The Cooperative Model Explained
According to the International Co-operative Alliance, an organization that oversees thousands of cooperatives around the globe, has done a decent job creating a quick and tidy definition:
“A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”
Admittedly that’s still a bit of a mouthful and pretty vague, so let's take a look at a few examples in the craft beer world, beginning with Flying Bike Cooperative based in Seattle.
Flying Bike Cooperative
A brewing cooperative sounds great in theory but what exactly does it mean in practice? “That's many people's first question and there isn't a simple answer,” says Kevin Forhan, head brewer.
The first and only cooperative brewery in Seattle, Flying Bike bills itself as “Member Driven” as opposed to “member owned” or “worker owned.”
That’s a small but very important distinction. The $200 lifetime membership dues that members pay upon joining the cooperative grant the member, among other things, voting privileges regarding the board of directors, discounts on beer and merchandise.
It also allows members to have a voice in what beers will be brewed. However it doesn't grant them final say, nor does it mean they'll have unlimited access to board meetings or be able to influence the board's decision on business matters.
Putting the Theory into Practice
Dave Wiegand, a member of the Flying Bike Board of Directors explains how it all works:
“You buy into the co-op and have one voting share... then you get to participate at whatever level you'd like. You can come in... as a non-member and still purchase beer but as a member you have other benefits. At some point in the next couple years we'll also start paying patronage to the members. Depending on the amount of money you spend in here over the year you'll either get that back in cash or we may give you beer credit.”
Being member driven allows those who buy into the brewery to decide how actively they want to participate in the business. From helping with build-outs, offering decorative skills or running for the board of directors to simply paying dues and occasionally showing up for a beer; everything is possible. Whatever the decision, the dues go a long way towards keeping the brewery afloat.
“Our brewery started in 2011 with 300 members signing up in the first week and a half,” says Wiegand. That equates to 300 people forking out lifetime membership dues of $200.
To put it another way, $60,000 rolled into the coffers before a single drop of beer had been brewed.
Since opening in August of 2015, Flying Bike has upped its membership count beyond 1600 and now brews an average of seven barrels of beer per week which is sold at the taproom to members and non members alike.
Despite monthly contests to vote for member submitted recipes Kevin Forhan, a mainstay in the Seattle craft beer scene with experience at Pike Brewing, Ram, Elysian and Big Time before taking over as Head Brewer at Flying Bike, has a long leash to follow his brew instincts too:
“We have periodic homebrew contests where we’ll choose a style and any member...can brew a version of that style. We'll rent out a room and have a blind-tasting. The winning recipe is the one that I am in charge of scaling up and brewing here at the brewery. But I essentially have carte blanche to brew anything I feel would be appropriate for the brewery,” Forhan says.
Photo credits: Jeremy Martin
For the next article in this series we explore the role of crowdfunding for the cooperative businesses.
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Jeremy Martin is a Seattle based writer who primarily works on stories about craft beer and coffee; often writing one while drinking the other.
A graduate of Western Michigan University, his work has appeared in a several national and international publications. He now shares his expertise as a regular contributor to the Kinnek Community.