Our initial musings related to opening a craft brewery never revolved around an actual place. Everything we discussed was in general terms - specifics didn't seem necessary as the likelihood of the venture ever becoming reality felt very small. In early 2012 my wife and I were contemplating our next move; her veterinary internship was going to end in July and I had been dreaming of a career change since my first day in finance. I can't quite remember the conversation that ended with a craft brewery looking like a true option, but I do remember that conversation spurring a new question: where would we open?
There were two main considerations. First, where would we feel comfortable living? There was no easy answer because Erin and I were raised in Connecticut and Robby was raised in Northern Virginia. Robby and I had preliminary discussions about potential locations before I broached the topic with Erin. Once we got on the subject it became very clear that the brewery would be located on the Atlantic seaboard somewhere between New York and Virginia. Robby and I had started the discussion with 10-15 states spread across the country, so Erin's answers actually helped to focus our location search.
The second consideration, which was equally if not more important, was where we would have the highest chance of success. This was a loaded question. We spent weeks researching beer and brewing-related laws. The 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition in 1933, left the regulation of alcohol to the individual states - simply put, the laws are not standardized. We used data from the Brewers Association and other trade groups to analyze the market conditions in each state, including competition, sales growth, breweries per capita, etc. Finally, we became masters of U.S. Census data to ensure that the demographics of the location we picked shared some similarities with the general characteristics of the craft beer consumer (which we will touch on in a future post). Like most new businesses, we were looking for a growing market with minimal competition and a large customer base.
Within a couple of months we had narrowed the list to one state and one commonwealth. Multiple visits to cities and towns in both New York and Virginia ensued. After much deliberation we realized that the one place we had in common, Williamsburg, Virginia, made perfect sense. In future posts we'll share some of the research that led us to Williamsburg, including population and demographics, market conditions, and legal considerations. Suffice it to say that we are still very happy with our choice!