Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images
By Chris Morris
August 4, 2015

The team at the Jekyll Brewing Company was close. It was 2013 and they had raised nearly all the money they needed to launch the company through loans and savings – but close wasn’t going to get the startup brewery across the finish line.

There was certainly the need for a destination brewery in Alpharetta, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb that’s just far enough removed from the city that going into the usual hotspots was a pain. And the local support seemed to be there. The question was: Would that community put its money where its thirst was?

To make the final financial push, the brewers opted to rely on crowdfunding, turning to Kickstarter to raise the money they needed to complete their buildout and pay for the HVAC and electrical systems.

The community delivered, ultimately contributing $33,949. Five months later, Jekyll opened its doors.

“That money allowed us to get the brewery up and running much quicker than it would have otherwise,” says Lacey Pyle, head of marketing for Jekyll Brewing. “We were heavily dependent on community support. If that had not come through, I can’t really say if we would have made it.”

 

Crowdfunding is increasingly becoming a popular tool among breweries. In some cases, it’s an effort to raise start-up money. Others use it to buy new equipment to expand their operations. And others want to renovate their tasting rooms.

Steep odds

The success rates are hit and miss – but lean more to the miss side. To succeed, says Travis Benoit, founder of CrowdBrewed, a crowdfunding site specifically aimed at brewers, you need to be prepared to fully exploit the tools the Internet offers to raise awareness for the campaign.

“If you don’t come to the table with a social media presence and are not willing to work to push this campaign, you will not be successful,” he says. “People do not crawl platforms to find something to donate to.”

It also helps if you’re a brewer with a reputation. Last year, Tod Mott, a craft beer veteran who developed the original recipe for Harpoon IPA and Portsmouth Brewery’s Russian Imperial Stout (called Kate the Great), wanted to open a small-batch brewery in Maine; like Jekyll, Mott’s brewery was close to its funding goal, but didn’t want to take out additional loans.

By leveraging Tod Mott’s name, Tributary Brewing Co. raised $65,535.

“Tod has been in the brewing industry for over 20 years, so he had quite a good following,” says Galen Mott, Tod’s wife and co-founder. “We knew with social media that we would probably do pretty well with crowdfunding. … [But] it wouldn’t have stopped us if we hadn’t made it.”

The advantages of getting social

Connecting with an audience doesn’t have to be about raising capital, though. It can also be an alternate way of selling beer. Stone Brewing Co has seen the biggest success in this pre-sale of upcoming beers, taking in over$2.5 million from 13,979 backers on Indiegogo.

That number might have been even higher if there hadn’t been initial confusion about what Stone was doing.

“Because we used a crowdfunding site, people perceived it as crowdfunding,” says Greg Koch, co-founder of Stone. “Before we learned how to explain it better, people were perceiving it as crowdfunding and saying ‘Hey Stone you’re successful. What are you doing?’ … I think if we had described it more successfully from the beginning, it could have been larger – but that being said, we were extraordinarily flattered.”

Backers of the campaign (which Koch refers to as “crowd sourcing,” rather than crowdfunding) will receive 1.5 liter bottles of premium collaborative beers between Stone and other well-regarded brewers once they’re made (which could be next year or possibly later, depending on the brewing process). The 750 ml bottles will be sold in stores.

It was a fun experiment, acknowledges Koch, but it’s likely not one the brewer will repeat.

“I can’t see us doing this again,” he says. “It was a great campaign and very successful, but there are a lot of complexities. There are a lot of ways to sell beer. We’re probably going to use the more traditional route next time.”

Interested in supporting breweries that have used crowdfunding sites for one purpose or another? Here are some highlights of their offerings:

Jekyll Brewing Hop Dang Diggity – Hop Dang Diggity isn’t just fun to say out loud, it’s a hop dang good beer. A big, bold IPA with very nice citrus and pine elements, it has a crisp bitter finish that lingers for just a moment, but ultimately is very clean. Hints of caramel round out a nicely complex offering. (ABV: 6.7%)

Independence Brewing Co. Bootlegger Brown Ale – With a deep brown/amber color and the strong taste of sweet bread, this may not be a brown ale that makes you forget all others, but it’s a hearty concoction that’s medium bodied. I’d have preferred a bit more malt, but your mileage may vary. (ABV: 6%)

Bourbon Barrel Aged Arrogant Bastard Ale – There’s a whole lot going on with this beer. At the base is a really nice tasting ale that’s malty with mild hops. The barrel aging is easy to detect, but not overwhelming, adding hints to caramel and cigar. Be warned: The alcohol level gives it a notable punch. (ABV: 8%)

Revelry Brewing Co. Lean or Fat – Only available at the brewery, this collaboration with John Lewis, founder of La Barbecue in Austin, Texas, is a light, well balanced beer that’s made for summer drinking. It’s designed to go with BBQ and does so wonderfully. But it’s also a lager that goes down smooth by itself in the dog days of summer. (ABV: 4%)

BrewDog Punk IPA – Some IPAs, in an effort to stand out, load in so many hops that some drinkers are overwhelmed. Punk IPA is more balanced. There’s very little bitterness on the finish of this highly carbonated, but smooth, IPA. The citrus notes are very pronounced – with a slight hint of pineapple. It’s complex and has the feel of a session, which could be risky given its actual alcohol content. (ABV: 5.6%)

 

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