Gypsy breweries’ unconventional business structure
The growing practice has distinct financial advantages for brewers
- Gypsy brewing has benefits for both new and established breweries
- Some of the most famous and successful beer brands started as gypsy breweries
- The practice can lead to creativity in beer making and collaborations that benefit the entire industry
Craft brewers often have close ties to each other, maintaining a generous, supportive network even as they compete in an increasingly crowded beer market. In a trend that goes against what’s done in other industries, brewers have been known to share ingredients, business advice, and even expensive equipment to help a fellow brewer out of a bad spot.
In keeping with this spirit, more established beer makers have supported brewers at the earliest stages of their careers by allowing them to work on their larger, professional systems temporarily. These talented beginners run what’s known as a gypsy brewery because it travels from one brewing location to another. Gypsy brewers pay to work on others’ systems without assuming the multi-million dollar monetary investment and regulatory risks that come with maintaining their own location.
In a booming craft beer market, one that the Brewer’s Association indicates has grown to include more than 13 percent of the beer market as of 2019; the practice has distinct benefits for brewers of all sizes and the industry as a whole.
Some of the industries top beer brands started as gypsy brewers
Gypsy brewing helps to develop talent and allow it to earn its place as a new brand. In fact, several top beer brands got their start with roaming operations and only went to a stable location once they were well established.
The best-known example is a pair of twin brewers who are as known for their brewing talent and love of working on other systems. The first of these is Mikkeller, helmed by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, who created an award-winning line of beers that have been imported to more than 40 countries.
Mikkel’s brother, Jeppe Jarnitt-Bjerjso, brews equally award-winning beers under the label Evil Twin (a nod to the fact that the brothers are estranged despite their shared love of brewing). He brewed at the world-renown Cantillon Brewery in Belgium as well as a range of smaller places. Ultimately he was able to extend his beer-making efforts into wide acclaim through international distribution.
A win-win situation also benefits host breweries
Sure, gypsy brewing helps brewers who are just starting out, but it can also benefit the established breweries that host them. In a crowded craft beer marketplace with lots of risks, the revenue stream a host brewer receives from gypsy brewing is more than welcome.
Sometimes, a brewer who begins to gypsy brew doesn’t want to stop
The arrangement can provide creative benefits from a collaboration that can become more valuable than any financial agreement. While they’re brewing their own beer, newer brewers can learn from their host who can be more experienced and older brewers may pick up a more innovative way to do things, At the very least, long-term friendships have been known to develop.
Continuing to gypsy brew
Though the practice begins as a temporary business model, some beer makers continue as a gypsy brewery even when they’ve reached levels of industry respect and profitability that would allow them to strike out on their own.
Owners of gypsy breweries often find that there’s a creative benefit to working with other brewers and that brewing on new systems gives them a welcome additional challenge and unique, memorable characteristics to their beverage. If brewing is as much of an art as it is a science, working on continually changing systems contributes to both.
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