Last week, Tim Dery sat down with us over a few beers to chat about Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery, a startup brewery based in Seattle, Washington. He was kind enough to deal with ACB's perpetual ADD, and tell us a little about himself and what makes Flying Bike so unique.
First let's get a taste of who Tim is. Originally from Ohio, he works at Amazon.com, helping with the hardware that makes it possible for you to discretely buy that copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. After he clocks out he spends his time with his band, on his deck brewing, or sitting in on a Flying Bike meeting as President of the Board of Directors. We really like his quote from the Flying Bike site...so we're going to pilfer it: "Here's to night jobs turning into day jobs, and day jobs fading into fond memories!"
Now, we've said it a couple of times so you are probably asking yourself: what in the hell is a "cooperative brewery?" Good question, friend, good question. Since the United Nations named 2012 the "International Year of Cooperatives" (this is not a joke...seriously... look it up), we will use their definition: "cooperatives are business enterprises owned and controlled by the very members that they serve". A cooperative brewery is no different. We asked Tim to tell us in his own words:
"The challenge that we face is that we have to do two explanations: we have to explain 'what a co-op is,' and then 'what is a co-op brewery' and what that looks like, because people just don't know. A cooperative is a business that exists to provide goods and services to its members. That sounds pretty textbook, but if you think about it, it makes sense. The members are owners; that's how they're involved. They have a stake in it more than just going to the store, the bar, whatever. And the goal of the business isn't to have this huge thing, and to have a bunch of branches, and be nationwide. We want to do right by our members. Since we don't have one or two deep pocketed shareholders that have invested a whole bunch of money and want a return on that, our focus isn't squeezing every last dime out. It's 'what do our members want? What do we want to do?' So, really, that's what a co-op is."
Founded by a homebrewer who wanted to start a brewery of his own, Flying Bike has used the cooperative method to raise their membership to 529 as of this writing. The idea is simple: anyone that has ever homebrewed has imagined they could do this, but not everyone can really afford to do that, so why can't a group do it together? Which is where the name came from, according to Tim "it's a flying bike: it doesn't exist, you can't build it, it's impossible."
How do they choose beer then, a vote of the 529 people? That's the idea. They currently are unable to sell beer, but they are able to co-brew. They have now held two homebrew competitions, allowing their members to enter, their members to brew it, their members to vote on it, and the winner (a member) gets a chance to brew their creation with a "professional" brewer. Their last winner was stout that Trade Route Brewing Co. will roll out around late-July. Want to go to the release party? Better sign up for a membership! The previous winner was an IPA dubbed "Fly-PA" that was brewed by Three Skulls Ales. The winner signed up for membership just to enter the contest. What that tells us, is that if you join you will win. So join.
Their ultimate goal is to brew their own, have their own space, and to share what they do with the rest of the world. But it's not easy in Washington State. We asked Tim what their goal looks like:
"In February we met with the Board, crunched some numbers, really it's a financial problem. Here's a fun little tidbit: in Washington to start a brewery, you need to have a space, have the gear, and have it all set up so that they can come in and expect it. Now, it can be 60-90 days before that comes back so until that does, you can't make beer. You have got to be able to pay for that. We looked at some options, we looked at some numbers. If we go with a three barrel system, we can build that up, they can come and inspect it, in the meantime we can serve other people's beer. So the thought is that we can aim for that size, they can come inspect and we can open up, which at the very least gives the members a place to meet, it gives us a home base. Then we can get to brewing. So, based on that, we figured how much that would cost us, and we are thinking that 1,100 or 1,200 is the number of members we need to get to.
Now, location is going to vary, but these are the parameters we are looking at, and to do that will cost this much, and the only way we get to that is to get membership."
Everyone wants to be a part of something big, and beer drinkers tend to have dreams of being in charge of the brew. A co-op gives members that opportunity, for a minimal amount of money. Plus, being part of it has perks: pint glass, t-shirt, voting power, members only events and education opportunities. But the best part is that you get to say you own a brewery.
We recommend you go take a look at their site, see what they do, and sign up. Our teammate Steve did. He's member number 377.
Tap handles photo by: Niki Desautels/NJD Photography. (c) 2012