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Brewery Operations 101: Quality Control, Environmental Best Practices & Supply Chain Management

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Photo by Amber Osgood

By Tera Dacek

We chatted with the folks over at First Key Consulting, a leading global brewing industry consulting firm, to get the lowdown on brewery operations. Here are our key takeaways:

Quality Control

You are with a group of friends and you ask, “Does this beer taste good to you?” Most will say yes, some will recognize certain flavors, and others will reference a style. Easy, right? Not so much.

Defining whether a beer is of high quality can be tough. Heather Pilkington, UVM Business of Craft Beer Operations Track instructor and executive director at First Key Consulting, suggests testing your recipe beforehand with experienced tasters and comparing it with best-in-class for that style of beer, because even though perfect-tasting beer can be very difficult to find, set your sights on getting there. Pilkington adds, “Keep in mind that distributors are a great source for judging product quality. They have pretty much seen, heard, and tasted it all, and they will give you an honest opinion.”

Of course, beyond the flavor quality, you are also looking at the technical quality, which includes laboratory specifications and infections and can be impacted at any part of the production process. Having an experienced brewer, consistency, and standard procedures in place will help control the variables.

Environmental Best Practices

“Environmental sustainability is something that needs to be incrementally worked toward—consider what simple and inexpensive changes you can implement now that will pay for future changes,” says Matt Harris, UVM Business of Craft Beer Operations Track instructor and director of Craft Services at First Key.

Learn which breweries are most effective at mainlining sustainability and best environmental practices and learn how they are achieving it. We are talking about our environment here—not a competition. Are these industry leaders implementing practices in a specific process, or is it something deep-rooted in the company core values? New Belgium is a great example of a brewery paving the way that has instilled environmental best practices as a part of the brewery’s core values.

Supply Chain Management

Supply chain management is essentially the entire process, which includes sourcing, planning, scheduling, and inventory management from logistics to distribution all the way to the bottle being returned back to the brewery. For this process to be successful, it needs to be consistent and work for both the brewery and the customers. Ideally, the whole process should make the customer extremely satisfied, while still achieving profitability for the brewery.

According to Pat Greer, UVM Business of Craft Beer Operations Track instructor and director of Supply Chain Services at First Key, “Supply chain management is all about having the right materials, supplies, and resources in the right place, at the right time, in the right location, and for the right price.” According to Greer, two key supply chain considerations for growth, efficiency, and quality are:


To expand the availability of your beers beyond the taproom or brew pub, a brewery needs to develop a network of relationships to get the beer to retailers. If you are considering a partnership with a distributor, understanding the value and the services they can provide is important in selecting the right partners and then working with them to grow your volume.

Inventory Management

A brewery must manage many different types of inventories to be successful, from sourcing materials, through brewing and packaging, to finished goods. Each of these takes different processes, skills, and know-how to be effectively managed.

Interested in gaining a competitive edge in craft beer sales? Learn about UVM’s Business of Craft Beer program. Visit

Business of Beer

-Tera Dacek is a consultant and freelance writer. She most recently worked as Marketing Manager for Alchemy and Science.