What skills and experience do I need to run a microbrewery?
Two crucial skills to running a successful microbrewery are the ability to brew fantastic beer and then selling it profitably. Do you have these skills? Or one of them? Be honest with yourself. If you don’t have both, it’s important to consider going into business with someone who has complementary skill sets.
Setting up a new microbrewery is a big undertaking, particularly if you haven’t brewed commercially before. If you have never worked in a brewery or had direct experience, then it’s important to get this under your belt by working alongside a brewer. Despite the highly competitive market, there is also a strong sense of community amongst brewers, who are ready to share and support each other, as well as offer advice and guidance. A training course from experts will also take you through all the things you need to consider before taking the plunge. Brewing is a great industry to be part of, but make sure you go into it with your eyes wide open.
You could take a chance and decide to learn the complex skill of brewing beer on your own, but it is strongly recommended you take a short brewing course at least, alongside some hands-on experience, to avoid making some costly mistakes early on. Knowledge is power after all! The below qualifications will get you off to the best start (we’ve included additional training and education options should you wish to take your brewing career to the next level).
The Institute of Brewing & Distilling (IBD) website is the best place to start, as it outlines brewing and distilling courses, ranging from beginners’ courses such as the Foundations of Brewing and the Foundations of Distilling to the General Certificate, Diploma, and Master Brewer qualifications:
Foundations of Brewing
Brewing and packaging for non-technical professionals. This is a great starting place to kick-start your brewing career with confidence and know-how. This qualification will provide you with the foundational knowledge to understand how a few simple ingredients are transformed during the brewing process into a vast range of styles and flavours. Once you have achieved this qualification, you will be ready to move to the next level of professional development…
The General Certificate in Brewing
The starting point for your professional brewing career. If you are a brewer that has never studied brewing science before then this is the right course for you. This covers the basic knowledge required for a senior operator or team leader in a larger brewery or for general brewers from the growing independent sector. The General Certificate in Brewing is an online course covering the entire brewing process. Learners will progress through the online learning resources from raw materials to beer that is ready to be packaged, as well as quality and engineering.
Diploma in Brewing
Progress your career. Attaining the IBD Diploma gives you an internationally recognised and comprehensive understanding of brewing science and its application.
This qualification is suited for a brewery manager in a larger brewery or head brewer of a smaller, independent brewery. You will be taught in-depth brewing science, covering all aspects of the production process.
This qualification is split into three modules, each building on the knowledge gained through the Certificate level programme. Candidates should have first completed the IBD’s General Certificate in Brewing or have a solid understanding of the science and technology of brewing. Candidates should ideally be working at or towards senior / head brewer level. Additional prerequisites and exam specifications can be accessed on the IBD website.
The pinnacle of professional brewer qualifications. The Master Level qualifications are the highest professional qualification offered by the IBD. Typical candidates are team leaders or operational / technical managers. Successful candidates should have at least five years of experience working at a senior management level with responsibility for running departments within their manufacturing facility.
- Module 1 – Raw Materials and Wort Production
- Module 2 – Fermentation and Beer Processing
- Module 3 – Packaging of Beer
- Module 4 – Resource Management and Regulatory Compliance
- Module 5 – Practical Project
You must be an IBD member and have achieved the IBD Diploma in Brewing or an exempt qualification from an approved university. Additional prerequisites and syllabus can all be accessed on the IBD website.
The IBD also provides a range of scholarships and bursaries.
What are the legal requirements around running a microbrewery?
As you might expect with brewing alcohol, it’s subject to extensive legislation that must be closely adhered to.
If you produce beer commercially, and its strength exceeds 1.2% alcohol by volume (ABV) you are required to pay Beer Duty. To do this, you must register as a brewer with HMRC to receive a certificate to brew. You must register for Beer Duty at least 14 days before you start. (Information on calculating %ABV, corroborative testing, declaration volume determination, spoilt beer volume and due diligence and AWRS can be found within Peripatetic Brewer Kevin Mutch’s Legislative Compliance for Small Brewers for The University of Nottingham’s International Centre for Brewing Science.
Health and safety
As an employer, you’re required by law to protect your employees, and others, from harm. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the minimum you must do is:
- Identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
- Decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
- Take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk
Assessing risk is just one part of the overall process used to control risks in your workplace. For most small, low-risk businesses the steps you need to take are straightforward. The University of Nottingham’s International Centre for Brewing Science also gives specific health and safety examples in relation to the brewing industry – from slips, trips and falls to fire safety. Written procedures are required if you have five or more employees, however it’s still good practice if you have fewer employees.
Hazard Analysis at Critical Control Points (HACCP)
This also a legal requirement. It is a system that helps food business operators look at how they handle food and introduces procedures to make sure what they produce is safe to consume.
One of the essential elements of being able to set up your own microbrewery is getting access to business funding and then being able to obtain specialist microbrewery insurance at competitive rates. There is a range of microbrewery insurance products out there. The cost and the cheapest insurance will depend on the type and extent of your cover along with the amount of cover that is appropriate for your brewery size.
You also need to consider getting public liability insurance for visiting members of the public if you offer brewery tours, host events/talks, or have a taproom. This introduces a whole new area of risk to your brewery because bringing members of the public into a functioning manufacturing unit with chemicals, hot liquids, industrial equipment and processes obviously increases the potential risk profile. Make sure your brewery insurance covers you for this.
Brew School goes into further detail on microbrewery insurance and finance on its website.
Associations and professional bodies
There are a number of associations and bodies you could join which represent the political and public interests of the industry, and can offer networking opportunities and training. They provide a great way to stay alert on the matters affecting the industry such as changes to the law, as well as potential trade opportunities.