By Sarah Collins
Like supporting local food producers, but don’t much want a monthly box of kale? Now there’s a solution for health-averse locavores: a CSA for beer.
Begyle Brewing, launched last year in Ravenswood’s industrial corridor, is ready to complete its dream of being Chicago’s first CSB — community supported brewery.
The business was inspired by co-founder Brendan Blume’s post-college stint working on a farm. Selling prepaid monthly boxes of produce helped the farm get through lean times. Hoping to pick up the same benefit, the men decided to join the country’s small handful of CSBs.
“We thought, hey, why don’t we take some of the principles of farm CSAs and apply it to beer?” says Kevin Cary, Begyle co-founder. The brewery will sell six- and 12-month memberships good for a standing amount of beer per month.
Begyle launched its CSB plans — and its brewery — with a successful Kickstarter campaign in August 2012. The campaign raised $18,875 to purchase a specialized growler filler to let members fill their monthly jugs with less foam and spillover. Fourteen months later, Begyle is ready to get the CSB program going, and make good on the 30 memberships promised to Kickstarter backers.
“When we originally planned it, it was going to be our main business model,” Cary says. “Unfortunately as we got going we realized there were some other things that needed to be done first.” In order to fill the growlers, Begyle needed a licensed retail space, which meant complying with “a whole slew” of city codes. “Bringing the space up to code was not something we foresaw.”
To keep paying rent while waiting, Begyle began selling smartly named brews like the Hophazardly IPA and Flannel Pajamas Stout. Kegs rolled out to bars and restaurants in October 2012, followed by bottles in January, keeping the brewery afloat and floating them a little name recognition. Then the beer got popular.
“We quickly realized that we couldn’t supply enough beer to the market after we started selling kegs and when we started selling bottles,” Cary says. The brewery needed to up capacity, and a new system enabled the founders to quintuple what they were able to produce, taking them from 300 barrels in their first year to a projected 1,500 barrels in 2014.
It also forced the brewery to take out its first bank loan.
Now, with the CSB program open for sales, Cary is hopeful that allowing customers to prepay for six months or a year of beer will provide the brewery with the capital to expand. Though this round will be used to pay back expenses and even out cash flow, Cary hopes that the next round of subscription sales can go to new equipment. “Then we can let the customers know, ‘Hey, you bought this.’”
Giving customers a vested interest in the brewery is the other benefit of a CSA that Cary and his partners are hoping to realize. “It’ll definitely be a good way to keep a pulse on what’s going on,” he says. “We’ll be able to forecast six months ahead of time to see what we need to do to stay relevant and keep people interested and coming back as the Chicago craft beer community grows.”
The memberships, which buy anywhere from one to four growlers or a sixtel keg a month for six to 12 months, run from $77 and $455 for six months, and provide extra benefits like 10 percent off additional beer purchases. Cary is also hoping to have at least two members-only events a year, and discounts at other businesses in the neighborhood.
Begyle is offering 200 memberships this go around, which are on sale now until they sell out or it’s time to fill the first growler. Anyone who misses out this time will have another crack in June, when Cary hopes to open up a few more memberships.