Maybe you’ve allowed yourself the daydream of owning a brewery… before you snapped back to reality and realized you lack the finances or expertise to undertake such a venture. A handful of co-op breweries in the U.S., including the weeks-old Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery in Seattle, allow beer enthusiasts to own a piece of the pie for as little as a few hundred bucks. (And no tank scrubbing required.)
Flying Bike’s model works like this: Members buy in for as little as $200 and then retain a lifetime of voting rights in how the business is run. The 7-barrel brewery currently has about 1,560 members as well as an elected board of directors. Membership helped choose the newly hired brewmaster, Pike Brewing veteran Kevin Forhan, and members can submit homebrew recipes for a chance to have those beers appear at the taproom. Plus, members receive happy hour beer discounts for life. Some members who kicked in additional funding through Flying Bike’s preferred stock campaign will also see a modest return on their investment if the brewery continues to do well. But, emphasizes board president Kevin Badger, this isn’t anyone’s get-rich-quick scheme.
“We’re not trying to make hundreds of thousands of dollars for one person,” Badger says. “Our biggest challenge is making sure we give each person the input they think they deserve in a co-op.”
It took four years from Flying Bike’s incorporation as a business to its taproom opening, with funding split about half-and-half between member buy-ins and the preferred stock program. The long lead-up time allowed the brewery to open with a built-in customer base: its members. (The brewery also harnesses its diverse members’ talents, from graphic design to event planning.) Anyone from the general public can walk in off the street to have a pint of Flying Bike’s beers, but Badger says the co-op model does invite a sense of community around the brand-new brewery.
The model has also worked for Austin’s Black Star Co-Op brewpub; Fifth Street Brewpub Co-Op in Dayton, Ohio; Minneapolis’ Fair State Brewing Cooperative; and Bathtub Row Brewing Co-Op in Los Alamos, N.M. Daydreamers, but your money where your beer-drinking mouth is.