It seems like the peak for breweries utilizing Kickstarter was back between 2011 and 2012. Social media was full of homebrewers wanting to live the the dream, and you could support their fantasies for a mere $25 to $50 and, in exchange, you’d get some swag and vicarious bragging rights. Mostly the latter.
I don’t think any of us really expected these breweries to necessarily thrive. It is hard enough to be a successful brewery for many reasons, and many of those reasons have nothing to do with beer. Owning a small business is a tricky game of spinning plates, and it takes a skill set that doesn’t overlap with the ones required for actually making beer. But the naive hope was that if a few people, with a small amount of disposable income each, could get these breweries over the hump of initial investment, then darwinism would sort the rest out.
Spurred by seeing an article today where someone I backed made an ass of himself, and I’ll get to that later, I decided to revisit beer-related Kickstarters that I backed.
Mystery Brewing Company (Funded July 23rd, 2010)
Mystery Brewing continues to thrive in Hillsbourgh, NC under the leadership of Erik Myers. I had “virtually” met him through a round of the old Iron Brewer competitions, and he seemed like a serious and driven guy. This was, by my reckoning, a good Kickstarter, although I’m not sure it was needed for Mystery because he was going to succeed regardless.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes.
Pipeworks Brewing Company (Funded January 1st, 2011)
Pipeworks Brewing is alive in Chicago, IL. and looks to be cranking out a lot of different styles of beer. I had a friend in Chicago pick up some of the initial beers offered to me through the pledge. He enjoyed those beers and gave his seal of approval for this brewery. Props to Pipeworks for making it in a city that has no shortage of quality beers at its disposal.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes
Wilderness Brewing (Funded August 4th, 2011)
Wilderness Brewing is the poster child (perhaps milk carton child) for floundering once getting funded through Kickstarter. Mike and Nate have left a lot of angry people in Kansas City with their lack of communication as much as their failure to thrive or produce anything at all. After raising $41,000 dollars for their brewery, they disappeared. These guys had the heart to start a brewery, but obviously none of the other skills. This one hurts because I even interviewed the Wilderness Brewing guys to support their campaign, because I liked their story. If I led anyone to pledge to this train wreck, I apologize. I know the shame of all this must be strong and demotivating to them, but they’ve never done the right thing in apologizing with a finality that would bring about closure for pledgers.
Worthy Pledge?: No.
Short Snout Brewing (Funded November 17th, 2011)
Short Snout appears to have had some fits and starts. In this interview/article I uncovered about Short Snout, it appears that things didn’t go to plan, so Brian took some time off to refocus and take another swing at opening a brewery. From the silence since that, I assume things fizzled out again. Brian is another acquaintance from Iron Brewer, and it was a no-brainer for me to throw him a few bucks. It doesn’t look that things worked out, but it appears that he gave it a good try. Hopefully he’s still chugging away at it, or at least has come to a place of peace for having tried.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes.
Brenner Brewing Company (Funded June 12th, 2012)
Brenner Brewing is in Milwaukie, WI, and still making beers. I even stopped by their table at GABF and said hello to Mike Brenner to congratulate him. This one is a success, but yesterday’s article about beer shaming gave me some pause. In it he says:
“Mike Brenner, the owner of Brenner Brewing Co., 706 S. 5th St., is an intentional beer shamer without any shame in being one.
“The people who come to a brewery and order a Bud or Miller are just trying to be a**holes,” says Brenner. “I always try to be nice and offer them our German pilsner, but if they push me, I’ll say, ‘Wait! I DO have a Miller Lite.’ Then I’ll grab a glass and start to unzip my pants like I’m gonna p*ss in it.”
Brenner believes buying a local beer is a choice that impacts more than a person’s taste buds.
“If you drink Miller, Pabst or even Goose Island for that matter, you’re pretty much just an ignorant piece of sh*t who doesn’t care about your own community,” he says.”
To give him the benefit of the doubt, I can hope that this is a planted article by big beer, or perhaps he’s playing loose and trying to drum up some indie cred and get some free press. But, in hindsight, this isn’t the kind of brewer and maturity that I would have liked to support.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes, from a successful business perspective, but increasingly less so from an idealogical perspective.
Burlington Beer Company (Funded November 30th, 2013)
This Kickstarter was specifically earmarked for barrels and kegs for Joe’s new brewery, Burlington Beer Company. Joe is someone I knew through Iron Brewer, but also Twitter. Backing Joe wasn’t a difficult decision because I knew he would be successful because he had already been successful. He had been cranking out experimental homebrew batches while brewing professionally for both Dogfish Head and Evolution Craft Brewing Company. I still haven’t made it to Vermont to visit, but I will someday.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes.
Is there a common thread here? The Iron Brewer Competition cost me a lot of money. (Kidding.)
These were the halcyon days of beer start-ups, and everyone’s naiveté for living the dream as a brewer was only matched by our ignorance of how terrible a model a nano-brewery is to the long term success of a business. I have little regrets overall, but there is a reason why small businesses go through the process of creating a business plan and are subject to review by investors and banks. The ease in throwing $25 towards a Kickstarter is part of the allure, but it doesn’t require the vetting process that larger investments should have and you should adjust your expectations accordingly.
I always thought about these pledges as entertainment. If you play the lottery, I hope you are playing it for the thrill. Because winning the mega bucks is a longshot and, with the many points of failure over time, supporting a successful brewery might be even worse odds.