Higherground Brewing cofounder Jasper Miller believes there's a pretty simple starting point for folks looking to open a small craft brewery: kick back, drink a good microbrew and dream for a bit. What comes after that pint is an immense challenge, of course, and it's not a cheap undertaking.
"It's not a lemonade stand," says Miller, who won the 2009 Big Sky Community Brew with his Strong Scotch Ale. "It's a respected production facility, and that comes with a lot of overhead capital."
However, three years after opening the Hamilton-based Higherground, Miller feels there's a misconception about just how much realizing that dream costs. So last summer, he began compiling the best advice he could into a new ebook, How to Start a Small-scale Microbrewery, which became available last month. While it's just a primer, Miller hopes the ebook helps others like him who have toyed with the idea but been intimidated by financial difficulty.
"What I heard a lot when I was starting was, 'You can't do it for under $500,000. You can't do it for under $1 million. What are you thinking?'" Miller says. "I wanted to tell people, I did it for $170,000."
Miller's writing joins a small but growing body of literature on microbrewery culture. What separates it from, say, The Brewers Association's Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery or Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione's Brewing Up a Business is length (Miller's is a mere 80 pages) and cost ($7.99). The ebook isn't the story of Higherground itself, Miller cautions. Rather, it's a step-by-step guide covering everything from raising capital to completing federal permits.
"Different people are going to have their eyes opened in different ways," Miller says. "A lot of people that want to open a brewery aren't going to be the brewer like myself, and I wanted to allude to that also. It's not a book that's going to teach you how to brew."
Miller's ebook has sold 20 copies in the first month. He acknowledges there are limits to how well his advice will work. For example, it would be tough to open a brewery for under $200,000 in a town like Missoula or Billings with several well-established breweries. Still, Miller feels the risk doesn't necessarily outweigh the reward.
"Jump in and take a chance," he says. "Your feet are going to burn, but if you can keep walking, that's the key."