Some people were just born to brew. I’m sure their stories are fascinating and insightful. However, most of us aren’t born into anything: we bounce around and often stumble while we seek (and hopefully find) our ultimate purpose in life.
Steve Hindy and Tom Potter, co-founders of the Brooklyn Brewery, have written a book for us stumblers. Beer School is a wonderful combination of stories and insights from Brooklyn Brewery’s 15-year odyssey in both craft beer brewing and distribution—written by two Brooklyn neighbors who desperately wanted to change careers. Steve (and his family) is tired of the crazy life of a foreign correspondent. Tom is disillusioned with the Adding Machine-like career, climbing up the executive ladder of an uninspiring bank.
That’s not to say that once Hindy and Potter found their path, it was a golden one. Beer School is a yin and yang tale of two very different personalities, pushing and persisting for success in the growing-but-still-tough craft beer business. Tom, the former banker, is the operations and “back-of-the-house” chief, while Steve heads up sales and marketing. Tom is measured, calculated and analytical; Steve is the instinctual go-getter. Tom’s finance and operations experience provides excellent practical insight into raising capital and managing a business. Steve weighs in with some juicy tales of mob-like characters and the unique challenges of opening a business in Brooklyn.
It’s not always smooth sailing—after all, both leaders are admittedly stubborn, aggressive, and driven toward success. The authors openly admit that there were many times when employees didn’t know who was in charge, when employees would play one leader off the other, or when the CEO feels slighted by the public praise and recognition of the president’s public persona.
But it’s that same candor that makes Beer School engaging, practical and realistic. Most of us don’t have our path laid out before us. Those of us considering new ventures—beer or otherwise—will likely need a complementary partner to be strong where we are weak, to share stories, to bounce around ideas. Hindy and Potter complement each other very well, both in their approach to business and their joint effort in Beer School.
At times, the book is a little jumpy; I often lost track of who was narrating. And I would like to have seen a synopsis of key business insights—something to photocopy and stick above my desk. But overall, Beer School serves as a solid guide into starting a business within the fascinating world of the craft brewing and distribution industries.
Early on in the book, Tom recounts the time a thief broke into the brewery and stole a few cases of beer and a forklift battery charger. Tom hunts down the stolen goods with relentless focus, accosting a middleman, cruising sketchy neighborhoods, and finally tracking down (and reclaiming) the battery charger in a dubious scrapyard. It’s the perfect metaphor: that battery charger is the Brooklyn Brewery, and its leaders chase down what is rightly theirs with such focus, determinism and passion that claiming the prize becomes inevitable.