Sacramento craft brewers: Breweries bubbling up, but path isn't easy

Craft beer may be small compared to Budweiser or Coors, but all the craft breweries combined make for a pretty big business.

The California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA) said craft beer added $5.5 billion to California's economy in 2013 -- and that number is only getting larger.

"It has been growing here in California at the rate of 100 new breweries per year over the last two years -- never seen that rate of growth in the past," CCBA executive director Tom McCormick said. "That's two new breweries per week on average opening up."

In the Sacramento region alone, there are 49 craft breweries. McCormick said he knows of 16 more in the works, and he expects there are many more he hasn't learned of yet.

Though the pace of brewery creation is picking up, Sacramento's craft brewers say it's not an easy path.

"The process of being a business probably took about two years to get all the licenses in place, and raise the funds we needed," Bike Dog Brewing co-founder Raef Porter said. "We're all self-funded. And then actually, brewing the beers and opening the doors took about two years."

Porter said he and his three partners –- all co-workers at Sacramento Area Council of Governments, a transportation planning organization –- have a passion for craft beer that has sustained them. But even as Bike Dog has grown, doubling its barrel production in its second year, the four partners have kept their day jobs.

"It's still, you know, paying the bills, and until this is really at the point where it's ready to jump ship there, or this is a little more self-sufficient, we'll continue to do that," Porter explained.

At New Helvetia Brewing, founder Dave Gull had a slightly different story -- at least when it comes to employment status.

"The recession of 2008 kind of hit, and ended my real estate career, and it was from that moment on that I really started pushing for this brewery concept," Gull explained.

On other fronts, though, Gull and Porter share the same perspective: The craft beer business is challenging.

"It's definitely not a 'get rich quick' scheme … They say the quickest way to make a million dollars in brewing is to be a billionaire, right?" Gull said.

Indeed, it took Gull around four years to open New Helvetia in December 2012. Two years later, he says the business is still not profitable. Gull said that a long path to profitability in this business is far from unique.

"Anyone thinking of starting a brewery should pay attention to how difficult it can be," he advised.


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