Craft brewery co-ops and an incubator start to take shape in Colorado

The craft-beer industry has always been community-minded -- not to mention budget-conscious. Although there are many big craft brewers, there are many more tiny ones, and most of them only came about because someone risked everything by maxing out their credit cards and cashing in their 401k, savings account and parental points.

Which is why the idea of brewery co-ops and incubators is beginning to catch on in places like Texas (watch the video below for Houston's Brewery Incubator, which just raised $36,000 via Kickstarter), Washington and Michigan -- and possibly in Colorado.

See also: - Eight craft beer trends to look for in Colorado in 2013 - Craft brewing community will rally around Strange Brewing with a beer fest fundraiser - CAUTION: Brewing Company taproom opens next weekend

Although each model is different, the idea behind these co-ops and incubators is that they are run collaboratively by people with different skill sets who pitch in knowledge, work, money, equipment or other resources for the benefit of all.

There are three groups looking to form in Colorado right now: an incubator model that could spin off several different nanobreweries, and two co-ops, which would operate as breweries and meeting places for craft-minded drinkers.

Here's a rundown of all three:

Brewery incubator Jeremy Hutaff, Jim Meyer and Michael Kearns would each like to open their own small breweries sometime in the future. But in the meantime, they are working with several other would-be brewery owners, as well as some existing small breweries, to create a brewery incubator similar to one that just got started in Houston (see the video above).

"It would be a way for us up-and-coming brewers who are looking to get started to help each other out, to join forces so that we can get to the next level," Hutaff says.

It would work like this: The founding members would create a host brewery -- or rent out an existing one -- with all of the brewing equipment and a tap room. Other would-be brewers could then incorporate their own companies and operate out of the host brewery using a provision of state and federal liquor laws called "alternating proprietorships." This arrangement would allow multiple breweries to share equipment, rent and utility bills without having to have separate locations. All of them could then legally serve their beers on tap in the taproom as well. Once each brewery got some financial footing, it could find its own location and leave the incubator, Hutaff says.

"We'd pool our experience or equipment and capital so that everyone could learn about the aspects of running a business that they don't already have. It would eliminate some of the barriers to entry and also create a safety net," he explains, adding that the incubator idea could lower the cost of starting a brewery to $50,000 or $60,000.

The group is being supported and advised by existing breweries -- Caution, Strange and Rickoli -- as well as Kokopelli Brewing, which plans to open in Westminster in May. Later this week, the group will vote on whether to move forward with the idea. Group members have been scouting locations and used equipment over the past few weeks.

RadCraft RadCraft recently formed under Colorado's laws governing cooperative organizations, which means it is owned by a group of people who joined together to share both the financial costs and the benefits of their operation and to organize and control it in a democratic fashion.

At the moment, RadCraft has three members and operates as a virtual co-op, existing online and with events like their Crackerjack competition, which took place last week at Wit's End Brewing; it was a competition to see what products besides beer people could make with just malt, water, hops and yeast.

But its founders -- Emily Hutto, Tyler Mork and Kate Pfretzschner -- are also working on beer recipes, entering competitions and generally spreading good cheer. Eventually, they would like to open up their membership and lease space for an events center and brewery where members could brew and serve their own creations, read books about brewing and take classes. 50Brew80 Jason Jewett was inspired to start a brewery co-op when a friend's mom mailed him an article about a co-op that was starting in Michigan. "I'm a very social person, and have always felt that everything is better with a group. I love partnerships and working with other people, and using teamwork to succeed -- so it seemed a perfect fit," he says.

His plan now is to form a co-op and use that structure to create an Indiegogo fundraising campaign; he will also raise money by forming a board of directors who will pay membership rates in exchange for the power to vote on what beers to make and how to run the brewery. "Banks are a fine place to keep my money, but I don't want to owe them anything," Jewett says. "50Brew80 knows there's a giant market of people out there who care deeply about good beer, and want to be a part of its production while also getting the opportunity to get something tangible out of their contribution."

Once the brewery is up and running, Jewett wants to expand the social concept by working with homebrewers to "create their beer and put it on tap and serve it through whatever distribution channels we have. The beers we make won't just be mine, they'll be everyone's... We open ourselves up to a lot of risk, here, but a lot of reward as well. There's nothing quite like giving back, and that's what we want to do."

Jewett plans to launch his Indiegogo campaign this spring, and if he's successful to start looking for space and filling out permitting paperwork over the summer.



's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan and on Facebook at Colo BeerMan

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