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Project Nano Brewery Cincinnati

Like any homebrewer in love with the hobby, I’ve had dreams of blowing off my day job and taking up the “glamorous” job of brewing beer professionally.  You probably know the perfect place for your brewery, already know the name, what your first beer will be called, and maybe you have even started counting the riches your special brew will bring.  Then you hear your alarm go off and you return to the reality of another Monday at your regular job.  But, what if you could have the nice things your day job brings, like a steady paycheck, retirement benefits, and healthcare – AND – brew beer commercially?  Enter the nano brewery idea.

The concept of nano brewery is not new, nor is it a specifically defined term.  However, the idea is that regular guys who like making beer can create commercially viable beer with minimal equipment and minimal facilities.  You may brew a half-barrel or barrel at a time 2-3 times a week to meet a small demand.  Thanks to recent legal changes in Ohio, one could conceivably operate a tasting room as the sole means of distributing their product.  Sound crazy?  Guess what – people are already doing it in other parts of the country.  Oh and there is this small brewery called Dogfish Head that had the same humble beginnings in the back of a restaurant.

Nano makes sense to me due to the ability to take a “lean” startup approach to your business.  In other words, the capital investments are relatively small which affords you some freedom to make pretty radical changes to your business plan without having tons of capital already tied up.  You may only need $20,000 instead of ten times that amount, or more, that many new microbreweries are bringing in from investors.  You could probably even do it for less than $20,000, depending on the scale.  The drawbacks of going nano?  You have the same fees and license requirements as AB-InBev.  In Ohio, that means a ridiculous $3,906 per year fee.  If you opted to ferment grapes instead of grains, you only pay $76 every year.  Seriously.  $3,906 vs $76.  Something is wrong here but that’s a whole other can of worms.

I have to wonder if a city like Cincinnati could support a nano brewery.  We are extremely fortunate to have a thriving group of small local craft breweries putting out some sizable quantities of beer.  We’re talking Great Crescent, Rock Bottom, Christian MoerleinBlank Slate, Triple Digit/Listermann’s, Mt. Carmel, Fifty West, and Double Barrel and MadTree coming on-line any day now.  All of these operations are a bit beyond my personal definition of nano but are certainly vying for the same thirsty patrons.  However, the nano might be well received if placed in the right part of town and surrounded by complimentary businesses and residents.  It harkens back to pre-prohibition times of taking a bucket down the street to the brewery to bring home your favorite ale.  It seems like a great fit for uber-local hipsters.  I’m pretty sure Cincinnati has a decent dose of this crowd – in addition to true craft beer aficionados looking for a great drink.

Are there other considerations when laying out your plans?  Absolutely.  You need a space that that garners the blessing of the health department and the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau).  You need to figure out in what form you will distribute your hard work.  Do it yourself or hire someone?  Keg, bottle or can it?  Or do you just do a taproom??  Do you have enough liability insurance?  Is there enough parking for people to come on-site?  Will your spouse let you back in the house after spending your entire weekend locked inside your stupid little ghetto brewery?  Lots of questions remain but it still seems feasible and worth the time to begin piecing together a comprehensive business plan.  What if you are popular and this allows you to help self-finance a brewery expansion?  What if you are just popular enough to pocket a few extra grand each year and do something you love?

Can you shoot holes in this notion?  Do you think its a viable solution? What would you do with $10,000 and a dream to brew?

Mike Stuart

Craft beer enthusiast and hombrew dabbler. Part-time writer, sometimes funny.

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