Kids in the Brewhouse
Sierra Nevada’s newest year-round release—Torpedo Extra IPA, an India pale ale embellished by the brewery’s homemade hop-extractor, dubbed “the hop torpedo”—may be viewed as a thank-you to the craft beer drinking community. After all, the brewery helped launch our collective love of hops when it introduced its flagship pale ale in 1980.
Or it may be an homage to founder Ken Grossman’s wife.
“‘Damn the torpedoes,’ as my wife said. She wanted to have a baby and so Sierra came along.”
That’s Sierra Grossman, not the brewing company, born in 1977. Her father divided his time between working at bike shops around Chico, CA, and his homebrew supply store. In the late 1970s, earning around a buck and a half an hour, Grossman mulled over an opportunity to buy a bike shop while his wife virtually raised Sierra in their homebrew shop.
Grossman recalls, “having a serious internal debate about doing the safer thing and buying the bike shop or risking it all and opening a brewery. I came to the conclusion that after a year or two, I’d probably get bored with the bike business.”
By the time his third child arrived, he no longer needed to work at a bike shop. He put in 14-hour days on average with his “fourth child”—the brewery. Grossman’s son, Brian, now 24, remembers being stuffed into “a case of Pale Ale and he’d push me down the bottling line. That’s just what we did if we wanted to see Pops.”
Today, Sierra Grossman is the brand manager. Initially, she planned on a career in healthcare. But she quickly returned to the fold. At 15, her first job was washing dishes at the on-premise brewpub, the Taproom. That led to career advancements: hostess, accounting, merchandising and various non-production jobs. Brian Grossman similarly climbed the company ladder. Ken Grossman, 54, didn’t ask his kids to work for him—they demanded jobs. He merely enforced the work-from-the-bottom-up method.
“I had to start in the cellar handling beer,” Brian Grossman explains. “I showed up for work and there’s a couple of buckets. I expected to be brewing and it was, ‘No, you gotta go scrub the fermenters out.’ I was like, what?!’” In hindsight, he recognizes how important that was. Though he completed the police academy intending to become a sheriff, he now tackles the production side of the business.
That parents with one or more hungry mouths to feed could quit their careers to open a brewery is no longer such a kooky concept. Each year, a handful of new craft breweries open. Successful family businesses often need to start small and it helps if they are rooted in small towns.
Chico is one example. So is Dexter, MI, where Ron Jeffries, inspired by the creativity of barrel-aged farmhouse beers, founded Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. After brewing professionally at four different breweries, Jeffries decided it was time to take on the challenges of starting his own in 2004.
“I had hoped they both would want to work at the brewery, “ says Jeffries, referring to his wife, Laurie, and his 19-year-old son, Daemon. Laurie Jeffries is the office manager, logistician and “the friendly face in our brewery retail area.” For Daemon’s part, his father had been a brewer since he was five, so he grew up around the business. By the time he turned 15, Jeffries says Daemon knew plenty about “schlepping kegs, helping at festivals, eating fries and drinking root beer at the bar while Dad checked fermentations and the like.” He adds that it’s only natural his son started bottling, labeling, building pallets and loading trucks.
Ale in the Family
There is still a handful of hardy, multi-generation American brewing companies, descended from the beer baron founders of the 19th century. Of course there’s Yuengling in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, run by D.G. Yuengling’s great-great-grandson, Dick Yuengling, Jr., who employs all four of his daughters. Ted Marti in New Ulm, Minnesota has three sons—Jace, Kyle, and Franz—ostensibly making Schell’s a G6 brewery. F.X. Matt in Utica, New York spans four generations, as do a few others.
Another brewery rooted in the 19th century is Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. Though established in 1896, the current owner, Fritz Maytag, is unrelated to the founder. Were it not for Maytag, who bought the brewing concern in 1965, rescuing it from bankruptcy and less-than-stellar beer, it absolutely would not have survived. By concentrating on brewing classical styles of beer, Maytag laid the foundation for every craft brewing company launched in its wake. As such, it blurs the distinction between generations-old breweries and contemporary ones. Is it an independent regional brewery like Dixie or Spoetzl or the first post-Prohibition microbrewery? As for keeping it in the family, Maytag’s daughter doesn’t work there but his nephew, John Dannerbeck, is the director of sales and marketing.
But craft breweries are different. It’s like comparing garage bands to metropolitan orchestras. While every brewery makes beer, numerous challenges face smaller craft breweries compared to the corporate concerns. The former’s shoestring budgets often provide little for equipment, modernization or marketing. As for distribution, finite tap lines and shelf space diminish opportunities that are lavished on the giants. So while mom-and-pop breweries continue to make inroads, the fact remains that the roughly 1,400 of them combined account for only four out of every 100 beers consumed in this country, compared to the largest particular concern profiting from around half of all purchases.
You can’t apply the mission or mechanics of homegrown breweries from the 1980s onward to the industrial ones that have survived since the nineteenth century.
Not only are many of the microbreweries that sprang up in the last 30 years still in the game, but several are family-run companies. If having a blood connection meant nothing to beer drinkers, why have Peter Coors and August Busch IV appeared in commercials since the independent brewers began taking tiny chunks of their market share?
This segment of the beer industry values DNA as much as an MBA. Sierra Nevada emerged as a stalwart of the craft brewing renaissance and remains at the forefront as the second generation is becoming comfortable at the reins.
In Michigan, almost a hundred miles down I-94 from Dexter and 21 years before Jolly Pumpkin hit shelves, Larry Bell established Bell’s Brewing Co. in Kalamazoo in 1985. Bell graduated from brewing supply shop owner to brewery owner. His daughter, Laura, first worked in the kitchen of Bell’s brewpub, The Eccentric Café. Now that she has graduated from college, she’s back home and learning the ropes of each station at the brewery. Bell’s son, David, worked on the kegging line and always has a summer job to return to until he graduates.
West of Lake Michigan, Dan and Deb Carey head New Glarus Brewing in New Glarus, WI. Their eldest daughter, Nicole, recalls rollerblading through the warehouse as a 13-year-old. Now 27, as the company’s most recent hire she handles public relations and reports to her mom, the president. Her dad, the brewmaster, has offered to teach the biology major the science of brewing.
In Portland, ME, the D.L. Geary Brewing Co. is still run by founder Dave Geary. His daughter, Kelly Geary-Lucas, worked as a paralegal in 1993 when she received “the call” and now deals with operations and has taken on chain sales. But when her parents initially told her about the brewery idea, she asked, “‘Are you going to make a Coors Light or a Budweiser?’ I hadn’t been out west, so wasn’t sure what was going on there.”
Back on the West Coast, there’s a town in California’s Anderson Valley that still has no traffic lights called Boonville. When Ken Allen started putting together the Anderson Valley Brewing Co., his son Loren literally helped build the brewery, which opened in 1987. Upon college graduation, Loren Allen returned.
Up north, Rogue Brewing, which calls Newport, OR, home but has brewpubs throughout the state, just turned 20. Former Nike VP Jack Joyce co-founded the company and put his son, Brett, to work washing dishes. Now, after traveling the world as an Adidas executive, Brett is Rogue’s president. Though he doesn’t recommend going into the beer business to get rich, compared to the corporate world of athletic footwear, it’s highly enjoyable. “What I love is the fact that I work for a company without corporate politics,” Brett Joyce says, having shed the bureaucracy for beerocracy.
And in Fort Collins, CO, Jeff Lebesch and wife Kim Jordan started New Belgium Brewing Co. The first beers brewed and bottled in their basement hit shelves in 1991. Kim’s son, Zak Danielson, helped with the bottling then, and at age 23, is now in charge of the cellar at the brewery’s vastly expanded brewhouse.
Generally, today’s brewery founders are fortunate if they have one or two kids to work for them and learn the intricacies of a family business. Imagine Ed and Carol Stoudt’s good fortune to have five kids, all of whom work or have worked at Stoudt’s Brewing Co., which they initially established to compliment Ed’s Black Angus restaurant in Adamstown, PA in 1987.
Before then, to wash down the hand-cut meat enjoyed at the restaurant, Stoudt had to import German beer. Once Carol Stoudt raised their five kids—Elizabeth, Carry, Eddie, Jr., Laura, and Gretel—to the point where the youngest was off to kindergarten, she took it upon herself to ensure that the restaurant could offer an all locally-prepared menu. The Stoudts moved forward on an idea that had hit them during a trip to the Pacific Northwest where they toured breweries, coincidentally, with Ken Allen and David Geary.
The Stoudts are the Partridge Family of the beer world. The children worked at the brewery, restaurant or the beerfests hosted in their authentic biergarten. The youngest, Gretel, sold soft pretzels at their various fests; Laura made funnel cakes. The oldest three returned from external careers. Elizabeth is learning how to make artisan cheese and is the baker at Eddie’s Breads where, not surprisingly, beer is an ingredient in most of the recipes. Carry worked for a textile design company before becoming Stoudt’s graphic designer; and her husband is the head brewer. Eddie, Jr. worked coast-to-coast in the transportation industry, which made him realize, as Carol Stoudt puts it, that “he is not fond of cities so he asked if there was a job in the business.” He handles distribution and wholesalers, in contrast to his early days of playing trumpet with the German bands at the fests. His wife, Jodi Andrews Stoudt, had already been a professional brewer and now does Stoudt’s publicity. She’s also helping Elizabeth inaugurate the cheesery, including rinsing the cheeses in beer!
Singing their Praises
It would be called nepotism if these parents hired their children over more qualified candidates or promoted them ahead of more deserving employees. However, one constant among these family-run breweries is that, if you’re the boss’s kid, you have to work twice as hard.
Geary relishes spending more time with his daughter than most fathers get, and refers to her as “essentially the COO. She is an amazing performer. She is smart and organized, tough, fearless, and she seems to be able to do it in her sleep. And no, I don’t say that as her father.”
Jack Joyce is now Rogue’s “Chief Wisdom Officer.” He says, “Those of us who started (craft breweries) learned one thing at a time. So what is easy for us is really difficult for somebody coming from the outside. They think they can save craft brewers by doing things like the big guys do. And that’s just not right.” So while it’s true he brought in his son from the corporate world, which could’ve been frowned upon by Rogue’s long-term employees, Jack adds that, “the old timers, and we’ve got a lot of employees from when Brett was cleaning kegs or waiting tables or driving the truck, knew him… He’d succeeded somewhere else. He learned how to sell.”
It is important to keep in mind that when these entrepreneurs founded their respective breweries, they weren’t thinking about creating a legacy for their kids—if they had any at the time—to inherit. They were too busy trying to make their dreams viable entities.
“The plan was not to go broke,” explains Joyce. “And if you don’t go broke a number of years in a row, then you have something.”
Grossman recently found the original, 40-page business plan he wrote. He calls it “hilarious,” but evidently he knew what he was doing. At the point where he needed to make a decision about the future—“Do I sell the company? Do I have some other direction I’m going to take?”—Sierra Grossman said, “You can’t do that. It’s a family business. You gotta keep it.” He credits her drive for deciding to keep it in the family and jokes that she’s learning to regret it.
“If my kids become interested, we’ll talk,” says Larry Bell. “But I want them to find their passion in life.” Every brewery owner/parent echoes that sentiment. Small business owners everywhere know that if they push their offspring into the business, the kids might resent them and it may just push them away altogether.
Fritz Maytag knows that feeling well.
Far from a magical little brewery, the Maytag name is forever associated with washing machines. “When I was a little boy, I was told that I should plan to do something, anything, but I certainly shouldn’t expect to be involved in the Maytag appliance company. It was a publicly owned company that the family owned a fair amount of. I’m extremely grateful that nobody ever pressured me into feeling as though I had a heritage that I had to accept.”
It’s Their Decision
Of the kids who work in these family businesses, some put more emphasis on “family,” others on “business.” Obviously, the two concepts are impossible to isolate completely. The Joyces, though father-and-son and friends as well, view each other as business partners.
Geary-Lucas had a learning curve. She says, “We get along great now and have learned to communicate with each other as coworkers as opposed to family members. We had some hurdles at the beginning. We don’t mince words now.”
Still, she adds, “Sometimes personal stuff gets involved. In uncomfortable situations, I have to talk to the president, not to my dad.”
Conversely, Sierra and Brian Grossman could no more detach themselves from work than they could from their family. “We don’t punch out,” insists Sierra Grossman. “There is no separation between family and work. There is no non-shop talk. On the weekends we talk about work. After dinnertime we’ll talk about work. It’s usually my mom and my sister saying, ‘OK you guys, stop.’” Even when they leave Chico on family camping or river rafting trips, thoughts of work follow them. Ken Grossman makes jokes about them berating him, but it’s clear he cherishes their involvement and their unceasing dedication to fourth child. The Grossmans are a nuclear beer family.
For Daemon Jeffries, working for his folks amounts to a paycheck. And cleaning out grain bins when it’s cold out in the Michigan winter doesn’t make the 19-year-old think he’ll be working at the brewery forever. He has dreams of making a living in freestyle motocross.
Considering Ron Jeffries is living his own dream, of his son’s ambitions, he says: “Go for it.” (Laurie Jeffries naturally has a safer path in mind for her only child.) The other brewery owners interviewed have one or more progeny working for them, yet they also have one or more who do not. Some are still in school, some pursue other interests, some raise families of their own. Matthew Geary moved from Portland, ME, to San Francisco, CA. Though he loves his family’s brewery, he says that he romanticizes it too much. He remembers the six-pack gluing-parties when he was not yet a teenager. All his school science projects involved beer. Maybe, someday…
Sometimes, it doesn’t pan out.
Loren Allen returned to Anderson Valley Brewing for five years, but left in 2000. “If I’d had my druthers, yeah,” Ken Allen says, “it would’ve been a family business and stayed that way. It just didn’t work out that way.” He says that he “kind of” announced that the brewery is for sale should the right deal come along. “I’m going to be 70 and it’s getting to where I don’t like the stress anymore.”
Retirement is a tricky subject. Maytag is the doyen of the bunch, both in terms of his age, 71, and his command of the wheel, for 44 years. Jeffries is the young whippersnapper, turning 42 this year while his brewery turns five. They all ponder the matter, but only half-kiddingly state they’ll never leave. David Geary resolves, “As soon as they find the body, that’s when I have officially retired.”
In Fort Collins, Jeff Lebesch founded New Belgium as the brewmaster but is already retired. The employees collectively own 32 percent. Running the company energizes Kim Jordan, but she encourages her peers to think about the future. “If Zak were to say, ‘I want to take this seriously,’ I’d want him to get more education. He’s been to Siebel through their diploma program. I think that’s good fundamental knowledge, but not the same thing as years under your belt and business acumen.”
No one admits to concerning themselves with the future of the breweries far beyond 20 years. As far as Jack Joyce is concerned, “I don’t care if (Rogue’s) in the Joyce family. I do care that it stays!”
Still, Grossman allows, “I go to Europe enough to see there are breweries that have been doing it for 100 years and those kinds of legacies do happen. In the U.S., too, for that matter.”
Craft Beer: The Next Generation
Enter CBG2. This club, so to speak, formed when Brett Joyce and Sierra Grossman met at Great American Beer Festival. CBG2, for Craft Brewers Generation Two, is hardly an official group—they don’t even have a Facebook page. They love discovering new brethren. Laura Bell and Daemon Jeffries, despite the lack of official decoder rings, should introduce themselves at the next GABF or beerfest.
“It sure is fun sitting around and hearing stories,” Joyce says. “I’m not the only one to have certain problems, challenges. We found that regardless of the size of our breweries, the issues are the same.” Studies show that the attrition rate for all family businesses is around 30 percent. If 100 parents start a brewery today, only a third will pass down to their kids. Perhaps 10 would successfully operate under the third generation.
“Our parents got here by being very astute. They had logical plans,” Brett Joyce summarizes. Addressing the opportunity to carry on family businesses built by their hard-working, smart parents, he asserts, “provided we don’t (mess) it up. That’s the only caveat.”
“I like family businesses,” muses Maytag. “I think businesses that are owned by one family often have a little more character and are more willing to take chances or do interesting things. I can’t help but think they are a benefit to our country.”
So how about grandkids? Stoudt has six grandchildren ranging from five months to 15 years and the latter works as a cashier in Ed Stoudt’s Black Angus. Joyce says that when his two grandkids reach 15, they can follow in their father’s footsteps by washing dishes. One of Grossman’s granddaughter’s first words was “brewery.”
It sounds like a few breweries will be in good, though currently tiny, hands.
Brian Yaeger is the author of Red, White, & Brew: An American Beer Odyssey. He lives in San Francisco.