There is a push/pull between art and commerce every creative must navigate. Craft brewing is no different.
Real example: You the brewer want to make an old ale and a rauchbier. Your investors want you to make 3 new IPAs because they are getting ready to go into distribution and need stuff they know will sell regardless of quality. How does the business navigate that?
You have to have a well thought out vision. Not a business plan which you also desperately need, but the vision on which the whole enterprise is based.
Artists often spend years of trial and error and public failings to figure out the vision behind their art. Brewers may not get that opportunity. They probably homebrew and have friends and acquaintances tell them how great their beer is. Then they decide to start a brewery with a vague notion of making Belgian style, German style, English style, or IPA heavy American style beer.
What they need is a clear idea of what they like, what they are good at, and how they want to express that to consumers. These can’t be vague platitudes about “returning to the roots of beer” or “putting an American take on Belgian style beers.” It has a to be concrete ideas of what you are accomplishing and how you want to do it. It isn’t your business plan, but it is the place from where your business plan flows.
Most craft brewers get into brewing the same reason that most professional artists get into art. This thing that they do is what they love, and it is an expression of a part of who they are. The difference is, as I see it, that artists spend their whole learning curve honing the core ideas of what they want to do. From their medium to their subject matter, artists spend much of their early career finding their path.
One difference in how and why artists have such clear ideas about who they are and what their art says is the art world has always had apprenticeships both formal and informal. In this country with Prohibition almost killing the brewing industry, brewing lost its infrastructure and informal craftsman apprenticeships.
Until the last handful of years, the path to becoming a brewer has been much less organized and centered on homebrewing. While homebrewing has fueled the passion of and set the template for craft beer love, it is not necessarily the best training as a professional brewer. With the rise of craft brewers, that idea of apprenticeship is slowly coming back to the fore, but slowly. These apprenticeships allow brewers to go through the crucible of rejection and self-examination to come out on the other side not only with a clear vision of who and what they are as brewers but a clear vision of the value of themselves and their craft in a monetary sense and in a creative sense.
As craft beer matures and the idea of being a craft brewer matures, I hope and expect this idea of apprenticeship to take hold to give potential brewers the time and space not only to learn their craft but learn their own way to operate within that craft. I don’t just want there to be formal schools of brewing, which is awesome and necessary. I want brewers to come from within. Apprenticeships and more learning may not solve the problem of whether to brew that rauchbier, but it will help the brewers understand the scope of the consequences of that decision. It is through the combination of book learning and practical application can any craft grow and continue to innovate.