Old friend of the blog,Jim Parker is a serial entrepreneur and his next project--Bellingham Beer Lab, which has been in the works for many years--may be his greatest. You may remember Mr. Parker from his time helping start Oaks Bottom Public House, the Belgian Embassy, or the Green Dragon, or as President of the Oregon Brewers Guild. It has been a few years now since he relocated to Bellingham, WA, an underrated beer city as it is, and he's been working hard to get one of the world's first Co-Op breweries off the ground joining Black Star in Austin and Flying Bike in Seattle.
According to a press release I got for Jim, the more than 2 year wait is almost over for the Bellingham Beer Lab and beer lovers who want to own a piece of their own community brewery. BBL kicks off its membership drive this Saturday, September 29th, 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.
|Jim Parker, one with the wild|
The result is a hybrid “Producer/Consumer Cooperative.” There will be at least three “Producer Members”: brewers who are launching individual beer brands out of the brewing facility and attached tap room. The rest of the membership will be “Consumer Members:” beer lovers whose membership fees help launch the project in return for membership benefits once the brewery opens.
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 co-op 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. Co-ops 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. The CSB, 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, Texas. A second, Flying Bike Cooperative, is in planning in Seattle.
For more information, visit the Bellingham Beer Lab website at bellinghambeerlab.com.