02 Jul 2012 @ 1:58 PM 

This past weekend, while we were running our little temporary taproom experiment over at Mystery, somebody – one of the fine patrons that came and joined us that evening – stole a poster from the bathroom of our office.

It was a kind of a cheap poster, but it was fun – the Awdrey-Gore Legacy poster by Edward Gorey. It’s a little murder-mystery poster, a little macabre and a little funny. Moreover, it was my wife’s poster and we’d had it hanging in our house for a while, but we brought it into the brewery when we opened up mainly so that the bathroom would stop looking so empty. So, while it sucks, it’s not like someone stole our smoker or anything. It wasn’t anything of significant monetary value, or even something of practical value, but something of sentimental value, instead.

And that is precisely why it pisses me off so much.

Here we are – we’re a young business. We’re still getting our feet under us and trying to get a solid footing in the market. We’re not rich. We work our asses off to pay the bills just like everybody else. So, we’ve opened up our doors to try to stay engaged with people while we’re struggling to get our taproom open and somebody comes in and, essentially, betrays our trust and our hospitality by stealing something of literally no value.

Dear asshat – go and buy your own fucking poster. That one belongs to my wife. And while you can now put it up in your house and say, “Oh my god! Isn’t this cool? I totally took this from Mystery!” Any person’s response to that statement should be: “Wow. You’re a douchebag.” In fact, do yourself a favor, save your money – don’t buy my beer, and go buy a poster instead so that way I don’t have to waste my time and money replacing it.

When I asked my staff if they knew it was missing, the overall response was something along the lines of, “What did you expect to happen when we started letting people in here?” and I think that is the saddest most sorry statement against humanity I have ever heard. That’s what I have to expect from fans of craft beer? Petty theft? Aren’t you better than that?

That’s exactly the kind of bullshit that makes it difficult to run a small business and difficult for us to justify letting people into our business, into our office, and into our lives. If you think it’s cool to steal a poster, what else are we going to have to replace? What else in the brewery has gone missing that we haven’t noticed yet? We’re trying to get people in here to make sure that we have enough money to operate, and it’s not going to fly if we have to replace even a few small things every time we let people in here. And what happens when it’s not something small and it’s something big? Damage to our equipment or stealing something that’s vital to our operation could literally shut us down permanently.

So, to whomever of you who has decided that the cool and hip thing to do is to go into a small business and steal something: Fuck you. That business that you stole from isn’t some fancy mega corporation and walking into it should have been able to tell you that. You didn’t steal from the man, you stole from me and from my employees and the hours and hours of work we put in every day so that you can enjoy that beer you came in and had. I’m so glad that we engendered enough of your respect that you felt like you had to take something from us.

Please, take this as a token of my respect for you: don’t ever come back.

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Tags Categories: brewery, Mystery Brewing Company, op-ed Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 02 Jul 2012 @ 03 22 PM

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 23 May 2012 @ 11:39 AM 

I am writing this post because I get an e-mail or a phone call almost every single day from a person asking me how to do this and so this is partly to help people and partly to slow the deluge of e-mail and phone calls.

As anybody who has viewed this blog for any length of time is probably aware, I am the guy behind Mystery Brewing Company. I originally launched the brewery as a Kickstarter campaign. The original idea was to do alternating proprietorship – a form of contract brewing – but that idea fell through and we now operate a fully functioning brick-and-mortar brewery. I won’t go through that whole story right now, because I already have. Read it here. We’re not a nano, but we’re not huge. We are, however, having a blast.

I don’t think I was the first to try, but I’m pretty sure I was the first to get funded, the largest funded (so far), and I might be the first operational Kickstarter brewery. I make no promises that those claims are true, but I think they are.

So, because of this success, I am asked often for advice by other budding entrepreneurs about how to start a brewery using Kickstarter. Let me give you this bullet list:

1. It can’t be done

Okay. That’s kind of glib. But consider this: I raised ~$44,000 via Kickstarter, which seems like a lot of money, right? I mean.. it is. It’s like median yearly income for an American family right now or something silly like that.

For a 7bbl brewery that doesn’t even pay for kegs. It certainly doesn’t pay for a brewhouse. It’s 6 fermenters. It’s the cost of plumbing and glycol piping. You get the idea.

Okay, now remember: You owe taxes on that money. You’re a business now and you need to pay taxes on any income that you make. So that $44,000, after the cut that Amazon and Kickstarter take is closer to $40,000, and then closer to $35,000 after you pay even the most modest of income taxes on it. Then you have to pay for those prizes that you’re sending out to people plus postage (postage is expensive – one Priority Mail package to 250 people = $1,000 minimum), so now you’re down to $30,000 or so, maybe lower. That’s more like 4 fermenters.

The point is this: You need, need, NEED alternate sources of funding. Don’t count on the SBA. Regardless of what they tell you they are not interested in funding startups unless there is absolutely no risk involved (ie – you are putting in an enormous amount of capital already), same goes for banks. You need to have a lot of your own money in the bank, ready to go, or a few angel investors willing to put up at least $150,000, probably more. The total cost to starting up a 7bbl brewery, right now, with the prices of stainless and the dearth of decent used equipment, is just north of $500,000.

2. Go big or go home.

For a blog that gets more hits on an article about nanobreweries, than pretty much anything else, I am still not convinced that they are a completely viable business model. If you’re planning on starting a nanobrewery, you NEED a taproom if you want the business to be completely self-sustaining. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to brew enough beer, otherwise. If you don’t have a way to sell per pint, you need to find an alternate form of income.

If you’re still interested in going the Kickstarter route:

3. You need a pre-established community to support you.

I hate to say this, but if you don’t have a local community that’s ready to see you start a brewery, you’re going to have a difficult time finding that funding. When I started my Kickstarter campaign, I was the only brewery that had a “currently funding” project. Today there are 12 in funding and I know of at many MANY more who are looking at it, so you need some way to make yours stand out. It’s going to be YOU. That’s it. You and your local community. Use it. That community is your friends, your parents, their friends, their friends of friends, etc. I knew 50% of the people that backed me on Kickstarter personally. Of the rest, most of those knew one of my other backers. That network is even more important now that it used to be, because you’re not the only person trying to do this.

4. Have decent rewards.

People are going to back you for more reasons than just helping you start a brewery, and it’s not because they want another crappy shaker pint. It’s about the experience. They want something that’s going to make them feel special. They also want something that seems like it’s worth their while. $100 for a t-shirt is shitty. $100 for a t-shirt, a sticker, a pint glass, and a bottle opener is less shitty, but throw in a personalized beer recipe and you’re starting to talk business. Don’t skimp on prizes, people will skimp on contributing. They’re nice people, but they want a reward.

5. You need to work on it EVERY DAY.

That means you need to go bother people every day. You need to write press releases and contact every network you’ve ever been a part of. Go give a talk to your grandparents’ retirement home and contact your college alumni magazine. Call your hometown newspaper and get your mom to talk about it at her bridge club. Call people you used to work with and old friends from elementary school. If you aren’t pushing it as hard as you can and being excited about it, then why should anybody else? Making that campaign work is a full time job. It won’t come to you, you need to go get it.

6. Don’t forget where you came from.

After you’ve made it and you’re successful, make sure you don’t forget where you came from. I will be sending out Kickstarter prizes for years. No shit. Half of my donors probably think I’ve completely forgotten about them. I haven’t. These people are the reason I had the balls to start my brewery and I have so, so many plans for ways to thank them that go above and beyond what I originally planned in the Kickstarter campaign. And you might ask yourself – why? What do I owe them now? They are the original community around my business. Any and every small business is about people. It’s about the community, and these are your starter community. They are your early evangelists. Take care of them and they will continue to take care of you.

7. Stop asking me for help.

Okay, that’s a little glib, too. But I can’t tell you how to make you successful. It’s your business, make it your own and come up with your own cool ideas and tactics. I can give you all of the advice in the world, but ultimately you won’t be successful by using my model, because it’s mine and, like I said, small business is about the people. You’re not me (I hope), and so you need to go find what works for you.

Good luck! It’s a shitload of work, but the reward of having all of those people believe in your idea is worth every hour you spend on it, and worth far, FAR more than the amount of money that you might raise.

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Categories: brewery, industry, marketing, op-ed, startup
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 23 May 2012 @ 11 39 AM

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 18 Jan 2012 @ 9:36 PM 

Herein lies one of the things that keeps me up at night.

Now that Mystery lays on the cusp of opening, I find myself faced with an interesting new challenge: the words “highly anticipated” that I keep on seeing pop up in articles and on social media.

On one hand – holy shit that’s awesome. It’s mind-blowingly flattering to know that people are looking forward to the opening of Mystery and to know that people are excited about the beer that we’re going to make. I can’t help but think that it’s at least in part to the fact that we’ve been out and about in the community, sharing samples whenever possible, and generally trying to build buzz.

Here’s the thing that worries me: As soon as we open our doors and roll out onto the market, we graduate from pre-opening buzz. How do you keep that wow? We’re planning on releasing some beers that we’re excited about, but, y’know.. it’s just beer. It’s good beer, but it’s not like we’re releasing gold-plated eaglets bedazzled with elf tears. Will the anticipation built in pre-opening buzz live up to a blonde ale, even if it’s a great one? What if it’s not spectacular enough?

A few months ago, when I participated in a charity event called Cask for a Cure, I found myself in a preview of the situation that I imagine I will find myself in shortly. The event was originally going to be just a cask from Mystery and a cask from Haw River Farmhouse Ales. We were contacted by the organizer of the event saying, “Hey – so, what if we try to get casks from these other people who are starting breweries?” and my first thought was: “Man, I’m not even open yet and I’m already not exciting enough; they need someone newer.” In the end, it worked out great and I met some great new guys who are getting into the industry, but it was initially very intimidating.

It’s a little bit of what I’m worried about in the marketplace, though it’s something that I’ve seen other breweries weather and handle well. It’s exciting to see the spotlight sweep your way, and I kind of wish we could revel in it. I don’t think it’s something you can chase. You run the risk of seeming gimmicky if you’re constantly hitting the market with the most alcoholic beer ever made, or the 1000 IBU beer, or a beer made with live turtles or something like that.

Right now, I think the only thing we can do is just keep on making great beer and hoping that it’s enough to keep us a little corner of the wow and to try, every once in a while, to nudge back into it with a release.

Until we lose that wow, though, I think we’re going to enjoy it. See you on the market soon.

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Tags Categories: brewery, new beer, startup Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 18 Jan 2012 @ 09 36 PM

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 09 Sep 2011 @ 3:31 PM 

A brief editorial piece on the website “AshVegas” caught my eye this morning, asking Should Asheville officials offer tax breaks for a [New Belgium] brewery?

I find myself roiling with thoughts and light rage, and so I’m doing what I always do in these situations: write.

Let’s set the stage to begin: New Belgium is working on opening an East Coast plant to cut down on shipping costs on their quest for country-wide domination distribution. There are lots of rumors about Asheville being on their short list of cities to open the plant in and, of course, New Belgium has neither confirmed nor denied these reports (to my meager knowledge).

I have really conflicting feelings about New Belgium. On one hand, they are some of the early pioneers in the craft industry and the industry as a whole has a lot to thank them for. They are leaders in brewing science and innovation. They produce high quality beer and are responsible for a whole LOT of craft beer lovers finding their way to industry in general. They are known as an excellent place to work and they have a strong commitment to being environmentally friendly and generally pretty awesome.

They also have some of the most invasive marketing and distribution tactics I’ve seen in craft. When New Belgium pushes into markets (as they recently did in North Carolina) with multi-million dollar marketing campaigns and sponsorship deals, small, local breweries cannot possibly hope to compete with them. Who sponsors the “local beer, local band” night around the corner from me? New Belgium. Who sells beer at the “Best of the Indy” parties? New Belgium. Who has been at every freakin’ local event before almost every local craft brewery? New Belgium. Why? Because in a morally dubious pay-to-play environment, they have the cash to pay – and pay a LOT – where small local breweries do not.

Is New Belgium the only brewery who does this? No. Good heavens, no. But in North Carolina, they were nowhere one day and everywhere the next, forcefully filling the niche I would have expected a lot of local breweries to fill. While most of that is their distribution partner, New Belgium also doesn’t seem to be in any sort of rush to stop those practices, either.

So, now maybe they’ll actually be a local brewery and that makes me a little sad and a little angry. They feel like a threat to our growing and thriving local beer industry, primarily because they have the ability and the apparent lack of scruples to muscle small business out of the way where they need to.

But that’s not what I really want to talk about. What I want to talk about is the ludicrous idea of offering them tax breaks to move in. The fact that it’s New Belgium makes no difference. My position would be the same for any large brewery moving in; however, the fact that it’s New Belgium in this case does feel a little like insult upon injury.

Tax breaks designed to entice big business is the kind of topic that drives me nuts regardless of industry, but in this specific case – and in MY industry – it seems even more ridiculous than usual. The idea, of course, is that Asheville would give tax breaks to New Belgium to entice them to open a brewery in the area, thereby creating jobs (and tax revenue).

Asheville, look around. You already have 9 breweries in you including the largest craft brewery in the state. Are you giving them tax breaks? Can you imagine how many jobs you could create by easing the tax burden on the businesses that are already there, already a part of your community, and already employing your local population? Instead of throwing money at a business coming in from another state (where most of that money will go), giving a large company with deep pockets even deeper pockets and an advantageous position over your local businesses, why not reward your local businesses for the excellent job that they’ve already done for you?

The local breweries in Asheville, along with its craft-beer-loving populace, have already brought country-wide attention and recognition to the area. Asheville has earned the moniker “Beer City USA” not because of its tax breaks, but because of its (stay with me here, this might get complex) beer. Why on earth would you, as a city council, make it easier to bring a small-business-crushing competitor to town? Sure, you might create jobs in the short term, but in the long run how is that one brewery opening going to effect the already existing breweries in your city and the already existing jobs? How many jobs could you create by reducing the tax burden on the businesses that already exist and thrive in your city, helping them open up new distribution channels, and grow enough to be able to stand up to the largest of breweries?

Tax breaks for incoming industries only make sense when you’re enticing an industry that doesn’t already exist into an area that economically depressed. Neither of these conditions seem true in Asheville.

Here’s the thing: If New Belgium is going to open a brewery in North Carolina, they’ll do it whether or not there’s a tax incentive thrown at them. They’re coming, and the best thing that we can possibly do is fortify our local industry so that we can welcome them as an equal level competitor, an enrichment of the local market. Giving them tax breaks that our local businesses do not enjoy is just inviting a fox into the hen house.

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Categories: brewery, distribution, industry, NC Beer, news, op-ed, taxation
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 09 Sep 2011 @ 03 44 PM

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Announcing Pint/Counterpint Episode #3 – our “local” episode. In this episode we cover local issues, such as – what does it mean to be a local brewery? Is it using local ingredients, or just distributing locally? We also talk about local talent and that we’re looking for more of it (it’s not what you think!).

As a special guest star you’ll notice my very nervous dog Tessie who decided that the time to wander out of the office and look for comfort was the middle of our shoot. Isn’t she cute? Awww.

Special thanks again to Tres Bruce who continues to make us look and sound sharp.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 30 Aug 2011 @ 11 24 AM

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