As the local food movement is becoming more mainstream at restaurants across the country, the same local sourcing trend is becoming just as prevalent in beverage options – particularly in craft beer. Fueling the local craft beer trend are smaller breweries dedicated to offering high-quality brews with a sense of pride for the local community. In fact, many business owners are choosing to start a brewery to accent their restaurant — or simply expand their support of local craft beer makers.
One such business is Barley Mow Brewing Company, based in Largo, Florida – a Rewards Network program establishment. Owner Jay Dingman shared his thoughts on the craft beer scene and how to start a brewery with our Account Executive Jason Aquilar, along with his advice for restaurants looking to expand their offerings to local brews.
What would your advice be to someone looking to start a brewery?
I would say that the number one thing is that you’ve got to make good beer. The days are gone of you being able to make mediocre beer or even bad beer, and be able to have a sustainable product in the market.
And the second thing is [to start a brewery] you’ve got to be well-funded. It’s not just about equipment in and getting the place started. It’s about carrying costs and being able to invest in it early on. The general rule has always been take whatever you think it’s going to cost and multiply that by three.
And whatever you think how long it’s going to take before you’re open, multiply that by three. Federal licensing and all the different processes we have to go through before we can even produce a drop of beer, it takes longer than you’d think.
But the best thing is to talk to local guys in your area that are already doing it and find out what they have to say about their experience.
What advice would you have for a restaurant looking to expand their beer offerings into more local, craft options, in lieu of choosing to start a brewery themselves?
Please do! [Laughs]
We’ve watched this movement with a lot of interest as markets become even more hyper-local. As that trend continues to grow with craft cocktailing and local food, adding in local beer definitely makes a big difference.
Even for bars and restaurants that probably wouldn’t expect to sell a lot of local beers, having at least one or two local offerings I guarantee it’s going to sell and you’ll be supporting your local community as well.
People are willing to pay a little more for the beer, especially as it’s closer to where they’re vacationing or where they live. We at least see the same rate of return on it probably as we would any other beer.
Why do you think the craft beer scene has exploded in Florida over the past few years?
Well, it’s following the trend where it’s exploded over the country — and even over all over the world. But in Florida specifically, we’ve always been such tourist-driven economy that you have people coming in from all different parts of the country.
A lot of those places have a more mature craft beer scene – you get the travelers from Boston or the Midwest and they’re looking for that fuller profile beer. So it only made scene that our beer scene would start to evolve as more and more of those travelers are looking for that kind of beer.
I think it’s a testament to the industry as a whole where it’s getting easier to kind of get into the industry. Smaller breweries with a brew house that’s big enough to support just a tasting room are becoming pretty popular.
So we’ve seen exponential growth – Florida’s within one of the top five fastest-growing states for craft beer and I think that between the tourists and getting easier to brew is why we’re seeing that.
What sets your brews apart from your competition?
I think as more and more brewers are coming on board, they’re trying to figure out what sets them apart while also trying to stay relevant. But for us I think it’s always been that we brew a more traditional style, craft beers that you would have seen in the early 2000s. A lot of hop-forward stuff.
What sets us apart is more of the things we’re not doing, which is that we don’t brew any sour beers or wild beers, which are becoming more popular. We work hard at keeping our styles a little more traditional.
And the other thing we do a little differently than anyone else in Florida is that our branding is a whole lot darker. You won’t find any palm trees or anything like that on any of our logos. Everything we do is a little bit on the “dark” side.
How do you get both new and loyal customers to try your new brews?
That’s the easy part. Everybody’s looking for something different. Even the guys who come in and want the same beer every time, they’re always looking to try something different.
We joke a lot that if we have somebody that comes in on Monday and the comes back in on Wednesday and if there’s not at least a couple of beers that are different, they think our list is getting stale. The more fun ones that we have are when we get a customer who comes in and doesn’t realize that we’re a craft brewery, and they’re looking for a batch brewer’s domestic white lager, and we typically will get one of our lighter beers in front of them, but I always encourage our staff to get something that’s a little crazy – like the hail Mary, like giving them a chocolate milk stout just to see if they’ll like it.
A lot of people who tell me they don’t like beer, I usually will say that they just haven’t found the right beer yet.
Is there a beer you’ve made in the past that your customers (or your employees) are asking you to bring back?
We have three locations – we have our production room, our original location which is our tavern, and then we have our new restaurant. So throughout those three properties we brew about 85 different styles a year. Some of them we’ll probably never make again, but we have an uncanny amount of product that we brew that people continue to ask about even if we’ve never made it again.
Some of those beers have become seasonals where we brew them at least once a year, some of them have become mid-releases which we brew one other time a year, and some we just every once in a while brew just to shut people up a little bit like “Here, take it!”
What do you think is the greatest reward behind your decision to start a brewery?
I guess just the satisfaction that we make good beer. When you start a brewery, it’s a lot like owning a farm. You know, if something’s broken or money’s tight, but it’s who we are and we’re extremely passionate about what we do.
And at the end of the day, it’s just about the beer.
Want more details on how to start a brewery, and the role Rewards Network can play in your success?