Childhood friends Adam Delaura, Sean Gaura, and Chris Walnum have always been driven to do something entrepreneurial. Last year, the three took their love of homebrewing and decided to launch Labyrinth Brewing Company.
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke with Co-Owner and Head of Marketing Adam Delaura about the startup brewery’s plans.
PRICE: How did the three of you decide to open a brewery?
DELAURA: About five years ago, Chris started a homebrew club where people could hang out in his garage and learn how to brew beer.
The three of us and the other members of the club started working on beers and winning awards at regional competitions. Then about a year ago, Chris, Sean, and I started talking about brewing beer professionally.
The climate for craft beer is all the rage now. We thought: if we’re going to do it, this is the time. We started doing some research to figure out what it would take, how much money we would need, and how to make it happen. And now we’re just going at it full steam.
PRICE: You signed a lease in at the end of July. When do you anticipate you’ll actually open?
DELAURA: We’re hoping for the spring of 2017. That should give us enough time to hash out all the regulations, build our tap room, and get our equipment delivered and installed.
PRICE: Let’s talk about the space. Why Manchester?
DELAURA: The craft beer industry is very local. We are all from Manchester. What better location then somewhere inside the town of Manchester where we grew up? We figured let’s start here because we have a connection. If we’re going to provide a couple of jobs and foot traffic, it may as well be in the town we’re from.
This is going to be a smaller brewery, so our focus is going to be very local. Some of the larger breweries push a lot of distribution. They want to put their beer in every package store and restaurant on the planet. That’s not our business model. We’re going to be depending on people to actually come into our location, drink our beer, put it in growlers, and go.
PRICE: So you’re not planning to distribute your beer in the beginning?
DELAURA: We’ll do very limited distribution. And the distribution we do will be kegs to restaurants, but it will be more of a marketing thing so people will see the name and ask: Where do I get more of this?
PRICE: What makes Labyrinth Brewing unique?
DELAURA: I would say our tasting panel. One of the parts of our business plan is that we have a tasting panel of 13 independent humans who include national beer judges from the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), restaurant managers, bar managers, bartenders, people who work at other breweries, homebrewers, and a couple of average Joes. Once we brew our beer, we bottle it up and send it to all of them with a BJCP scoresheet. They fill it out and we use their feedback.
Another thing that makes us unique is our commitment to quality control. We are planning to build a lab in the brewery we can use to measure things like the exact yeast count. We’re going to measure the particular salts and minerals in the water so we can build a specific water profile. You’ve got to have awesome water if you’re going to have awesome beer.
PRICE: So, I have to ask: Who is the nerd? Whose idea was that?
DELAURA: That was definitely Sean. Every time I see him, he’s got his nose in some sort of chemistry book.
PRICE: Did you use any local resources to launch the startup?
DELAURA: The resources we used in the very beginning were the public library and SCORE. I work at a public library, so I asked some librarians who specialize in business resources to help me collect some demographic information, such as: How many breweries are there in Connecticut? What size output do they have? How much revenue are they making? How many employees do they have?
I wanted to learn all this basic stuff because we knew how to make beer, but we didn’t know how to launch a brewery.
The three of us attended an all-day business seminar at SCORE that walked us through some very basic things, like this is what a business plan looks like—we ended up spending 300+ hours on the business plan.
We also talked to some people we know who have successfully run businesses and successfully run breweries to find out if our business plan looked like it made any sense.
Every time we contacted people who work in breweries 100% of them were completely willing to share with us. They told us: Here’s what we wish we had done. This is how we did it. Don’t buy this equipment. Buy that equipment.
PRICE: I’ve heard that a lot—that there’s a lot of collaboration in the startup brewing industry.
DELAURA: It’s true! In the beginning we asked: Do you want to come on as a consultant? Can we compensate you? Hands-down, everyone told us: Don’t worry about it, just pass it on when the next guy comes to you and asks for help to launch a brewery.
And we can all use help, because most of us know about beer, but how do you get a brewery off the ground?
PRICE: Speaking of which, what have been the biggest challenges?
DELAURA: I would say regulations and laws. There are local zoning regulations and laws about what you can and can’t do, state regulations, and then the federal government.
Breweries have to appeal to all of those laws and they don’t all make sense. Sometimes they seem like they conflict. That’s the most confusing part, understanding what the requirements are because many times they are vague. So far, that’s been the biggest challenge.
PRICE: With regard to your business plan, have you outlined any long-term goals?
DELAURA: Initially I mentioned we weren’t thinking about doing any distribution. We are hoping after the first or second year we’ll be able to do a little more distribution with canning or bottling. We are planning to do some limited bottles, most of that’s going to be manually filling the bottles and capping them. Those will be specialty releases.
Within a year or two we also want to have a canning line so when people come to the brewery they can grab a pint and maybe take a four- or six-pack home with them.
After that, ultimately, it would be great if we could open a second location. That may be five or 10 years down the road. Who knows where the marketplace will be then? But we’ve been kicking around the idea of taking the local model we have and opening it up somewhere else.
PRICE: Would you stay in Connecticut?
DELAURA: Yes. We’d like to continue the model of a small, local connection. Whether that’s us helping someone else get another brewery open, so we invest and have a piece of that or we go out and build another site. We haven’t quite decided yet. We’re really focused on opening this first.
PRICE: That makes sense. What would you say is the best advice you’ve either given or received?
DELAURA: Don’t worry about where the money is coming from.
The first version of our business plan was so paired down, we all wondered: How much money can we afford to borrow? How much do we have to put in? Who is going to invest in us?
Our first handful of meetings with investors didn’t go so smoothly, but we refined our presentation and they started to go better.
At the very beginning we were so focused on the money and where it was coming from. Then after a while it was like, let’s just build the brewery we want to build and then we’ll worry about where the money is going to come from later.
We changed the business plan to do that and I think things have gone a lot smoother since then.
PRICE: Do you think that took a lot of pressure off?
DELAURA: Absolutely, because we were worried about starting as a smaller brew house—then you have to brew more often. To be profitable, we’d have to brew around the clock seven days a week. Who is going to do that? And how would we maintain consistency and quality in the beer?
Instead we decided we’re going to go a little larger. And now we don’t have to work around the clock, losing sleeping and potentially messing stuff up.
PRICE: You emphasize the importance of being local. In what ways do you plan to involve the community?
DELAURA: One of the things we’re planning to do is to have an art gallery in the tap room—we’ll start by featuring some art the owner of our building has created. The downtown local Manchester area has an up-and-coming artsy scene that’s building. We want to help draw people into that.
Another way we’re focusing on community is that we’re trying to source as many of our ingredients locally as possible. It’s a lot harder than you think. Breweries need lots of grains.
But even something as simple as our coasters, we want to find a local place to print them.
Also, we’re trying to find local farmers who can use all of our byproducts, mostly our spent grains. A lot of pig farmers like to mix it in with feed. We don’t charge them for it. It saves them money on the feed and maybe I get a pig roast out of it!
Learn more about Labyrinth Brewing Company at http://labyrinthbrewingcompany.com.