’s a big decision to chuck in your regular 9-5 and build a new business. What qualifications did you have to start a brewery?
AF: Besides a background in selling and marketing beer, absolutely none.
BH: Yeah okay, smart ass, you win that one. So for someone looking to follow in your footsteps, what’s the best piece of advice for someone starting a new brewery?
AF: Have that plan of attack sorted! You need to make sure you’ve crossed all your t’s and dotted all your I’s. Make sure you aren’t just insanely passionate about brewing and because you are, you’ve missed some major commercial issue etc. You really have to expect that there is a chance your business can fail, and you know what you’ll do if it in fact does.
As much as it was negative, Chris and I constantly talked about the business failing….and because of this it made us work harder to ensure it wouldn’t!
BH: There are so many new breweries popping up in and around your area. How did you find your niche in a crowded Sydney market?
AF: When we entered it wasn’t that crowded! But getting in a bit earlier was important as it allowed us to establish ourselves a little before some of the other guys entered the market. However, back to our plan of attack….we knew what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it, and knew that it was differentiated from others in the market.
BH: Two years down the track, how has the brewery grown/changed?
AF: We now have more fermenters allowing us to brew more beers, a better tasting room space which allows us to be open 7 days a week (while production is still running), and we have more employees to help us bring our dream to life! We also have a more structured approach to our systems and processes. We left the corporate world to start this business and neither of us have plans of going back, but it’s good to use that corporate experience to put in some good practices to make the business run smoothly and your employees focused and happy! This is still a work in progress of course!
BH: Has has it all been worth it?
AF: Yes, it’s a lot of hard work and there is a lot more to come, but it’s worth it!
BH: A lot of hard work, but you have fun too, don’t you? You can see that in your instagram posts.
AF: Oh for sure! We have a great crew that we work with, and everyone is very passionate about what they do…there is always something fun going on, and yeah, we do like to share some of that with our social media followers.
BH: We talked about it being crowded in your area, you need to provide a great service and product offering. How do you describe yourselves?
AF: Yeah you are right…we need to be on our toes. We offer an ever changing range of great quality beer with a view to making it even greater, as well as great customer service. Product quality always has to be high, and the service you offer to your customers must give them a good experience, making them want to do business with you again. We are a community brewery, and we get great support from our locals.
BH: What’s your favourite beer you have produced?
AF: For me it’s The Big Kahuna.
BH: Can I interrupt you there…is it true our beers on Waikiki planted the seed to produce this one? Maybe even that I was the inspiration for it?
AF: Yeah, I saw you put that on Crafty Pint…ok, if you say so, yes, you were the inspiration.
Side Note: I have the final editing rights in all articles published on this site!!! 😉
BH: Sorry, back to your favourite beers…
AF: Ah…yeah, other than Kahuna, we’ve done so many interesting beers, there are a few other favourites! Recently we did our Chapeau again (Raspberry Sour Ale), and that was just superb. I opened up a bottle this weekend (4 months after production), and it was just great….I love that beer. We’ve also just taken a bit of a risk on another sour ale and put in cucumber and Sorachi Ace…..which has given it a Dill pickle vibe….man, it’s a good beer!
BH: I bet people always ask you what the coolest thing is about owning a brewery?
AF: Yeah, they do.
BH: Well…come on!
AF: Hehe…you get to spoil yourself with whatever beer you want to brew/drink!
BH: And what about the worst?
AF: It’s a lot of hard work! Everyone thinks owning a brewery is all glitz and glamour, and it’s really not! There are a lot of long hours for the brewers and then selling/marketing/delivering can be a 7 day a week job, so we’re pretty much always working or thinking about beer (there could be worse things)!
BH: Are your friends envious of you, or do they see how hard it has been and maybe are more relieved for you?
AF: I think they think it’s cool, but I’m not sure if they are envious….but maybe that’s because they see how much work is involved.
BH: You are living the dream mate! What’s next for Batch Brewing Company?
AF: Now that we’ve installed more fermenters we’ll start to sell to more places in Sydney. I’d like to see cans hit the market this year or early next year as well. Besides that, that’s it! We are just going to keep on honing our skills and service offering to make sure we are giving our customers the best, freshest beer, with a smile 😉
BH: Sounds like a plan mate. Now, I always like to ask my friends in the industry what they are drinking right now. So, what’s your favourite Australian, and overseas beer right now?
AF: I don’t mind the Grifters Fresh and Clean right now. Overseas…..hm….Sierra Nevada Pale Ale cans!
BH: I love me some Sierra Nevada…by the way, did you see my 60 Second Beer Review the other week?
AF: Come on man, enough of the self promotion!
BH: Last questions, when are you going to send me some beer?
AF: When are you coming to Sydney?
I would like to thank Andrew for spending some time with me to give my readers an insight to what it takes to start up a new brewery. It certainly seems like a lot of hard work, but the rewards seem just as great to me. The guys at Batch are pretty passionate about their beer, and the community that they call home. It seems that the community (and the surrounding areas) are pretty passionate about Batch Brewing Company, as the newly renovated tasting room is pretty busy most nights!
If you can’t get to Marrickville to try a beer at the brewery, you can find the boys beers on tap at local bars across Sydney, such as Mecca Bar, The Henson, The Erskineville Hotel, Harts Pub and The Australian Hotel. Or if you prefer to drink quality at home, you can find takeaways at Campberdown Cellars, Bondi Beach Cellars, Liquor Legends Ashfield and Steve’s Cool Booze.
As usual, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest beer news, and check out my YoutTube channel or Instagram feed for more fun. I will be posting on Social Media while I am away.
Did you see my Six String Brewing Company #60SecondBeerReview last week? Look out for my review of Six Point’s Global Warmer this Wednesday!
If you have any feedback for me, I would love to hear it, please leave me a comment or shoot me an email.
Cheers to Great Beers!