Co-Op Breweries: Owning a Piece of the Brewhouse
The craft beer industry is an industry unlike any other. Brewers collaborate on recipes, trade ingredients and encourage customers to visit neighboring breweries. While it may seem like some markets are oversaturated with craft breweries, it’s this shared sense of community and camaraderie that allow these businesses to thrive.
While many breweries are dedicated to local causes, co-op breweries take it a step further by infusing their community into everything they do. A co-op business model is an excellent option for a craft brewery startup that truly wants to be connected to their region.
Co-Op Breweries: The Nitty Gritty
If you’re unfamiliar, co-op refers to an organization that is owned by its members, rather than outside shareholders. Members jointly own the business, share its profits and democratically manage its operations. Members can be the workers, customers, producers or a mixture of all three. For as little as $100 in some cases, an interested party can become a member, and thus a shareholder, of the company.
A co-op focuses on operating for the benefit of its workers and community, rather than zeroing in on providing maximum profits to its shareholders. Members have a voice in determining business practices, and in the case of breweries, may even provide input on the beer being created and served! The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) defines a cooperative this way:
A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprise…Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
Black Star Co-op
Black Star Co-op in Austin, Texas, was the world’s first cooperatively owned brewpub when it opened its doors in September 2010. It now has almost 3,200 member-owners, comprising the Members’ Assembly. The Members’ Assembly elects a nine-seat Board of Directors, with each director serving a three-year term. The board leads in big-picture decision making and oversees the Workers’ Assembly, which manages the daily business operations.
The co-op currently employs 27 full-time workers, and all employees are paid a fair living wage and provided excellent benefits. As Black Star’s website states, “Supporting Black Star Co-op means supporting livable wages, democratic workplaces, local farms, and quality products from your community brewpub!”
Black Star features multiple guest taps, but also crafts their brews. Their house beers are divided into Rational, Irrational and Infinite series — the math motif a nod to their original head brewer, who wanted to ingrain his love of math into the beer roster — and are “the voice of the member-owners.”
Through tasting panels and member-owner meetings, the brewers create beers that the members, and thus, the community, want. They also provide a wide range of food options, and true to the co-op’s vision, “serve locally sourced and sustainably produced foods” from “a community of conscientious Texas farmers and ranchers who are devoted to the same principals.”
Since its inception, Austin’s Black Star Co-op has served as the basis for several other craft brewery co-ops. Here is a noninclusive list of a few of the currently operating cooperative breweries across the nation and what they have to say about their unique business models:
4th Tap Brewing Co-op | Austin, TX
4th Tap is the first worker-owned cooperatively-governed production brewery in Texas, and one of the first in the United States. 4th Tap is 100 percent owned by the people who work on the floor day in and day out. We believe that having a stake in the success and failings of our brewery make our people happier and our beer taste better.
Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery | Seattle, WA
Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery is a democratically run, member-owned and operated cooperative. We will strive to make Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery membership and activities welcoming and accessible to all members of our diverse community.
Cherry Street Brewing Co-op | Cumming, GA
Cherry Street Brewing Co-op is more than just a place that brews beer. The Brewing Cooperative follows cooperative ideals: community, education, and sustainability. Although the customer always comes first, so does our community in which we live, and the environment.
Fair State Brewing Cooperative | Minneapolis, MN
Fair State’s goal is to put the natural connection between brewer and community to work to create something that truly belongs to us all. Creating infinite community and quality craft beers.
Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op | Los Alamos, NM
As a democratically run, member-owned and operated cooperative, Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op seeks to serve as a gathering place for the local community, run our business in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner, support and promote the local craft beer industry, and educate the community about the art and science of brewing.