With Hoppebräu, Markus Hoppe built a brewery from scratch in Upper Bavaria that sells around 8,000 hectoliters of beer a year. However, when he started brewing, it wasn’t about the money. This is also his tip for prospective founders.

Between the first own beer, which Markus Hoppe brewed in his parents’ garage in Upper Bavaria from donated ingredients, and the Hoppebräu brewery, which today produces around 8000 hectoliters of beer a year not far from that garage, there are twelve years, many setbacks and an apprenticeship, the Hoppe brought to Mauritius. The master brewer now employs 32 people in Waakirchen, south of Munich, and continues to grow. In an interview with FOCUS online, Hoppe explains how he made his dream of his own brewery come true and what tips he gives prospective founders.

FOCUS online: Mr. Hoppe, I have to admit that I used to dream of my own brewery with friends. Nothing came of it. You did it. What makes you different from the many people who bury their brewery dreams?

Markus Hoppe: I am not unfamiliar with the subject. I trained as a brewer, maltster and dispensing system technician, then master brewer and certified master brewer. I think that’s the most important thing. Career changers almost never survive in the food industry.

The second important requirement for founders is passion. I started my training back in September 2009 and bought a small home brewing system in January for 600 euros. I was allowed to take the raw materials with me from work. I tried it out in my parents’ garage. Not to make a lot of money. It was just passion. I was fascinated by how the four raw materials hops, malt, barley and water deliver such different results.

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When you first started out, didn’t you ever dream of a brewery?

Hoppe: When I bought the small garage brewery, I called the beer “Markus Hoppes Garagenbräu” and thought: “It would be nice to have a brewery.” But I didn’t think about locations and costs. It was an unforced reverie.

After that I brewed beer for birthday parties and for experimentation just for fun. At some point the demand was there, although I hadn’t bothered about it. I moved to the slaughterhouse on my grandparents’ farm to brew. In 2017 the Tegernseer Zeitung wrote an article about me. Then the demand increased again.

So I talked to banks about loans and to farmers about land, involved architects and made plans. We built the brewery in 2018 and made our first brew in the fall. Since then we have been growing here at the site. As it is now, it fits well. But you can’t plan it that way.

So the lesson for founders is: don’t have a ready-made idea, rather learn skills with passion and see what comes up?

Hoppe: I have clear views on that. If you start a business because you want to make money, you will fail in this industry. When I graduated as a brewmaster, I sold my beers to fellow students and professors out of the trunk. Until 2016, I worked full-time as a master brewer for another brewery. This year, for the first time, I’m earning more than if I were now a full-time brewmaster.

Craftsmanship requires know-how and passion. If you enjoy doing something and do it well, you will be successful. When I have an idea for a product, I have to start small and let it grow organically. Make it easy; don’t think to death. But I would never look for an investor and say: “I’m starting from zero to 100.” That doesn’t work in the consumer goods sector.

Are glamorous startups the exception? Apple, Adidas and Hewlett Packard also started in garages or workshops where experts worked on their passion.

Hoppe: Exactly. And only that is successful.

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How do prospective founders find their passion?

Hoppe: I didn’t want to go to university after completing my vocational diploma, I wanted to do an apprenticeship. The brewing profession has always interested me because it is not tangible. With a carpenter, I know which raw materials he uses and how he roughly builds a chair. This is impressive. But with the beer I noticed: It’s about process technology, enzymatic, how starch is converted into sugar. The subject was so profound that I really wanted to learn it.

The second reason was that I’ve always wanted to see the world. German brewers are in demand worldwide. So I said, “Let’s go!”

The fact that your desire to travel as a brewer brought you to Mauritius also shows how important coincidence is for founders.

Hoppe: Being in the right place at the right time is very important. I almost signed with a brewery in Scotland before my time in Mauritius. Then my master at the time told me he had something better. He had heard of a brewer in Mauritius who was looking for a master brewer and wanted to recommend me. I wasn’t a champion then, but the Mauritian hired me anyway because his actual candidate dropped out at short notice. Three days after a journeyman’s exam I was on a plane. Luck is part of it.

So you have to be in the right place at the right time – but also prepared enough to be able to use it?

Hoppe: The Mauritian hired me even without a master’s degree because he knew that I had experimented and brewed a lot at home and that I was technically good. I still fell into the ice-cold water once. I started the brewery from scratch, trained staff and brewed over 30 beers in a year and a half. That was very instructive. When I came back, I knew that I wanted to make extravagant beers with Hoppebräu.

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With a life story like this, how important is the support of friends and family?

Hoppe: It’s a path full of deprivation, on which you don’t go on vacation twice a year. The support of the family is very important. My wife has always been extremely supportive. She was also in Mauritius. I got tremendous support from my family and friends. It doesn’t work without it.

What role do setbacks play on this path and how should founders deal with them?

Hoppe: We had endless setbacks. Pandemic, lockdown, gas price explosion. The four years that the brewery has existed were a time of crisis. But the worst setback came during construction. After we had paid for the land and half of the brewery, the financing fell through. It was horrible. Such a low blow where you say: “I’m throwing it out.” Luckily we found another bank with which we are very happy and have already financed three expansions. You have to keep going. As long as you approach things positively, there is always a solution.

Financing is a scary topic for many founders. Leaving the bank aside, how did you navigate this jungle?

Hoppe: That was a mammoth act. I sold 25 percent of the GmbH to a friend. That was enough for a third of the construction costs. We financed the rest through KfW and LfA and through financing from the government of Upper Bavaria. My father is an economist, he put me in touch with the economic development department in our district. She referred me to banks and gave me brutal help. I can only recommend founders to look for supporters. If you bring the expertise and the passion, you will find them.

How much time does starting a business leave for private life?

Hoppe: I think that as a founder you have to realize that work and private life are merging. You go to bed thinking about the business and wake up thinking about it. My wife and I manage Hoppebräu together, my mother cooks for our gastronomy, we live with our children on the brewery premises. For health reasons, you should only do this if you have the passion.