By Zak Stone
Microbreweries and brewpubs may have exploded in popularity over the past decade or so, yet that's in spite of the challenges brewers face when getting started, including heavy regulation, hefty overhead, and substantial risk. But in downtown Houston, the world's first "brewery incubator" aims to grease the wheels for aspiring brewers, by offering community, a shared workspace with professional brewing equipment, and a tap room with a built-in customer base, so brewers can focus on what matters when they're just starting off: making the best beer possible.
"We cultivate these nano-breweries through business workshops, networking events, co-marketing, investor pitches, and co-working until they are fully ready to launch their own brewery," reads the Brewery Incubator's Kickstarter. The project is actually an incubator within a more established incubator, Kitchen Inc., which provides food entrepreneurs with affordable commercial kitchen space and a café to sell their wares.
Founder and president Lucrece Borrego said she saw the need for a dedicated brewing incubator space after opening Kitchen Inc. three years ago. "As I met these people that were starting breweries, I realized the startup requirements--both the capital requirements and licensing--were very big," even bigger than in the food world. According to Borrego, regulations in Texas can make it particularly difficult for small breweries to get their start: On the one hand, Brewpubs are forbidden from showing their beers in festivals and are required to sell food. On the other, breweries can't sell their beer on the premises. Rules like this mean that "[Texas] hasn't been on the forefront of the craft brew scene the way that it could," according to Borrego.
The plan is to combine the spaces. "The Kitchen Inc. and the Brewery Inc. will actually share a storefront," says Borrego. "People who want to start a brewpub can start it at a really small scale ... and not have to worry about the food component," which will come from the Kitchen. Nor will they have to brew enough kinds of beer to fill an entire wall of taps, since they can collaborate with other brewers in the space. Selling food and drink on site provides most of Borrego's business's income, letting her keep rental and membership costs down. Brewers pay $1,500 for the year to use one of Brewery Inc.'s fermenters. In exchange, "we're actually taking all the licensing under our name, and taking all the responsibility for those brewers," Borrego says. "When they're ready to open their own business, the beer is perfect, the market is there, brand is established, and they're fully ready to focus on the business aspect."
Right now, Brewery Inc. has six brewers in a space that could fit 10. But the current brewing facility is more like a home-brewer system than a professional one--hence the Kickstarter campaign with a fundraising goal of $25,000. The goal is to trick the place out with everything professional brewers need to let microbreweries get a bit more macro with production.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.