BELLINGHAM, Wash. – The wait is almost over for Bellingham beer lovers who want a chance to own a share of their own community brewery. Bellingham Beer Lab, a cooperatively owned brewery incubator that has been in the planning stages for more than a year, will kick off its consumer membership drive Saturday, Sept. 29 during a brewing demonstration at Cheese Meat(s) Beer in downtown Bellingham.
“Ever since we first publicly talked about this idea, people have been asking, ‘Where do I sign up?’ Now we finally have an answer,” says Jim Parker, the self-proclaimed “Chief Enthusiasm Officer” of the BBL. “As of the 29th, anyone over the age of 21 can pay the lifetime $150 membership fee and be able to say, ‘Yeah, I’m a brewery owner.”
Parker, a brewing industry veteran who has worked at Chuckanut and Kulshan breweries, as well as for breweries in Oregon and Colorado, and a cadre of local brewers have been putting together the blueprint for Bellingham’s first cooperatively owned brewery since the spring of 2011.
A group of brewers, each interested in testing the waters with their own brewery project, gathered at Parker’s home to discuss ways in which they could work together to make their brewing dreams reality. “Our first concept was to form a producer cooperative in which each of the brewers would own an equal share of the brewing facility and shared tap room as a way to spread the costs associated with opening a brewery,” Parker says. “But as we looked more into to the cooperative model and talked to friends about the idea, we realized there was a real opportunity to make this a true community brewery.”
The initial roster of Producer Members includes Josh Smith, who will be launching a brand called Atwood Ales; Zach Brown, brewing under the name Black Fire Brewing; and Jesse Nickerson and Alex Cleanthous of Arbella’s Ales. Once one of the brewers’ brands grows to the point that they need more production space than the coop can provide, they will move out into their own brewery, opening a slot for a new producer member.
At the brewing demo, the brewers will show the steps involved in brewing one of their signature ales. Meanwhile, Cheese Meat(s) Beer will be serving six beers brewed by local nanobrewery Menace Brewing, based on BBL brewer recipes, paired with food by Cheese Meat(s) Beer chef Travis Surmi.
“This event will really showcase the collaborative and cooperative spirit of what we are all about. Ben (Buccarelli) of Menace Brewing has been awesome, opening his brewery to us and Travis and Annalou (Vincent) showcasing our beers and allowing us to use their space to kickoff our campaign. It’s great to already have this level of support in the community,” says Parker.
BBL brewers and board of directors members will be on hand to describe the cooperative brewery model, answer questions and sign up new members. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Cheese Meat(s) Beer, 250 Flora St. in Bellingham.
Under the cooperative model, the business is owned and democratically controlled by its members, who pay either annual or lifetime membership fees. In this case, it is a $150 lifetime membership. Coops return surplus revenues (income over expenses and investment) to members proportionate to their use of the cooperative, not proportionate to their “investment” or ownership share. In the case of the Bellingham Beer Lab, members will not have to wait until year’s end to see their dividend, it will be paid each time they visit the on-site tap room.
“We call it “Perpetual Happiness,’ Members will get happy hour price every time they walk in the door,” Parker says.
Other benefits include voting rights and eligibility to run for a seat on the board of directors, a free birthday beer and an opportunity to participate in the BBL’s Community Supported Brewing program. TheCSB, modeled after Community Supported Agriculture programs, allows members to buy a “share” of the year’s brewing output in advance at a reduced cost and redeem their share throughout the year – by the pint, growler or keg.
Currently, there is one cooperative brewery in the U.S., Black Star Brewing in Austin, Tex. A second, Flying Bike Cooperative, is in planning in Seattle.
For more information, visit the Bellingham Beer Lab website at bellinghambeerlab.com.