So you want to sell craft beer but don’t know where to start?
If you already have a license to sell beer, you’re ready to go! If you don’t have a license, you’ll first need to reach out to your state and city Alcoholic Beverage Control Offices and acquire licenses. Your ABC officials will have you fill out some paperwork and run a background check on you. You’ll also have to write both agencies checks for your annual state and local licenses. Fees vary state to state and can become expensive based upon availability in your area.
Now comes decision-making time. Do you want to sell craft beer on tap or just by the bottle? Serving bottles will definitely be the easiest and cheapest way for you to get started selling craft beer. All you will need is some extra cash to buy inventory and some cooler space. You can buy as much or as little inventory as you would like to start. If you don’t have any free cooler space, you can buy new or used refrigerated coolers from your local restaurant equipment supply company. They will carry everything from reach-in, below counter coolers to glass door, merchandiser refrigerators. Costs on equipment will vary. You can expect a new reach-in cooler to cost between $1,000 and $2,500, depending on size. A new three-door merchandizer can cost upwards of $4,000. You’ll also need to budget a few hundred dollars for glassware. To get started, traditional pint mixing glasses and Belgian-style goblets will be all you’ll need.
For most, beer tastes better when poured straight from the tap. Direct draft systems, however, can get expensive depending upon the distance from the faucets to where the kegs are stored, the number of regulators used, and the materials that the shanks and faucets are made from. A professionally installed 20-tap direct draft system can range in cost from $7,500 for a simple, short draw system to upwards of $20,000 for a 20-tap system with regulators on each tap, flow control faucets, all stainless hardware and installed with a glycol system. You can engineer your system to have as many taps as you would like and there are companies that specialize in direct draft systems. You’ll need to have space for a walk in cooler and a bar, if you don’t have one already. In today’s craft beer world, I recommend installing at least 20 taps if you are going to install a draft system. Direct draft systems offer increased beer quality, significant cost savings versus bottles and flexibility in the serving sizes that you can offer your patrons. Once again, don’t forget to include glassware in your budget.
If you want to serve draft beer, but you’re not ready to spend the money on a custom direct draft system, you can use under-counter kegerators. Kegerators offer users a completely self-contained unit at a reasonable price that range from $1,500 to $5,000, plus delivery. The downfall to kegerators is that they will limit you on the number of beers that you can offer (and you’ll need to use smaller 1/6 barrel kegs if you want to offer more variety). The smaller 1/6 barrel kegs take up less space but cost more per fluid ounce compared to 1/2 barrel kegs.
Analyze your finances and create a budget that you are comfortable with. Talk to your customers and employees and ask them what they would like to see you offer. You’re ready to start selling craft beer!
Keith Coffman is the owner and operator of Lost River Pizza Company.