This editorial was contributed by Jacob McKean, founder of Modern Times Beer, a brewery-in-planning in San Diego. Previously, he was Communications Specialist at Stone Brewing Co., and he has also worked as a freelance writer for a smattering of beer publications. He’s a beer geek and longtime reader of this site. You can follow the development of Modern Times Beer at moderntimesbeer.com and on Facebook and Twitter.
When I sat down with my boss, Greg Koch, to let him know that I was leaving my job at Stone to start a brewery of my own, I wasn’t feeling terribly confident. Greg took a chance on me, believing that my passion for craft beer would make up for my lack of experience. Stone had provided me with a steady paycheck, health care, and a tremendous learning opportunity for the last 2 years. I was stepping into a void, and I’m not a huge fans of voids. I had secured enough financing to get the ball rolling on fund raising, but not nearly enough to actually start a brewery.
Greg was very supportive, but he said this: “You’ve heard me tell other people this so you know not to take it personally. My advice is: ‘don’t.’” Indeed, I had heard him say it before to everyone who had excitedly told him they were starting a small business. My feeling was always that if hearing this from Greg was enough to discourage you, then he was right. But he also knows much better than most people the risks that come with starting a brewery. He’s been admirably open about Stone’s struggles early on, when the company bled money for years and survival was a constant question.
But I’d also heard Greg’s answer when someone asked him if he thought there were too many breweries opening: “There’s always room for another great restaurant on restaurant row.” To me, the key word in that statement is “great.” Let me explain why.
Lots of people have taken on the questions posed by the craft beer industry’s recent growth. Some have concluded that we’re a long way from hitting the ceiling, predicting that craft beer will eventually represent 10%, 20% or more of the beer industry. Others say that another ’90s-style boom has already crested, with the current industry bound to crash on the unforgiving rocks of economic realities and fickle consumer tastes.
Now, two months removed from my last day at Stone and well into the process of starting a brewery, I have a strong personal interest in which view is correct. After years of observing and participating in craft beer, first as a hardcore beer nerd, then as a writer, and finally as a member of the industry, I’ve come to believe that both are kinda right.