If you ask whether you can make money from your home brewing hobby to most homebrewers, they are going to give you a firm “no”. But I don’t think they have really thought about it fully.
So, can you really make money from brewing beer at home?
It is certainly possible to make money from a home brewing hobby. The most effective way isn’t by selling your beer directly, but by selling other services & by leveraging your knowledge or skills. Selling alcohol is heavily regulated in most countries, but there’re several other avenues to explore.
So, what are the different ways to make money from your beer brewing habit, especially those which don’t involve actually selling beer? Well, below I’ve gone through all the methods I’ve come across including, of course, how you CAN actually sell beer.
In this article:
- 1: selling your own beer
- 2: Trading or Bartering with beer
- 3: Selling your know-how
- 4: Selling your brewing skills
1: Selling your own beer
Getting an alcohol license to sell homebrew
As you no doubt know, selling alcohol commercially requires you to have a liquor license and to pay tax, so there is no point beating around the bush. You’ll need one.
In the USA, homebrewers have been given permission by law since 1978 to produce up to 200 gallons of beer at home per household (100 gallons if only for a single adult occupier). Interestingly each state has its own laws on this and it wasn’t until 2013 that Alabama and Mississippi changed their legislation to reflect the national mood.
Although you can produce a whopping 200 gallons per year, giving you whopping 5.8 twelve fl oz bottles of homebrew a day (that should do you!), you aren’t allowed to officially sell it under the Public Law 95-458 (H.R. 1337) enacted by Congress.
So, to actually sell your beer you need that terrifying sounding thing called a liquor license. But is it really all that bad?
The exact rules and hoops you have to jump through will depend on your state (or country), but in the US liquor licenses vary depending on your circumstances. And thankfully the price does too.
Type of license
Full liquor license
Beer and wine license
If you are just planning to sell your beer to other people who will drink it in their own homes, then you don’t need a full liquor license nor do you need an on-license liquor license. Basically, you aren’t going to be operating as a bar so the government won’t treat you like one.
For most homebrewers, they will only require a beer and wine license in the off-license category. For more information, you need to contact your state’s licensing board.
In most cases, a homebrewer is going to fall into the legal category of ‘microbrewery” which brewersassociation.org/ defines generally as one which produces fewer than 15,000 barrels of lovely beer of which two-thirds are sold off-site. Again, if you are hoping to do this in the States, check for your own states rules and regulations
In addition to having the correct license and correct legal status, you need to consider setting yourself up as a legitimate business. This sounds like a real pain in the behind, but it doesn’t have to be. In the US you can choose between setting up a sole proprietorship or becoming an LLC. In most cases, the added protection from personal liability afforded by an LLC is just really it.
For more information on permits, check out the US small business Administration site
For more information on licensing check out this helpful article from craftbrewingbusiness.com
So, you’ve now purchased the correct license, status, and permits and you are out of pocket perhaps to the tune of $3000 or more. Don’t panic just yet, but how do you get that investment back?
Open a brewery
Well after all the paperwork the obvious answer is to set up an actual microbrewery and sell beer through that organization.
This is, of course, no small undertaking and you need to really get in the headspace of being an entrepreneur and small business owner. Although there are many challenges to setting up your own business, most of the wave of craft beer microbrewers discovered their passion as homebrewers. So it is a dream which can become a reality.
Here are something to consider if you are thinking about selling your beer indirect and conventional way:
- clearly define your business model before you start
- source funds at realistic rates for your case
- start with small batches
- produce a range of beer to test your market
- design your brewery for operation by one person or a small team
- dedicate a healthy budget to marketing
As my dream of having my own microbrewery isn’t a reality yet, why not listen to some real experts on the topic:
3 Dogs Brewing, White Rock, BC
Axe and Arrow Microbrewery, Glassboro, NJ
Pixeled Brewing, Fargo, ND
Track 3, Dresher, PA
As you will have heard if you watched all the videos above, opening a brewery is a huge undertaking that isn’t for the faint of heart. However, from the brewery owners, I have spoken to, it’s an incredibly rewarding career path for those with a burning passion for brewing beer. Well, if this isn’t quite what you want for your own life, let’s think about some other avenues to explore.
Brew for weddings etc
OK, so you may not want to open a conventional brewery, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still brew the beer you love and make a career out of it. Once you have the license to brew commercially, remember you need to do this in a dedicated brewery space, not in your home, there is a huge market in brewing custom beers for special events such as weddings.
I have my own wedding coming up in a few months with my entire family (I have lots of brothers and sisters) flying into Taipei, Taiwan. So, I’ve decided to brew something special for my own wedding day. I’m lucky because I can do that, but many others can’t. So that’s where you come in.
Producing custom beers for special events is a great way to get more into your hobby and hone your skills as a brewer. It also means that you don’t have to go down the road of investing a lot of money into a conventional brewery.
Having the legal ability to sell the beer you brew puts you in an interesting position between the friend or a friend of the bride and groom who brews but can’t sell it legally (and won’t give it away for free) and the local microbrewery who don’t have the resources to brew a special custom beer the couple can brag about.
What’s more, weddings aren’t the only market out there which I can think of where this approach could work well. Graduations, birthday parties and perhaps even a funeral’s wake.
The key to this type of business will be to develop a good local online presence with Google My Business and to build up a reputation through word of mouth.
2: Trading or Bartering with beer
The law is the law and you would do well not to break it. This being said, beer can still be used as a commodity even if you don’t officially sell it.
Trade with beer
Now, this method only works if a) you have a varied and skilled group of friends or acquaintances and b) if you brew really drinkable beer.
Way back when people often traded their skills and time for goods rather than for money. How things have changed! So, if you have a job that needs doing, say a pipe that needs replacing, you can trade beer for labor (parts will probably cost extra). If you agree to a rate of beer per hour which is favorable to you then even after the expense of brewing the beer itself you can come out ahead.
Most people are familiar with the price of beer from the store or in a bar, and home brewers can produce better beer for less money. Check out my article on this topic where I made a case study into it. The secret is not to pass the savings onto your friends. I know, I’m mean but you want to make a little on this trade as well don’t forget!
Brew to order
Although you are definitely not selling the beer you make here, there’s nothing wrong with selling your time and energy. Just be aware of your tax obligations if this turns into a regular gig.
As a Private General Aviation pilot, there was a debate some years back about being paid to fly people places. Basically you couldn’t do it unless you split the cost of the flight evenly. So, in the same way, you could either share the cost of ingredients with a ‘customer’ or pass on all the cost plus a fee for your labor.
In this way, the transaction is for malt, hops, yeast, water and a few hours of your day and not for beer. Check with your own lawyer to determine the legality of that. Otherwise, it’s not a bad little side hustle.
Rent out your kegs
Another dubious method I’ve heard speak of is to rent out or sell the vessel beer comes in, and ask the new owner or rentee to simply empty the liquid you lazily left inside.
In a small community, this may work, but it’s certainly going to catch the eye of the authorities if you tried this on a national scale. Still, this is a way to give your full kegs a little vacation with someone not in your immediate circle of friends or family and get them back nice and empty for the next kegging day. Again, check with your own conscience and lawyer as this isn’t my advice.
Open up a beer retreat
If you live in a place with room to spare, why not host travelers who have a taste for beer. This Airbnb set up with a beer twist could work by setting a price for the room (where beer is provided for free) at a high enough price to cover the cost of brewing the beer consumed.
Again, because the service you provide isn’t selling alcohol you will not fall into the category of having to apply for a liquor license. However, you may need to pay taxes for providing accommodation.
Host a party
If you are young and looking for a legitimate way of making money with beer then perhaps hosting a party with a difference may be a good little money earner.
Ask for a donation
Again, you cannot sell homebrew without a license, let’s make that very clear. However, if you host a party there isn’t anything illegal about accepting donations as far as I’m aware (again check with your lawyer and don’t forget to pay taxes!).
If you brew your own beer, take it to a big party and then ask for free-will donations at the door you could easily cover your brewing costs as well as making a little something extra. The key thing here is that you are asking people to chip in for their share of the beer and not as a price for buying it. Some people will pay nothing and many others will pay more than for what they drink.
Ask for a deposit
Another trick that is used by large event companies is to ask for a deposit on the cup or glass you give people with their beer. Of course, those concert venues charge you for the beer and the deposit is relatively small so many people don’t bother to return the cup.
In the case of someone not being able to sell beer legally, you can offer free beer but a larger deposit on the cup or glass. Perhaps investing in some cheap but attractive cups may make people want to keep them, thus not claiming the deposit back or the prospect of free beer means they aren’t able to.
Again, this is a method which is perilously close to breaking the law and you need to get independent advice in order to make the right decision.
3: Selling your brewing know-how
Selling your recipes
If you are a master home brewer and have a knack for producing excellent and exotic beer recipes, you could make a tidy side income in selling these to other homebrewers.
Of course, there are many recipes in books and online, but if you think you’ve got something special or even a recipe which has won several competitions it may be worth releasing it to the world.
The great thing about selling a recipe is that once all the hard work is done in developing it, you can literally sell the same product again and again. You could even sweeten the deal with a tutorial video or additional notes to make the customer feel as if they are getting their money’s worth.
One concern may be that once released, someone will unscrupulously post it for free somewhere. In this case, you may want to speak to a lawyer about intellectual rights and how to create a purchase contract to give you protection against its theft.
Teach a local brewing course
If you don’t want to give away all of your secrets, then you could devise a brewing course and teach it locally. This could be as simple as allowing students to join you on your next brew day for a training fee or to actually booking a space and filling it with students.
Speaking to your local brew shop could put you in contact with a stream of new customers and you could even come to a deal on purchasing brewing ingredients in larger quantities.
However, perhaps the biggest drawbacks to doing face to face teaching are that it requires a lot of your time, you have to repeat the same lessons for each subsequent course or group of students and you have to be pleasant to people (not for everyone I know).
So, what about the next option.
Create an online course
Udemy.com is a platform where you can sell a course you have created. The beauty of creating an online course is that you can reach a larger customer base and you only have to teach the course material once.
Investing a little bit of time and money into producing a really good course could bring in a healthy source of passive income well into the future.
Start a YouTube channel
If you fancy teaching but can’t dedicate enough time to doing it on a regular basis, why not launch your own YouTube channel.
Here you will just have to get over your fear of being on camera, but once you film one lesson or tip you don’t have to do it again. The video will be there for anyone to watch it without you having to do any more work.
Although there are some big and very informative channels out there, there is always room in the market for excellent content. Once you hit 1,000 subscribers and have over 4,000 minutes of views (a lot easier to achieve than you think) you can get ads on your videos and get paid.
Not only is YouTube a great way to get passive ad revenues, but you can also use it as a platform to sell other products you produce.
Write an E-book
If you have a lot of experience in brewing and perhaps have been around the block once or twice, you could put all of that wealth of knowledge into an e-book.
E-books typically are 60,000 words long and you could easily write that in a month just tapping out 2,000 words a day. Once you have created your e-book you can sell it through an established Youtube channel or through Amazon.com, the biggest e-commerce store in the world. There are also other companies which provide a similar service.
Write website articles
If you don’t think that you are up to getting on camera or that you don’t quite have the experience to teach everything you know about brewing beer, why not pick up some extra bucks writing articles about homebrewing?
There are plenty of platforms such as Fiverr.com or Upwork.com where you can advertise your services. Alternatively, you can approach craft beer or homebrewing websites directly. In fact, if you are interested in earning money through writing articles why not contact me to find out more
Create your own homebrewing website
Of course one of the great ways to combine the previous couple of suggestions is to launch your own website all about your favorite hobby. In this way, you can host your own online courses, sell your own e-books directly and write all of your own articles. YouTube can also be a good way to drive free traffic to your website.
If you choose to go down this route, which I really recommend, you can check out Incomeschool.com where Jim & Ricky will walk you through exactly how to do this in their course Project 24. It’s really the best course out there and well worth the investment in your own future.
Open a brew shop
Perhaps you don’t want to wander into the world of online marketing and producing time-consuming content. If you are looking for a brick and mortar type of business and don’t even want to take on the challenge of a microbrewery, then opening a brew shop could be for you.
Here you will be working in an industry that you love and serving customers with a similar passion. Nevertheless, taking on the role of a small business owner is no small feat and you should seek out sage advice about your responsibilities and the risks you may face.
Some ideas to consider are:
- licensing requirements for your state
- obtaining financing
- sourcing supplies from a wholesaler
- renting/buying a shop space
- dealing with staff and payroll
- understanding tax & medical insurance obligations for a small business owner
4: Selling your brewing skills
Get a job in a brewery
Let’s face it, we both love brewing beer and if we could do it all day long that would be great, right? So working in a real-life brewery would be an ideal career path if this is your passion.
The best way to get into a brewery job seems to be through networking well and being prepared to start at the bottom. Although you are probably used to doing all the work in your home brewery, a junior brewer or intern has a lot of manual tasks to perform; so it may not suit every age group.
Some ideas to get you on the right path are:
- be prepared to volunteer or intern to get your foot in the door
- network at beer tasting events or brewery visits
- take a professional brewing course or certification
- be prepared to learn
- be prepared to work hard
- be prepared to start at the bottom
Beer tour guide
If you can’t see yourself working full time in a brewery for whatever reason, then perhaps being a brewery tour guide is another way for you to share your knowledge of the brewing process and getting paid at the same time.
Many larger breweries offer guided tours and some smaller breweries even provide tours by the owner or senior staff. In fact, if you are planning a trip to Belgium any time soon, check out my article on which breweries to visit over there.
Visit your local brewery in person and talk to them about your experience and how you’d like to work as a guide. If they don’t have guided tours, offer to establish that new stream of income for them as a paid member of staff.
Organize a beer competition
If you can’t really dedicate your career to brewing beer, then perhaps you can dedicate your weekend to tasting it. Homebrewers need feedback about their beer creations which don’t come from just their friends and family.
Setting up a local competition with an entry fee (usually $5-30) could cover the costs of the event as well as leaving you with a bit leftover.
Most beer competitions are closed events with the judges sampling the beer in private. However, you could organize a larger event with a higher ticket price as well as an entry fee into the actual beer competition. Again, you can’t legally sell alcohol without a license but you could ask for donations or a deposit on the cup as discussed above.
If you want to even win your own competition, check out my tips on how to do this in my article here.
Work as a beer competition judge (for food)
Lastly, if you really don’t care about the money at this stage of the article, you could simply be a beer tasting judge at a competition for the experience and compensation of food and beer (probably).
As the Beer Judge Certification Program, an international volunteer program, is so widely popular it is very hard to find paid judging work. So, at least you can get some more experience and a decent meal for your trouble. Worth including in this list just for that!