Brewing a Brand: ‘Lager than Life’

The Business Lecture Series event held on Nov. 2, called “Brewing a Dream,” featured two of the brightest local small business owners in the game of craft beer. Adam Hiner, co-founder of Boochcraft Kombucha, and Kirk Nishikawa, co-founder of Brewyard Brewery & Taproom, talked about entrepreneurship and their personal experiences in the rapidly-expanding craft brewing industry. 

Boochcraft Kombucha originated in San Diego, but the product has spread across the Golden State. Kombucha is a variety of fermented black or green tea beverages, which some claim offers potential health benefits.

Hiner’s passion for health, wellness, and sustainability is what brought him into the Kombucha niche. Nishikawa’s motivations differed slightly. “Luckily for me, I have a passion for drinking,” joked Nishikawa.

Boochcraft controls a unique section of the market, being the only brewery in Southern California to offer high-alcohol form of Kombucha (7 percent ABV).

Brewyard Brewery & Taproom, on the other hand, offers the “common” style lager – which was first invented in California during the 1800s.

Both Hiner and Nishikawa entered the craft brewery market just as the demand for unique beer from grassroots microbreweries started to skyrocket.

The number of craft breweries in America has nearly tripled since 2011, and has grown 16 percent from 2015 to 2016. Today, small and independent craft brewers account for more than 12 percent of market share in the beer industry.

California leads the way nationally. As of July 2017, there are over 800 such breweries in the state, which contributes more than $7.3 billion to the economy.

Despite the market explosion, cementing their place in the industry was not easy, and, as is so often the case for those chasing their passion, they met failure face-to-face along the way.

“It’s that process of trying each [idea] and taking it as far as it will go,” said Hiner. “I’m still missing shots all the time.”

Nishikawa echoed the same point. Starting his first business “was pretty alien and terrifying,” especially since he had little-to-no experience with creating and running a company. He worked as an architect for eight years before serving as a restaurant manager for four more.

Hiner has a background in business management and finance, as well as extensive experience with other startups.

The skills they learned in other fields proved useful. Instead of hiring outside sources for many of the intricacies of the business, they went ahead and did what they could on their own.

Hiner and his fellow co-owners spent nearly $900 thousand to get Boochcraft Kombucha off the ground. Nishikawa and his partner primarily self-funded their venture. When they needed additional funding, they reached out to close family members while also obtaining a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan.

“Whatever you think you’ll need, double it,” said Hiner. “Maybe even triple it.”

Use and cultivate your community, Hiner advises. “It’s more than building your business,” said Hiner. “It’s about building your community.”

Just start, dive in and do it early. “You’re always going to be terrified,” said Nishikawa. “It’s always going to seem daunting.”