Photo: Provided by Beerland.
Six years ago, Meg Gill decided that the time was right to open her own craft brewery. Golden Road Brewing has since become the most popular brewery in Los Angeles. Though it seems like a new craft brewery opens every other day, starting a craft brewery isn’t for everyone. Just because you perfected your own version of a New England-style IPA in your kitchen doesn’t mean you should open a craft brewery. Like any business, a lot of things must go right in order for it to work.
Gill, who also hosts the Vice TV show Beerland, was nice enough to answer a few questions for Crave about the process of opening a brewery, the ups and downs, and the pressure of being a woman in a male-dominated industry.
Crave: Tell us about your history in brewing.
Meg Gill: I’ve been in the beer business for ten years now, but my first job was with Oskar Blues Brewery. My main goal there was to expand distribution, and to be honest it was a bit of a sink or swim situation – a tall order for someone just starting out in the industry. Looking back, it was a great jumping-off point for me to found my own brewery because Oskar Blues was so small at that time that I was able to learn about, and work with, every department. Even so, a lot of my early time as a founder was learning on the job, everything from where to buy hops and kegs to getting the beer out the door. It was all uncharted territory for me.
When did you decide that opening a brewery was a viable option?
It wasn’t until 2009 that I seriously looked at it and started actively trying to raise money. It took me a couple of years to find the right partners and enough funding to support the growth of the brewery. There wasn’t really a lightbulb moment, it was more a gradual decision. In fact, before going down the road of starting my own place, I had actually looked at a buying a struggling brewery to restructure and grow it, but the owner decided not to sell it at the time. It was then that my two partners said, ‘you have what it takes – go do it yourself!’
What was that process like?
Anyone who has started their own business knows that you have to learn how to do everything possible. You have to fill every role at first and fit as much into each day as you can. You’re basically burning money when you’re investing in the infrastructure but not yet open, so it took a lot of grit and determination and finding a lot of great help along the way.
What advice would you have for someone interested in opening a brewery?
Have an idea of what you want your life to look like in five to ten years (or even longer) because it’s a really long-term commitment – longer than you think! I’m six years in with Golden Road and I feel like we’re still an infant in terms of scale and how far we still have left to go.
What were the hardest parts about opening your own brewery?
Honestly, the hardest part was before we even opened doors – raising the money! It was a full two-year process. I didn’t have anything of my own to show, no previous experience starting a brewery, or money of my own to invest. It’s a long-term financial commitment for someone to get into so it’s not a small ask of investors. Breweries aren’t typically overnight success stories and take a lot to get off the ground. It’s very different from the tech world where you’re putting money into an idea. In the brewing world, you’re putting money into the expensive infrastructure needed to get up and running.
What are some important things people need to know if they are interested in starting their own brewery?
Know your market. Know who you’re selling to and who’s going to be the fan of your brewery. That will help identify the soul of your brewery and will inform a lot of your early business decisions.
Know yourself. Know what your strengths and weaknesses are so that you can hire around your weaknesses and lift up your strengths. Surrounding yourself with the right team is priceless. Make sure you’re ready for a long term commitment.
Why open a brewery in L.A.? What is beer culture like there?
I fell in love with the city and the way of life that southern California offers. It also just so happened that, at the time, there hadn’t been any big scale successes in the craft beer scene there yet, so there was an opening and an opportunity to explore craft culture and bring it to more people.
Do you feel more pressure to succeed in an industry dominated by men?
I put a lot of pressure on myself in general – it’s just part of my personality! I push myself to be the best version of myself I can be and am constantly trying to learn and improve. I wouldn’t say I feel pressure to succeed specifically because of my gender. It hasn’t always been easy, but I try to stay focused on my own personal goals for success through it all.
What advice do you have for women interested in brewing?
Businesses in general – and breweries specifically – benefit from having both genders on the team. I’m generalizing here, but there are traits that come from women that will help any company become better, no matter the industry. My advice would be to showcase your strengths and trust that they will help lead the brewery to success.
Is there anything else our readers would want to know?
For anyone interested in how beer is made or maybe curious about getting into home brewing, Beerland is a great start for getting involved in beer.