Michael Bryant first experimented with fermentation at age 13, when he discovered a recipe for orange wine in his mother’s Old Mr. Boston drink guide. He followed the directions, bottled the mixture in glass jars, and hid them in the basement.
The result looked so bad that he never even tasted it. “I looked at the stuff in the jars and thought, this is poisonous,” he recalls.
“In the early ’70s I started making wine again. In the mid-’80s my brother, who is a homebrewer, came to visit and said, ‘You make a pretty good wine. You should try beer.’ I thought it would be too complicated. Then he told me a story about that wine I made way back when. He told me that when he was 14, he and his friends would pour that clear liquid off the top and sneak into the field to drink it.”
Bryant, a restaurant construction contractor, lives in Dunedin, Fla. During his first few years of homebrewing, he bottled in champagne bottles but wanted to try kegging. “It took me more than a year and a good 10 batches of beer that I threw out just to get the kegging straightened out,” he says. His problems included finding the correct pressurization level for the keg and then fighting off-flavors, which he accomplished when he learned about venting. “I had the concept of having a microbrewery as soon as I had kegging worked out,” he says.
Bryant’s dream was to start small, distributing the beer locally. “I
thought it would be neat to be able to make beer, put it in these
little kegs, and have it sold in downtown Dunedin. No big deal, just a
hobby to do this. Then people could enjoy a different beer.”
The Dream Grows
The first time Bryant really thought that he could carry it all off was on a trip to California. There were bottles of different microbrews lining store shelves. “There were these small microbreweries putting beer in champagne bottles,” he says “The labels were crooked. There was yeast in the bottom of the bottle. Different bottles of the same style from the same brewery tasted a little different. It was just like we were doing at home, but they charged $4 a bottle!”
The final push to begin his brewery came when his friend Scott Henderson offered him the $20,000 they estimated a 1.5-barrel brewery would cost. “I thought that if someone else felt as strongly as this, why couldn’t I just do it?” says Bryant. “I didn’t want someone else to take a chance on me when there could be problems that I couldn’t control. If you have someone else as a partner, then you start carrying a load on your shoulders, and I really wanted this thing to be fun.”
Henderson and Bryant had their discussion on a Saturday in May 1995.
On Monday Bryant applied for a nine-page industrial development review
required by the city for all new businesses and hammered out a
$400-a-month lease on a space in an industrial area of town.
Bryant had worked with his friend and fellow brewer Norman Dixon on Dixon’s 1.5-barrel system. “I started looking at different systems and I liked the simplicity of the 1.5-barrel system,” says Bryant. The idea of contract brewing and expansion boosted the idea to a seven-barrel microbrewery, which meant a much higher investment than the original $20,000 estimate. Depending on how much the owners do on their own, the cost of a seven-barrel facility can range from $50,000 to $100,000.
In the first week of planning the brewery, Bryant’s contracting company was hired to build a series of buildings. “That doubled our sales. We had already taken care of our overhead, so we had the money to invest in equipment,” says Bryant.
Everything began to move forward. First he received an assessment of the project’s feasibility from the city as part of the industrial development review.
“I went in there and got a really good response. Then we immediately
got the site and the money. From that point it felt like every closed
door I had to enter opened when I put my hand to the door handle. It
opened and led to another door that opened and so forth.”
Forms, Forms, More Forms
Dunedin Brewery officially hit start-up mode with the filing of that industrial development review form, followed by environmental impact studies. Next came zoning board decisions, a series of three public hearings for the City of Dunedin, and numerous other regulatory obstacles. All of this occurred over a period of three months.
Every city has different laws and health and safety codes regulating new businesses, particularly businesses that could have an effect on the local environment. Among other things, Bryant had to show that waste water from the brewery would meet the liquid-refuse removal standards of the area regarding pH, temperature, and other factors. The standards even required him to trace the route of the water leaving the brewery all the way to its end point. Fortunately for Bryant, Dunedin has a very successful waste-water treatment facility where 90 percent of the water is reclaimed.
Then the brewery site had to be inspected by the fire marshal. His first question was, “Where do you distill the beer?”
“Obviously the inspector wasn’t a homebrewer, so I explained the brewing process to him and we passed the inspection,” says Bryant. “This is a learning experience for everyone involved. In this case the fire inspector will be able to train his people on the process of microbrewing versus distillation and will know what to look for in the next brewery inspection.”
The next major hurdle on the way to the first barrel of beer was initial approval from the federal agency that regulates alcoholic beverage sales, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF). This is really a double whammy, because there is also a state Alcoholic Beverage Control department to deal with licensing and brewery approval.
Part of the BATF’s approval process is a background check. BATF agents contact the owner’s associates and ask them questions such as, “Do you know any reason why this person shouldn’t brew beer?” The owner also has to put up a cash bond to guarantee that the taxes will be paid.
Just getting an appointment with the BATF can take two to three weeks, so you really want to have all your ducks in a row before the meeting, Bryant says. In his case the BATF meeting was scheduled in the morning, but his bond wasn’t ready from the bank until the afternoon. He had to schedule another meeting two weeks later to appear with check in hand.
“On top of everything, the BATF doesn’t give final approval until
all the equipment is installed and the brewery is ready to run. That’s
way too far into the process to turn back. A guy has to invest all this
time and money without really knowing if it’s going to go through,”
Before opening the microbrewery Bryant attended a two-day seminar by the American Brewers Guild on “How to Open a Brewpub or Microbrewery” that covered site selection, design, equipment selection, and brewing science. He also culled information through his long-time memberships to the American Homebrewers Association, the Institute for Brewing Studies, and the Masterbrewers Association of the Americas.
“I joined the professional organizations as a homebrewer because I wanted to get more information on brewing that was really accurate,” he says. So he had a good idea of what to expect and some help to guide him through the morass of bureaucratic paperwork and regulatory demands. Bryant has also owned his own contracting company for the last 10 years, and the firm specializes in providing construction services for the restaurant industry.
“Being in the restaurant construction business has definitely given me an advantage cutting through the red tape,” he says. “I know where some of the obstacles are and where to look for others.”
Bryant is not a novice brewer, either. His brewing experience
includes 20 years as a winemaker hobbyist and eight years as a
also worked for a year as a brewer’s assistant at the Brooker Creek Grill in Palm Harbor, Fla., under the tutelage of Norman Dixon, brewmaster.
“Anyone who wants to get seriously involved in microbrewing should
first work in a brewery as an apprentice,” says Bryant. “It’s like
buying a car. You can’t make an informed decision on buying a car if
you’ve never had a driver’s license and driven a few.”
Keeping things simple and relaxed was Bryant’s goal. “We wanted to keep the construction of the brewery low key at first so there isn’t the pressure of others being dependent on our time frame for opening and production,” says Bryant, who did most of the work himself.
“I would be there every free moment I had, seven days and evenings a week. Friends helped me lift the vessels up, move equipment, and paint — things you really can’t do alone.”
Most of the those helping out had some type of construction background and, more important, they were all homebrewers. According to Bryant, people were happy to spend some free time doing everything from muscling a mash tun into position to wiping down construction dust from the walls. They all had the same goal: the successful production of that first barrel of beer.
At times the extra hands were a hindrance rather than a help because Bryant was feeling his way along. People wanted to help but needed him to tell them what to do, which sometimes frazzled the brewer. “It’s like teaching yourself to fly with passengers on board,” he says. But he would never consider turning them away. “The helping hands and their energy keeps you going. You’ll go into little dips of depression where you’ll say, ‘I’m crazy!’ and their energy helps you.”
“For homebrewers who are thinking about opening a microbrewery, the first step is to decide to do it. Wanting to is not doing. You have to get to the point when you stop talking about it. Once you’ve decided, stay open minded. Putting things together won’t be easy, but if you’re going to do it no matter what, you find a way even if there are problems. You have to be flexible to work out the difficulties.”
While there are a lot of headaches, some aspects of the planning are
more enjoyable than others. One example was Bryant’s decision on a
logo. The city of Dunedin has a rich Scottish heritage. The beginning
of the logo was an old picture of bagpipes that Bryant came across. He
then added illustrations of hops and grain to it and sent it along to
an artist friend to clean up. The logo was emblazoned on t-shirts,
coasters, and glasses for giveaways. “I want the brewery to be fun,”
says Bryant. “What can be more fun than giving things away?”
Next month: Buying and installing the brewing equipment.