Founders Brewing on pace to surpass 100% growth in 2012

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(Grand Rapids, MI) – Founders Brewing co-founders, Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, joined the Better Beer Authority Podcast recently to discuss a bunch of different topics. Some transcribed notes along with the video below…

On growth:

Stevens: “Four or five years we did 5,000 barrels and this year, we’re on pace to do 85,000 barrels.”

[Ed. note: by my count that is 125% growth (based on ~38k barrels in 2011).]

Engbers: “[Back then] there were 15 of us. Now, there are 108. That will be one of the bigger challenges. As the team gets bigger, we have to maintain our culture. We aren’t getting bigger because there is some end goal. It’s getting pulled from our distributors and consumers.”

On All Day IPA and session beers:

Stevens: “It was our largest challenge to date in our 15-year history. We spent three years constructing this beer. The challenge was set out to make a beer, a social and active beer, that contributes to our lifestyles. We like the outdoors, camping, riding mountain bikes, etc., but still had the full flavor that a Founders beer carries. We didn’t want to create a dumbed down session beer. If it’s going to be a dumbed down session beer, we’re not touching it. There are people coming out with session beers and we’d tried one and think it was a joke, that it was just a revved up domestic beer. And our goal is to be the opposite of that.”

Note: Founders hopes to expand distribution of the beer in 2013.

On KBS:

Stevens: “Our limitation is that it’s directly attached to the brewhouse size that we have. What we do when we make Kentucky Breakfast is stop all that we do 24/7, one week a year, and make as much Kentucky Breakfast Stout that we can. That goes into bourbon barrels and ages for a year.”

Engbers: “It’s also a responsibility to our other brands. We have to keep producing those brands so that the shelves don’t dry up.”

On not pricing to demand:

Engbers: “Our beer should always be accessible.”

Interviewer: “Does it piss you off when someone puts it on eBay?”

Engbers: “Oh, hell yes. But the thing is that we can’t control that. When we see retailers gouging, when we see someone pricing a bottle for $25, that retailer is taking full advantage of the market. Our direction to the wholesalers is that the next time we have a specialty release, that retailer shouldn’t get any. We price our beer where we can make a little money, our wholesalers can make a little money. We didn’t get into this business to make money.”

On Linchpin and collaborations:

Interviewer: “You have a collaboration with Green Flash. There are some people that look at it cynically.”

Stevens: “So do we actually. This is the first collab we’ve ever done. I’ll say we probably won’t do many more. Not that this wasn’t a great experience but there are very few breweries that we would want to do it with. Green Flash is one of them. So we’ll probably do a few more but we’ll never be a collab-happy brewery.”

Engbers: “This came about in Cleveland. I met one of the guys from Green Flash. He asked me if I’d ever done a collaboration”

On early struggles:

Engbers: “We were literally days away from having a court case with our bank and our landlord. It got to the point where we got a call from the bank, and they said if we don’t get them a check that was six figures by Tuesday, they were going to put chains on our doors. That’s when you have the ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting and we have to ask ourselves if we want to keep doing this. It wasn’t that sales were really lousy. It was that we had created this trainwreck behind us and our business model didn’t work. We both felt that we had one last chance to go for it. That was right around the time that Dirty Bastard was invented.”

Stevens: “That is the beer that saved us. When we got that phone call, we were a really small company. We borrowed a million dollars and started with zero cases sold. It took us 10-11 years to reach a break-even point. We bled profusely for years and years and particularly in those first five years when we were trying to determine who we are.”

 

 

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