This covers the basic knowledge required for a senior operator or team leader in a larger brewery or for general brewers from the growing independent sector.
How to Open a Successful Craft Brewery
Founder and owner of Placebo Brewing - Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Winner of the Worshipful Company of Brewers Award for the General Certificate in Brewing in 2016.
Leandro Meiners, founder and owner of Placebo, a craft brewery based in Villa Crespo, Buenos Aires, is a great example of the diverse talent and enthusiasm of the professionals involved with the IBD. Established just before COVID hit in early 2020, Placebo produces 5,000 litres of beer per month - from ale and IPA to Pilsen and kettle sour - with the objective to reach 12,000 per month in its brewing plant designed and built by Leandro.
“I love beer and the brewery is an expensive hobby but also a business that I really enjoy and that has been created to grow in a financially sustainable way. The most pleasurable thing is to create recipes and experiment with new flavours and beer styles. I love the creative process as much as the final result”, Leandro explains.
“I love beer and the brewery is an expensive hobby but also a business that I really enjoy and that has been created to grow in a sustainable way".
With an always curious and determined mind, Leandro moves seamlessly across two very different worlds: cybersecurity and brewing. He writes regularly about brewing in technical publications and talks at international events such as Homebrew Con and the Brewing Summit (hosted by the Master Brewers Association of the Americas).
Leandro has built bridges across continents and areas of expertise, always moving forward, and constantly offering a different and forward-thinking way of doing things.
For the love of beer
He was already working as a security consultant for several IT risk software and consultancy companies before finalising his studies in Computer Science at Universidad de Buenos Aires. His expertise in this field brought Leandro to London in 2012 to work for global securities and payment companies. That was the time when he discovered the wide range and styles of beer produced in England and the beginning of his love for this drink.
In Buenos Aires, and as a good Argentinean, he took several courses on oenology and wine tasting, taking the three levels of Awards in Wine run by the WSET to awaken his thirst to learn about the technical knowledge applied to wine.
But wine wasn’t enough. The coin dropped when he attended a practical home brewing course in Hackney, in East London, and started brewing his own beer. After that, it was time to get more serious about the science of brewing. That was the time he encountered the IBD.
Without any experience in the brewing industry or contacts in the sector, but with plenty of passion and determination, Leandro thought about taking the IBD Master Brewer but he didn’t have the relevant experience or prior knowledge of the industry to be able to register for the programme. Instead, he decided to enrol in the MSc in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, but before quitting his successful career as a cybersecurity consultant he decided to start with the IBD General Certificate in Brewing, achieving the highest grade in this qualification in 2016. “I found out that I won months after taking the exam. I knew that I did it well but wasn’t expecting the award. This win for me was proof that I was on the right track”.
“The General Certificate in Brewing is the best business card and introduction to the industry, especially if you don’t have previous experience. I was bringing my IBD certificate and my homebrewed beer to the job interviews".
With the internationally recognised IBD Certificate under his belt, Leandro decided to move to France in 2017 to start working as a professional brewer, first at Brasserie du Pays Flamand, in Blaringhem, in northern France, and later at BAPBAP, Paris, brewing 20 hL per day.
“The General Certificate in Brewing is the best business card and introduction to the industry, especially if you don’t have previous experience. I was bringing my IBD certificate and my homebrewed beer to the job interviews. If they asked me to take over the brew, I could show that I could do it really well and consistently because I had the science to back me up. Even from the start, I felt more than just an operator because I had the technical knowledge acquired in the IBD General Certificate to grow and build from”.
Always pursuing a higher level of technical understanding, Leandro finally finished his Heriot-Watt MSc in Brewing and Distilling exams during his stay in France.
Applying technical knowledge and overcoming obstacles
Leandro returned to Buenos Aires in 2018 with a clear idea in mind: Open his own brewery and not just that, design and build his own semi-automatic production plant to focus on the creation of his unique recipes.
“I wanted to design my own brewing plant and avoid equipment imported from China. It was a challenge because I found great welding teams, but I couldn’t find anyone to help me with the design. So, I worked with a company to create the plant from scratch starting with a small base that they had. With that, we build a semi-automatic brewhouse. Everything was ready. We just needed the gas connection to operate the steam boiler. We open the bar and invited friends and family and then, COVID hit, and it took us almost two years to open the brewery fully”, Leandro recalls.
“We are obsessed with process control. With this semi-automatic plant which can be run by a single person, we achieve great efficiency, predictability, stability and eliminate any possible human error".
During this hiatus due to the pandemic and lack of gas inspectors, Leandro returned to work in cybersecurity and finalised the small details in the brewery.
“We are obsessed with process control. With this semi-automatic plant which can be run by a single person, we achieve great efficiency, predictability, stability and eliminate any possible human error. But the main objective is the creation of recipes. Since we opened Placebo, we have created around 20 American-style recipes and we are always creating and launching new ones. Our business model is to be financially sustainable based on innovation and, what is more important, to have fun creating new recipes”.
"We have created around 20 American-style recipes and we are always creating and launching new ones. Our business model is to be financially sustainable based on innovation and what is more important, to have fun creating new recipes”.
This is a quite unique way to brew, and it certainly shows a passion and determination well beyond the norm. Like all brewers in the world, especially small and craft breweries, Leandro is facing issues with raw material supply and rocketing energy and materials prices. On top of that, Argentina has one of the highest inflation rates in the world, an almost endogamic 100% rate, and a very limited selection of malts and hop varieties.
“We would love to use Argentina's raw materials but there aren’t. We rely massively on imported malts and hops from the USA, Africa, Australia, and Europe. Things are starting to change. There is an international supplier who is starting to produce local malt for craft breweries of high quality; even though Argentina is one of the world’s largest producers of barley, the focus has not been on malting barley".
“The problem in Argentina with hops is the lack of varieties, as those bred for growing in Argentina have been focused on supplying mainstream brewers. These hops dominate 85% of the market, creating a lack of supply in other types of hops. No one in Argentina has the licence to grow varieties such as Citra or Mosaic”.
This is not a trivial matter. There is a growing demand in Argentina to use a more diverse selection of hops. We need to import different genetic varieties or develop our own hop breeds as Australia did. Suddenly, they start growing their own hops like Galaxy, Enigma, and the same with New Zealand with Nelson Sauvin”.
"There is a growing demand in Argentina to use a more diverse selection of hops. We need to import different genetic varieties or develop our own hop breeds as Australia did".
The importance of innovation to avoid stagnation
Leandro’s deeds and crystal-clear vision have paid well. Despite the fact that the brewery's growth is hindered by the current economic situation, he runs the business with a recipe developer, a brewer who operates the plant, and the taproom waiters. With this technical knowledge, an inquisitive mind, and an inherent way to join the dots, he has a strong opinion about what is working in the industry right now and what won’t work in the near future.
He thinks that craft breweries are losing the spirit of innovation, especially now when facing raising costs, higher energy bills, and supply shortages.
“These are all big problems but also that they understand innovation as an imitation of big corporations' trends like the hard seltzers. Here they are cleaning up the product with carbon filters and trying to create flavour by adding essences. From the fermentation side of things, it goes against the beauty and complexity of flavours created by the brewing process. The problem is that if something is popular, they are repeating the same products to satisfy clients, for later on, lose them”.
Education is the key
Leandro sees the solution in education. Technical education for the brewer and education for customers by offering new and high-quality products all the time and offering guidance for them to understand the process, the ingredients and the magic of brewing.
“This is an amazing industry to work in. There is a very strong sense of community, like that I have just experienced in the IT developer world as it’s a new industry. Brewing is as old as humankind. I believe that the sense of community comes from the brewers coming together to learn from each other. Let’s work together to offer great products and educate our customers”, Leandro concludes.