Birth of a brewery: The bumps and bruises of making beer

March 8, 2013 at 4:36 PM ET

Courtesy of Bob Olson /
Bob Olson and Andrew Maiorana took their passion for beer and turned it into a business, but there's still a long road ahead of them.
Bob Olson and Andrew Maiorana took their passion for beer and turned it into a business, but there's still a long road ahead of them.
Courtesy of Bob Olson
Bob Olson and Andrew Maiorana took their passion for beer and turned it into a business, but there's still a long road ahead of them.

Bob Olson and his business partner Andrew Maiorana have a lot riding on their brand new beer, Bolero Snort. The fledgling New Jersey brewers recently introduced their first production beers to the masses: Blackhorn, a 6.5 percent ABV black IPA with a lovely balance of hop bitterness and rich toasted malts, and Ragin’ Bull, an easy drinking 5 percent ABV amber ale with mellow notes of caramel and a slightly nutty finish.

The brewery started as a hobby that spun out of control.

“I caught the home brew bug early, and in May 2010 had illusions of grandeur that the beer could be to market later that year,” brewery founder Bob Olson tells TODAY.com. “A reality check and a year of planning and recipe tweaking had us submit our federal permit in January of 2012, and just over a year to the day we brewed batch 001."

Bolero Snort is an anagram for Robert Olson, and it makes sense – like many young brewers, he has invested so much into launching a brewery, why not his name as well?

“It’s a bit surreal,” Olson said. “It’s been such a long time coming that I still can't believe I can walk into one of my favorite bars and pay for one of our beers.”

If everyone who was opening a brewery in 2013 walked into a bar to find one of their beers on tap, you’d see a forest of handles, close to 400.

“We are seeing slightly over one brewery per day on average open in the United States right now,” said Paul Gatza, a director at the Brewers Association, adding that there are more than 1,300 new breweries currently in planning. Only one brewery closes for every 11 that open in the United States, meaning each day brings more and more competition for guys like Olson and Maiorana.

Like many breweries just getting started, Olson and Maiorana will make their mistakes and learn from others. The folks at the New Jersey Beer Co., who brought their beer to market about three years ago and have had their fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, and can serve as a roadmap for them.

“Bob has been a friend of NJBC since the very beginning,” said Kevin Napoli, general manager of the New Jersey Beer Co. “He has been able to see some of the mistakes we made and prepare himself for them - he is well positioned as a young brewer.”

The New Jersey Beer Co. hasn’t had it easy. Soon after opening in 2010, they suffered the devastating loss of their bottling line, which made the young brewery solely reliant on tap sales for revenue. Then there were some hiccups with distribution, and most recently, Hurricane Sandy flooded their facility and knock out their power for two weeks.

Despite these setbacks, things are going well for the North Bergen, N.J.-based brewery. After two frustrating years, they’ve managed to get their hands on a slick new bottling line. They’ve also added two new 40-barrel fermenters and have hired a second brewer to keep up with demand.

“We are now operating at full capacity and running cases of bottles weekly,” said Napoli. “It has improved not only sales, but morale as well.”

When asked to choose one thing will make or break a brewery, Napoli says it comes down to the product.

“We feel that the most important factor in success is ultimately the beer,” he said. “By focusing on the quality and consistency of the beer, we never lose sight of the customer, and this business is all about the customer.”

Gatza from the Brewers Association agreed. “If the beer is great, then access to capital and access to market become easier.”

As of now, things are looking good for Bolero Snort.

“Andrew and I are incredibly pleased at how well scaling up our original home brew batches to a commercial level went this first round, and we think the beers will speak for themselves,” Olson said. “The reviews on Untappd and Ratebeer have been more than what we could have hoped for – we worked hard to make great tasting beers that we enjoyed drinking ourselves and it’s great seeing that others now share our sentiment.”

Now the duo just have to avoid equipment failure, distribution woes and natural disasters, but in for a penny, in for a pound.

“Both Andrew and myself both still maintain fulltime jobs, so sleep has suffered a bit,” Olson said. “But we're hoping all the hard work, time and long hours will pay off in the years to come.”

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits. Follow him on Twitter.