Young at Black Star also tries to integrate the brewpub’s members into the operation, whether with beer tastings, which educate members and foster feedback, or with what Young calls “member-owner design forums.” Last summer, Young invited interested members to join him in creating a new summer brew. “I needed a light, wheat beer, but I didn’t have anything in my arsenal that I had in mind,” Young recalls. “So for all the people that showed up, I said, ‘Hey, here are the parameters I want you guys to work within. I need an American wheat beer with my house yeast. Go.”
After much discussion and some tasting of spices, Young had a crowd-sourced recipe that he could take back to his brewery. The result was Elba, an American wheat beer spiced with lemongrass, grains of paradise and bitter orange peel. It turned out to be of the brewery’s most popular beers. “I was only going to do a batch or two, but I sold it for three or four months it was so popular,” Young says. “And it was designed by the community, which is a really cool aspect.”
The Pendulum Swings
Flynn, the one who had no idea why he bought an ownership stake in Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery, can now list plenty of reasons why investing in a co-op brewery is a good idea. “From my vantage point, we gain a community cornerstone,” Flynn says. “A social hub, a revenue engine for community causes, a consumer of local goods and services—family farms, local business, etc.—a creator of jobs. The list goes on and on, but the focus is always our members and our community. I think that focus is what differentiates us, and other co-ops, from other businesses.”
Not only will the rise of cooperative breweries and CSBs and brewery incubators have a powerful impact on their communities, they’ll also have a powerful impact on the larger craft beer world, says Herz at the Brewers Association. “The entrepreneurial spirit is clearly alive and well and with that spirit you tend to have more creativity and more diversity of what’s produced and put into the marketplace,” she says. “So overall I think the biggest positive is the more alternative business models that are sought out, the more freedoms today’s small breweries have, which means more creativity and, frankly, in the end is better for today’s beer lover.”
The relationship between craft breweries and their communities is really at the root of the entire craft beer movement, but it’s undergone a long evolution and almost a role reversal. In the past, craft brewing’s pioneers put everything on the line to build craft breweries without knowing if the community would support the endeavor. They stood up against the macrobreweries and courted their local communities by consistently brewing a stellar product. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but judging by the fact that craft beer sales are up even in the face of overall declining beer sales is a good sign that communities have embraced their craft brewers. Now, the pendulum has swung the other direction, and it’s the communities and their growing demand for craft beer that is driving a new generation of craft breweries staffed with individuals like Dery, Young and Parker, who without their communities may never have had the chance to brew their beer outside their own kitchen. And that can only be a good thing.