You didn’t have to be rich or put your house, your retirement or
your kids’ college fund on the line to own a brewery?
A brewery valued passion over profits and community over
Bellingham had its own community-owned brewing facility whose mission included helping launch brewers’ dreams of starting their own brewery and at the same time raise money for the larger community?
Bellingham Beer League
What began as a way for a handful of brewers to share the cost of opening a brewery has transformed into new model for brewery startups. Bellingham Beer League (BBL) will be a unique, stylized beer venue that incidentally acts as an incubator for brewers. The cooperatively owned, community supported brewery and taproom will allow each of its three resident brewers to get training and experience in the craft beer industry before moving on to develop their own future brewery projects.
- Create opportunities for resident brewers to launch their own brands by providing production space and a taproom for marketing their beers, all at a much lower cost than building individual breweries, and with support from an active community.
- Foster a closer relationship between brewers and the community through cooperative ownership and management.
- Provide a platform for brewers to give back to the community through involvement with local events, organizations, and through unique BBL sponsored programs.
- Grow Bellingham’s beer culture by providing educational opportunities and programs.
- Produce a wide range of high quality craft ales and lagers that Bellingham will be proud to call its own.
Bellingham Beer League, however, will not be “just another brewery.” By pulling together several innovations that are being practiced successfully elsewhere, BBL will be the first brewing company of its kind.
Shared Production and Serving Space
The largest capital expense in starting a brewery is the brewing system. A minimal 7-barrel (217-gallon) brew system can cost $100,000 or more. That cost alone places the dream of starting a brewery out of reach of many talented homebrewers. Yet, the brewhouse portion of the system is only used once or twice a week by most small startups. Having several brewers share one brewhouse is a more efficient use of this costly resource.
A shared on-site taproom increases the visibility of each brewer’s brand by exposing their beers to a wider audience than if they operated their own taproom. It also spreads the expense of staffing the taproom.
Cooperative Ownership and Management
Most small startups are led by a brewer with a dream and some brewing talent. They may enlist family and friends with a variety of talents to help, but the talent and money pool is often limited. By opening ownership to the entire community, BBL will have a wide range of owners, all with their specific talents, vested in the success of the brewery.
Cooperative ownership also makes it possible for those who love craft beer and who have always wanted to be involved in the industry an affordable way to become part-owners of their own community brewery.
The BBL cooperative will own and run the brewery and taproom, hiring a skilled and professional management team. The three “resident brewers” will work as employees of BBL while launching their individual brands. This will allow the brewers to focus on making quality beers and building their brands. Once a brewer’s brand has reached the point where demand is sufficient to demand more production space and time than is available at BBL, the brewer may choose to leave the cooperative for their own facility, making room for a new resident brewer.
Likewise, if a resident brewer realizes the brewing industry is not where they belong, they can surrender their spot in the cooperative without incurring a huge financial loss or burden.
Community Supported Brewing
The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model has been instrumental in helping many small farmers thrive since its inception in the 1980s. The concept is simple, members pick a subscription level, based on the amount of fruits and vegetables they want to purchase over the course of the growing season and pre-buy their produce. Then, when harvest season arrives, they receive a designated amount of produce each week. The subscription money helps the farmer buy seed and cover other cost associated with getting crops ready for harvest. The subscriber gains a closer relationship to where their food is coming from and gets the freshest produce possible.
The Community Supported Brewing (CSB) model is much the same. Subscribers pre-buy a set amount of beer and redeem it as the beer is brewed. Because brewing is a year-round activity, subscribers are not limited to redeeming their subscription during a set season. But, because beer styles can change seasonally, they are assured variety in their beer selections.
Brewers Supporting Community
Because Bellingham Beer League will receive so much support from the community, the three resident brewers will be expected to give back to the community. One of the ways of doing this will be through the brewing of beers sold under the Bellingham Beer League label. These beers will be collaborations between the resident brewers and other members of the BBL and brewing communities.
Consumer-members will get to choose what styles they want to see brewed as part of these Community Brews and the proceeds from these beers will be used to help local groups, individuals and causes. By channeling proceeds from community supported brewing back into the community, the BBL will strengthen its ties with the community and give people a reason to feel good about the beer they drink.
Beer Culture and Beer Education
Bellingham Beer League will provide multiple opportunities for beer lovers to learn about beer and brewing and share their knowledge with others. Consumer-members will be able to participate in quarterly brewing competitions in which their homebrew will be judged against that of other consumer-members. The winning brewer will get to participate in the brewing of their recipe on the BBL system and have their beer served in the taproom.
Bellingham Beer League will also provide a number of informal classes on beer styles, beer brewing and beer and food pairing, among other things. It will also serve as the home base for a women’s brewing and beer appreciation group.